Florence, or Firenze as the Italians call it, is the true essence of Italy. It’s a great city in itself and a good central location to explore the rest of Tuscany. We spent 3 days in Florence and absolutely loved it. Here’s what you need to know.

Getting there

We took the fast train from Rome to Florence which took about 1 hour 15 minutes. The train was very comfortable and we had no issues finding tickets last minute. Trains depart from Roma Termini every 20-30 minutes and get you right to Central Florence (Station Firenze Santa Maria Novella/SMN). I’d recommend upgrading to first class for an extra 15-20 Euros since it offers much more comfortable seats, a free drink and lots of luggage storage. You’re also likely to find the cabin empty in case you want to change seats. Florence also has it’s own international airport (FLR) but there aren’t many non-stop flights. Trains are a very convenient way of getting around Europe and have a certain charm that planes can’t match!

Where to stay

We stayed at Accor’s Hotel Cerretani, located within walking distance of the train station and very central to Florence. The hotel felt renovated and new but it was closer to a 4 star in feel. One big issue was the air-conditioning – we tried two rooms but the A/C’s performance was dismal. The hotel management did put a large fan in our room which helped but it generally felt like a let-down. The breakfast in the morning was adequate and included eggs, one meat entree and cold cereals/yogurt. Florence has no dearth of luxury hotels but they do tend to be fairly expensive. I’d recommend booking ahead of time if possible.

Sight seeing

Florence and it’s Duomo from afar

Michelangelo’s David – spent an hour admiring it

Florence is a very walkable city – in fact you won’t even see many cars or cabs around. Many of the streets are meant for pedestrian use only which adds to the walkability.

Places to see in/around Florence:

  • Duomo or Dome of Florence – one of the first sights you see upon entering Florence is the giant dome at the center of town. You can line up to climb the many steps and get a great view from top of the dome. We decided to just admire it from afar!
  • Uffizi and Accademia – two museums that are on everyone’s list. The Uffizi is the larger museum and houses many famous works over three floors. Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours there. The Accademia is best known for Michelangelo’s David (of the David and Goliath fable). Despite the limited number of exhibits at the Accademia, you would regret not visiting it. We did both within one day and didn’t feel too rushed. Definitely plan ahead and book tickets at both these museums as the queues can get long and tickets hard to get last minute. Once you book online, you can just show the the tickets on your phone at the office and collect paper tickets. You can book tickets to both museums on b-ticket, the official website (beware of other sites that just try to charge extra fee). You’ll get a 15 minute time slot for entry when you book so make sure you’re there on the allotted time since they have strict capacity controls.
  • Ponte Vecchio – you’ve likely seen it in images of Italy or Florence. It’s the stone bridge over the Arno with high end shops. You’ll likely find musicians playing late in the evening surrounded by people dancing and generally enjoying themselves
  • Pitti Palace (across the Arno river – still walkable)
  • Mercato Centrale – Florence’s food merchant/farmer’s market and food court. Both a tourist destination and great place to grab local eats (up on the second floor)
  • Walking tours and cooking class – we decided to spend half a day learning to cook the local cuisine at a nearby farm house. Viator offers fairly reasonable tours such as this cooking one, and this vespa plus food one. We learned how to make pizza, pasta and tiramisu from scratch! All in all, a very rewarding and ‘filling’ experience!
  • Tuscany as seen from the cooking class!

Florence Food recommendations

Florence has some of the best food around – Florentine steak is well known around the world. One of our friends recommended Trattoria Sostanza but alas it was closed for the summer holidays. We do highly recommend checking out the food court on the upper level at Mercato Centrale.

The best cannoli I’ve ever had at Mercato Centrale

Thin crust pizza at Mercato Centrale

Also, get some gelato at Florence’s many gelato shops, partake in the plentiful local produce and definitely check out some of the local bakeries (the fresh breads are to die for!)

Local produce around town

Bakery in Florence

Shopping

Florence is the hometown of many major luxury brands including Ferragamo. Most Italian brands have at least one flagship store within city limits.

Florence is also close to major Italian outlet malls (discount stores for luxury brands) and has buses that depart the train station multiple times a day. We ended up spending the good part of one day at The Mall. We got many great deals on brands such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada and others at the mall. However, if you’re on a tight timeline, the outlet malls are skippable. My wife still regrets not partaking in more deals! If you do make the trek to these malls, remember to take your passport and a major credit card – they have a sales tax refund office on-site. This will save you time at the airport when you depart. You can find the shuttle schedule on the mall’s website.

Bus schedule to “The Mall”

Changing money

Please be careful changing money in Italy in general. Money changers are known to tack on numerous fees on top of the displayed rate. One of the best place’s to change money in Florence is a tiny shop on 9 Via del Ninna. Here’s the link on Google maps. You can combine this with your Uffizi visit since the museum is right next to the shop. Also, as a reminder be very careful about pick pockets when traveling.