Travel

Why you should see Florence

An evening skyline view of Florence, Italy

Not many cities have had the global impact of Florence, the hill-tucked capital of Tuscany and one of the most beautiful metropolises in the world.

This, after all, was the birthplace of the Renaissance and the onetime stomping ground of such luminaries as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Dante Alighieri, and Giotto (not to mention Amerigo Vespucci, whose name lives on in a major way in the New World). Much of the gilded majesty of Florence’s golden age, from medieval architectural masterworks to the transcendent art that flourished during the Medici era of the 15th and 16th centuries, remains fully on display today, magnificently woven into the modern cityscape.

“Florence is a great destination for its rich culture, museums, food, and wine,” says top AAA agent and Italy expert Lee Sparks. “There are many museums and churches to visit, some of them free. Since Florence is not a particularly big city, it's easy to get around by walking. And its central location makes it the perfect jumping-off point for day trips all around Tuscany.”

With so many choices, advice from a travel agent is invaluable. Lee has more than 35 years of experience as a travel agent, has been to Italy 6 times, and has a deep love for Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. Here are just a few of Florence's highlights, plus insights from Lee.

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Lee Sparks is here to share her tips and insights on Florence. AAA can help you plan the perfect trip to Florence, or wherever your dream vacation is. Contact a AAA travel agent today, or visit a branch to meet with an agent or take advantage of other travel services.

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Fast facts

Euro bills and coins

Currency

Italy is among 19 European countries that use the euro, denoted by the € symbol. Credit cards are widely accepted, so there's no need to load up on cash, but having a little can be helpful for snacks or tips.

Check exchange rates and order foreign currency online.

The Tuscan capital

Florence (aka Firenze in Italian) is both the capital and the largest city of the region of Tuscany (Toscana). Modern Florence was preceded by the Roman city of Florentia, established in 59 BCE on the site of an ancient Etruscan settlement.

Fun fact

Florence lays claim to the poet Dante Alighieri, one of the giants of world literature and author of the Divine Comedy. Dante was born about 1265 in Florence, Italy, but had a fractious relationship with his hometown. Political turmoil saw him exiled at the beginning of the 14th century. Today, of course, he’s celebrated. From portraits in the Uffizi and an imposing statue in the Piazza Santa Croce to a funerary monument within the Basilica of the Holy Cross, you’ll likely run into Dante more than once in your Florence explorations.

What to see

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence in the evening

The Uffizi Gallery

The Galleria degli Uffizi is among the oldest and most celebrated art museums in the world. Located within a magnificent 16th-century building designed by the architect Giorgio Vasari and founded upon original collections of the Medicis, the Uffizi houses iconic works by some most well-known names in Western art, including Leonardo da Vinci (Adoration of the Magi), Botticelli (The Birth of Venus), Michelangelo (the Doni Tondo), Caravaggio (Medusa), and Giotto (Ognissanti Madonna).

LEE SAYS: “The peak hours at the Uffizi are between 10 and noon, so consider going in the afternoon when it isn’t as crowded and give yourself a good 2–4 hours there. To avoid waiting in long lines, I recommend buying your ticket ahead of time.”

Michelangelo's David in Florence

The Gallery of the Academy of Florence

More masterpieces of Florentine Renaissance art await in the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze: the Gallery of the Academy of Florence. Its collection includes one of the most iconic works of art in history: Michelangelo’s David, carved in the city between 1501 and 1504. (A copy of David, incidentally, makes one of the landmark statues of Piazza della Signoria, the square the Uffizi adjoins.)

LEE SAYS: “The Galleria dell’Accademia is a must-see. Give yourself about an hour to explore here. As with the Uffizi, it’s best to get your tickets ahead of time. You can get a combo ticket to see both museums: I would recommend the Accademia in the morning, a break for lunch, and then the Uffizi in the afternoon.”

Bread for sale at the Mercato Centrale in Florence

The Central Market

Florence’s Central Market (Mercato Centrale) is one of the city’s cultural nerve centers, and a fantastic destination to try Tuscan foods.

LEE SAYS: “The Central Market is a foodie’s delight with a lot of stalls serving delicious Italian food from the Tuscan region. If you like seafood, the northern section of the market has fresh fish and shellfish. There are also lots of shops to check out while you’re there.”

The dome of the Duomo looks out on Florence

The Duomo

The Duomo—aka the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore—is the architectural crown jewel of Florence. Looming above the Piazza della Signoria, this breathtaking cathedral took shape between the late 13th and mid-15th centuries, with such notable artists as Arnolfo di Cambio and Giotto contributing to its construction. The cathedral’s famous dome—the largest made of brick in the world—stands as a monument to the genius of architect Filippo Brunelleschi.

LEE SAYS: “The Duomo is the cathedral in the center of the city, and free to visit. The line sometimes can be long but it moves pretty quickly and it’s definitely worth the wait. Some of the highlights include the beautiful stained-glass windows, marble floors, and the dome fresco of The Last Judgment, finished in 1579.”

The Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno river

The Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio, or “Old Bridge,” is perhaps the most signature of the well-known Florence bridges across the Arno. This 1345-built bridge, which replaced even older ones washed out by river floods, was incorporated into the Vasari Corridor, the portal built in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari to link the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzi Pitti.

LEE SAYS: “The Ponte Vecchio is where you’ll find the famous goldsmith and jewelry shops that have been there since the 16th century.”

Ready to explore Florence?

Lee Sparks and AAA's other travel agents can help you plan a trip that's the right fit for where you want to go, what you want to see, and what you can spend. Learn how to get in touch with Lee and AAA's other travel agents. 

What to eat

A tray of bruschetta in Florence

A taste of Tuscany

Florence is a fantastic place to explore the simple, rustically based, and delicious cuisine of Tuscany. (The city also boasts plenty of restaurants spotlighting other areas of Italian food, mind you.) And while you're here, take a deep dive into the wondrous world of Tuscany’s famed wines, the king of which is Chianti.

LEE SAYS: “Food in Florence is fabulous, from the pastas to the steaks. One of my favorite restaurants is Quattro Leoni, which you can get to across the Ponte Vecchio.”

Bistecca alla Fiorentina being served

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Florence's most famous dish is bistecca alla Fiorentina, a cut of steak broadly similar to the American T-bone. The meat is typically aged for a few weeks and, unlike American steaks, is usually cut thick enough to serve more than 1 person. It's traditionally served rare and without much extra seasoning—the meat is good enough on its own.

LEE SAYS: "Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a particular cut of beef that is aged to perfection and is delicious. Of course a nice glass of Chianti Classico goes perfect with the steak."

Papardelle being served at a restaurant in Florence

Florentine pastas

Every Italian city has styles of pasta associated with it, and Florence is no exception. Florentine pasta dishes tend toward the savory, with meat, mushrooms, and/or truffles mixed in hearty sauces and served atop long flat pastas like pappardelle and tagliatelle.

LEE SAYS: "If you like pasta, one of my favorites is the pear, asparagus, and cheese pasta at Quattro Leoni. No matter what restaurant I have eaten at in Florence, I have never had a bad or even mediocre meal."

Where to stay & how to get around

An evening view of rooftops in Florence

Stay in the central city

Staying in the heart of Florence immerses you in the city's best-known geography, putting its outstanding architectural landmarks and world-famous museums within easy, walkabout-ready reach.

LEE SAYS: “Some of the hotels I recommend are Hotel Savoy, Kraft, and Relais Centrale. If you want to go all out, I suggest the Bernini Palace.”

The Basilica di Santo Spirito reflected in the Arno River

Stay in Oltrarno

Oltrarno, Italian for "beyond the Arno," lies on the other side of the river from central Florence. It's known as one of Florence's hipper districts and offers a less crowded atmosphere with lots of crafts and shops to peruse. It's still within walking distance of the city center, thanks to the Arno's many bridges, and is also home to many attractions of its own, such as the Basilica di Santo Spirito church and Florence's largest museum, the Palazzo Pitti.

Even if you're not staying in Oltrarno, the Piazzale Michelangelo's hilltop panoramic views make it a must-visit.

People walking near the Duomo in Florence, Italy

Getting around

Central Florence's compactness makes it very easy to get around on foot—most of the things to see are within a 30-minute walk of one another. There are also public buses and trams that require a ticket; don't forget to validate it when you board. If you want to take a taxi, note that you can't flag them down. Instead, find one of the designated taxi stands around the city, or call the number of a taxi company.

LEE SAYS: "Florence is easy to get around by walking, but they do offer hop-on hop-off bus tours, which have 2 routes that encompass attractions not right in the city center. You can get a 24-, 48-, or 72-hour pass."

Other destinations to add to your trip

A vineyard in San Gimignano

Daytrips out of Florence

Tuscany's lovely countryside, vineyards, and historic villages are yours to explore with a home base in Florence. “Day trips from Florence are a must,” Lee says. “One of my favorites is going to Siena and San Gimignano, with a stop at a winery.” Like Florence, both cities boast historic cores classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Siena’s attractions include its glorious Italian Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, while San Gimignano is a famously well-preserved example of a medieval Tuscan hill town.

Lee also recommends visits to Pisa—home, of course, to a rather well-known aslant tower—and Lucca, renowned for its venerable city walls, as well as a wine tour through the Chianti region.

The Coliseum

Nearby destinations

If you have some extra days, Lee suggests bolstering your Florence getaway with visits to Venice to the northeast or Rome and the Amalfi coast to the south. “Positano on the Amalfi coast is one of the most beautiful seaside towns with unbelievable views of the Mediterranean, shops, and great restaurants.”

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Ready to explore Florence?

Navigating all the options is no small task when considering a trip to Florence. A travel agent can help find the itinerary that's right for you, whatever your culinary, historical, artistic, and leisure goals. Get a AAA travel agent's help planning your personalized Italian adventure by calling our dedicated travel agent phone line, submitting a request for assistance online, or finding a AAA branch near you.

 

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