Italy’s architecturally stunning Renaissance jewel of a city drips serious panache, history and cultural dolce vita from every last Renaissance stone and statue.

The choice of things to see and do in Florence is overwhelming – as are the tourist crowds, despite the city’s modest size and reassuringly safe, prosperous vibe.

Careful advance planning is the key to getting the most out of your visit to the Tuscan capital and to avoiding disappointment, too: book too late (or not at all) and you might well miss out on meeting Michelangelo’s bewitching nude boy-warrior in the “flesh,” or swooning over the breathtaking city vistas that unfold atop the Duomo’s iconic cupola. Here’s all you need to know before you head to Florence.

Crowds congregate in front Michelangelo’s David, displayed under stone arches and among columns at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze
Reserve tickets ahead of your visit to guarantee time in front of Michelangelo’s David © Reed Kaestner / Getty Images

Planning your trip to Florence

Are you a museum lover or festival fan?

Before you arrive, think carefully through what you hope to get out of your Florentine trip, and make sure your travel goals tally with the season. Florence has something to offer world explorers every month of the year, with each season offering its own appeal.

Those seeking to blitz through the city’s extraordinary museums, art galleries and historic monuments, for example, should plan a winter trip when museums are at their emptiest – while festival fans keen to dance the night away in a park or piazza will want to visit in late spring or summer.

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Think through your travel budget and lifestyle vibe

Florence is compact, making it quite easy to get from A to B wherever you are staying; each neighborhood has its own characteristics, quirks, practical advantages – and prices. During high season, when crowds uncomfortably cram the historic center to bursting point, it is particularly vital to pick the right place to stay. Rather than the over-touristed streets around the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, favor serene San Marco; hip Oltrarno, on the other side of the river; or a hillside suburb. 

Cut carbon and arrive by train 

Most visitors fly into Florence or Pisa airports, though both are a schlep from downtown. (Florence airport, linked by tram in about 20 minutes to the center, is the closer of the two.) But the city’s train hub, Stazione di Santa Maria Novella, is smack in the center of the city and by far the most convenient point of arrival from Venice, Milan, Rome and beyond.

Looking up at walls with frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippo Lippi in the Brancacci Chapel
The frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippo Lippi in the Brancacci Chapel dazzle – just be sure to reserve ahead © photogolfer / Shutterstock

Snag tickets for festivals and blockbuster attractions way in advance

Tickets for Italy’s oldest arts festival, the Maggio Musical Fiorentino, are like gold dust – so be sure to buy tickets online at least two or three months in advance. Snagging tickets for philharmonic concerts and operas staged at the same-name theater likewise requires advance planning. Ditto for some blockbuster temporary art exhibitions at Palazzo Strozzi.

One month before departure, log on to buy online tickets for Florence’s most sought-after museums and galleries: the Uffizi, Galleria dell’Accademia and the iconic Renaissance cupola that crowns the Duomo. You’ll not only be guaranteed a visit on the day and time you desire: you’ll also avoid wasting hours in ticket queues.

Reserve guided tours, backstage discoveries and hands-on workshops

A clutch of stupendous, low-capacity and wildly popular sights are only accessible by guided tour and also require advance reservations. These include Cappella Brancacci, Capella dei Magi, the Duomo’s rooftop terraces, and, from later in 2022, the Vasari Corridor. Many superb for families, backstage tours and activities organized by MUS.E in museums and medieval towers around the city are also best booked online before you leave home. 

Ditch the car

Don’t even think about arriving in Florence by car. Parking is a nightmare and much of the historic center is off-limits to motoring non-residents.

Book tables at the city’s gastronomic hot spots

Table reservations a few days or even a couple of weeks in advance, depending on the season, are vital at Florence’s most sought-after dining addresses: garden-graced La Leggenda dei Frati, Essenziale, triple-Michelin-starred Enoteca Pinchiorri and two-starred Santa Elisabetta among others.

Etiquette in Florence

Young woman taking out euro bills to buy one of several colorful leather handbag in Florence
Expect to pay in cash at many Florentine boutiques, markets, restaurants and bars © Innocenti / Getty Images

Always have some cash on hand

Many restaurants and hotels operate on a cash-only basis, so make sure you always have a few euro bills in your wallet. In small, family-run trattorie, check what types of payments are accepted before sitting down. Look for a handwritten sign, displayed perhaps in the window.

Don’t barge in on a Mass service or picnic on church steps

Historic Florence is littered with historic chapels and Renaissance churches at every turn, most of which still offer Mass daily. While some churches cannot be visited when services occur, others allow curious visitors to enter provided they remain in the rear of the church, don’t wander, and otherwise behave in a respectful, non-intrusive manner. 

All churches enforce a strict dress code, faithfully adhered to by locals and one you should also respect: no shorts, mini-skirts, sleeveless shirts (shoulders must be covered) or plunging necklines.

There’s a good reason why the city has hosed down church entryways several times a day in the past: eating on church steps is not allowed. Head to the riverbanks, your pick of Florence’s glorious city gardens and parks or a bench on a tree-shaded piazza to picnic instead.

Leave the selfie stick at home, and turn “flash” off

Or else keep it stashed well away in your bag and only pull it out when you are alone. Intrusive selfie sticks are banned in the Uffizi, Galleria dell’Accademia and other busy Florentine museums.

Smartphones aren’t outlawed, but do the decent thing and avoid sticking them in front of other people's faces, especially as they’re trying to contemplate world-class art. Photography with no flash is permitted in museums and galleries.

Shop local to support Florentine artists and artisans

Tacky mass-produced souvenirs (think aprons and boxer shorts emblazoned with David’s package) are everywhere, not least at city market Mercato Nuovo, awash with cheap imported handbags and other leather goods. Dreaming of a genuine leather jacket made in Italy? Ditch the tourist-trap stalls for the hand-stitched leather craft of a Benheart boutique.

Shoppers keen to delve into a city synonymous with craftsmanship since medieval times will find plenty of workshops and boutiques to explore in Oltrarno.

Respect public art works

With its abundance of open-air Renaissance sculptures, marble statues and highly embellished historic fountains, the center of Florence is a giant (and glorious) outdoor museum. Tempting as it might be, do not climb or clamber over these public art works whether for a photo or for play. And tell the kids to do the same.

Health and safety in Florence

Drink the right water

Tap water in Florence is perfectly safe to drink, though locals rarely do. In trattorie and restaurants, you will automatically be offered a choice of aqua minerale (bottled water), naturale (still) or spumante (sparkling). Asking for a jug or carafe of tap water is a strict no-no.

Avoid wandering around town alone late at night

Provided you keep your wits about you and use common sense, you should feel safe and comfortable in Florence. Still, we’d advise avoiding the Santa Maria Novella area late at night when alone, as well as narrow dark alleys. Sticking to main, well-illuminated thoroughfares is always a better idea.

Watch for pickpockets

Crowds invariably attract pickpockets, so be sure to stay vigilant in traditionally over-touristed spots such as Piazza del Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and around San Lorenzo market. Additionally, keep alert on crowded buses to Piazzale del Michelangelo, Fiesole and the airports.

Buy tickets only from official ticket offices and websites

Outside the Uffizi and elsewhere in Florence there are ample touts and vendors advertising “skip the line” tickets. Don’t buy them; only use official museum channels to buy tickets.

Don’t be intimidated by illegal street vendors – they’re only human!

Florence has its fair share of illegal street sellers flogging knock-off selfie sticks, smartphone power banks and chargers, ponchos and umbrellas (the second it rains), bottles of water and the like. They are generally harmless; a polite “no” is usually sufficient to ward them off.

Eating and drinking in Florence

A woman walks by patrons sipping coffees at Caffè Gilli in Florence
Espresso drinkers are most welcome at famous cafes such as Caffè Gilli – just don’t linger too long © Juliet Coombe / Lonely Planet

Pay before propping up at the bar with coffee and cake – and no unnecessary lingering, please!

Like everywhere else in Italy, drinking coffee standing up at a bar in Florence will cost you less than sitting at a table. In the city’s historic cafes, such as Caffè Rivoire and Caffè Gilli on Piazza della Signoria, pay for your order immediately at the cashier desk, then present the receipt to the bar staff to get your drink. Espresso is called just that for a reason: make your coffee stop short, sharp and sweet when standing at the bar.

Eat tripe

Invest time in learning about Florentine cuisine and tasting some of its most local dishes. There might no finer way to lap up Florentine street culture than over a tripe panino dripping in pea-green salsa verde (a sauce blending smashed parsley, garlic, capers and anchovies) at a traditional tripe cart. Try Trippaio Sergio Pollini on Piazza Sant’Ambrogio in Santa Croce, or at old-world Da Vinattieri, down an alley by Chiesa di Santa Margherita (Dante’s parish).

Dress up to dine, drink or dance after dark

A sense of style is vital to Tuscans, who take great pride in their dress and appearance, and for whom maintaining la bella figura (making a good impression) is of vital importance.

Steer clear of shorts, miniskirts and flip-flops unless you're at the beach, and always dress up at restaurants, bars and clubs. Smart-casual outfits cover most situations; sneakers are definitely frowned upon after dark.

Never order a cappuccino to end a meal

It just doesn’t fly. A short, sharp espresso is your only self-respecting option.

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