Florence: A Travel Guide
The capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, Florence is home to the birth of the Renaissance. With world renowned masterpieces, breathtaking architecture, and mouth watering cuisine, this beautiful city is a must-see for any traveler. And is easily my favorite city in Italy. Relatively small and compact, Florence packs a punch into its city center along the Arno River. Visitors should spend at least three days here, especially if your interests center on art and history. This Florence travel guide will offer ideas, restaurant selections, and highlight some of my favorite locations.
Beyond its famous museums, Florence itself is a living museum. The historic center is on UNESCO’s world heritage list, and was home to cultural giants da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo, and the family that funded so much of historic Florence – the Medici.
Just walking around the city center marvelling at the scope of history, the intricate architecture on every building, and imagining all the great artists that walked where you are, is worth a day in itself. Combine this with a lunch stop at Gustapizza in Santo Spirito, an aperitif before dinner (the classic aperol spritz in summer, Negroni in fall), and a lingering, multi course dinner (primo, secondi e dolce) over a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva. Perfetto!
As a destination wedding photographer based on the East Coast and in Italy, I use Florence has my home base when overseas for weddings and wedding weekends. Florence is home for me. While I always learn more about this fascinating city each time we visit, I’m happy to share some quintessential highlights. Whether this is your first time to Florence or you’re a seasoned traveler, below are my recommendations.
If you only have one day to spend in Florence, I’d spend it seeing a few sights, taking in the city, and reserve time for an excellent meal, followed by gelato and a stroll along the Arno river.
Start your day at the Duomo (or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore). While the interior isn’t super unique, the exterior is truly breathtaking. An iconic symbol of the city, this is a must (and hard to miss given its size). If you know where you are in relation to the Duomo and the Arno, you’ll never be lost. I’ve photographed so many pre wedding sessions and engagement sessions there at sunrise, and it’s truly a privilege to have this part of the city to yourself at that time. If you’d like to see inside, get there very early – I’ve seen the line literally wrap around the entire Duomo later in the day.
If art is your thing, then head to the Uffizzi Gallery or the Accadmeia to see the David. Both of these are well worth it, but be sure to book your tickets ahead of time. Especially if you’re traveling during the high season (May-September, even October)!
After stopping for a lunch break, I’d spend time just walking around. Cross over the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. Walk past the vast Pitti Palace. Maybe visit the Boboli Gardens. Grab a gelato and linger. Browse the designer district – from Prada to Zimmermann, Chanel to Cartier, you’ll find it here.
If you’re here in summer when the days are longer, keep walking to Piazzale Michelangelo. Stay here for sunset for epics views high above the city. You won’t regret it!
Dinner reservations are strongly recommended. Especially in the summer (through October really), a lot of key restaurants will not have openings for walk-in’s. Do your research ahead of time, and indulge in the full dining experience. Order an antipasti, primi, and secondi. If you drink, start with an aperitif and then order a glass of wine with your second course. Spend time between each course. This is one of the best parts of Italian culture.
If you’re up for a night cap, head to the bar Santa Cocktail Club in Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Sit outside on the actual square, not on their patio. With a beautiful view of the Santa Maria Novella church and a prime spot for people watching, this is our favorite spot for an evening drink.
Where to Eat
While there are so many great dining experiences in Florence, a few of my favorites are La Giostra (touristy, but well worth it. The ambience is truly romantic), Gustapizza (best in Florence), L’antica vinaio (best sandwich), Trattoria dell’Oca (more outside the city in Novoli), and Il Santo Bevitore. Santa Cocktail Club and Terrazza Bar (part of the Continentale hotel near the Ponte Vecchio) are favorite stops of cocktails and views. For gelato, head to Vivoli, Perché no!, or La Carraia in the Oltrarno.
Where to Stay
We’ve stayed in so many places in Florence over the years. Favorites that come to mind are the Westin Excelsior (you cannot beat the views of the Arno or the rooftop breakfast), Continentale Hotel (so close to the Ponte Vecchio you can almost touch it), and for a more cost effective option we favor the Hilton Garden Inn in Novoli. This is a perfect option if you have a car and are planning on exploring the Tuscany region. It’s easy to get to and they have a parking ramp right below the hotel. While this is outside the city center, it’s also right along the new tram line which connects you both right into the city and right to the airport.
For more luxury options, I’d recommend Villa Cora, the Belmond Villa San Michele, and Il Salviatino. While all are outside the city center, these hotels truly embody the Italian “dolce far niente”. They provide a beautiful experience through a combination of stunning views, epic history architecture, luxurious pools, and shuttle services that will take you right into the city. Villa Cora and the Belmond Villa San Michele are also excellent Italian wedding venues.
Florence is just the beginning. Traveling outside of the city, highlights include Siena (think of the crayon color “Burnt Siena” when you take a look at this city), Montalcino (Brunello di Montalcino wine) and Montepulciano (Chianti homeland and the Val d’Orcia region), San Gimignano, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Cortona (Under the Tuscan Sun), Arezzo, and even down into Orvieto in Umbria. Traveling north, Bologna and Modena offer new culinary delights in the Emilia Romana region.
Planning a destination wedding weekend in Florence, Tuscany? Contact me here.