9 Florence Travel Tips for First Timers

Picture in front of the Duomo of Florence

Florence, the Birthplace of the Renaissance. I was obsessed with The City of Lilies before I ever stepped foot on her cobblestone streets, and my obsession only deepened with each day I spent there. On one side of the Arno River lies the historic center of the city, filled with museums and basilicas, and completely saturated in culture and history. On the other side of the Arno you’ll find charming neighborhoods with flower shops, gardens, and even more history. Wherever you’re exploring, you’ll want to be prepared. Here are 9 Tips to make your first trip to Florence a success!

1 – Brush Up on Your Renaissance History:

Florence is the heart of the Italian Renaissance, and if you don’t have a rudimentary knowledge of that history you’ll miss out on a lot. Botticelli, Michelangelo, the Medici family, Dante Alighieri, Galileo Galilei, the Catholic Church, the Bonfire of the Vanities–Florence is so saturated in history you can almost taste it. Going to Florence without knowing her history is like going to a Michelin starred restaurant and asking if they have mozzarella sticks. There’s nothing wrong with mozzarella sticks, I could actually smash some right now, but that would be missing out on the opportunity to try some world-class cuisine, and that’s just criminal. If you’re going all that way, do it right!

The folks at The Culture Trip have compiled a list of 8 books to read before your trip to Florence. Even reading one or two of these books will enhance your experience exponentially!

2 – Screw Fashion, Wear Comfortable Shoes:

I truly cannot stress this enough. Save your sexy shoes for dinner time, and wear something comfortable during the day. Florence is one of the most walkable cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring, but the keyword there is walking, and you’re going to be doing a lot of it (several miles per day). I can’t tell you how badly I wished I had a pair of tennis shoes in Florence. I know, I know, you want to be stylish in Europe. I get it. So buy some bangin’ tennis shoes and enjoy not having to spend your money on Band-aids to bandage up your blisters.

3 – Florence is Smaller Than You Might Think:

Florence is a relatively small city, and is centered around the Duomo. Just about everything is walkable, and certainly the main attractions are. I generally recommend staying in the historic center of the city, simply to be close to everything you plan to see and do. However, due to Florence’s smaller size, you may consider staying across the Arno in the Oltrarno neighborhood. It tends to be a bit quieter and the views of the Duomo across the river can’t be beat. You will have a longer walk or need transportation if you go this route, however.

If you want to see the streets of Florence without the crowds, channel your inner early bird! Head out around 7:00 in the morning and you’ll have most of the city to yourself.

4 – Cover Up, Sinners:

If you plan on visiting any of the magnificent churches in Florence, be prepared to cover your legs and shoulders. Dress codes are generally enforced, though some more strictly than others, and it’s best to be prepared. If you’re wearing a tank top be sure to have a wrap with you, and avoid shorts if possible. Jesus just can’t handle your sexiness.

5 – Get Out of the City and Explore Tuscany:

You’re in Tuscany, go explore it! The best way to do that is either by renting a car or by taking a tour (if you’re in excellent shape you could also explore the area surrounding Florence on a bicycle). Renting a car gives you more flexibility, but can be challenging or intimidating depending on your driving experience. Taking a tour eliminates the stress of driving on your own, but limits you to their itinerary and timeline. There’s no right answer here, it just depends on what’s right for you. There are wineries, medieval hilltop towns, natural hot springs, and so much more to explore outside Florence.

6 – Get the Firenze Card:

If you’ll be in the city at least three days and plan to visit several of the top sights, the Firenze Card is the way to go. The Firenze Card is good for 72 hours and costs €85 (you can also add extra days for a fee). It allows free, skip-the-line admission to most of Florence’s many museums and attractions. Keep in mind the Uffizi Gallery alone is €25, so it won’t take long for the Firenze Card to start saving you money. Be sure to check with each museum you plan to attend to see if a scheduled entry time is required.

If your time is short and you’ll only have time for a couple museums, you’ll want to make sure you book your tickets well in advance. Top attractions can sell out weeks ahead of time, and lines can take hours to get through. To book tickets to individual museums, click the links below:

  1. Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo)
  2. Uffizi Gallery
  3. Galleria Dell’Accademia
  4. Bargello Museum
  5. Palazzo Vecchio
  6. Palazzo Pitti & Boboli Gardens

7 – Buy Yourself Some Leather:

Florentine leather is famous, and there are leather shops all over the city. Whether you’re just grabbing a wallet, or you want a new leather jacket, they’ve got it in Florence! In the smaller shops filled primarily with purses and wallets that are on seemingly every street, make sure you haggle on the price. I got a wallet for €20 that he initially wanted to charge me €50 for.

8 – Embrace the Italian Dinner Experience

  • Italians don’t rush through dinner, it’s sacred, an event, and is meant to be savored. Take your time, enjoy every course, reminisce about your day, just relax. The waiters will not be pestering you to leave.
  • Dinner begins no earlier than 8:00 – 8:30 in the evening, and they stop seating around 11:00 – 11:30.
  • You’ll never be interrupted by annoying waiters asking how your meal is or if you’d like another refill, it’s considered rude to interrupt someone’s meal. But don’t worry, whenever you need something, the waiters are always nearby, ready to help without being intrusive.
  • Tipping isn’t necessary, but small amounts are appreciated! Every time you sit at a table you’re charged, usually per person. It’s called a coperto, and it’s essentially a cover charge. Although tipping is not customary in Italy, rounding up or giving an extra 5-10% is appreciated for exceptional service.
  • Coffee is basically a shot. Italians don’t sit in coffee shops sipping giant mugs of coffee. They buy their coffee at the counter, chug it, and go. If you want to sit down with your brew you’ll have to pay a coperto. And don’t ask for milk with it in the afternoon, that’s just not how they roll.
  • Your pizza will not be cut when they give it to you. This is more of a side note than a tip, really, but it confused the hell out of me, so I’m sharing it with you. They do not slice pizza, they just give you the whole pie with regular silverware and then you’re on your own. Totally worth it, that pizza is amazing.
  • If you want the most authentic experience and best food, avoid eating in high-tourist areas. Generally, you’ll want to walk at least a few blocks away. The best places to eat will have a smaller menu with no food pictures, and prices will be listed. It never hurts to ask some of the locals where their favorite places to eat are! They know best!
Toast in Florence Italy

9 – Spend Wisely and Come Prepared:

You’ll want a variety of options when going to Florence. Make sure any credit cards you bring have a PIN, as those without may not be accepted at many locations. ATMs are everywhere, but you’ll want to get some euros from your bank before you go. Be sure to allow a few days for the bank to receive the funds. While you’re at the bank, ask which ATMs will incur the lowest fees, and notify them (and any other credit card companies) of your travel dates so they don’t think your card has been stolen when it starts making purchases in Italy.

While in Florence, always pay in local currency. Sometimes you’ll be offered the option to pay in U.S. currency, and it’s usually presented as a benefit for you. It’s not, it’s a scam. It allows the vendor to set the exchange rate and fees, and will always be higher than the rate your bank will charge.


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