Florence is a charming city in Central Italy and is also the capital of the Tuscan region. With its rich history, Renaissance art, museums, and medieval structures, Florence looks like a veduta painting came to life. Honestly, it’s hard not to fall in love with this city. If you’re curious to find out more, here’s a peek at my summer adventure in the Tuscan region, with some top picks for things to do in Florence.
My Top Picks of Things to do in Florence
Marvel at the Florence Cathedral
First, Florence Cathedral is hard to miss. It is right in the city centre. Although I didn’t take a look inside, the beauty of its exterior was enough for me to stop and stare for a couple of minutes in admiration every time I walked past it.
It’s just as spectacular at night as it is in the day. If you want to enter the cathedral, go in the late afternoon to beat the crowd.
Explore Palazzo Vecchio
From Florence Cathedral, I took a 5-minute walk to Palazzo Vecchio.
As the town hall of Florence, Palazzo Vecchio is the meeting point for Florentines and tourists. In the afternoon, crowds gather in the square in front of the building, waiting to enter.
The front entrance is flanked by a copy of Michelangelo’s David to the left and Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus to the right. Here, an intricate ornamental marble frontispiece above the entrance dates back to 1528.
I spent hours admiring the statues around Piazza della Signora. Really, the place is too beautiful to miss.
Feast your eyes on Renaissance art at Logga dei Lanzi
When it comes to things to do in Florence, appreciating the art is one of the most popular. There’s so much to see around Palazzo Vecchio, and Logga dei Lanzi was my favourite. This open-air gallery consisting of wide arches is on a corner of Piazza della Signoria, adjoining the Uffizi Gallery that houses the original sculpture of David.
I had a great time just walking around it, taking my sweet time admiring the Renaissance sculptures and statues. The one that stood out most was the bronze statue of Perseus holding up Medusa’s severed head — my favourite sculpture of all!
Cross Ponte Vecchio
To get to the other side of town, I had to cross Ponte Vecchio, a 3-minute walk from Logga dei Lanzi.
This ancient stone closed-arched bridge is known for having shops built along it – the only bridge of its kind I’ve seen throughout my travels in Europe. Once occupied by butchers, the shops are now mainly occupied by jewellers and souvenir vendors. If you’re a retail fan and you’re looking for things to do in Florence, then this may just be the ideal spot for you.
The Florence bridge is an especially romantic spot for a post-dinner evening stroll as there’s virtually no one around, a stark contrast to its atmosphere in the day.
More art in Pitti Palace
After crossing Ponte Vecchio, I was on the South side of River Arno. Following a straight path for 4 minutes, I ended up outside of Pitti Palace, a former royal palace as well as a power base by Napoleon. It’s the largest museum complex in Florence, housing several galleries and 250,000 works of art.
Enjoy the panoramic view from Piazzale Michelangelo
Tired legs? Forget about the gruelling climb to the top of Florence Cathedral and take a bus to Piazzale Michelangelo for a breathtaking view of Florence city!
The view of the sea of red rooftops and old buildings with ranges of mountains in the background is unforgettable.
Eat all the Gelato
What’s the point of Italy holidays without gorging on Gelato? My personal favourite Gelato parlour, Antica Gelateria Fiorentina, is hidden on a side street a 5-minute walk from Florence Cathedral. All of the gelato in this Gelataria is house-churned. My pick was the matcha and ambrosia gelato, and it only costs 1 Euro!
Pro-tip: Avoid Gelato shops selling ice cream that are whipped to high heavens – a sign that the Gelato is factory made. The height of the Gelato shouldn’t tower over the rim of the container it’s in.
Grab a bite at Mercato Centrale
There’s almost always a central market or market hall in every major city in Europe. In my opinion, the best way to get familiar with a city’s food culture is to eat at its market.
Mercato Centrale is where fresh produce and hot food are sold. From sandwiches and pizza to pasta and pastries, you’re really spoilt for choice with the options available.
My favourite was the beef tripe sandwich from da Nerbone, known for its infamous long queue. The juicy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth meat is so worth the wait.
Day trip through Tuscany
Firstly, I recommend booking a day trip through Tuscany when you’re planning things to do in Florence. On my journey through the idyllic Tuscan hill-scapes, I visited historic sites and major attractions, drank local wine while enjoying a classic Italian lunch on a vineyard.
Classic Italian food and wine in Chianti
While travelling solo gives me freedom, it can be pretty isolating after a while. During the day tour, I met people from all over the world. That day, we basked in the Chianti vineyards, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and fresh air.
Munching on Bruschetta (according to the Italian tour guide, it’s pronounced as brus-ket-ta) drizzled with local olive oil, while waiting for our pasta and wine tasting.
Learn about the history of Siena
Piazza del Campo, the main square of Siena, is where Palio di Siena, a bi-annual horse race is held.
My favourite was the Siena Cathedral, a Romanesque-Gothic architectural masterpiece. Despite its small size, it remains breathtaking. Its special point is its stripes, painted on its facade and the pillars inside the cathedral.
Another medieval town that looks right out of Game of Thrones. I had to stop by Gelateria Dondoli, which claims to have won the Gelato World Championship 4 years in a row. Although I had a pretty hard time picking a flavour from the numerous options available, in the end, I opted for berries and banana.
Of course, Florence breaks aren’t complete without the famous leaning tower of Pisa, one of the most iconic Italy attractions. I didn’t spend more than an hour here as it was a pretty small town overrun with tourists, especially in the summer. Nevertheless, it’s still a sight worth seeing, just to tick it off my travel bucket list!
Recommended hotel in Florence
Conveniently located in San Lorenzo, Glance Hotel is within a 10-minute walk from Central Market, Accademia Gallery, and Florence Cathedral. It’s also a 6-minute walk from Santa Maria Novella Station. Furthermore, I love this Florence hotel for its well-lit, stylish rooms, and the outdoor pool on the rooftop terrace.
Getting to Florence
From Florence Airport, take a train and a bus to get to the city centre. If you’re arriving by train from other Italian cities, alight at Santa Maria Novella Station, Florence’s main railway station, situated in the city centre.