What to do in Florence, the city of Renaissance art and great food

Nestled in the heart of Tuscany, Florence has enough to capture anyone’s heart even in a couple of days

Tuscany’s capital city is blessed with features Renaissance masterpieces, stunning architecture and cool contemporary street art. And, of course, you’re sure to enjoy a warm Italian welcome. Here’s what to do in Florence…

Why visit Florence?

Florence street, view along the Via De' Pecori towards the dome and campanile of the Duomo - cathedral - in the center of Florence (Firenze), Italy.

Capital of Tuscany (one of our best places to visit in October), Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and its abundance of art and architecture from the period prove it. If you’re looking for a weekend that’s rich in culture, look no more.

Being Italian, the city also has its fair share of culinary treats to offer too – from Bistecca Fiorentina (Florentine steak) to Ribollita, aTuscan vegetable and bread soup.

What to do in Florence

Food markets

A deli at Mercato Centrale in Florence, Italy

The best of Tuscan produce is on show at the covered food market, Mercato Centrale, where you’ll find local olive oil, honey, spices, truffles, wines and more in abundance. Don’t skimp on the samples and, if you plan on making big purchases to ship home, feel free to haggle.

The market also has a restaurant, pizzeria and even a cookery school, with lessons in both Italian and English.

For an even more local food market experience, check out Mercato Sant’Ambrogio. Operational since 1873, it carries much of the same centuries-old history, but is geared less towards tourists.

Art tours

Impressive statue of Michelangelo's David, Italy

Art is the soul of Florence. The city is home to Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Venus and Titian’s Venus of Urbino, among countless other treasures.

For an exploration of Renaissance art, historian Alexandra Lawrence leads a variety of private tours around the city that will leave you informed and inspired. Visit exploreflorence.net to book.

Boboli Gardens

Buontalenti Grotto, Florence, Italy

The terraced Boboli Gardens slope down behind the Pitti Palace (which houses several major museums that are worth a visit).

Once a lavish garden for the Medici family, it’s now a public park full of Renaissance and classical sculptures and hidden grottos. Be sure to see the fairytale-esque Grotta di Buontalenti. It features three internal chambers, each with a different theme; nature, the four elements, and transformation.

See the city by bike

An abandoned pedal bike leans against a wall in a quiet Florence, Italy, street, while locals tourists wander around behind.. Image shot 08/2007. Exact date unknown.

With over 90km of bike paths in the city, one of the best ways to see Florence is by bicycle. Rent a bike from the stands outside the Santa Maria Novella train station for €10 a day, and head toward Porta Romana, the original city gate, for a 4.5 mile round trip.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer a guide, I Bike Italy offers tours with wine and olive tastings.

Pasticceria Buonamici

Baking is at the heart of Italian food, and especially in Florence. So what better place to learn the secrets from one of the city’s master bakers?

Roberto Buonamici, now over 70, has been making cantucci – delicious almond biscuits dipped in liqueur – since he was 13. During a demonstration at Pasticceria Buonamici, he coaxes the ingredients into a dough on a cool marble table, to be rolled, cut and laid on trays ready for the oven.

Excitingly, a new studio is due to open shortly if you’d like to create your own flavours of Italy.

Street art

Clet Abraham street art in Florence, Italy

The Renaissance capital of the world has a lesser-known contemporary art scene. The streets, walls and signs of the city provide a canvas for notable street artists like Clet Abraham, who adds comic alterations to street signs.

A mysterious artist known as Blub paints portraits of popular figures such as the Mona Lisa and Dante underwater and wearing diving masks.

Picnic at Giardino delle Rose

Giardino delle Rose, Florence, Italy

This little garden tucked between Piazzale Michelangelo and Via di San Niccolò offers a green and serene refuge. Within its hectare you’ll find more than 350 varieties of roses.

There’s also a dozen sculptures, lemon groves and a Japanese garden to discover – not to mention unparalleled views of the city.

The best time to visit is in late spring and early summer, when the park is in full bloom and the weather is just right.

Learn about leather

Florence has a long tradition of leather making, and there are plenty of places to buy it – whether from boutique shops or the market. But you’ll need to know your stuff to tell the difference between the real deal and fake-Italian.

Scuola del Cuoio – or The Leather School – has been training leather artisans for over 70 years, teaching the process from sourcing to hand sewing and dyeing. One-hour tours run twice daily, Monday to Friday, at the school’s Santa Croce base.

Climb the Duomo

Duomo, Florence, Italy

If it’s a view you’re looking for, head to The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, better known as Il Duomo di Firenze. Famous for its iconic dome – the world’s largest until 1881 – the stunning frescoes on the interior are worth climbing the 476 stairs for. But be prepared to manoeuvre in some rather tight spaces to get there. If you’re not out of puff, the adjacent Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) offers another spectacular vista.

MORE: The best cycling holidays in Italy

Where to stay in Florence

Portrait Firenze Hotel

A suite at Portrait Firenze Hotel, Florence, Italy

The stylish Portrait Firenze Hotel has impeccable fashion pedigree, belonging to the world-famous luxury goods company Ferragamo. Stay in a suite for views over the river Arno and Ponte Vecchio bridge. It’s like having your own city-break flat, but with the benefit of top-notch housekeeping.

Best restaurants in Florence

Trattoria in Italy

Da Ruggero

An unassuming spot that serves some of the best traditional food in town – don’t be put off by Da Ruggero’s modest décor. You’ll be offered a charming hand-written menu filled with local fare from platters of Tuscan Salami to traditional pastas made with seasonal ingredients. 

La Giostra

This charming restaurant features walls lined with wine bottles and boasts stories of hosting Elton John. The dishes offer a slightly more sophisticated take on those found in a traditional trattoria and the candlelit tables are the perfect setting for a romantic dinner.

4 Leoni

4 Leoni takes a traditional trattoria and gives it a modern, rustic twist. Creative dishes such as pear-filled pasta make this a must-visit for the culinary explorer.  

Caffe Dell’Oro

Caffe Dell'Oro restaurant at Portrait Firenze Hotel, Florence, Italy

Portrait Firenze’s fusion restaurant offers an amazing selection of street food, scallops, sushi and main dishes. We recommend the knockout salmon marinated in beetroot and sake.

Need to know

Florence’s small but busy Amerigo Vespucci airport, also known as Peretola, is three miles north-west of the centre. With luggage, a taxi to the centre costs about €25.

Words: Jash Patel and Isabel Pearce

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