Even among other popular Italian cities, Florence is in a class of its own. The city is beautiful, historic and positively overflowing with Renaissance architecture and culture. Working out the best things to do in Florence is more a matter of where to start than what to see.
With this Florence itinerary you’ll visit many of the city’s most beloved attractions. I do say many and not all, since even with 3 days in Florence, you can only hope to see a fraction of this wonderful city and its countless palaces and art galleries. That’s just another reason why Florence has forever been a must-see stop on itineraries through Italy and Europe.
Best Time to Visit Florence
Only the brave or unknowing visit Florence during the height of summer. It is, after all, an incredibly famous and popular tourist destination. In all fairness though, Florence is visited by tourists year-round, even during the brisk days of winter. That’s why shoulder season is certainly the best time to visit Florence.
Covering the months of April, May and October, this time of year offers some balance that should help with sightseeing. It means you still may have to share the city with other tourists, but things won’t be as hectic as they are in summer. Similarly, the city’s weather is neither chilly nor stiflingly hot, just pleasant with a greater likelihood of rain. As trade-offs go, that’s a good one, since you have the option of countless museums and galleries to hide in.
How to Get Around Florence
Much of your time spent visiting Florence will be focused on the plethora of attractions that are concentrated within the historic city centre. This part of Florence is made for walking. Even though there are minibuses that operate through the Old Quarter, you’d miss out on wandering and soaking in the atmosphere of these centuries-old streets.
That said, beyond the centre of Florence, choosing to use Florence’s public transport is a smart move. If you’re not able to stay in the historic centre or need to reach either the Santa Maria Novella or Campo di Marte train stations, then the city’s buses may be your best bet. Tickets for the buses can be bought at tobacconists and newsagents, and they come as either a single trip (1.5€) or multi trip (4.5€). A last resort is to buy one from the driver, but it will cost you more at 2.5€.
It’s worth mentioning that the historic centre of Florence is declared a Limited Traffic Zone (ZTL), which means you need a permit to drive there, let alone park.
Flying into Florence you have two choices of airports, the larger airport in Pisa not too far away, and the smaller Florence Airport. To get from Pisa Airport, take the new Pisa Mover shuttle train to Pisa Central Station where you can transit to one of the regular trains to Florence Santa Maria Novella. As for getting from Florence Airport, the Volainbus shuttle bus runs to the Florence bus station every 30 minutes during the day and hourly in the evening.
Recommendation: See Florence on a comfortable and convenient hop-on hop-off bus tour. Travel on open-top double-decker buses that cover 2 routes. Your 24, 48 or 72-hour ticket makes it possible to see all that Florence has to offer!
Where to Stay in Florence
A city like Florence that has been attracting tourists for ages is bound to have a lot of accommodation, but that doesn’t mean it’s always good. Working out the best places to stay in Florence with so many places to choose from can be tough. Worse though is leaving it until too late and being stuck somewhere you’d rather not stay.
With Florence, location is a big factor, and the closer you get to the historic centre of the city the more expensive accommodation will be. Stay too far out though and you’ll spend time and money on buses traveling to and from the city’s attractions. Don’t ignore south of the Arno river either, as it can often be closer and cheaper than other options.
If you’re looking for where to stay in Florence and want somewhere truly special, it doesn’t get better than the Hotel Bernini Palace. This hotel is actually a converted 15th-century palace, where rooms actually have full Renaissance décor and guests enjoy luxurious amenities courtesy of the attentive staff.
For those seeking a balance of comfort and affordability, Hotel Il Poeta Dante is a great mid-range option. With homely charm, a generous buffet breakfast and cozy courtyard, you won’t want to leave, even though you’re right in the centre of Florence.
Florence isn’t the cheapest city to visit, but there are still some budget options like the Hostel Archi Rossi. Surprisingly close to Old Town, this hostel has everything you expect from a hostel, plus air-conditioning and a good breakfast included in the rate. For more on how to save on visiting Florence, take a look at our backpacking guide to Florence.
For more accommodation options in Florence check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point. Airbnb is another great place to look. For recommendations check out our list of the best Airbnbs in Florence.
The Perfect 3-Day Florence Itinerary
To see the best of Florence in a matter of a few days presents quite a challenge. A city with this much culture and history ultimately requires more than a few days to see it from top to bottom. But following this Florence travel itinerary you’ll have the chance to see the city’s most famous and intriguing sights.
Starting at the heart of Florence’s historic center, you’ll bounce from grand piazzas to grander palaces, from immense churches to immense museums. Crossing the river, you’ll be treated to classic sights and views that give a whole new perspective on what you’ve done so far. Then you can look forward to exploring the region of Tuscany with a day trip to one of its other beloved destinations.
However, before we get to our Florence itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $10 a week, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
Now that you’re ready to go, let’s dive into what to do in Florence in 3 days so that you can have the best visit possible.
Florence Itinerary: Day 1
Starting out in the center of the city, we’ll make our way between some of the best places to visit in Florence, including two world-famous museums.
Piazza del Duomo
With an early start, it’s best to make an immediate beeline for one of Florence’s most treasured squares – Piazza del Duomo. It’s in this square that you’ll find several of Florence’s best attractions.
As the name suggests, the square is home to and centred on the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral. But two other equally intriguing landmarks found here are the beautiful Florence Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile, the cathedral’s bell tower. It should be immediately obvious that the three are related as they all share the same famous marble design.
Campanile and Baptistery
Getting to Piazza del Duomo first means you can decide either to wait in the line for the Duomo which opens at 10am, or climb the Campanile that opens at 8:15am. With 414 steps and no elevator to the top of the bell tower, if you pick the Campanile, you’ll be starting your day with a work out. But your effort is definitely rewarded when you see the awesome views out over Florence.
Once you get down from the Campanile, head over to the Baptistery which will also be open. Venturing inside, you’ll marvel at the incredible mosaics that create religious scenes on the ceiling.
Having seen the other sights in the square, it’s time to line up for the Duomo (if you don’t want to wait in line make sure to buy your skip-the-line ticket in advance here). Even from the fast moving line, you’ll be able to appreciate that this immense 13th-century cathedral is truly a work of art, from the sculptures that line each side of the building to the great big Renaissance dome on top.
Once inside this free attraction, although the walls are bare, be sure to admire the intricate patterns in the marble floor. Likely what you’ll most notice though is just how much space there is inside this gargantuan building. Echoes bounce around the cavernous interior, filling this empty space in an unexpected way.
If you decided against taking the stairs up the Campanile, the good thing is that you haven’t missed out on a rooftop view. The bad news is that the climb up to the viewpoint in the cathedral’s dome requires 463 steps, even more than the Campanile.
Moving away from Piazza del Duomo, wander the streets of historic Florence until you reach Strozzi Palace. You don’t necessarily have to spend time inside the palace, but it’s worth taking a look inside the palace courtyard. That’s because this is an example of the many, many Renaissance palaces that are hidden away within the historic Florence city centre. Besides visiting for its architecture, the palace hosts contemporary art exhibitions that might be of interest.
Piazza della Repubblica
Heading along Via Della Strozzi, you’ll soon pass under a magnificent, great arch and enter Piazza della Repubblica. Another impressive square in the heart of Florence, this pedestrian area is lined with cafes for you to get your caffeine fix. It’s also home to a vintage merry-go-round that’s sure to delight kids and maybe your own inner child.
As a Renaissance city that was home to so many inspirational artists, you simply have to visit an art gallery while here. Together with the Uffizi Gallery, there’s no better place to start than the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze. Home to works of art from scores of different famous Italian artists, you’ll find these masterpieces take many forms, from paintings to sculptures.
Of course, the gallery’s most famous works are by renowned sculptor Michelangelo. In the Accademia you’ll find the original statue of David, one of the most famous and celebrated Renaissance works of art. This isn’t Michelangelo’s only piece here either, with his statues of St Matthew and the Prisoners or Slaves here also.
Like many attractions in Florence, it really helps if you pre-book your tickets online well in advance.
Piazza della Signoria
Ok, so this is the last square for the day, I promise! Delving deeper into the historic centre of Florence will bring you to the iconic square of Piazza della Signoria. This oddly shaped square is a treasure trove of things to see, with many taking the form of sculptures.
Starting at the centre you find the Fountain of Neptune and Cosimo I de’ Medici on horseback vying for the spotlight. Further round are more expressive statues, including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. But for the best public statues, turn to the Loggia dei Lanzi and its incredibly lifelike statues under its covered terrace. A personal favorite is the rather vivid statue of Perseus holding the head of the mythical Medusa.
The last big attraction we turn to on the Piazza della Signoria, the Palazzo Vecchio, is hard to miss. With its fortified exterior and high bell tower, Florence’s medieval City Hall makes quite an impression on the square. It’s likely to make an impression on you too.
A visit to this great big fortified palace takes you through multiple floors of the centuries-old palace and even up to the clock tower if you’d like. Again, you first have to master plenty of stairs if you want to be rewarded with another fantastic view of the city.
But actually, the real highlight of a visit to the Palazzo Vecchio is seeing the Salone dei Cinquecento, or Hall of Five Hundred. This huge hall features two great long frescoes of battles along either wall, not to mention the gold-panelled ceiling full of artwork. Make sure to head up to the mezzanine to get a little closer to the ceiling too.
Skip the long lines and spend more time exploring by buying your skip-the-line tickets to the Palazzo Vecchio here.
Why not finish the day with a gentle stroll along the banks of the Arno river that flows through Florence. This river is just as important to the city as any of the sights you’ve seen throughout the day. It’s particularly memorable if you walk out onto a bridge and admire the riverfront as the sun sets.
Florence Itinerary: Day 2
Now that we’re acquainted with the city a little, we’ll continue with a few more highlights in the city centre before heading south of the Arno river.
Basilica of Santa Croce
Since we’ve yet to visit many of Florence’s churches, let’s start with the beautiful Basilica of Santa Croce. Not only does this church have a beautiful white marble façade, but also a relaxed and open interior. Inside you’ll find a wealth of things to see, ranging from Donatello’s Annunciation to tombs of such famous men as Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli and Michelangelo.
After a brief stroll back along the Arno, it’s time for one of Florence’s most popular attractions, the Uffizi Gallery. Even compared to the Galleria dell’Accademia, this historic art gallery boasts a huge vault of acclaimed western art. The collection of Renaissance artwork, and even earlier pieces, is practically unparalleled.
This gallery easily namedrops famous Italian masters like Leonardo, Giotto, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. Beyond that, it features works from other European artists from the period and ancient busts from the private collection of the Medici family. To see this museum in full could take up your entire morning, but it would be a morning well spent.
Again, it really is recommended to buy skip-the-line tickets early for the Uffizi, especially during summer. For more information, take a look at our guide on how to buy tickets to the Uffizi Gallery.
Although we’ve seen the Arno, we’ve yet to visit the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge. What makes this bridge so special is that it still has shops along it as bridges once did during medieval times. It also has the sad honor of being the only bridge that survived World War II without being destroyed.
Built in the 14th century, the shops along the bridge now house various jewelers and souvenir stores. Another remarkable feature of the bridge is the Vasari Corridor, an elevated corridor built by the Medici so they could cross without rubbing shoulders with the common folk. Some of it is open to the public, allowing you to see yet another side of Florence.
Having crossed the Arno, you’re now in the neighborhoods on the river’s south side. A short walk from the Ponte Vecchio brings you outside the immense Pitti Palace, once home to the Medici and later Italian royalty.
From the outside it may not seem as enticing as other Florence attractions, but it has plenty to offer visitors. You’ll have your pick of museums inside, whether it’s the Royal Apartments, the Treasury of the Grand Dukes or the Gallery of Modern Art.
The only thing not included in the museum ticket is the Boboli Gardens, an elegant park full of fountains and sculptures to be adored. After so much time in the city, it may be nice to escape to somewhere a little greener like this. If you plan to visit the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace and the Gardens, make sure to buy the combined ticket and save some money.
I can’t think of a better way to end your second day in Florence with the best view of the city. At first sight, Piazzale Michelangelo might look like little more than a car park with a statue, but head to the terrace and you’re welcomed with one hell of a view.
From the terrace you look out over the entire city of Florence, from the Arno river and the Ponte Vecchio across it to the historic centre and the hills beyond. It’s up here at the viewpoint that you can see just how massive the Duomo is in comparison to the historic houses around it. The view helps put the entire city in perspective and reaffirms just how beautiful Florence is.
No surprise then that Piazzale Michelangelo is usually busy and even more so when it’s time to watch the sunset. But this is one sunset spot you’ll be happy to share.
Florence Itinerary: Day 3
It’s almost unfair how great a tourist destination Florence is. Not only do you have everything to see and experience in the city, but Florence makes an ideal base for day trips out into Tuscany and other nearby regions of Italy. With more than 2 days in Florence, there’s enough time for one day out exploring places that include:
A rival to Florence only in terms of being a household name, Pisa may well be one of the easiest day trips from Florence. You can either DIY it or you can join a guided tour from Florence.
Of the attractions in Pisa, you’re bound to be familiar with at least one. The Leaning Tower of Pisa may be the city’s biggest tourist trap, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting. That’s because once you’ve seen the tower and gotten “that” photo, there are other sights immediately nearby.
The Leaning Tower sits right next to Pisa Cathedral, a magnificent marble structure that you can see inside with a free but scheduled pass. By the Cathedral is also the Baptistery, an ornate dome-shaped building that actually may outshine the other two.
Over in the centre of the city, you’ll find fantastic sights like Piazza dei Cavalieri, surrounded on all sides with Renaissance palaces. After strolling the banks of the Arno, noticing how much different it is to Florence, head for the pretty gardens at Fortezza di Pisa.
When it comes to magnificent cities in Tuscany, one can never overlook the beautiful hilltop city of Siena. Packed full of medieval charm, it’s little wonder that UNESCO added the city’s Old Town to the World Heritage registry.
A visit to Siena has to start with Piazza del Campo, the sloped oval piazza at the centre of Siena’s historic quarter. Home to the splendid Palazzo Pubblico and awkwardly tall Torre del Mangia, it also transforms into a racetrack for the famous Palio di Siena horse race.
Weaving through brick buildings and along undulating streets, you’ll find other major landmarks like Salimbeni Palace and the Medici Fortress of Siena. But neither quite compare to the sight of the Duomo, Siena’s striped cathedral that single-handedly defines the cityscape. Even after visiting all the churches in Florence, you’re going to want to see the style and sheer scale inside for yourself. For more information on how to spend a day in Siena, check out our Siena itinerary.
Recommendation: Make the most of your time and book this amazing full-day tour of Tuscany’s villages and wine regions from Florence and travel into the heart of the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Visit the town of San Gimignano, the wine territory of Chianti, and the medieval town of Siena.
3. Cinque Terre
Just beyond the limits of Tuscany lies one of Italy’s most majestic coastlines and along it you’ll find the Cinque Terre. Made up of five unbelievably scenic villages that dot the Ligurian coast, chances are you’ve seen and been enchanted by photos of this iconic Italian destination.
Although it can be hard to fit the entire Cinque Terre in one day when coming from Florence, it’s certainly possible and well worth it. Located inside a national park, road access to the villages is limited and parking spaces are few. The two typical ways people visit the villages of the Cinque Terre are either by hiking the coastal trails or by taking the train.
The Cinque Terre are made up of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Usual practice is to go south to north or vice versa. While there are similarities between the villages like the look of houses there, each is surprisingly different. For instance, you’ll find lots of vineyards in Vernazza while Monterosso has two quite nice beaches to enjoy.
The main thing they have in common is that they’re all so darn photogenic. So yes, this is one place where you’re going to want to bring your camera.
If you have some more time in Italy and love the outdoors we highly recommend you stay here for longer than just a day trip. After all, Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful hiking destination in the world.
Italy has quite a few fantastic Renaissance cities besides Florence, and one of the best has to be Bologna. This medieval city in the Emilia-Romagna region could easily take up several days of an Italy trip, but if you’re pressed for time a day will do.
Although it does bear a few similarities to Florence, Bologna is very much its own city. There’s the fact that it has the longest operating university in the world, which somehow gives the city a youthful vibe despite its history. It would also be impossible to mistake the look of Bologna’s historic centre, with covered porticos lining the sides of many streets.
Bologna also offers plenty of sights along with its ambience. There’s the exquisite main square of Piazza Maggiore with the evocative Fountain of Neptune at its centre. Around the sides you’ll find several grand, old brick palaces like Palazzo Re Enzo that each deserve your time.
Other sights include the Two Towers, twin brick towers that were symbols of the city, and plenty of churches. Somewhat unusual is the Archiginnasio of Bologna, where you’ll find the library and anatomical theatre of the historic university.
And that’s Florence in 3 days in a nutshell. The time is sure to fly by during your visit with all these things to see and do. You’ll definitely be able to say you’ve seen Florence, and more, when you follow this Florence itinerary.