Florence Things to Do
Florence is a city bursting with art, architecture, culture, and history. Though it is a condensed area, there is so much to see, do, and experience. With so many architectural and artistic masterpieces at nearly every turn, Florence itself seems like an open-air museum. As the cradle of the Italian Renaissance, it captures the history and culture of days past and preserves the spirit of the many famed artists whose masterpieces call Florence home. To fully experience it, one must not only admire the many monuments and buildings but also go inside a few of the many stunning museums and experience a variety of the city’s unique activities.
Within the walls of Florence’s museums are some of the world’s greatest artistic achievements. The famous Uffizi Gallery, Italy’s most visited museum, contains such works as Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus, Filippo Lippi's Madonna and Child with Two Angels, Leonardo da Vinci's The Annunciation, and countless more. The Galleria dell’Accademia, most well-known for housing Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David, is also home to examples of unique painting techniques and incredible sculptures. For even more artistic experiences, visit the Palazzo Pitti, Museum of Bargello, or simply stroll along the city streets to gaze upon the splendid buildings and monuments.
The most famous site to see in Florence is its cathedral, the Duomo. The third largest cathedral in the world, this massive gothic structure features Brunelleschi’s famous dome and contains 463 stone stairs which lead visitors to an amazing view of the Dome frescos and an incredible panoramic view of the entire city. Directly across from the cathedral is the Baptistery, the oldest religious site in the city. Renowned for its amazing bronze doors and stunning sculptures, the Baptistery was the location of the baptism of such Renaissance notables as Dante and members of the Medici family. Other must-see sites in Florence include Giotto’s Bell Tower, Signoria Palace, Piazzale Michelangelo, and the Santa Maria Novella Cathedral. When in Florence, the sites are practically endless.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
While exploring Florence’s streets and taking in the many artistic masterpieces held within the city’s museums are excellent ways to soak up culture, the best way to truly immerse oneself is to do as the locals do and attend one of Florence’s many traditional events and festivals.
If visiting in June or July, do not miss Calcio Fiorentino, or Historic Florentine Football. This sporting match is a unique and exciting display of Florentine traditions. The sport, which is a combination of soccer, rugby, and wrestling originates from the Middle Ages where noblemen would entertain themselves by playing and wearing bright costumes. Today, the traditional roots of the event are honored by a series of matches held in the Piazza di Santa Croce. A temporary arena with a sand-covered playing field and bleachers for spectators is assembled, and many locals gather for this celebration of Florence’s historic past.
On Easter Sunday of each year, Florence holds a special religious event called the Scoppio del Carro. Meaning “Explosion of the Cart,” this event is a 400-year-old tradition in which a stunningly detailed, two to three story tall wagon is paraded throughout the city. Garland covered oxen pull this massive cart from the Baptistry to the Cathedral, where fireworks are then set off. Many gather to witness the explosion, which, if big enough, is said to signal a good harvest season.
During October, Florentines celebrate Saint Reparata during the Festa of Santa Reparata. Legend has it that Reparata helped the Florence army fight the Ostrogoths. Locals celebrate this by holding a massive parade and a feast.
From sagre (food festivals) to events that celebrate local traditions and heritages to festivals dedicated to holidays, there’s always something on the Florentine calendar to experience.
If planning to visit Florence in mid or late September, expect an exciting time of year for the city and all of Tuscany. This is when Vendemmia, or harvest season, takes over. This time of year, grapes are harvested and the beginning of the wine production season is celebrated with many events and gatherings. Throughout the Florence and Chianti area, a variety of experiences that highlight this season are available.
Wine lovers would enjoy the EXPO of Chianti Classico. This event in nearby Greve in Chianti consists of four days of wine events and tastings from wineries that specialize in Chianti wine. Also in Chianti is Vino al Vino, a feast held in Panzano where local wineries gather for wine tastings and jazz music.
In Florence, a must-see event during Vendemmia is the Carro Matto, or mad cart. This event is a one of a kind experience. To celebrate the history of wine and how it used to arrive into cities, a massive cart is loaded with more than 2000 bottles of wine prepared in Rufina in Chianti. Then the cart is pulled into Florence by decorated oxen accompanied by a parade and a cannon.
Other events such as the Bacco Artigiano, Festa Dell’Uva, and many more help locals and tourists celebrate this important time of year for Tuscany.
To bring back a piece of Florence, there are many great local places to purchase gifts, souvenirs, and high-quality handicrafts throughout the city.
Perfect for everyone from individuals to large families, the San Lorenzo Market, an iconic open-air market in Florence, has everything one could want. From fresh produce to local food items to leather goods, shoes, artifacts, and souvenirs, this market features booths that sell a wide variety of products. Comprised of both an indoor market called the Central Market, which features nothing but food, to an outdoor market, which features vendors selling a variety of handcrafted items, the San Lorenzo Market is a unique way to enjoy and shop all things Florentine.
For leather goods, shop one of the many artisan shops in Florence’s historic center. From fine jackets and belts to exquisite bags, there are classy shops with pristine displays as well as rustic locations that also serve as workshops, exuding the unmistakable smell of leather.
For another renowned Florentine product, jewelry, visit one of the city’s historic goldsmiths on the iconic bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, or one of the many famed jewelers on important streets such as the Via dei Calzaiuoli or Via de’ Tornabuoni.
To capture a piece of Florence’s rich history, consider purchasing something vintage. Places such as the Ciompi Market on Ciompi Square and the Antiques Market in Fortezza da Basso sell a variety of unique and historic pieces.
GROUP AND FAMILY ACTIVITIES
For those traveling with kids, Florence has some locations and activities that are perfect for little ones. In the city’s historic center, families can pick from many gelato shops and enjoy tasting the large variety of unique and interesting flavors of the creamy creation. A visit to the Boboli Gardens will provide a family atmosphere. With its exquisite landscaping and fascinating sculptures, it’s the perfect place to take a stroll. Kids would also enjoy the carousel in Republica Square, which is made of wood and resembles the carousel in Mary Poppins.
For families or groups, the perfect activities in Florence include wine tastings and cooking classes. Known worldwide for both food and wine, Florence provides excellent opportunities for both. Whether in the city’s historic center or out in the Tuscan countryside, wine tastings provide the chance to sample excellent local wines such as the full-bodied Chianti. While cooking classes teach students the wonder of Florence’s simple, fresh, and rustic cuisine. Shopping the markets for local ingredients and preparing the dishes from scratch is an excellent way to bond and indulge in the city’s culinary gems.
While visiting, take advantage of a few unique and quintessential Florentine activities that can only be experienced in Florence!
Dine on classic Fiorentina steak. A must-taste for everyone who eats meat, the Florentine steak is a staple in nearly every dining establishment throughout the city. While there are various methods that different chefs will cook it based on their own unique traditions, the dish is iconic and supremely delicious.
Visit the Salvatore Ferragamo Shoe Museum. One of the most unique and oddest museums, it features 10,000 exhibits of shoes that were privately commissioned, including pairs created out of dyed, dried fish skins.
Stroll the Vasari Corridor, a raised passageway which runs through the Uffizi gallery and across the Ponte Vecchio. Also known as the Prince’s Passage, this corridor is one kilometer long and is home to amazing artwork. Constructed in 1565, it is only open for a limited time during the year and must be booked in advance. The reservations are well worth it, however, as it is one of Florence’s best kept artistic secrets.