Top Things to Do in Florence

In the 700th year since Dante’s death, the poet’s birthplace Florence is as inspiring as ever

by Hayley Leaver

While London has the unfortunate claim that you’re never more than six feet away from a rat, Florence must be able to say the same for museums and churches. Around every corner of its historic center, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, lies another reminder of the Renaissance. Not only the birthplace of the Renaissance but Gucci and supposedly gelato, too, Florence serves up all the style and taste you could want in a city break. You’ll need to hit the ground running, however, to fit everything in you can see and do in Florence.


Italian cuisine needs no introduction and Tuscany’s farm-fresh food is some of the country’s best. While Florence isn’t short of places to carb-load on the predictable pizza and pasta, Tuscan cuisine’s traditional peasant roots make it the place to enjoy rustic soups and the city’s infamous bistecca alla Fiorentina, a huge T-bone steak that is typically from Chianina cattle, an ancient breed only found in Tuscany.

To enjoy the best of the region’s food all under one cast-iron and glass roof, head to Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. This lively market attracts a mix of tourists and local foodies to its communal tables and artisan-manned stores for live music, fresh mozzarella and Florentine specialties. 

For authentic cooking with Michelin’s approval, one-starred Ristorante Borgo San Jacopo is well worth sharpening those elbows for, too, especially for a reservation on the terrace. A candlelit meal here offers views of the River Arno and Ponte Vecchio and tasting menus by young Tuscan chef Claudio Mengoni, which include signature dishes such as milk-fed porchetta with black salsify and calamarata pasta with redfish.

Confirming its claim as the home of gelato, you’ll find lines everywhere. Favorites include Vivoli on Via Isole delle Stinche, which dates back to 1929, and Grom, whose lengthy lines are a testament to its changing monthly menus and innovative flavors that recreate Italian classics.


Even if you’re not an art lover, there’s a fairly good chance you’ll leave Florence as one. Fortunately, a leisurely stroll around the city center will enable you to tick off much of the city’s—and world’s—best art.Florence’s Uffizi Gallery has one of the most famous collections of Renaissance art in the world with pieces by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Giotto and Caravaggio, plus seldom-seen Divine Comedy sketches.

Michelangelo’s David is also the reason for the lines outside the Galleria dell’Accademia. If you’ve forgotten to pre-book your tickets, you may want to check out the statue’s replica opposite the Palazzo Vecchio instead.

If you like your sightseeing with a side of cardio, climbing the Brunelleschi-engineered dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo, offers no shortcuts or elevators—just 463 steps and a view that’s worth the challenge.

Top Things to Do in Florence
Florence’s historic center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Credit: Ben Dove/Unsplash

What’s a walking tour without a little window shopping too? Cross the Ponte Vecchio and you can do both. And while a trip to the pharmacy is usually a sign your trip isn’t going to plan, here beauty lovers will be able to stock up on handmade soaps and luxury perfumes with a visit to the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies.


Gallery Hotel Art 

Since the president of the Lungarno Collection, Leonardo Ferragamo’s father, arrived in Florence in 1927 and opened his first fashion store, the name has been synonymous with style. Adding to the Italian accessories brand’s legacy is a group of hotels that offer Michelin-starred cuisine, rooftop terraces and, thanks to the Gallery Hotel Art, temporary exhibitions.

If you’ve not had your fill of masters at the Uffizi, take the five-minute walk from the gallery to this boutique hotel (supposedly the first design hotel in Italy) that’s just seconds from the Ponte Vecchio and you’ll find the work of Florentine architect Michele Bönan complemented by a changing display of contemporary art on the walls and in the small square in front of the hotel, Vicolo dell’Oro.

As well as works by the likes of David LaChapelle and Andy Warhol, there’s a library stocked with every beautiful coffee table book you can think of and a fusion restaurant that celebrates Japanese and Peruvian influences. Unsurprisingly, the three seven-floor penthouses and their terraces offer the best views across the city. 

Hotel Brunelleschi

Thanks to its compact size and abundance of Renaissance treasures, most of Florence’s hotels are within easy reach of at least one thing you’ll want to see. If it’s the spectacular cathedral though, the Hotel Brunelleschi should be top of your list. Not only is this boutique hotel less than a two-minute walk from the Duomo, many of its rooms offer views of its terracotta dome. There’s even a pool suite where you can take in the sights from a whirlpool on the terrace. Don’t let its 2013 refurbishment fool you either, this boutique hotel was created within a Byzantine tower and medieval church. It’s also the hotel of choice for the protagonist of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.