Episode #228: Top 5 Experiences to try in Florence

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Florence, known as the cradle of the Renaissance, offers a rich blend of art, history, and culture. Here are five must-try experiences to make the most of your visit to Tuscany’s capital city. From the masterpieces of Michelangelo and Botticelli, to the many aspects of the Duomo, to its famous dishes and various vantage points for panoramic views, each choice provides a unique glimpse into the essence of Florence, to help make your visit truly memorable.

Show notes
No doubt many of you dreaming of Italy are dreaming of a visit to Florence, a romantic city sitting on the Arno River that captures our imaginations. It was definitely somewhere that Katy longed to visit when she first started dreaming of Italy from Australia – studying history and reading books like A Room with a View (as well as the swoonsome movie version). Katy has been lucky enough to have visited Florence many, many times now, so thought she’d share with you the experiences she likes to have whenever she visits. Some are paid and some are for free but they are all things that are uniquely Florentine and ones that you’ll look back on fondly on when your time there is over.

What you’ll learn in this episode

Katy’s essential experiences to have in Florence experiences, the things in the Rennaisance city that she loves to return to time and again:

1. Soak up the art and culture

  • Florence is bursting at the seams with incredible art, especially from the Renaissance era. The city’s long tradition of supporting artists and artisans means you can find museums and galleries to suit every interest – from modern art to fashion
  • Below you can see some of the places you can visit to get an art fix in Florence, but the city is literally bursting with art and art museums, so if you are like Katy, who likes to take her art in bite-sized chunks, you can dip in and out of galleries and churches in between some shopping and cafe time – to make the perfect blend for a great Florentine experience

Uffizi Gallery

  • Most visitors to Florence go to the Uffizi Gallery, which is home to some of the world’s most priceless art by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rafael. It’s a mind-blowing collection housed in a purpose-built structure that also housed the Uffizi (or Officers) of the Medici family, which is where the building gets its name
  • The Uffizi is a huge and almost overwhelming collection. It is unfortunately not so well-marked, so we recommend that you take a guided tour or at the very least get an audio guide  to make the most of your visit
  • You must book in advance (more on buying tickets the Uffizi Gallery here). It’s also closed on Mondays, which can catch some people out, so it’s good to be aware of during your trip planning

Accademia Gallery

  • The other place most visitors head to in Florence for their art fix is the smaller and much more accessible Accademia Gallery
  • This is where you will find Michelangelo’s original David statue. There are two copies of the statue in Florence, one in the Piazza Della Signoria, near the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery, which is actually the spot where it originally stood before it was moved to the Accademia for its protection. The other is at Piazzale Michelangelo
  • Katy feels that the copies don’t really come close to capturing the beauty of the original which Michelangelo carved out of a single block of Carrara marble
  • The Accademia has a small collection of other works by Michelangelo and Renaissance artists and its size makes it less overwhelming than other galleries

Discover the art all around the city

  • Katy loves art and immersing herself in a painting or sculpture but even she finds it sometimes all feels a bit much
  • So she likes to spend just an hour or so at a time getting to know works of art and Florence is perfect for this
  • Florence has literally 100s of churches that you can pop into for free to see some of the world’s most prized works of art
  • You can take a wander around the various neighborhoods and pop into a church or two to admire some of the stunning pieces on offer
Santa Croce
  • One of Katy’s favorite spots is Santa Croce – home to works by Giotto, Brunelleschi, and Donatello
  • This church is also the final resting place of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini, Dante Alighieri and Florence Nightingale who are all honored with monumental tombs
Brancacci Chapel
  • Another great place to visit is the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine
  • In this chapel you’ll find the stunningly beautiful early Renaissance frescoes by Masaccio, who broke from the symbolic Medieval tradition by creating more realistic paintings of people in honor of his patron, the wealthy merchant Brancacci
The Medici Chapel
  • Closer to the Duomo the Medici Chapel (or Chapel of the Princes) is part of the church of San Lorenzo and honors the city’s leading family of the Renaissance era
  • This chapel is full of treasures including statues by Michelangelo
  • It is a riot of colored marble inlaid on more marble
The Ognissanti church
  • Not far from the Medici chapel, Ognissanti is a church where the crowds simply don’t go
  • Its Baroque facade shields a wonderful collection of frescoes by Ghirlandaio and Botticelli
  • Botticelli is also buried in the church, along with explorer Amerigo Vespucci

2. Experience all aspects of the Duomo

  • One place you can never miss is the beautiful Duomo – the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
  • This is the icon of Florence and whenever Katy is in town she will always pay her respects to this stunning building and enjoy capturing it from so many different angles
  • Its facade covered in intricate designs of green, pink and white marble topped with the terracotta tiles of Brunelleschi’s dome means it is breathtaking both up close and from a distance
  • Dusk and dawn are fantastic times to see it – when the particular Tuscan light bounces off the stone and it almost seems like the building is glowing

Climb the Dome

  • Don’t forget to head inside the Dome
  • The 364 steps to the top of the Dome is a must-do for many visitors to Florence
  • This inside view gets you up close and personal with the Dome – Brunelleshchi’s great architectural achievement
  • The higher you get, the more you can appreciate the ingenuity behind the creation of the dome
  • Some of our Untold Italy team members recently had a VIP experience climbing the Dome, which was absolutely absolutely incredible
  • On this Take Walks VIP After hours Duomo experience you climb the stairs up to the dome, go out onto the terraces, and then come back down into an empty cathedral and turn the lights out

Giotto’s bell tower

  • If you want to view the Dome from the outside, you can see the cathedral in all its glory from Giotto’s bell tower which forms part of the cathedral complex
  • There are a few more steps than the Dome at 414 – but there are some strategic viewing stops on your way up

More on the history of the Duomo

  • For those of you who want to learn more about the history, art and architecture of this magnificent site, pay a visit to the Opera del Duomo museum
  • Here you will find a treasure trove of artifacts and artworks that form part of the cathedral’s collection

More viewpoints

  • Katy likes to go and find new places she can admire the Duomo from – a different angle each trip to Florence and different times of the day
  • Some places she has found that offer great views include:
    • the Rinascente department store’s cafe which is great for lunch with a view
    • at dusk, she likes the cafeteria at the Oblate library which serves aperitivo and gives you a superb view of the Dome lit up after dusk.  Listening to the bells toll from that vantage point is a bit special
  • During the day a visit to the Palazzo Vecchio will give you the Medici’s view of the Duomo
  • The Palazzo Vecchio is one of the lesser-known sites in Florence, but one of Katy’s favorites
  • This is where the ruling Medici family lived until they moved across the river to the Pitti Palace
  • They had many vantage points to watch the progress of the Dome’s construction
    Peek out the windows there or from the tower for the best views in town

3. Bistecca alla Fiorentina

  • Walking around the cobblestone streets of Florence and up all those stairs to get the best views is sure to build up an appetite. Katy’s next recommendation, for meat-eaters, is to try Florence’s most famous dish
  • In its purest form, the Florentine steak or Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a big meal even for 2 people but it is worth it
  • Traditionally this steak dish comes from the Chianina, a Tuscan breed of cattle
  • The meat is aged between 15 and 21 days. Compare that to the meat that we have in most of our supermarkets – this is usually aged for around 48 hours,  so there is a big difference in flavor
  • The meat is then cut as a very thick T-bone with each piece weighing up to 1.2kg, and around 3 to 4 fingers high
  • This is not a dish for the faint-hearted
  • The steak is brought to room temperature then cooked quickly over hot coals. As per the Tuscan tradition, the meat is served pretty much blue but they will serve it medium rare. The meat is then seasoned with salt and pepper and olive oil
  • A note for anyone who is fussy about their meat and likes it well done – don’t ask for this dish as it will be a chewy and unsatisfactory experience – if they agree to cook it this way at all. Order something else as the steak is meant to be served rare
  • Katy thinks it is well worth it, even though she doesn’t eat a lot of red meat. It’s like an event – when it’s cooked like in the Florentine way it is one of the highlights of Katy’s eating experiences in Italy
  • Some places you can try Bistecca alla Fiorentina in Florence are:
    • Trattoria 13 Gobbi near the train station
    • Del Fagioli in the center
    • Trattoria dall’Oste and La Buchetta are popular too
  • Again, you will need to make your reservations in advance, because these places are popular

4. Artesan shopping

  • Katy loves a bit of exclusive shopping. By this, she means shopping experiences that are special and unique. It doesn’t have to be super expensive
  • You’ll find some very special shopping in Florence thanks to its long tradition of supporting artisan crafts
  • Do plan some time for shopping or at least window shopping in Florence
  • You can find perfect pieces there – things to cherish and mean you remember Florence forever

Scents of a city

Farmacia Santa Maria Novella
  • Katy always likes to stop by the Farmacia Santa Maria Novella. This Farmacia (it doesn’t sell medicine these days) traces its roots back to the early 13th century with ancient preparations by Dominican monks who made the best use of aromatic herbs from their garden. They made many things including the company’s famous scented waters
  • In the 16th century Catherine de Medici brought a specially made fragrance with her from the apothecary when she moved to France to marry the Dauphin (in a strategic alliance for the Florentine state). She would later become a formidable Queen of France and the fragrance Acqua di Santa Maria Novella, or Acqua della Regina (the “Queen’s Water”) is still available for purchase to this day
  • This historic store is always beautifully decorated and it is so elegant – it is like stepping into a wonderland
  • Katy loves to go to just to have a look around and also owns the special Queen’s Water fragrance herself!
Sileno Cheloni
  • On the other side of the Arno River, in the San Niccolo district, you’ll find a perfumier who builds on this Florentine tradition with over 1500 pure essences 
  • Sileno Cheloni’s exacting techniques mean unique preparations to try and they’ll even help you make your very own unique fragrance
  • It’s another really beautiful shop
  • A lot of the essences come from flowers that are grown near Florence
  • Perfume is a very local industry, and has been something made there for a very long time, to a much higher quality than you might find elsewhere


  • Close to Sileno Cheloni is an incredible jewelry store from master goldsmith Alessandro Dari
  • His work is inspired by the city of Florence over many eras – Etruscan, Medieval and Renaissance
  • His sculptural jewelry is spectacular, involving things like gargoyles and castles
  • Even if you wouldn’t wear this style yourself (like Katy, who has simpler tastes) you can’t fail to be impressed by the intricate designs and artistry on display
  • Dari is recognized as one of the top goldsmiths in Florence and in Italy, and each piece is incredibly unique and beautiful
  • Katy goes to the store every time she is in Florence to be inspired

Paper crafts

  • For something a little lighter in the suitcase (and on your wallet), Florence is known for paper crafts. At Il Papiro you will find luxury stationery and other items featuring stunning traditional colorful marbled designs
  • Katy has a few of their notebooks and it is such a pleasure to feel the quality of the paper and admire the handcrafted designs
  • Il Papiro also offers workshops for marbling
  • It’s an interesting technique of adding paint and swirling it which is much more complicated than it might look. You have to be very careful when you put the paper into the paint because one wrong move and you have a big splash instead of a beautiful swirly design

5. Take to the hills to admire Florence

  • There are various viewpoints where you can view the city and the Arno Valley from a distance
  • Depending on where you go, it’s also a great way to escape the crowds and enjoy a taste of the countryside of Tuscany

Piazzale Michelangelo

  • This viewpoint is the most popular and gets pretty crowded. but it is popular for a reason
  • Piazzale Michelangelo is right above the San Niccolo district and it’s a steep climb up steps to get there, so if you think that might be a bit much you can grab a taxi
  • It can get very busy, especially at dusk, but the views are incredible
  • Grab yourself an overpriced aperol spritz from a street vendor and watch the sun dip below the Tuscan hills in the distance with the sky color changing in evolving shades of pink and orange over the rooftops and the Duomo

Abbey of San Miniato al Monte

  • For a quieter and less crowded experience, but for the same panoramic view, you need to climb a little higher
  • Take the steps up to the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte to find the whole city laid out before you
  • You probably wont get a spritz here but you will be more likely to be able to enjoy a little quiet contemplation


  • Another spot that’s a little further out of Florence, but is beloved by many, is Fiesole
  • Fiesole is a small town on the city outskirts of the city. There are some dreamy scenes in the movie A Room with a View set here
  • You can take a taxi or walk in around an hour from Florence or take the local buses 17 and 7 to reach Piazza Mino where they hold a local market on Saturdays and cafe tables spill out into the piazza every day
  • The vibe here is relaxed and local compared to the crush of central Florence
  • Climb the steep hill to the Convent of San Francesco for the most beautiful views of Florence. You can then make your way down to the Roman Theater and Etruscan Ruins
  • Many people make Fiesole their base and venture into the city for day trips which is a fabulous idea if you are spending a few days there
  • On Katy’s last visit, they only had time for dinner in Fiesole and had a lovely meal in the outdoor courtyard at Coquinarius, which she can certainly recommend

How to enjoy Florence!

Florence is very crowded these days – throughout most of the year, so Katy recommends taking the quieter options of the things listed here, where you can.

Enjoy some quiet time to admire the views or take your time in an out-of-the-way church full of priceless art

Katy likes visiting there in winter best – when you can stroll around the streets in your warm winter coat and pop into a Trattoria for some bistecca or pasta, in between wandering the streets, doing a little shopping and art viewing

To discover more on Florence, check out our travel guide as well as more insider tips in:

If you’re planning on spending time in Florence, find out the Best places to stay in Florence – district and hotel guide, the Best boutique hotels in Florence and to cool off, the Top Florence hotels with pools

And more fascinating insights in our in-depth podcasts:

Places mentioned in the show
  • Uffizi Gallery – world-renowned gallery home to Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, statues by Michelangelo and more
  • Galleria dell’ Accademia – Michelangelo’s original and magnificent statue of David is displayed here
  • Duomo di Firenze – the cathedral of Florence. Work began in 1296 in the Gothic style and was finally completed by 1436, with the dome famously engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi
  • Piazza della Signoria – central square in Florence and home to the city hall, the Palazzo Vecchio
  • Opera del Duomo Museum – museum that contains many of the original art created for the Cathedral
  • Rinascente – department store with great views of Florence (the one in Rome is also great for aperitivo)
  • Oblate library –  located in the former Convent of the Oblate, in the heart of Florence. Its cafe is a great little aperitivo spot
  • Trattoria 13 Gobbi (near the train station), Del Fagioli  (in the center) – recommended places to have Bistecca alla Fiorentina
  • Trattoria dall’Oste and La Buchetta – popular places to try Bistecca alla Fiorentina
  • Farmacia Santa Maria Novella – historic pharmacy, famous for its perfumes and herbs. It does not sell medicines but is described as the oldest pharmacy in the world
  • San Niccolò – oldest district of Florence
  • Sileno Cheloni – internationally renowned Master Perfumer
  • Alessandro Dari – unique, artisan jewelry maker with store and museum in Florence
  • Il Papiro – hand made paper
  • Piazzale Michelangelo – vantage point for some of the best views of Florence
  • Abbey of San Minato al Monte – a basilica at one of the highest points of Florence
  • Fiesole – small town just outside of Florence. Considered an escape for Florence’s upper-class, since the 14th century
  • Coquinarius  – restaurant in Fiesole where Katy and her family enjoyed a meal 


  • A Room with a View – 80s movie set in Florence based on the EM Forster novel 
  • Giotto – Italian painter and architect from Florence during the Late Middle Ages
  • Brunelleschi – the architect and genius behind the dome of the Cathedral of Florence
  • Donatello – Florence-born Italian sculptor of the Renaissance period
  • Michelangelo – Florence-born Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance
  • Machiavelli – Florentine diplomat, author, philosopher, and historian from the period of the Italian Renaissance
  • Galileo – astronomer, physicist and engineer born in Pisa, Tuscany in 1564
  • Rossini – composer famed for works in the 1800s
  • Dante Alighieri – writer famous for The Divine Comedy
  • Florence Nightingale – famous reformer, statistician and the founder of modern nursing. An important pioneer in statistics
  • Masaccio – Florentine artist regarded as the first great Italian painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance. His patron was the wealthy merchant, Felice Brancacci
  • Ghirlandaio – Rennaisance painter and mosaicist 
  • Botticelli – Renaissance artist of The Birth of Venus, was born and lived in Florence all his life
  • Amerigo Vespucci – explorer and navigator from the Republic of Florence
  • Bistecca alla Fiorentina – steak made with a young steer or heifer of the Chianina cow
  • Diagon Alley – fictional alley from the Harry Potter books 

Resources from Untold Italy

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