As a kid growing up in Rome, I went to Florence several times with school tours, visiting this or that Museum, and seeing first hand the master pieces of the Renaissance period. These were the sculptures, paintings that we had to study in school.

I remember how busy the city was, with plenty of tourists, mostly Italians from other parts of the country.

Thirty years or so later, downtown Florence frequently feels like a city "overrun" by visitors. At any one time, even simply walking down a street can be a tasking experience.

BUT, visiting Florence is still a once in a lifetime experience that can be enjoyed as long as one plans smartly, and follow some of basic rules (or that is what an italian would do). In no particular order:
  • If you are staying in Florence, make the effort to walk through the city in early morning, say between 7 and 10. During this period, you will find few or no tour buses, and significantly fewer people around, mostly italians going to have a caffe at their preferred caffe/bar, buying their daily newspaper or going to work. You will feel like you have the city for yourself and may even be able to snap a picture or two of the Duomo and other attractions without dodging other visitors.

  • Before going to Italy, reserve entry tickets for the major museums like the Academia or the Uffizi. That will help you avoiding to stand on line for hrs. Reservations can be made either by phone (the museum provides service in English as well) or use the Museum online system.  If you are reserving online, make sure you use the museum direct services (the previous link) and NOT the service of other online booking services for which you'll pay a surcharge.  The hotel where you are staying may be able to make the reservation for you. If you book in advance, try to get the ticket for early in the morning when the number of people visiting the museums is still small.

  • In 2011, Florence has created a Museum Card, known as the Firenze card. It is valid for three days and it allows access to 30 museums including the Uffizi, Academia, Bargello, il Giardino di Boboli, etc. The card allows access with no reservation and no line up (a separate entrance). It costs 50 Euros and includes free public transportation. Check out the official Firenze Card website. Do not confuse the Firenze card (i.e. Museum card) with the Amici degli Uffizi card which is designed for residents and may be more attractive for a longer than three days visit.
  • Avoid
    self-serve, fast food outlets in central Florence! During one of our trips, we should have known better, but in a moment of weakness, not sure why, we stopped in one of these facilities. Awful food, overpriced as well..........Note: These are NOT the pizzeria-delicatessen we mention in our main "Eating in Italy" page. Rather, they are wannabe NA fast-service outlets, but are just... tourist traps and are not patronized by many locals.

  • Take advantage of some walking tours offered by various tour guides. It will help you better appreciate the history and culture of Florence, and will enhance your experience…

  • Most tourists focus on the main part of central Florence, missing the area known as the "Oltre Arno," that is on the other side of the Arno River. Here, less than five minutes form Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pizzi few tourists venture. Yet, it is in this area where Florence still vibrates with artists, sculptors, and artisans that continue practicing their trade along quiet streets.
There are so many places in Florence worth visiting!
Many travel sources on the Internet can help you making the most of your time.
However, if, unfortunately, your time is very limited and you have already been to the Academia or the Uffizi, one place you may not want to miss is the Giotto's Bell tower (Campanile di Giotto). Built in the 1300s, the 85 m tall Tower is located immediately beside the Duomo. About 400 steps will take you to a panoramic terrace with breathtaking views of Florence and its surroundings. From there you will also have a close look at the Duomo from the outside. A simple, inexpensive way to finish what may have been a very short visit of Florence. TIP: The best time to visit the Campanile is early in the morning, before the arrival of tour buses and long lines ups form.