Anyone who’s ever been to Florence will tell you it gets a little crazy. If I’m honest, I’d have been quite happy to leave this city off our Italy itinerary and visit it another time (ideally, in off season). But, alas, it’s somewhere Brad’s always wanted to go… and he’s clearly not alone. So, while we were there I made it my mission to find things to do in Florence that took us away from the crowds as much as possible.
The 5 best things to do in Florence (with no selfie sticks in sight)
The good news is that if you’re not an art buff, there’s actually a quite few things to do in Florence that don’t require long lines, expensive passes or getting close to tour groups.
If you asked me how to spend the perfect day in Florence, here’s what I’d tell you to do…
Early morning run (or stroll) to Piazzale Michelangelo
Like most places, being up and about in the early morning is a great strategy to get some face time with a city without hoards of people around you. And really, is there anything better than morning light and peace and quiet?
(Uh, yeah – morning light, peace and quiet and a coffee…)
If you feel like stretching your legs, the walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo is well worth it. The view is just as lovely as it is in the evening, and apart from a few die hard photographers you’ll have the place to yourself.
On the way back to your hotel, grab a coffee with the locals at Il Rifrullo (just be sure to have your cappuccino at the bar to enjoy being Italian… if only for a minute).
You’ll be rewarded well for crossing the Arno and spending the morning in Oltarno (literally, across the Arno).
It’s not going to be completely tourist-free, but compared to the main area around the Duomo it feels much more laid back and traditional. Grab another coffee, then just wander for a while.
Take pics of vintage Vespas, pop into artisan shops and maybe find a quiet piazza to sit and watch the world go by.
If you do want to pick up any souvenirs, this is the place to do it (there’s a notebook shop there that I’m obsessed with).
Keep strolling… but now look up
Look up to the street signs in Florence, and you’ll start to notice something’s a little different. In a city known for renaissance art, you’d hardly think any form of graffiti would be welcomed, right!?
Well, this is the work of Clet Abraham, an artist from France who’s been comically hacking Florence’s road signs all over the place, but most notably around his studio in San Niccolo.
Ogle at the Ponte Vecchio over lunch at Signorvino
It’s no surprise that there’s a million pics of the Ponte Vecchio on the interwebs. It’s beautiful. But what’s not beautiful, is standing there having a look surrounded by a million other people.
Enter Signorvino. This little wine bar is a great place to have lunch (liquid or traditional), and has one of the best views of the bridge from their balcony over the Arno. And, their coperto (service charge) is only €1! A bargain even if it didn’t have one of the best views in Florence!
The food is pretty good, and their wine list (as you’d expect) is great. And if there’s anywhere to do a long, lazy lunch before an afternoon nap, it’s Florence.
Early evening picnic at the Rose Garden
Yeah, yeah I hear you. I’ve already sent you up to see the view from Piazzale Michelangelo at sunrise. But… trust me. This was the highlight of our time in Florence. I seriously can’t believe people don’t know about this place – it’s one of the best things to do in Florence!
If there’s anywhere in the world to have a picnic for dinner, it’s Italy. You can easily source amazing, inexpensive picnic food. And if there’s anywhere in Italy to have a picnic, it’s Florence. You won’t have to worry about choosing a restaurant and getting seated right next to a table of obnoxiously loud tourists. Yeah, you know the ones…
Your hotel should be able to hook you up with wine glasses or plastic cups, a bottle opener, a plate and a couple of knives.
As you walk over from your hotel in the city, there’s a great Supermarket just over the Ponte Vecchio called Sapori & Dintorni Conad. Pick up some wine and antipasti here, before heading around the corner to Caffe Neri to buy dessert. Their cannoli and Nutella bombolone are aaaaa-mazing!
Then, head up to the Rose Garden (Giardino delle rose) and find a nice private spot to settle in. If you head towards the highest gate, you’ll have that famous Florence city view… all to yourself (with wine in hand).
Warning – be sure to get there early so you have enough time to actually enjoy your picnic. You’ll be promptly kicked out at 7:45pm so they can close at 8… We were caught by surprise and had to stuff a few of those olives and cherry tomatoes down quickly as we were chased out!
On the way home, walk back to your hotel via Ponte alle Grazie so you can catch the sunset behind Ponte Vecchio.
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Finally, enjoy dusk at the Duomo
The Duomo is glorious in the evening. Grab another gelato and walk around the piazza enjoying the cool air. Savour the sounds of some great buskers and watch the sky wind through a hundred different shades of Navy before the sun finally sets.
This is – hands down – the best time to enjoy the Piazza, with few selfie sticks or tour guide flags in site.
Know before you go
When to go?
If you can, try go in May, early June or September. You’ll still get the warm weather but there’ll be a few less people to contend with, before you have to start trying to escape them.
How much time do I need?
There’s no shortage of things to do in Florence. But, if you’re just wanting to have a ‘general look around’ and see what all the fuss is about, then you’ll really only need a day or two.
Of course, if you do want to hit up the museums or galleries you’ll need extra time and my advice would be: make a booking and go early!
Where to stay?
We stayed at the B&B Il Bargello – it’s in a great location, has it’s own rooftop terrace and is amazing value.