Looking for things to do in Florence? Read on for our pick of the city's best museums, galleries, lunch spots, drinking dens and more.
1. Chow down on cow
Wherever you dine in Florence, chances are you'll be offered the chance to try Florentine steak – a phonebook-thick hunk of beef that’s part dinner and part protein-based machismo contest. Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco (Borgo San Japoco 43r, +39 55 215706) – a charmingly modest, permanently packed spot just south of the river – serves its meat up by the kilo, while the menu of classic pastas, fish dishes and daily specials means the less carnivorously inclined are well looked after, too.
2. Gorge on Renaissance art
The quantity and quality of the paintings on display make the Uffizi gallery without a doubt the greatest treasure trove of Renaissance art in the world. Whether you book in advance or not, aim to arrive when the museum opens or at lunchtime, when tour groups are less prevalent. To see the whole collection takes a lot of time: it’s best to jump to the rooms that most interest you or, better still, plan a return visit. Allow three hours for the unmissables. Several groups run guided tours; there are also audio tours in six languages for €4.65 (single headset) or €6.20 (double headset) from the ticket office. Piazzale degli Uffizi 6 (+39 55 2388651). Open 8.15am-6.50pm Tue-Sun. Admission €6.50; €3.25 reductions.
3. Track down artisans with an app
The Arttour iPhone app takes you on a journey through Florence and Tuscany’s artisan workshops. Sponsored by Artex, which promotes arts and crafts in the region, the app enables you to easily find crafts galleries and makers’ studios near you. And if you don’t have an iPhone, the information is all listed on the website.
4. Pick up some unique jewels
Physically close to the ponte Vecchio, Alessandro Dari’s stunning creations couldn’t be further away from so much of the tat you find on the Ponte Vecchio bridge, with the craftsman’s pieces inspired by everything from the Renaissance art he is surrounded by to more obscure and arcane art from earlier periods and ancient mythology. Dari has a school and offers everything from one-day to three-month courses. Via di San Niccolò 115r, Oltrarno (+39 55 244747). Open 9.30-1.30pm, 2.30-7pm Mon-Fri; 9.30-1pm
5. Hear some heavenly sounds
Numerous churches offer concerts and opera performances throughout the year; those at St Mark’s English Church (via Maggio 16-18, 340 811 9192) are usually free, although there’s an admission fee for the acclaimed St Mark’s Opera Company performances, while grander settings that charge a small admission include the magnificent Chiesa di Orsanmichele and the gorgeous 12th-century Chiesa di Santo Stefano al Ponte Vecchio.
6. Get your grapes on
Florence’s first enoteca dedicated to organic wines, Vivanda opened in 2010 and already has a big local fan base. Located between piazza Santo Spirito and piazza del Carmine, Vivanda boasts an extensive wine list of over 120 organic and biodynamic labels from across Italy and the world. It also has a kitchen offering a good assortment of antipasti, primi and secondi including fresh pasta and a variety of vegetable choices. Wine is self-serve by the glass and all prime ingredients are locally sourced and seasonal. You can eat here and not worry about your carbon footprint: plates and cutlery are all biodegradable. Via Santa Monica 7 (055 2381208). Open 10.30-3pm, 6pm-midnight daily.
7. Drink in a boho piazza
Still relatively unknown to (or at least avoided by) the city’s tourist throng, Piazza di Santo Spirito is home to Florence’s hippest, liveliest bars and cafes, most of which feature outdoor terraces. Quirkily decorated Volume (+39 55 2381 460) – a former hat workshop that features vintage furniture and a miniature library – artsy hangout Cabiria (+39 55 215732) and Pop Café (+39 55 213852) have you covered for quality coffee, cocktails and snacks.
8. Grab a branded bargain
Florence is famous for its out-of-town fashion outlets, but if you only have time to do one, make it the Mall (via Europa 8, Leccio Reggello, +39 55 865 7775). Just a half-hour drive from the city, it’s home to many designer names, including Fendi, Armani, Gucci, Stella McCartney and Valentino, all of them offering discounts from 30% to 70%.
9. Do the apperitvo
Similar to the Anglophone happy hour, aperitivo in Florence (7-9pm) involves dressed-up locals wanting to see and be seen in the city’s trendiest bars. Drinks range from €8 to €10, for which you get to eat your fill from a buffet, usually set up near the bar, where finger food ranges from nuts and olives to bruschetta, salumi and cheese, via couscous and cold pasta salads, pizza and mini-panini.
10. Gawp at an architectural masterpiece
The result of work spanning more than six centuries, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – better known simply as ‘Duomo’ – not only dominates the skyline but also represents the geographical, cultural and historical centre of the city. Admission to the cathedral itself is free, but it’ll cost you €8 to go up inside the spectacular, 37,000-tonne dome and €6 to check out Campanile – the three-floor, 414-step bell tower. Both are thoroughly worth the cash (provided you’re not averse to physical exertion or tight spaces) – just try to arrive early since traffic gets extremely heavy by midday. +39 55 2302885. Open 10am-5pm Mon-Wed, Fri; 10am-4pm Thur; 10am- 4.45pm Sat (10am-3.30pm 1st Sat of mth); 1.30- 4.45pm Sun. Admission free.
11. Dine al fresco
Many local eateries have outdoor terraces, but a few stand out: the Pitti Gola e Cantina (Piazza Pitti 16, +39 55 212704) offers special views of piazza and Palazzo Pitti; romantic views of the ponte Vecchio can be had from the small terrace of the Borgo San Jacopo restaurant (Borgo San Jacopo 62r +39 55 281661); admire Florence’s skyline at the Bardini Museum’s adjoining restaurant, MoBa (Villa Bardini, costa di San Giorgio 6, +39 55 2008444); soak in the charm of piazza della Passera under the big white umbrellas at 4 Leoni (Via de’ Vellutini 1r, +39 55 218562).
12. Make a date with David
Despite the fact that Galleria dell’Accademia contains a huge number of magnificent and historic works, the queue snaking around the corner is for one attraction above all: Michelangelo’s monumental David (1501-04), still gleaming nearly a decade after its €400,000 clean-up in 2003 – his first bath for 130 years. Other Michelangelo works line the walls of the David salon; among them are his Slaves, masterly but unfinished sculptures struggling to escape from marble prisons. They were intended for Pope Julius II’s tomb, a project Michelangelo was forced to abandon in order to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome. On the right of David is the unfinished Pietà Palestrina, often attributed to Michelangelo. The gallery also houses a mixed bag of late Gothic and Renaissance paintings on the ground floor, and a fabulous collection of musical instruments from the Conservatory of Luigi Cherubini. Via Ricasoli 58-60 (055 2388609). Open 8.15am-6.50pm Tue-Sun. Admission €6.50
13. See a free jazz show
Every evening from mid June until September, jazz concerts are staged at piazza della SS Annunziata, courtesy of the Comune di Firenze, Quartiere Centro Storico and Firenze Estate. The programme is wonderfully eclectic, spanning everything from heavyweight tributes to the likes of Miles Davis and Billie Holiday to Cuban-inspired tango-jazz and Afro-Brazilian pop. Chairs and tables are set out, and food is provided by the non-profit Slow Food International.
14. Admire a really old bridge
While it’s Florence’s oldest bridge by some margin, the 14th century Ponte Vecchio isn’t much of a looker up close – unless you’re particularly enamoured with over-priced jewellery shops and crowds of gormless tourists, that is. From a distance, though, that medieval craftsmanship is really rather impressive, so head down stream to Ponte Santa Trinita to take your pictures.
15. Grab a brew with a view
On the outskirts of the city, the cafés and bars dotted on the hills at piazzale Michelangelo, Settignano and Fiesole afford fabulous views of the centre. In town, La Terrazza (Piazza della Repubblica 1, +39 55 219113) on top of the Rinascente department store has the best views in town – good coffee too.
16. Get serious about ice cream
For many who’ve found Grom (Via del Campanile, +39 55 216158), the contest for Florence's best gelateria is over. Here, monthly specials may be delicate matcha (green tea) or refreshing milk and fresh mint in the summer, and chunky marrons glacés or zingy ginger in the winter months; the year-round speciality is the sensational Crema di Grom, made with organic egg, soft cookies and Valrhona Ecuadorian chocolate.
17. Get wordy in the hills
If the stifling heat of downtown Florence gets too much for you, head for the hills. Specifically, the hills of Fiesole, where the 15th-century Villa il Palmerino (via del Palmerino 12, 339 8944725) offers not just a respite from town but an interesting cultural experience. For it’s here that you’ll find the Associazone Culturale il Palmerino, founded by Federica Paretti, who is continuing a centuries-old tradition of cultural activities at the villa. In addition to its lectures, concerts and cultural programmes, the association offers (for a fee) afternoon visits to the property and its exquisite English gardens, during which a professional actress reads from Vernon Lee’s books. Lunch or dinner is an option – both will include vegetables and wines from the villa’s organic kitchen garden and vineyard.
18. Cool off in an outdoor pool
When things get too hot to handle, head for one of Florence’s impressive outdoor pools. You can get a half-day ticket at any of the city’s municipal pools (after 2pm) for €4, and swim at the Paolo Costoli (Via Pasquale Paoli 9, +39 55 6236027) for free every Thursday in July and August until 8pm.
19. Admire the city’s contemporary side
While the art scene in Florence is destined to forever be more classic than contemporary, modern art is alive and well. The most crucial contributions continue to come from the restaurants, bars and hotels that show the work of local and even international artists. Astor Caffè (Piazza del Duomo 20r +39 55 284305), Rex Café (Via Fiesolana 25r, Santa Croce +39 55 2480331) and Gallery Hotel Art (Vicolo dell’Oro, 5 +39 55 27263) are among those putting on regular, gallery-worthy exhibitions.
20. Party in a piazza
Temporary bars, set up in streets and squares, are a hot summer phenomenon, with piazza Santo Spirito usually playing host to nightly gigs and events. Other one- off events are organised in piazza Pitti, the Boboli Gardens and Forte di Belvedere (currently closed for refurbishment), and the Stazione Leopolda is increasingly used as a summer venue. Jazzy nights at the Sant’Ambrogio Summer Festival also run from June to July in piazza Ghiberti and the newest summer venue is the Loggia del Pesce in piazza dei Ciompi, which had a bar and restaurant, and music swinging from bossa nova and samba to jazz and blues. For riverside seats, head to Teatro sull’Acqua (lungarno Pecori Giraldi, +39 55 2343460), a sprawling bar-cum-club. Bear in mind that the local council grants permission to these summer-only venues on a year-by-year basis, so the situation can change at any time. Check the local press for details.