Markets. Gelato. Bridges. Cathedrals. Palaces. Museums. Palace museums! There’s a lot of ground to cover in Florence. Luckily, it’s a walkable city and you can see (and eat) a lot, even if you don’t have much time.
This self-guided walking tour of Florence is perfect for an overview of the city’s most iconic sights, with some optional add-ons and a healthy amount of gelato thrown in.
Your Self Guided-Walking Tour of Florence, Italy
The ground floor of the Mercato Centrale has a mixture of coffee bars, food and produce vendors and restaurant stands selling ready-to-eat dishes. Sample some cured meats and cheeses and stock up on snacks for later.
My favorite part of the market was the FN Pasta Fresca stand. For 5 euro I got a delicious plate of handmade gnocchi.
Don’t miss the upstairs section, which was renovated and reopened in 2014. The large, airy room offers a dizzying variety of delicious, artisanal options. It’s easy to see how much care and attention to detail was used while designing it. Here’s a map, courtesy of their website, that gives you an idea of the space and their fun branding. See more here.
Nearby: If you’re heading to the Accademia to see the David, it’s a ~ten minute walk from the Mercato Centrale.
Piazza del Duomo
The Piazza del Duomo is often the number one priority and highlight for visitors to Florence… and I think that title is well-deserved. The duomo (cathedral) and the campanile (bell tower) are stunning; most notably their intricately designed pink, white and green marble exteriors.
The iconic dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. You can climb to the top of the dome and/or the clock tower for views from above. Click here for ticket information. Access to the interior of the cathedral itself is free.
Reserving a time slot for Brunelleschi’s dome is mandatory, so be sure to check the box that says “Brunelleschi’s Dome Skip-the-Line Booking” and choose your time before completing your purchase.
Piazza della Repubblica
This impressive square is where the city’s Roman forum was once located, with the Column of Abundance marking the geographical center of Florence.
The charming Picci carousel has been run by the same family for five generations.
If you’re here on a Thursday morning, stop by the flower market along the Via Pelliceria.
Nearby: It’s time for a gelato break! Two minutes from the piazza you’ll find Perché no! at Via dei Tavolini, 19r.
Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
You’ll probably want to check out as many markets as possible (because, Italy). Fifteen minutes from the Piazza della Repubblica is the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. While we also loved the Mercato Centrale, Sant’Ambrogio was less crowded and had a more local feel.
We browsed the stalls, sampled some olives and enjoyed an espresso before heading to our next stop.
Piazza di Santa Croce
This square is home to the Basilica of Santa Croce, the burial place of a number of famous Italians including Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli.
Many city events take place in this large, rectangular square, from casual gatherings between friends and family to the city’s annual Christmas market. Perhaps the most interesting tradition is the Calcio Fiorentino, or “historic football,” a game combining football, rugby and wrestling that originated in the square in the 16th century. Today it’s played once a year in June between teams from each of Florence’s four historic neighborhoods: Santo Spirito, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni.
Similar to the Palio in Siena, this annual event is extremely popular; in 2018 ticket sales were moved offline to box office only to ensure that locals have a better chance of securing them. If you find yourself in Florence while it’s taking place but you can’t get tickets, never fear; there’s still a parade and fireworks for you to enjoy!
Piazza della Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio
Heading back toward the city center, the Piazza della Signoria is a popular Florentine square that has served as the city’s political hub for centuries. The imposing Palazzo Vecchio, or Old Palace, is the square’s focal point. You can buy tickets to visit its museum and archeological site and/or climb its tower for more great views.
Also on the square:
- the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open-air sculpture gallery where you can enjoy works dating back to the 1500s
- a replica of the David
- the newly renovated Fontana del Nettuno, or Fountain of Neptune
Hungry? Two of my favorite Florence meals are in this area.
Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori | Via dei Magazzini, 3r
A reservation to this well-known neighborhood spot is highly recommended. We stopped by in person on our first night in Florence and the only available option was a lunch reservation two days later. Luckily it worked for us! In addition to the food being incredible, we were seated next to a table of businessmen on their lunch break. Their fast-paced, friendly banter with the staff created the perfect atmosphere.
All’antico Vinaio | Via dei Neri, 76r
The delicious and extremely popular panini here offer great value for money. They’re well worth the wait in line and slight confusion navigating the multiple storefronts.
Also nearby: If you’re visiting the Uffizi Gallery, it’s located just past the Piazza della Signoria on the banks of the Arno River.
Another icon of the city, the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, is especially picturesque thanks to the medieval storefronts built into its sides. Once home to butchers and fishmongers, today they’re largely home to jewelry stores.
Cross the Ponte Vecchio for pretty city views as you make your way to your next stop…
Oltrarno translates to “beyond the Arno,” referring to the neighborhoods of Florence south of the Arno River. As most of the city’s tourist attractions lie north of the river, the Oltrarno is naturally quieter and a welcome break from the crowded spots you’ve just come from.
Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens
A short walk from the Ponte Vecchio you’ll find the entrance to the Palazzo Pitti, or Pitti Palace. Since its original owner and namesake sold it in the 1500s, it’s been home to three powerful blood lines including the Medici. A political dynasty that ruled in Tuscany for three centuries, this influential family produced three Catholic popes and two French queens while encouraging the arts to flourish in the city.
Fun fact: the Medici motto was festina lente: make haste slowly. (Shoutout to Game of Thrones for piquing my curiosity on family mottos.)
Today, the palace is a museum complex linked with the Uffizi Gallery.
Connected to the palace are the Boboli Gardens, originally built for the Medici and opened to the public in the mid 1700s.
You can visit the palace and gardens on separate tickets, buy a combined ticket to visit both, or loop in a ticket that includes the Uffizi as well. Check out all the options here. We didn’t go in but took a break to enjoy the sun on the Piazza Pitti before continuing on to see a little bit of the Santo Spirito neighborhood.
Piazza Santo Spirito
The Piazza Santo Spirito is lined with picturesque shops and cafes and is home to the Basilica Santo Spirito.
You might also like: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Lisbon’s Chiado Neighborhood
Nearby: S.forno at Via Santa Monaca, 3r is a gorgeous bakery where you can get bread, a sweet treat or a light lunch.
Around the corner at Via De’ Serragli 32r, you’ll find Sbrino Gelatificio Contadino, a popular gelateria. It was closed when we stopped by, but luckily Florence doesn’t lack in delicious gelato options.
We soon found ourselves a few blocks over at Gelateria La Carraia | Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25/r. While searching for its address, I couldn’t help but note that this one is even recommended by Goop. (Thanks for the post-trip validation, Gwyneth!)
San Miniato al Monte
I know this is a self-guided walking tour, but we decided to give our legs a break for this part and hopped on bus #12 to San Miniato al Monte. The journey, while uphill, is definitely walkable at ~2km; if you’re feeling a solid sugar rush from your gelato, don’t let me deter you!
San Miniato al Monte is perched on one of the highest points of the whole city. Located a few minutes’ walk above the Piazzale Michelangelo, we loved how peaceful this space was with only a few other visitors and absolutely stunning views over the city.
A short walk downhill will lead you to the city’s most popular viewpoint: the Piazzale Michelangelo. This is a great spot to hang out with a picnic and some wine while enjoying panoramic Florentine views.
Continuing downhill along the Scalea del Monte alle Croci will lead you past the rose garden, through the Porta San Miniato and back to the Arno. If you’re heading back to the north side of the river, you can take the Ponte Alle Grazie.
Your Self-Guided Walking Tour of Florence, Italy: The Stats
Starting Point: Mercato Centrale
Ending Point: Ponte alle Grazie
Distance with bus ride to San Miniato al Monte included: 5.8 kilometers or 3.6 miles
Distance with walk to San Miniato al Monte included: 7.8 kilometers or 4.8 miles
Use this map to guide your walk.
Have you visited Florence? What spots would you add to this list?
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I’m sharing this post to one of my favorite blog link-ups: the Faraway Files, with Fifi + Hop, Hilary Style, Oregon Girl Around the World, and Suitcases and Sandcastles. Follow the links to check out their sites!