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Rick Steves Pocket Florence
By Rick Steves
With Gene Openshaw
Formats and Prices
- ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
- Trade Paperback $14.99 $19.99 CAD
Also available from:
- City walks and tours: Five detailed tours and walks showcase Florence's essential sights, including the Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo, and Michelangelo's David at the Accademia, plus specific recommendations for each neighborhood
- Rick's strategic advice on what's worth your time and money
- What to eat and where to stay: Sample artisanal gelato, chat with locals over a glass of Chianti, and enjoy the Old-World ambience of a Florentine bed and breakfast
- Day-by-day itineraries to help you prioritize your time
- A detailed, detachable fold-out map, plus museum and city maps throughout
- Full-color, portable, and slim for exploring on the go
- Trip-planning practicalities like when to go, how to get around, basic Italian phrases, and more
Spending more time in the region? Try Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany.
About this Book
Florence by Neighborhood
Key to this Book
Florence at a Glance
Planning Your Time
Florence is Europe’s cultural capital. As the home of the Renaissance and birthplace of the modern world, Florence practiced the art of civilized living back when the rest of Europe was rural and crude.
Florence is geographically small, with more artistic masterpieces per square mile than anyplace else. In a single day, you can look Michelangelo’s David in the eyes, fall under the seductive sway of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and climb the modern world’s first dome, which still dominates the skyline.
Today’s Florence bustles with a modern vibe coursing through its narrow Renaissance lanes. You’ll encounter children licking gelato, students riding Vespas, supermodels wearing Gucci fashions, and artisans sipping Chianti—many of the very things you came to Italy to see.
About This Book
With this book, I’ve selected only the best of Florence—admittedly, a tough call. The core of the book is five self-guided tours that zero in on Florence’s greatest sights and neighborhoods.
My Renaissance Walk leads you through the historic core—a great introduction to the town’s layout, history, and major sights. The Accademia/David Tour stars Michelangelo’s 17-foot-tall colossus... ’nuff said? The Uffizi Gallery Tour presents the world’s greatest collection of Italian painting. And at the Bargello and Duomo museums, you’ll see some of the world’s best sculpture.
The rest of the book is a traveler’s tool kit. You’ll find plenty more about Florence’s attractions, from shopping to nightlife to less touristy sights. And there are helpful hints on saving money, avoiding crowds, getting around town, enjoying a great meal, and more.
Florence by Neighborhood
The best of Florence (population 380,000) lies on the north bank of the Arno River. The main historical sights cluster around the red-brick dome of the cathedral (Duomo). Everything is within a 20-minute walk of the cathedral, train station, or Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). Much of this historic core is now delightfully traffic-free. For easy orientation, think of Florence divided into sections:
The Duomo to the Arno: The historic spine stretches from the cathedral to the Palazzo Vecchio (with its tall medieval spire) to the Uffizi Gallery to the Ponte Vecchio. It’s an easy 10-minute walk along the pedestrian main drag, Via dei Calzaiuoli. Here you’ll find major sights, touristy restaurants, and big crowds. My Renaissance Walk is a great introduction to this area.
North of the Duomo: Tourist activities and restaurants revolve around two main centers: the Basilica of San Lorenzo (museums and nearby markets), and the Accademia (and nearby San Marco Museum).
East of the Duomo: The landmark is the Church of Santa Croce—a major sight and a people-gathering spot. Otherwise, this is a less-touristed area, sprinkled with minor sights, and a few hotels and restaurants.
West of the Duomo: The train station (and bus station)—a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Duomo—form the western border of the historic core. The area is not so picturesque and there are few sights (besides the church of Santa Maria Novella), but it’s convenient for hotels and restaurants.
South of the Arno River (Oltrarno): Less touristed and more local, it’s a place of artisan workshops and car traffic. Tourists enjoy the Pitti Palace (and Boboli Gardens) and Brancacci Chapel, as well as local-filled restaurants.
Planning Your Time
Plan your sightseeing carefully to avoid lines and work around closed days. ( See my sightseeing tips on here.) Florence is so geographically small that, even if you only had one day, you could see the biggies in a 12-hour sightseeing blitz. But let’s assume you have at least three days.
Day 1: In the cool of the morning, take my Renaissance Walk. Have lunch in the old center. After lunch, art lovers will want to get a start on Florence’s many sights. Choose from the Medici Chapels (Michelangelo), Santa Maria Novella, the Palazzo Vecchio, Medici-Riccardi, the Pitti Palace, Brancacci Chapel, or Santa Croce. Around 16:30 (when crowds die down), see the Uffizi Gallery’s unforgettable paintings—reserve well in advance or get a Firenze Card. End with dinner in the old center.
Day 2: See the Accademia (David)—reserve in advance or get a Firenze Card. Visit the nearby Museum of San Marco (Fra Angelico). After lunch, hit the markets, shop, wander, take a bike or walking tour, or do more museum-going. Around 16:30, visit the Baptistery, climb the Campanile, and see the Duomo Museum. Then stroll to the Arno, and cross to the Oltrarno for dinner.
Day 3: Start with the Bargello (best statues), then the Galileo Science Museum. After lunch, sightsee any leftovers from the first two days. Around 16:00, take a taxi or bus to Piazzale Michelangelo for city views and the San Miniato Church. Walk back into town for dinner.
With more days, you could even fit in a day trip to Siena, Pisa, Lucca, or a Tuscan hill town.
These are busy day-plans, so be sure to schedule in slack time for picnics, laundry, people-watching, leisurely dinners, shopping, and recharging your touristic batteries. Slow down and be open to unexpected experiences and the hospitality of the Italian people.
Trip Tips: Avoid lines by making reservations or buying a Firenze Card, and check opening hours carefully. Download my free Florence audio tours—covering the Renaissance Walk, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Accademia (David)—and take them along ( see here for details). Do your most intense sightseeing in the morning or late afternoon to avoid heat and crowds. Stop often for gelato.
I hope you have a great trip! Traveling like a temporary local and taking advantage of the information here, you’ll enjoy the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and euro. I’m happy that you’ll be visiting places I know and love, and meeting some of my favorite Italian people.
Happy travels! Buon viaggio!
THE WALK BEGINS
Map: Renaissance Walk
The Florentine Renaissance
The Duomo—Florence’s Cathedral
Map: The Duomo & Nearby
Baptistery and Ghiberti’s Bronze Doors
Map: Ghiberti’s Bronze Doors
Via de’ Calzaiuoli
Orsanmichele Church—Florence’s Medieval Roots
Map: Orsanmichele Church
Piazza della Signoria
Map: Palazzo Vecchio & Nearby
Uffizi Courtyard—The Renaissance Hall of Fame
From the Duomo to the Arno River
After centuries of labor, Florence gave birth to the Renaissance. We’ll start with the soaring church dome that stands as the proud symbol of the Renaissance spirit. Just opposite, you’ll find the Baptistery doors that opened the Renaissance. Finally, we’ll reach Florence’s political center, dotted with monuments of that proud time. Great and rich as this city is, it’s easily covered on foot. This walk through the top sights is less than a mile long, running from the Duomo to the Arno River.
This walk gives an overview of the top sights in Florence—if you’d like to visit any of them in depth, see the Sights chapter for more specifics.
Please note: to hear these audio tours, your device must support embedded audio.
Getting Into Duomo Sights: You can take this walk without entering any sights, and it’s free to enter the Duomo. But seeing any of the Duomo’s related sights requires a €15 combo-ticket (sold at ticket office opposite Baptistery entrance; at the Campanile, Duomo crypt, and Duomo Museum; and at ticket machines in the ticket office—credit card only, requires PIN). The Duomo sights are also covered by the Firenze Card. Before entering any of the Duomo sights, you must present your Firenze Card at the ticket office opposite the Baptistery to pick up your free combo-ticket.
Duomo (Cathedral): Free, Mon-Fri 10:00-17:00; Thu until 16:00 May and Oct, until 16:30 Nov-April; Sat 10:00-16:45; Sun 13:30-16:45. A modest dress code is enforced.
Climbing the Dome: Covered by €15 combo-ticket and Firenze Card—but with Firenze Card you must first pick up ticket at ticket office opposite Baptistery; Mon-Fri 8:30-19:00, Sat 8:30-17:40, closed Sun, last entry 40 minutes before closing, 463 steps.
Campanile (Giotto’s Tower): Covered by €15 combo-ticket and Firenze Card, daily 8:30-19:30, last entry 40 minutes before closing, 414 steps.
Baptistery: Covered by €15 combo-ticket and Firenze Card. Interior open Mon-Sat 11:15-19:00 except first Sat of month 8:30-14:00, Sun 8:30-14:00. Entrance is at the north door (see map on here). Photos allowed inside. The bronze doors are on the outside, so they’re always viewable and free to see.
Medici-Riccardi Palace: €7, cash only, covered by Firenze Card, Thu-Tue 8:30-19:00, closed Wed.
Orsanmichele Church: Free, daily 10:00-17:00. Upstairs museum open Mon only. The niche sculptures are always viewable from the outside.
Palazzo Vecchio: Courtyard-free; museum-€10, covered by Firenze Card; April-Sept Fri-Wed 9:00-24:00, Thu 9:00-14:00; Oct-March Fri-Wed 9:00-19:00, Thu 9:00-14:00, last entry one hour before closing.
Information: There’s a TI right on Piazza del Duomo, and another one a block-and-a-half north of the Duomo at Via Cavour 1 red.
Audio Tour: You can download this chapter as a free Rick Steves audio tour ( see here).
Length of This Walk: Allow two hours for the walk, including interior visits of the Baptistery and Orsanmichele Church (but not the other sights mentioned).
With Limited Time: Skip the Medici-Riccardi Palace detour and don’t go inside the Baptistery and Orsanmichele Church.
Services: Pay toilets are at the ticket office opposite the Baptistery. You can refill your water bottle at public twist-the-handle fountains at the Duomo (left side, by the dome entrance), the Palazzo Vecchio (behind the Neptune fountain) M, and on Ponte Vecchio.
Photography: Don’t use a flash inside churches and other sights.
Eating: You’ll find plenty of cafés, self-service cafeterias, bars, and gelato shops along the route. For cheap eats, try Self-Service Ristorante Leonardo or Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, a bakery/café with good focacce sandwiches (near the Duomo, see here). A fully stocked supermarket called Sapori & Dintorni is just 50 yards north of the Duomo at Borgo San Lorenzo 15 red.
Starring: Brunelleschi’s dome, Ghiberti’s doors, the Medici palaces, and the city of Florence—old and new.
THE WALK BEGINS
Please note: to hear these audio tours, your device must support embedded audio.
The Duomo—the cathedral with the distinctive red dome—is the center of Florence and the orientation point for this walk. If you ever get lost, home’s the dome. We’ll start here, see several sights in the area, and then stroll down the city’s pedestrian-only main street to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Arno River. Consider prefacing this walk with a visit to the ultimate Renaissance man: Michelangelo’s David ( see the Accademia Tour chapter).
Stand in front of the Duomo as you get your historical bearings.
The Florentine Renaissance (1400-1550) M
In the 13th and 14th centuries, Florence was a powerful center of banking, trading, and textile manufacturing. The resulting wealth fertilized the cultural soil. Then came the Black Death in 1348. Nearly half the population died, but the infrastructure remained strong, and the city rebuilt better than ever. Led by Florence’s chief family—the art-crazy Medici—and propelled by the naturally aggressive and creative spirit of the Florentines, it’s no wonder that the long-awaited Renaissance finally took root here.
The Renaissance—the “rebirth” of Greek and Roman culture that swept across Europe—started around 1400 and lasted about 150 years. In politics, the Renaissance meant democracy; in science, a renewed interest in exploring nature. The general mood was optimistic and “humanistic,” with a confidence in the power of the individual.
In medieval times, poverty and ignorance had made life “nasty, brutish, and short” (for lack of a better cliché). The church was the people’s opiate, and their lives were only a preparation for a happier time in heaven after leaving this miserable vale of tears.
Medieval art was the church’s servant. The noblest art form was architecture—churches themselves—and other arts were considered most worthwhile if they embellished the house of God. Painting and sculpture were narrative and symbolic, designed to tell Bible stories to the devout and illiterate masses.
As prosperity rose in Florence, so did people’s confidence in life and themselves. Middle-class craftsmen, merchants, and bankers felt they could control their own destinies, rather than be at the whim of nature. They found much in common with the ancient Greeks and Romans, who valued logic and reason above superstition and blind faith.
Renaissance art was a return to the realism and balance of Greek and Roman sculpture and architecture. Domes and round arches replaced Gothic spires and pointed arches. In painting and sculpture, Renaissance artists strove for realism. Merging art and science, they used mathematics, the laws of perspective, and direct observation of nature to paint the world, 3-D on a flat surface.
This was not an anti-Christian movement, though it was a logical and scientific age. Artists saw themselves as an extension of God’s creative powers. The church even supported the Renaissance and commissioned many of its greatest works—for instance, Raphael frescoed images of Plato and Aristotle on the walls of the Vatican. But for the first time in Europe since Roman times, there were rich laymen who wanted art simply for art’s sake.
After 1,000 years of waiting, the smoldering fires of Europe’s classical heritage burst into flames right here in Florence.
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- On Sale
- Aug 22, 2023
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Rick Steves