FLORENCE, ITALY SOLO TRAVEL: A Complete Guide 2023
During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, Florence was one of the wealthiest most influential cities in Europe. The combination of this tremendous prosperity, an ongoing dedication to the welfare of the city, and a passion for artistic competitions, resulted in the birth of the Renaissance and the creation of some of the world's greatest masterpieces.
As just one example - In 1503, at the same time that Michelangelo was sculpting an enormous block of white marble quarried from the white hills of Carrara into one of history's most iconic statues - David, Leonardo da Vinci was painting one of the most well-known paintings in history - the Mona Lisa.
Florence, Italy is a must visit city for people who love art & history. The city's museums, palaces, and churches house some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world. And then there is the amazingly delicious food! Florence has it all and should not be missed.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Solo Travel to Florence, Italy
Florence is ideal for the first-time solo traveler as well as the experienced explorer. It is walkable; has a fantastic tourist infrastructure; English is widely spoken throughout the city; and it has an incredible number of things to do, places to see, and delicious food to eat. AND...the Florentines are incredibly welcoming.
Is Florence Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
It's always smart to have safety on your mind when travelling solo - particularly if you are a woman. Don't worry, Florence is a very safe city - particularly in the historic city center. It is well-policed and has a low crime rate.
The usual recommendations, of course, still apply. Generally speaking, just use common sense - as you would in any unfamiliar destination and everything will be fine. Here are some reminders and suggestions:
Stay close to the touristy areas.
Learn how to speak a few Italian phrases or have a translator app on your phone (although most people working in the touristy areas speak English as well).
Don’t go into isolated or non-touristy areas at night.
Watch your personal belongings.
Listen to your gut. If something feels off - get to a safe location with a lot of people.
If you take a bus, stay near the driver.
Share your phone location with friend(s) at home through an app like Life 360.
THINGS TO BEWARE OF:
PICKPOCKETS. Crowds attract pickpockets, particularly near the largest tourist destinations: Piazza del Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and around San Lorenzo market. Additionally, keep alert on crowded buses and trains.
SCAMS - A. If a stranger approaches you to offer help with your luggage, directions, or ask you for help, you should be wary of them. They may even be trying to distract so that an accomplice can steal your things. And avoid the jewelry sellers who want to put an item on you - like a ring on a finger - forcing you to pay for it when you are unable to get it off your finger.
SCAMS - B. More rare here than in other countries - but watch out for street beggars especially children who look poor and unkempt. It's usually a scam.
National Emergency Number: 112
Fire Department: 115
Medical Emergency: 118
WHEN TO GO
Florence is a city of four seasons - which means you can select a time of year which best fits your ideals. This medieval city is so beautiful and welcoming - it might even be worth trying each one.
SUMMER allows you to spend much of your day outside and exploring the city, but it is also high tourist season with longer lines and crowded restaurants.
FALL offers less crowds, beautiful sunsets over terracotta rooftops, and crisp cool air - perfect for sipping cioccolata calda (thick hot chocolate) at an outdoor café.
WINTER may have shorter days and colder temps, but its low tourist season which allows for magical experiences like riding through the empty streets in a horse drawn carriage wrapped in a warm blanket as you take in festive holiday decorations.
SPRING becomes busier with Italian tourists (for the religious festivities) and school groups, but the flowering gardens are spectacular. There is a reason why Florence's nickname is "The City of Lilies".
To help determine what meets your wants, a good place to start is by checking out the season and crowd size (outlined below) & the weather by month.
TIMES TO VISIT
PEAK SEASON: Mid-May through July & September.
SHOULDER SEASON: March to Mid-May, October & November
LOW SEASON: August & December through February
***Don't forget to check your passport expiration dates. The European Union requires that the expiration date be at least six months post your travels.
Florence does have its own airport (FLR: Airport of Florence), but it is primarily for flights arriving and departing for locations within the EU. The closest airport for people flying in from North America is in Pisa, but Italy's efficient high-speed train system makes any destination only hours away. This allows you to pick a city that you can fly into direct or find a less expensive flight.
These are the three closest international airports:
PSA: Arriving in Pisa at the Galileo Galilei airport - take the PisaMover transit service to the Pisa Central train station (5 minutes) where you can hope on a Trenitalia train and arrive in Florence 30 minutes later.
MXP (Milan Malpensa Airport) allows you to reach Florence via high-speed train in less than an hour and a half.
FCO (Leonardo da Vinci Airport) allows you to reach Florence via the Le Frecce high-speed trains in about an hour and a half.
**Keep in mind when booking train tickets - your destination station in Florence is Santa Maria Novella Station.
** Currency Exchange Tip - Use an ATM at the airport or train station when you arrive. Currency exchange stores and kiosks at the airports mark up the exchange rate for profit. Check with your bank on international ATM surcharges - even if they do have higher charges, they will often offer suggestions to reduce or remove the fee.
WHERE TO STAY
Florence can be broken into four main neighborhoods: The Historic City Center (Near the Duomo); Oltrarno (Across the river); Santa Croce (Near the Basilica di Santa Croce); and Santa Maria Novella/San Lorenzo (Urban zone). Each area offers a unique perspective on the city.
The Historic City Center is best for easy access to the sites, but is the priciest and least likely to offer a real flavor of local life. Oltrarno is quieter and generally less expensive. Santa Croce boasts a great nightlife with pubs and discos. And San Lorenzo is great for being in the middle of urban Florentine life.
YellowSquare Florence is a12 minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station and offers a rooftop pool and daily yoga in the courtyard. (Rated 9.4/10 on Hostelworld.)
Ostello Bello Firenze is in the San Lorenzo neighborhood, just north of the city center and is a 5 minute walk from Santa Maria Novella train station. It offers themed parties and live music. (Rated 9.4/10 on Hostelworld.)
HOTELS WITH HISTORY:
Because at BARDEUM, we love a good story...here are a few places to consider for a stay or just to pop in for a Negroni and some bruschetta: [All in Historic Center]
Helvetia and Bristol Hotel first opened its doors in 1885, welcoming the international elite as they embarked on their Grand Tours. It was also known to host great literary minds in its winter garden.
The St Regis offers outstanding views of the Arno River, the medieval Ponte Vecchio, and the picturesque hills of Tuscany. It has been the place to stay for luxury traveler since the 18th century. The building was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi who also designed the famed Duomo. One of its most notable guests was Queen Victoria.
Hotel Porta Rossa is believed to be the oldest hotel in Italy. It stands in the center of Florence - complete with a 13th-century tower and ancient frescoes. Notable 18th century guests include the English romantic poet Lord Byron and the French playwright Honoré de Balzac.
Room Mate Isabella (Previously known as The Albergotto) is where English author George Eliot (Middlemarch; Silas Mariner) sojourned in 1860. Italian composers Giuseppe Verdi and Domenico Donizetti are also said to have stayed at the hotel.
**We generally do not recommend Vacation Rental By Owner Sites for female solo travelers in a foreign country - too many unknowns.
Walking is the easiest and best way to get around Florence. To get from one end of the city to the other takes less than 30 minutes at a comfortable stroll. Consider contacting your phone company for an affordable international data option to use your phone's navigational system.
There are taxis readily available for when you just need to get off your feet after all that sightseeing.
There is no subway system.
There are no ride shares (Uber; Lyft).
WHERE TO EAT
Every Italian region has its own flavors, ingredients, and traditional recipes dating back for centuries. One of the best ways to know an Italian city is through its local cuisine. Florence offers delicious and unique dishes that are all worth a try.
Below is a list of some of the Tuscan region's specialties along with spot to enjoy them - from markets to cafes to the oldest restaurant in Florence:
GELATO: Perché No! is a family run gelateria that has been in operation since 1939. It's name transaltes to "Why Not!" [Historic Center]
COFFEE: LA MÉNAGÈRE Delicious coffee - but so much more. They offer an Instagram-able respite throughout the day from a gourmet breakfast through drinks after dinner. Check out their boutique for the perfect Florentine gift or souvenir. [San Lorenzo]
CIOCCOLATA CALDA (thick hot chocolate): Don Nino. Located next to the Florence Cathedral, Don Nino offers wonderful pastries, but don't miss out on the cioccolata calda - a cross between chocolate pudding and hot cocoa. Comes in milk, dark, and white chocolates. [Historic Center]
FINOCCHIONA (specialty salami) Alimentari del Chianti is a specialty market and eatery where you can find a delicious panini of this tasty pork sausage where the pepper is replaced by wild fennel. Don't forget to try their tiramisu too! [Oltrarno]
LAMPREDOTTO (tripe street food). Da’ Vinattieri is located down a small alley off the Piazza del Duomo. Customers order their specialty sandwich through a small window. And while cow's stomach does not generally evoke thoughts of deliciousness, you may very well find yourself a convert. [Historic Center - Via Santa Margherita, 4/6r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy]
RIBOLLITA (tuscan bread soup). Osteria dell’Agnolo offers traditional, authentic Florentine dishes including this porridge dating back to the Middle Ages when the servants gathered up food-soaked bread trenchers from feudal lords' banquets and boiled them for their dinners. [San Lorenzo]
BISTECCA ALLA FIORENTINA (steak on the bone) RISTORANTE BUCA LAPI DAL 1880 is the oldest restaurant in Florence - founded in 1880 in the Palazzo Antinori cellars - known for their traditional preparation of this Tuscan specialty cooked on charcoal-slack.
TAGLIATELLE al TARTUFO (truffle pasta) Il Tartufo Luciano Savini at the Mercato Centrale - is the place to go for all things truffle - the highly prized fungi that dates back to antiquity. all things truffle. [San Lorenzo]
TIPS FOR DINING SOLO: This can cause the most anxiety for solo travelers. Here are some suggestions to make it easier:
Practice at home
Start with Lunch
Eat at the Bar
Bring a book or magazine
WHEN ANXIETY HITS
Your very first solo trip abroad - or even your tenth - may cause some anxiety at some point during either the planning stages or while you are there. Here are some suggestions to cope, rally, and move forward:
BEFORE YOU GO
Do some pre-planning. Make a list of at least one place to see or do per day; pick out several restaurants or coffee shops to visit. Knowing you have some set plans can help settle your worries.
Find a friend who is supportive (someone who has traveled solo, if possible) and talk through your worries. Sometimes just saying them aloud can help you figure out a solution yourself.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Phone a friend who is supportive of your desire to travel solo.
Find a place that you enjoy spending time at home – browsing in a bookstore; having a latte and a croissant at the coffee shop; shopping. Doing something familiar is a good reminder that you’re not really so far from what makes a place feel like home.
Write it down. Sit in the hotel lobby or a nearby park and journal. Write down your fears and then remind yourself that you have already made it this far – You are awesome! You are brave! You can do this!
CAPTURING YOUR MEMORIES
Check out some suggestions from a professional for taking great Travel Selfies with your phone.
The Best Things to do in Florence, Italy
Probably the best part of solo travel is getting to do and see exactly what interests you...here are some top things to do by neighborhood:
HISTORIC CITY CENTER
THE FLORENCE CATHEDRAL. Construction began on this iconic and masterful piece of architecture in 1296. The dome, designed by Brunelleschi after winning the competition for its commission, was completed in 1436.
On Easter Sunday 1478, rival families to the Medici's conspired and attempted to assassinate Lorenzo (The Magnificent) Medici inside the Cathedral. Lorenzo was stabbed, but survived. His younger brother was killed.
The Cathedral is free to visit (you must book a pass - details below) and is well worth a visit. But the best experience is to climb the 463 steps to the interior of the cupola (book a pass and time spot) and see Giorgio Vasari's frescoes of the Last Judgement up close. (not for those with claustrophobic tendencies). You can also climb Giotto's Bell Tower which offers breathtaking views of the city.
*You can get passes at the local ticket office - there is one right in the Piazza del Duomo. While the Cathedral is free to visit - all other sites require a fee. Passes are valid for three days. However, you must select a specific date and time to climb the Cupola and it cannot be changed. There are three types of passes including some or all of the sites in the Piazza del Duomo.
HISTORIC CITY CENTER WALK. BARDEUM offers an audiovisual tour (via the app) which takes users back to the Unveiling of Michelangelo's David on a night in 1504. Learn about the creation of David, the Cathedral, the history of Florence and many of the buildings in the Piazza as you step inside this story which begins outside the Cathedral and takes you to the Palazzo Vecchio (David's original placement) in the Piazza del Signoria.
THE PALAZZO VECCHIO is a fortress palace originally named the Palazzo del Signoria built at the turn of the 14th century. In 1540, Duke Cosimo I de' Medici moved his official seat to the Palazzo della Signoria as a signal of Medici power. When he moved to the Pitti Palace a decade later, he renamed the palace the Palazzo Vecchio - "Old Palace". Cosimo commissioned Giorgio Vasari to build an above-ground walkway, the Vasari corridor, from the Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti.
THE UFFIZI GALLERIES is now one of the most prominent art museums in the world housing some of the greatest art in the world. It was originally built by Cosimo Medici to house all administrative offices ("ufizzi") and ward off internal rebellions. But it was also intended to house the Medici collection of art in the Octagonal Room - which became a huge attraction for the elites on their Grand Tours.
Today's museum can be a little overwhelming - so highly recommend joining a tour - particularly one that incorporates the coveted skip the line feature.
PIAZZA della REPUBBLICA has been one of the main squares of Florence since Roman times. The column that stands at its center marks the point where the north-south road meets with the east-west and the site of the ancient Roman forum. It was popular again in the Middle ages, as the site of tabernacles, churches, towers, shops and homes. Those were destroyed in the 18th century to modernize the square.
Today, the square offers an eclectic mix of street artists, impromptu shows and shopping. Serveal historic cafés overlook the square, such as the Caffè Gilli , Caffè Paskowski and the Caffè delle Giubbe Rosse - all meeting points for many famous artists and writers drawn to Florence.
SANTA MARIA NOVELLA / SAN LORENZO
MERCATO CENTRALE is a essentially a giant food court - but nothing like those found in American malls. Artisans from the area sell their delicious Tuscan specialties for all to enjoy to eat-in or take-out. Not to be missed.
THE BASILICA of SANTA CROCE is the largest Franciscan church in the world and is the burial site of some of the most famous Florentines including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile, and the composer Rossini.
SANT'AMBROGIO MARKET is the oldest market in Florence, sometimes referred to as the city's "second" market after the Mercato Centrale. It offers fresh food via local farmers, as well as a general grocery. It also sells household goods and some clothing.
PONTE VECCHIO is medieval stone arched bridge over the narrowest point in the Arno River. It is believed to be the first bridge built in Florence during the Roman times. It is the only bridge that was spared from destruction during World War II.
The bridge today was built in 1345 and originally it held shops for butchers, tanners, and farmers. When Cosimo Medici ordered that the Palazzo Vecchio be connected to the Pitti Palace, a corridor was built above the shops along the bridge.
In 1595, to enhance its prestige, a decree was made that stated only goldsmiths and jewelers would be allowed on the bridge - a decree that is still in effect today.
PITTI PALACE is located just across the Ponte Vecchio in Oltrarno. Originally built in 1458 by Luca Pitti, it was purchased by Cosimo Medici in 1549 and became the chief residence for the ruling families of Tuscany who amasses generations of paintings, jewelry and other luxurious items. In the 18th century it was the headquarters for Napoleon during his conquests.
It still houses many of those treasures today and should not be missed. Finding a tour guide to help you see the highlights is well worth it. You can see the royal apartments as well as the treasures of Tuscany.
BOBOLI GARDENS are located directly behind the Pitti Palace and hosts centuries-old oak trees, sculptures, and fountains. The design inspired many European gardens including Versailles. It;s a wonderful spot for a picnic. Pick up some sandwiches and chianti from a local market and enjoy the beauty.
HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR SOLO TRIP TO FLORENCE!
Let us know what you enjoyed best!
BARDEUM offers self-guided audio / visual tours via mobile app. These immersive experiences are written by award-winning & bestselling authors, journalists, and historians.
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