Florence: Tips and Warnings

Florence, ‘the cradle of the Renaissance’, is a wonderful city, full of art, history, culture, traditions and good things to eat and drink. It is also extremely touristy because it is unique and its beauty draws visitors from all over the world. As in all cities with mass tourism, it pays to heed advice and a few warnings to ensure your stay isn’t spoilt.
Advice from a local tour guide:

Pre-book the main museums
Unless you like to spend 2 or 3 hours standing in a long queue, in high season it’s best to book museums in advance; at least those more crowded with tourists, namely the Uffizi, the Accademia Gallery and Palazzo Pitti. Reservations are made easily online through Florence’s booking site for museums . You receive a code and pick up the ticket at the museum on the day at the pre-booked time. Be sure to join the short pick-up queue, not the long one for people who haven’t booked.
Important note: if you want your reservation to be cancelable or changeable, either use the phone service instead or book online through an agent such as Get Your Guide.
If you come by car ...
Going to Florence by car and thinking of driving in the city is a bad idea. Florence, apart from the very centre, is suffocated by traffic and the whole historic centre is a ZTL (Limited Traffic Zone).
Restricted Traffic Zone sign in Florence
You will have to pay at least 20 euros per day to park outside the zone and the same amount even if your hotel gives you a permit to enter the zone (See the ZTL map and information here). Florence is smaller than it seems – Go on foot, use buses, or rent a bicycle.
Warning: fines on buses
A lot of tourists have to pay fines (about 50 Euros) on buses simply because they don’t know the system. Ticket inspections are frequent, strict and merciless! So here’s what you have to remember: (1) Don’t rely on being able to buy tickets from the driver; buy your ticket before getting on the bus and (2) when you board, stamp the ticket immediately in the machine on the bus. It’s illegal to travel with an unstamped ticket.
Don't visit only the Uffizi and the Accademia
They are the two most famous and visited museums in Florence, they contain works exceptional art, like Michelangelo’s David and the Venus of Botticelli, but they are not the only ones. Florence is full of minor museums and churches that hide real treasures, and that often arouse more interest and curiosity than major art galleries.
Take longer than 2 or 3 days
A few days are not enough to see all of Florence. It is not a city made for hit-and-run tourism, although many people treat it so. It takes time. In Florence you must stay longer or return to deepen the knowledge, because it is never as it seems at the beginning.
Consider using tour guides
Printed guides give a good summary, and on the internet you can find a lot of information, but human guides can answer your questions and deepen an aspect that interests you in particular. Guides also have great up-to-date local knowledge, can save you time and hassle and are a good source of advice.
Don’t ask for a well-cooked Florentine steak!
The famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak) is a serious thing in Florence, and it must be ordered ‘rare’ (only very lightly cooked). If you order it ‘well cooked’ you spoil its taste and texture completely. In some restaurants you also risk receiving a less fresh steak, as they assume you wouldn’t know the difference. Some even have signs outside warning that requests for well-cooked steaks will not be accepted!
Padlocks on the Ponte Vecchio
If you are in love, take some pictures, but don’t write on the walls. Writing on monuments (such as on the Ponte Vecchio) or attaching a padlock to a fence is taken as a lack of respect for a beautiful, historic and artistic city, and may result in a heavy fine.
Illegal street vendors in Florence
The purchase of items from illegal sellers along the streets and squares is punished with a very high fine. Better not risk it. It’s also worth remembering that the people who supply fake goods to these vendors are often involved in much nastier criminal activities, which you wouldn’t want to help fund.
Safety and crime in Florence
Florence is a fundamentally safe city. While larger cities may have areas that are best avoided, Florence, being rather small and always frequented by tourists and the inhabitants themselves, has no areas that can be defined as risky. The centre is always very lively, especially during the day, when it is frequented by many people shopping, walking and sightseeing.
As in all the cities of the world, there is petty crime and it is advisable to be careful, especially with your wallet, and remain in the busiest streets at night – as you probably would at home. A little common sense will suffice.
The best time to visit Florence
The best time to visit Florence is in November, December, January, February and even March.
There are fewer tourists, especially if you avoid the Christmas season. You don’t have to queue for museums, which are relatively quiet: nobody talks around you or pushes you while you admire Botticelli’s Venus or Michelangelo’s David, and even squares are not crowded.
In November you can see how the colours of the Florentine hills and parks change and become warm; you can taste the new wine and the new oil.
In December the city becomes even more beautiful with Christmas lights, and in January the sales start: what better time and place to go shopping?