Florence is quite a popular excursion on many cruise ships, but in all honesty, it wasn’t at the top of our bucket list. We ended up taking a Mediterranean cruise on the Carnival Pride simply because the price was too good to resist. One of the ports on our cruise itinerary was Livorno, which is close to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So, when we saw an excursion which covered both the iconic tower and Florence, we jumped on it.
Even though Florence wasn’t the main place we wanted to see on our trip, we are so pleased we had the chance to visit. Not only is this city beautiful, but there’s also plenty to do, especially if you’re looking for things to do in Florence, Italy from a Cruise Ship.
Of course, this will be more of a condensed list than you would normally expect, mainly because you tend to only get a few hours if you’re visiting from a cruise. We want to make sure we highlight the top attractions so you can make the most out of your time.
A Little About Florence
For those of you wanting to know a little more about Florence or Firenze which is its Italian name, it is a city in Central Italy and the capital city of the Tuscany region. It is about 173 miles northwest of Rome and on your way into the city you will see lots of vineyards, hills and gorgeous Tuscan farms or villas.
For most it was the birthplace of the Renaissance which is said to be the era where classical philosophy, literature and art was rediscovered. Florence had enormous influence throughout Italy and Europe, but also had a turbulent history.
As well as being a tourist hot spot, the Historic Centre of Florence is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1982. It would make sense because of how many museums and art galleries can be found there and the buildings themselves are architecturally beautiful.
Cruise Port Livorno
Because we were on an excursion we were pretty much up early, loaded onto buses and off. So, there’s not much we can tell you about the port of Livorno itself. But in all honesty, it’s a very busy cargo port, so there’s not much to see or do there and you cannot simply walk off the ship into the centre of Livorno.
There will be shuttle buses provided and they normally charge 5 Euros per person, each way. You may have to pay in cash as well, so make sure you take plenty with you or keep some to the side. This was one of the ports we were pleased we had booked with the cruise line, because we had been told by other passengers that the trains into Pisa and Florence can get incredibly busy. Bear in mind you’re limited by time on a cruise and the last thing you want is to be late for the ship. We have seen on many occasions people left behind as the ship sailed away.
If you’re going to Pisa first and then Florence, it would be half an hour’s journey to Pisa from Livorno port and then an hour and a half to Florence. We were given an hour actually in Pisa Square and 4 hours in Florence, which was an adequate amount of time.
For those heading straight to Florence it is only an hour and a half bus journey, and you’ll be given considerably longer to wander around; normally 6 hours.
The journey itself was quite a contrast because initially it was a heavily industrialised area as we left the port. But once we were on the main roads, we were surrounded by Tuscan fields. Those views are quite something and will leave a lasting memory forever. We’re hoping someday to travel back to Tuscany and see more of the region by driving around ourselves.
When to Visit Florence
Most of Florence’s weather is influenced by its location, mainly because it is in a small basin surrounded by hills.
Our visit to Florence was in May 2022 and during that time there was heat wave over Europe, so we were informed that the temperature would be high. It was around 40 degrees at the point we arrived, because we had been to Pisa Square first before we headed over to Florence. Let’s just say, it was hot and you would normally expect that kind of temperature in the Summer.
Our recommendations for the best times to travel to Europe is Spring and Autumn. We tend to go during May and June, or September and October. Of course, not everyone can do this because of school holidays etc.
As we’ve already mentioned Summer is incredibly hot and humid, so be prepared and keep yourself hydrated and covered. Winters can be cool and wet, but this tends to end in April.
Attractions in Florence
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
For many Florence Cathedral or Duomo di Firenze is one of the main attractions to see when they visit this beautiful city. During our visit we wandered the streets a little before heading to the Duomo, but then suddenly we saw it and wow was it a sight to behold. Firstly, it is huge and when we say huge, we mean huge. Florence’s cathedral is the 4th largest in the world after St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London, and the Duomo in Milan.
The cathedral complex is called Piazza del Duomo and it includes the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower), Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Opera del Duomo Museum, and the ancient basilica of Santa Reparata.
What makes the cathedral so special is the beautiful ornate designs on the outside of the building. It is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink, which are bordered with white. But then add onto that the impressive Renaissance dome and you will be in awe of this incredible building.
The Duomo, Baptistery and Campanile are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site which covers the historic centre of Florence.
Your first question during a visit to Florence is how much time you want to spend at the Duomo. Because you’re visiting as part of a cruise stop you will be severely limited on time, and this can take up a huge chunk of your day. There are plenty of other things to see in Florence as well as grabbing something to eat and drink, or simply wandering the quaint streets.
You should be aware though that visiting the Duomo is free, but if you want to visit the dome, bell tower and the other buildings then you’ll have to buy a ticket. Because the Duomo is free this can lead to long waits to get inside, which will again eat into your time in Florence.
If you decide that you want to focus your time on the Piazza del Duomo, then there are a few ticket options available for you.
- Brunellesche Pass (all monuments)– This includes the Dome, Bell Tower, Baptistery, Museum and Santa Reparata.
- Giotto Pass – This includes the Bell Tower, Baptistery, Opera del Duomo Museum and Santa Reparata.
- Ghiberti Pass – This includes the Baptistery, Opera del Duomo Museum and Santa Reparata.
Ticket prices will vary depending on the season, as will opening times, so we would recommend checking out their site to book.
Here is a little about the other places you can see in the Piazza del Duomo.
It was Filippo Brunelleschi’s original ideas which landed him the prize of building the dome, the largest at the time. His design took 16 years to build and completed in 1436, with a mind-blowing weight of over 25,000 tons and over 4 million bricks used.
To access the dome, you need to head to the north side of the Cathedral to begin the climb. There are 463 steps to the top which are quite steep and on occasion you will have access to handrails. As you can imagine there are no lifts (elevators) available and as such they do not recommend those with health issues attempt the climb. They suggest between 45 and 60 minutes for visiting the dome, depending on how long it takes you to climb. Remember the stairs are original and made of stone, so they can be a little uneven and you will be passing other tourists as you make your way up. When you reach the top, you feel like a giant with the city of Florence at your feet. The views go on for miles and they are breath-taking.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
This free-standing campanile is a masterpiece of Florentine gothic architecture and was designed by Giotto di Bondone. The 277.9-foot tower was completed in 1359 and is divided horizontally into five separate floors. The exterior of the tower is the same as the cathedral which ties them together beautifully. If it’s a bell tower, then it must surely have bells? Yep, it has 12 in total and even though the 5 oldest are now disused, they can still be seen inside.
If you’re eager to make the climb and you’ve bought your ticket, then you can enjoy the 414 steps up to the top. It’s very similar to the dome in that you’re climbing steep stone steps which can be uneven. It can also get a little dark as there are only small slits for windows. But you have a number of levels or floors before you reach the top and it is here you can rest for a moment before you begin the next stretch.
At the top you have the spectacular views, but in all honesty it’s similar to the ones you will have in the Duomo. Our tip would be to pick one or the other, because if you do both, you’ll lose a couple of hours and probably won’t be able to walk the next day. We’d base which one to climb on the views you want to see, i.e., do you want to see the dome from the top or the bell tower. Our personal preference would be climbing the bell tower so you can see the impressive dome and cathedral in full display.
The Baptistery of St John
This religious building has the status of a minor basilica and a similar Florentine style of the other buildings. Construction was completed in 1128 with the baptistery having eight equal sides which have geometrically patterned cladding. Again, this is similar to the other buildings in that they used coloured marble, white Carrara and green Prato marble inlay. The baptistery is renowned for its three sets of bronze doors with relief sculptures. Alike the campanile you will need a ticket to enter and because it is a place of worship there is a dress code. You are not permitted to enter with bare legs and shoulders or wearing sandals or hats. The site recommends you put aside 30 minutes for the baptistery so you can fully enjoy it.
Opera del Duomo Museum
This museum basically shows much of the original artwork from the cathedral and some of the other buildings in the Piazza del Duomo. You will find it at the back of Giotto’s Bell Tower, behind the Duomo apse. It opened in 1891 and is home to a large collection of antiques and masterpieces. There are over 750 pieces from some of the most innovative artists in history, including Michelangelo and Donatello, to name a few. The space where the museum is based is said to be where Michelangelo famously carved David in secret.
The museum consists of 28 rooms over three floors, and it’s recommended that to enjoy the experience you set aside an hour. There is a rooftop terrace which provides a stunning view of Brunelleschi’s dome.
Unfortunately, the Opera del Duomo Museum is closed on the first Tuesday of each month.
The archaeological site beneath Florence Cathedral is the remains of the cathedral Santa Reparata, as well as earlier Roman remains. Within the crypt space you will also find the tomb of Filippo Brunelleschi who was the architect of the cathedral dome.
The Santa Reparata is a display of the influence that Christianity has on the region of Tuscia, mainly because of its proximity to the baptistry. Over the years there were three rebuilds of the original basilica and you can see remnants of that in the site.
To access the site, you will take a short staircase into the second bay of the right aisle of the cathedral. They recommend that you will only need 20 minutes within the Santa Reparata.
Fontana del Porcellino
This one was a particular favourite of ours, because we love a good tradition or ritual in another country. You will find the Fontana del Porcellino hidden away by the Mercato del Porcellino. The only way we spotted it was the small queue of people stood there waiting their turn. So, what exactly is it?
The Fontana del Porcellino is a beautiful bronze boar statue which has turned a darkish colour through age. The only area of the boar that remains its original bronze colour is the snout, which shines as if newly polished. Fresh water trickles from the boar’s mouth into a grid area below, which was practical as well as decorative because it provided water for the merchants in the local market.
The base of the fountain which the boar sits on is octagonal and decorated as if it’s sat on marshes. Within the carvings are plants and animals to add a touch of realism to the display.
Now to the tradition part, according to popular belief, a female boar is connected to good luck, so women who wanted a son would rub its nose. The original tradition and one followed by the many tourists who visit, is that by rubbing the nose of the Porcelllino before you leave Florence, you will return. Hence the reason why the snout is so shiny in comparison to the rest of the body.
When you are there, you will also notice another popular tradition at Fontana del Porcellino. Place a coin inside the boar’s mouth and slide it down so that it ends up in the grate. As the coin falls you can make a wish and if the coin makes it into the grate, then your wish should come true. If you hold the coin at the tip of the boar’s tongue, then you will have a greater chance that it will fall where you want it to. Should the coin land on the grate or anywhere else then you cannot push it in or pick it up and use it again, because your wish will not come true.
This is quite a quick attraction to see and do, depending on the number of people waiting. It’s a nice little addition to your day and you never know what good luck the Fontana del Porcellino will bring you.
Stroll on the Ponte Vecchio
This incredible medieval bridge is built over the Arno River in Florence, and is popular because as well as being a bridge, it also has shops on it. It was the only bridge across the Arno until 1218. The Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge survived many turbulent historic events such as World War two, and it connects Por Santa Maria and Guicciardini.
Tourists flock to see the Ponte Vecchio because of the fact it has shops still trading from the bridge, which is an original concept nowadays. These currently tend to be jewellers, art dealers and souvenir sellers. But also, there are spectacular views from the bridge of the river Arno and from the banks of the bridge itself. Originally the kind of shops you saw on the bridge were butchers, fishmongers, and tanners.
How long you spend on the Ponte Vecchio is completely down to you. It will depend upon how long it takes to look in the shops and admire the bridge, but also how busy it is on there. When we went it was quite busy, so we had to manoeuvre around a lot of people and as such it took a little longer than expected.
Piazza della Signoria
As we strolled around the streets of Florence, we came across the Piazza della Signoria. This square has huge historic influence for Florence, including several parlamentos and public gatherings. But it is most notable because of the famous statues which are found there, and many tourists simply meander around admiring them.
Within the square you will find a loggia (outdoor corridor) with many statues which recall important events and myths connected to the city of Florence. You will also be taken a back by the Fountain of Neptune and a replica of Michelangelo’s David.
In the Piazza della Signoria you will see the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio which is an important palace in the city. It’s currently used as a museum with the Salone dei Cinquecento being a popular attraction. But we’ll go into that a little more in the next section.
With so many beautiful statues and impressive buildings, we think you’ll love the Piazza della Signoria. Again, how long you spend there is completely your choice, we simply wandered around and moved onto the next attraction.
Palazzo Vecchio Museum and Tower
We have mentioned the Palazzo Vecchio above as a part of the Piazza della Signoria, but it is an incredibly popular attraction in its own right. This palace is a museum which covers the history of the area with Roman ruins, a Medieval fortress and a stunning Renaissance chamber with exquisite paintings and is a UNESCO site of Historic Florence.
Because we had a limit on time, we chose not to go into any of the museums, but we will still tell you what is available so you can make the decision if you want to visit.
The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall for the city of Florence and is seen as a symbol of civil power since its construction in 1299. The sites original use was as a Roman theatre which dates back to first century AD, and you can see those ruins if you visit the museum.
One of the top attractions within the museum is the Salone dei Cinquecento, which translates to the Hall of the Five Hundred. This incredible hall was built from 1494 and is 54 meters in length with large wall frescoes, panelled ceilings, and lots of sculptures. Two of the murals were painted by the artistic world-renowned geniuses Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti.
The Palazzo Vecchio in 1540 underwent renovation with the assistance of Duke Cosimo I. He added a number of frescos, and you can see many of the luxurious rooms today. The museum also houses a huge collection of artwork and sculptures from notable artists such as Donatello, Michelangelo and Bronzino.
You can visit the top of the Torre d’Arnolfo tower and take in the incredible views of the city, but it is a 418 step hike up. There is a Room of Maps which includes a sixteenth century map of the world.
If you’re looking at taking in Florentine culture then this is a great starting point, because the Palazzo Vecchio played a vital role in the city’s civil history. This was where important events and news was communicated and as such it was heavily used by the people.
It is advised that you prebook tickets for the museum, although we have been informed that some areas are free whereas others require payment.
Stroll Florence’s Winding Streets
One of the most memorable parts of Florence for us was the loveliness of its streets as we strolled around. For that reason, we always advise visitors to spend some of their time simply wandering and taking in the beauty of the medieval architecture.
You will find everything you could ever need as you walk, whether it’s a café, bar, or clothing store. We headed to a vegan café which had the most incredible plant-based menu and smoothies, then took in the sights of locals rushing by. It was honestly a wonderful experience, even in the forty-degree heat which was helped by grabbing a gelato or two.
There are walking maps online for Florence, which give you specific routes to follow so you can take in the top attractions as you wander. If you’re hoping to see as much as possible then these are probably the ideal options for you. But if you’re pretty chilled about it all, then simply do what we did and spend your time meandering and taking it all in.
For those who struggle to walk too far or who fancy a rest, then they do have a hop on hop off bus service in Florence. We have used many hop on hop off buses over the world including New York and Boston, and we think they’re a great option to really see a city. Most of the time you can get to the attractions easier and as the bus travels around you’re provided with interesting and historical facts about the area.
Gaze at the Masterpiece David by Michelangelo
David is the marble statue of a nude biblical man who has just killed the giant Goliath, and it was created by Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504. This Renaissance sculpture was commissioned to be placed on the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral. It was instead displayed in the public square by the Palazzo Vecchio.
In 1873 David was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze and as such the statue you see outside the Palazzo Vecchio is a replica; albeit a very good one. David can be found in the Tribune which is a special area in the Galleria. The museum also houses a huge collection of early Italian paintings and sculptures from a number of important artists. It is open most days between 8.15am and 6.50pm, with last entry being 6.20pm. There is an admission fee, but we recommend you check the website for up-to-date information.
Not may tourists head here because it’s a bit further out, which is a shame because you’ll really get to see how the locals live. The Mercato Centrale is a fresh market which is open daily and has a food court on the top floor. Around the market building itself you will find lots of stalls selling food and other wears such as leather goods.
The actual market itself was built in 1874 and has been a staple shopping area for locals. You will find all sorts including fish, meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables, and local delicacies such as oils and truffles. Within the food court there are small restaurants, wine bars and tasting rooms, serving up speciality foods such as fresh pizza.
On the day we visited it was incredibly busy, so we struggled to get around as freely as we’d have liked to see everything. But again, if you have the time and you’re looking to purchase souvenirs then this spot is ideal because prices tend to be cheaper than in the central part of Florence.
Uffizi Palace and Gallery
Not far from the Ponte Vecchio bridge is the Uffizi Palace and Gallery, which is one of the largest art museums in the world. It also holds a collection of priceless artwork and sculptures from the Italian Renaissance period. The gallery can be found within a building which was constructed in 1580 and is as beautiful as the works held within.
Collections within the Uffizi include the 14th century and Renaissance period with artists such as Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero della Francesca, Beato Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Caravaggio.
The gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday, between 8.15am and 6.30pm and there is an admission fee, but you can find further details on their website.
Sadly, we didn’t have the opportunity to visit the gallery, but we hope to do so in the future. It’s advisable to prebook tickets if you can to make sure you get in, because this is a popular attraction in Florence and as such it gets extremely busy.
Basilica di San Lorenzo
Found in the main market district is the Basilica di San Lorenzo which is one of the largest churches in Florence. It is the burial site of a number of principal members of the Medici family and was said to have been consecrated around 393 AD. Within the church you’ll see various architectural highlights including a library designed by Michelangelo, a tomb of Donatello and the church’s interior design by Brunelleschi in 1419.
The Basilica di San Lorenzo is open between 10am and 5.30pm between Monday and Saturday. There is an admission fee to enter the basilica, but we recommend you check out the website for the up-to-date prices.
Even if Florence isn’t on your bucket list, our advice would be to add it! Tag it on to seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa or one of the other major cities such as Milan or Rome. We promise you that you won’t forget it, because we’re so grateful we had the chance to experience this great place.
Unlike many other cities, Florence is the perfect place to stroll and take in the Italian lifestyle. We instantly felt ourselves easing into it and bear in mind we only had four hours to get everything in. Normally we’d be rushing around, but this place just really relaxed us, and we enjoyed taking in the scenery and architecture.
This list of attractions is more than enough to keep you busy during your cruise stop, if you prefer to see a lot. In fact, you’ll probably need more than one trip to get it all done properly.
If you’re able, then we suggest walking around the city rather than using public transport or the hop on hop off bus. Everything is pretty close by, with only one exception of the market, but even that wasn’t too bad.
Make sure you tag us in on Instagram if you end up visiting magnificent Florence, we love to see what you’re up to as you tick off your bucket lists.