Florence’s Museums: Making Reservations for the Uffizi, Accademia and More
OK, you’ve made your way to Florence – the dream of a lifetime – and you want to visit the city’s incredible works of art and architecture. You walk up to the entrance of the Uffizi Gallery and ask a guard where you can buy a ticket. And he just laughs hysterically in your face. Suddenly, you notice there’s a line with hundreds of annoyed people who have been waiting for hours.
Florence Is Not a City for the Unprepared
Before you come to Florence, you need to do some basic homework, especially if you are showing up in the peak season. You don’t just walk up to the Uffizi museum, buy a ticket, and enter. After all, Uffizi Gallery tickets are popular. And even those magic (and somewhat pricey) Firenze Cards may not be the best option for everyone. To help you out, we’ve put together some quick tips and links to get you started. In our “Plan Your Trip to Florence” section, we also included a few tour recommendations for visitors interested in an expert guide.
Decide Which Florence Museums You Want to Visit
Florence is overloaded with attractions – and entry fees. Unfortunately for visitors, the city’s most famous works of art are housed in separate museums, including Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (Uffizi Gallery €24/€16 in high/low season), Michelangelo’s David (Accademia Gallery €12), and Donatello’s David (Bargello Museum €12).
Moreover, many celebrated works are parts of larger structures with entry fees, such as Michelangelo’s sculptural work on the Medici Tombs (Medici Chapels Museum €11), Giotto’s mural The Mourning of St. Francis (Santa Croce Basilica €9), and Masaccio’s famous frescoes in Santa Maria del Carmine (Brancacci Chapel €6/€7). As you can see, those entry fees add up quickly, especially if you add in special exhibition fees and reservation fees. (PLEASE NOTE: The entry fees quoted above are as of March 2018 and include online reservation fees of €3-€4).
What about other things to do in Florence? Climbing up through the Duomo’s dome to the roof is a lot of fun. Not only do you get great views over Florence, but you also get close-up views of the cathedral’s spectacular dome murals. Want to tour the Palazzo Vecchio and climb its tower? Or visit the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens? There are a lot of choices to be made.
Should You Book Florence Museum Tickets in Advance?
Some of the more famous attractions, including the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery, can have waits of up to FOUR HOURS to get in. (My god, four hours!!!) This has spawned an entire industry of questionable online reservations web sites, some of which massively overcharge customers to book tickets. Some were charging four times the regular price.
For this reason, it is a good idea to book tickets in advance through the official site for Florence’s state museums, especially if you are visiting in the peak season. This allows you to bypass long lines and enter through a special entrance at a reserved time. If you would rather book in person, visit the Firenze Musei booking office attached to the Chiesa di Orsanmichele (see map).
Be aware that state museums in Florence (and all over Italy) provide free museum entry on the first Sunday of every month. This includes the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia Gallery, the Palazzo Pitti, the Bargello Museum, the Medici Chapels Museum, and the Boboli Gardens, among others. You’ll notice that you cannot make online reservations on those dates. If you do visit on the first Sunday of the month, your only option is to wait in line with everyone else to get into the museums for free (whether you like it or not).
The Firenze Card
Because of the overwhelming number of entry fees and the necessity to book in advance, many people opt to buy a Firenze Card (also written FirenzeCard), currently €72. The card includes 72 hours of free entry to 72 museums and attractions. Even better, you are allowed to bypass the reservation system and skip ahead in the lines. For an extra €5, you can purchase the accompanying Firenze Card Plus. In addition to the other benefits, it includes 72 hours of free travel on all city buses and round-the-clock unlimited WiFi. There’s no need to buy the Firenze Card in advance. You can pick one up at any authorized points of sale around Florence. If money is not an issue, this is the easiest option, but there are a few problems with the Firenze Card.
The most obvious is that 72 hours is not a very long time, and there is a limit to how many museums you can visit within a three-day period. You do see tourists literally running into the Uffizi, staring at a couple of paintings, and then running out again, but that would be a real shame. Thomas and I spent over seven hours in the Uffizi Gallery alone, so that would have been one day of the card used on a single museum.
Another problem with the Firenze Card is that most of Florence’s museums are closed Mondays. If you buy the card on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, you actually only get two days of full card use. A few museums and attractions are open on Monday, but not the biggies. And remember the Firenze Card DOES NOT include many popular attractions such as climbing the dome of the Duomo.
We spent a full week in Florence and visited more museums and attractions than most normal humans could endure. The main reason why we did not buy the card was the 3-day limit. We needed time. However, we do realize not everyone has the luxury of a whole week in Florence. So with the Firenze Card, you can sample as many Florence museums as you can without second-guessing the entry fees. Be aware, however, that the card permits you to enter each museum only once.
Friends of the Uffizi Membership
For people who do need more time or are interested in repeat visits, there is the option of joining the Friends of the Uffizi. To become a member, you pay €60 which covers the Uffizi Gallery, all Pitti Palace Museums as well as the Boboli and Bardini Gardens for one calendar year (January 1 to December 31). This membership includes far fewer museums and attractions than the Firenze Card, but it is a great option for long-term and return visitors.
Free Things to Do in Florence for Budgeteers
If you’re backpacking your way across Europe and you’re on a strict budget (like I was when I first visited in 1992), entry fee overload might be a bit intimidating. Never fear, there are many great free things to do in Florence as well. Families and cheapos will want to check out this list, too:
City Walls of Florence
Take off and explore the surviving towers and fortifications which run from Piazzale Michelangelo via Forte di Belvedere to the Porta Roman and back up to Piazza Torquato Tasso.
The Duomo – Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
The cathedral’s exterior is phenomenal and the interior is cavernous. Check out the stunning dome murals. (Charge to climb dome.)
Chiesa di Orsanmichele
This odd church was once a grain market. Converted in the 14th century, it boasts some beautifully restored frescoes.
Check out the city’s markets including the sprawling San Lorenzo market. More markets here.
Loggia della Signoria
Get your free dose of sculpture in this public terrace. Don’t miss Giambologna’s famous Rape of the Sabine Women.
Lined with medieval shops complete with wooden shuttered doors, this is one of only four surviving market bridges in Europe.
Enjoy the perfect view over Florence. See the lead picture of our Florence post.
Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte
Just up from Piazzale Michelangelo, this extremely atmospheric church was one of my favorite in Florence.
Streets of Florence
The city itself is a living museum. Just walking the beautiful streets and alleys alone is worth the trip to Florence.
Plan Your Trip to Florence
When to Go – The best months to visit Florence are generally April through October with the exception of July and August when it gets gruelingly hot and humid in Tuscany. While November through March can be quite chilly, there are fewer tourists and lower prices. We actually went off-season in November and had a wonderful time with more sun than we had expected.
Accommodation – There are plenty of hotels in Florence, but during high season from April through October, make sure to book early. We recommend searching for great Florence deals on HotelsCombined.com, a site which finds the best deals for you across numerous top hotel booking sites, including hotels.com and agoda.
If you plan to stay for more than a few nights, we recommend booking an apartment through Airbnb. If you haven’t used Airbnb before and you click through this link here, you get a credit toward your first stay. The amount varies, but it’s usually between $30 and $40.
Florence Museum Hours – Generally, most museums in Florence and all over Italy are closed on Monday. Opening hours vary so it’s best to look up museum hours before you head out for the day. Some of the more famous museums such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery open at 8:15 AM and close at 6:50 PM. Some museums – such as the Bargello Museum and the Medici Chapels Museum – are only open in the morning from 8:15 AM to 1:50 PM. BUT, these two museums are also open on Monday.
Florence Museum Prices – Museum prices in Florence have been relatively stable over the last few years with only slight increases. However, starting on March 1, 2018, the Uffizi Gallery tickets go up significantly with the introduction of seasonal prices. Entry for the Uffizi is €20 from March 1 to October 31, and €12 from November 1 to February 28 (plus €4 for each online reservation). The Uffizi’s price increase also affects Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens. Read more on the Uffizi Gallery’s Official Site. Remember that all state museums offer free entry on the first Sunday of each month.
Florence Tours – With so much history around, exploring Florence on your own can quickly become overwhelming. For those who are interested in a tour, we can highly recommend Take Walks (aka Walks of Italy). We took several tours in Rome with them and had a fantastic time. Take Walks has some great offers including skip-the-line tickets for the Uffizi Gallery, a VIP David & Duomo tour, or a full-day Florence tour which includes the Accademia Gallery, the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery. Also check out Viator’s Florence tours which offer similar deals.
But Florence is not just famous for its art. If you want to explore some traditional Tuscan food, we recommend taking a food tour or cooking class with Eating Italy Food Tours. We took several food tours with them in Rome and can’t rave enough about their expert food guides.
Guidebooks – We always travel with Lonely Planet guides. They are great for historical and cultural information, maps, walking tours, highlights, and itineraries. For Florence, you can use the Lonely Planet Florence & Tuscany, the Lonely Planet Italy, or the Lonely Planet Europe if you are planning to travel to other European countries. Because Florence has so much art and architecture, we also recommend a more visual guidebook such as the DK Eyewitness Guide: Florence & Tuscany.
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