Over the course of many trips to Italy, we have stayed and visited Florence on a regular basis. Sometimes staying in the city and other times outside. I recommend staying in the city, and that way you can enjoy the city in the evening as well as early in the morning before the crowds build.
Florence is one of the top destinations for tourists visiting Italy with reports that well over a million tourists a year visit the city. I know on our last visits we felt tourists, especially the tour groups were over-running the city, but we still return because of the beauty of the city. When staying outside, say in an agriturismo, you leave the city at the end of the day exhaused from the walking and the crowds, but you do arrive back to a much more peaceful country setting. It has its advantages. But then again, you will miss the evenings walks picking up a gelato.
If you do stay outside in the countryside, I recommend you do not attempt to drive into Florence. It is not worth it. The traffic getting in and out of the city is horrible. You will also most likely get a traffic fine for driving on a street reservered for residents. First you will receive a notice from the car rental company, along with a steep administrative fee for providing your information to the city policy. Then the ticket usually arrives many many months later, and it is expensive. You will be able to pay the fine online. Florence is one of the most agressive cities in the pursuit of traffic fines. Don't drive in. Drive to a town outside of Florence and be easily transported by train into the centre of the town.
For our weeks in Rome we often go up to Florence for lunch, taking one of the Italian speed trains.
The domed cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo. Dome built by Filippo Brunelleschi, 600 years after its completion, is still the largest dome built in brick and mortar in the world.
Galleria degli Uffizi - kown as "the" collection of Italian Renaissance art. It is large, and with so many people visiting the gallery, now it is best to pre-buy you admittance on line. You will get a entry time. I remember my first visit, so far back there was no line-up, just walk up to the door and walk in! Even in those days, once in, some of the exhibits had people limits, so there were line-ups inside, but it was impressive. The Medici family gave the collection to the city in 1753 on the condition that the collectfion never leaves Florence. The website will let you know if specific rooms are closed. I believe that now, because of the specific time to arrive process, your visit is limited to about three or four hours. You will be exhausted.
Duomo - this is probably the most iconic sight in the city, although I pesonally think it is the Ponte Vecchio that ranks highest in my mind. Outside the church has so much to take in, that when you walk inside you may find yourself thinking it is rather sparse, but walk and enjoy and get yourself up to the top of the dome. Most of the works of art over time have been removed and are found in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. As you walk about you will see there are differences in various areas. The oldest, Gothic, section is the south part, it has the Porta dei Canonici (Canons' Door), a mid-14th-century High Gothic creation. This is where you will climb up inside the dome.
Museo di San Marco - this is in the university area and part of the Chiesa di San Marco. The Cloisters of Sant'Antonio are here. There are on our list for our next visit.
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella - I can not believe how many years we travelled to Florence and left the train station and headed two one of the locations. Right across from the train station is a green-and-white marble 13th- to 15th-century Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. It is stunning with lots to see including romantic church cloisters and a frescoed chapel. The basilica holds a treasure chest of art. The big sight that is always noted are frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Book in advance online to avoid queues.
Basilica di Santa Croce - impressive on the outside with the white and green marble. many come here to see the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Ghiberti. There are also frescoes by Giotto in the chapels. Taddeo Gaddi's fresco of the Crucifixion is here, it was damages in the 1966 flood when there were 4 meters of water in the church! It took ten years to retore. It is on the list for our next visit as it was not visible when we were last in the particular church.
Plazzo Pitti - dates to 1458, a Renaissance palace that was acquired by the Medici Family. Houses an collection of silver and jewellery as well as art museums. But remember to look up and check out the ceilings.
Ponte Vecchio - this is Florence, and that is not a well kept secret as during the day it is a parking lot of people. But early in the morning you can walk across this impressive structure and really enjoy yourself. In the evening, walking across the bridge with a gelato... well that is it. The bridge dates from 1345 and it is the only bridge that was not destroyed by the German forces in 1944. Now it is lined with jewellery shops but it holds the Corridoio Vasariano, the 16th century passageway that runs between the Uffizi and the Palazzo Pitti.
Galleria dell'Accademia - a copy of this iconic statue is in the piazza, but the real thing is in the Galleria dell'Accademia. Line-ups but worth the wait to see Michelangelo's David. The first time I saw this I was travelling with some art students and I had the benefit of guidance for my eyes. The details on the body are beautiful and something you will not forget. When there also see the Prisoners, the four Prigioni. These are unfinished works that look like they are struggling to escape from their blocks of marbel.