The city of Florence simply needs no introduction. It’s been one of Italy’s most popular cities for centuries, and a charming gem that only makes the Tuscan region that much more idyllic. It offers everything and anything for both tourists and locals.
Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and a sweeping canvas of art. It’s a quintessential stop along any Italian wine or food tour with the option for easy day trips across a region rife with Chianti wine, homemade pasta and everything else that will make your mouth water. Its rife history radiates from the burnt orange rooftops that make Florence the enticing gem that it is.
And no Italian holiday is complete without it.
But when is the best time to go? Since it’s so popular and stiflingly hot under the Tuscan summer sun it is best to schedule a trip here during the shoulder seasons. The shoulder seasons hit from March to May and September to November. Although to fully embrace everything Florence has to offer, the best time to visit Florence is during May. May offers incredible weather, festivals and events, regular hours at all of the best attractions, a few lasting deals on excursions and accommodations and is way less crowded than the summer months.
Florence in May offers some of the best weather all year because it lacks the rain of March and April and the heat of July, August, and September.
Depending on the time of the month, you will experience different average temperatures in May. The beginning of the month averages around 16°C (60.8°F), while the lows hit about 11°C (51°F) after the sun fades. The end of the month sees highs of 26°C (78°F) and lows of 15°C (59°F) after dark.
The best part about the weather in May is that the days get longer and sunnier! You can expect an average of about 11 hours per day of sunlight for all of the activities and adventures. This average is about two hours more each day than in April. Plus May is far less rainy than April.
The rainiest time of the month is the first week and increasingly dries out the closer we get to the summer. The average amount of precipitation sits around 77 millimetres of rain for the entire month. As it begins to warm up don’t be surprised by the occasional thunderstorm!
How to Get There
Since Florence is so well worn along the Italian tourist trail it’s a relatively easy destination to get to either by air or land.
There are two airports that will easily put you on the path to Florence. The busier and cheaper airport is Galileo Galilei Airport in Pisa. Fly here, make a pit stop to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then hop on the train that will bring you to the main station, Stazione di Firenze Santa Maria Novella, in Florence’s city centre. Or if you’re just itching to get to Florence then the Amerigo Vespucci Airport near the city will be a more convenient option.
Florence also has a decent public transportation system that operates by electric buses, known as the ATAF buses. They crisscross across the entire city, and you can get a one-way ticket for about 1.30 pounds (1.50 euros) from any local convenience store.
Although renting a car in Italy is usually the cheaper, more efficient way to travel, renting a car for a holiday in Florence is not ideal. The city has several pedestrian-only areas and one-way streets that can be incredibly hard to navigate for drivers not used to driving in Italy. Plus the beautiful and bustling city centre is mostly off-limits to everything but local traffic. If you see ‘Zona a Traffico Limitato’ then its best to avoid driving into that area. If you really want to explore Florence and other surrounding areas then rent a car, but park it outside of the city limits and walk or taxi into the hub of Florence.
Festivals and Events
With summer right around the corner, May is a great month to visit Florence as the city begins to come out of winter’s hibernation with a number of events for both locals and tourists to enjoy across the city!
Italian Labor Day
The month starts with Italian Labor Day, a national holiday across the entire country that celebrates and honours workers across the country with a day off of work. So this does mean that most public transportation and businesses will be closed, but this also means there will be celebrations across the city you can entertain yourself with.
May Day Market
Once again in the beginning of May, Florentines and tourists come out to play for the May Day Market in Cascine. Cascine is the city’s most popular and largest park. It only happens on Italian Labor Day, but it lasts all day. Here you will find stalls upon stalls of vendors selling designer clothes, amazing Italian foods and delicacies, flowers, crafts and everything else you could ever want.
Flag Throwing Contest
Be treated to a free show of swirling colours dancing through the city during Florence’s historic flag throwing contest. Master flag throwers from all over Italy come to Florence at the beginning of May to try their hand at the Marzocco Trophy. In addition to the competition, you can expect live music vibrating throughout Piazza delle Signoria. This is a can’t-miss event, especially for families and children!
Flower Homage to Savonarola
At the end of May in Florence, flowers are donated in memory of Domenican friar, Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola. He was a friar hanged and burned at the stake in 1498 for speaking out against the corrupt pope at the time. Today, the citizens of Florence leave flowers at a circular plaque in the heart of the Piazza Signoria. After the ceremony, a procession of people donning period costumes heads to the Ponte Vecchio, where Savonarola’s ashes were scattered.
Urban Food Festival
A trip to Italy is nothing without a jaunt at a food festival, and the Urban Food Festival is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Florence culture. The Urban Food Festival takes place in San Donato Park in the Novoli area. If you adventure here at the beginning of May then you will be treated to street food trucks, vintage garb, collector’s items, comic books and live music featuring only local Italian bands.
Things to See and Do
There is so much to see and do in Florence, but these activities, views and attractions are a great place to start!
Climb Giotto’s Bell Tower
The Giotto Bell Tower looms high above the Piazza del Duomo. It measures 84.7 metres tall, and is hard to miss with its white, red and green marble. Plus it has seven tolling bells, hexagonal panels and depictions of man’s creation throughout the beautifully piercing structure. But the best part about this monument is the large roof terrace that is open to the public to absorb panoramic views of the city. If you want to get this incredible view, you will have to climb up about 400 steps. It’s definitely worth the climb!
After, treat yourself to a most memorable meal at one of Florence’s fine restaurants, many of which can be found close by.
Buy souvenirs from Davide Cerasi’s Leather Boutique
Italy is known for its leather, and there is no better place to see the quality of the export than at Davide Cerasi’s Leather Boutique. Davide Cerasi is a fashion designer and leading manufacturer of leather jackets. He is dedicated to producing art that can be worn and purchased for reasonable prices. If you don’t see what you like, then you can easily put in a customised order that will be ready in a couple of days. Not interested in purchasing a leather jacket? The boutique also offers women’s handbags and shoes!
Cross the Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio bridge is one of the most popular and picturesque sites across all of Italy. There’s a good chance you’ve seen this structure on Instagram since it is one of the oldest and most recognizable bridges in the city. It dawns beauty and history, and nearby shops, stalls and banks that make it a great afternoon stroll!
Take a cooking class
Cooking classes are one of the most popular activities in Florence, and it’s a great way to spend a day when the weather isn’t ideal for outdoor exploring. You can learn how to make homemade tiramisù, gelato, pizza, and of course, pasta from a local Italian chef. Some classes even offer trips to the market beforehand so you know exactly what to pick in the future.
Spend a day on a wine tour
Florence is situated in the Tuscan region, one of the best places to try Italian wine. So why not spend a day or half-day on a wine tour sipping some Chianti or Super Tuscan wines. Wine tours in Italy are far more than just wine too. They offer tours of traditional villas and estates that have been around for centuries. You can get an exclusive look at the winemaking process. You can wander through the beauty of vineyards and neighbouring olive groves. And learn all about Tuscan wines from some of the most expert sommeliers in the world.
Visit the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella
Why would you visit a pharmacy unless you were sick? Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is not just a pharmacy, but a historic relic of Florence. It’s one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It was founded by Dominican friars all the way back in 1221. The pharmacy began as an outlet for monks to receive locally grown medicinal herbs, but it grew in popularity with the other locals to the point where it became a staple in the entire country. Today you can still buy medicines that are made on the emphasis of traditional and local products. The exact same recipes from long ago are still used! And while you’re shopping you can spot vaulted ceilings, statues, walnut cabinets and original frescoes! This is also a great place for souvenirs as you can purchase perfumes, colognes and soaps too.
Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
There is nothing more beautiful than catching a sunset from the top of Piazzale Michelangelo. Piazzale Michelangelo is a square that offers panoramic views of Florence, and when the sun begins to set its rays illuminated the city in a dance of fire and brilliance that’s unmatched across the world. Although a must-see, be prepared for more stairs and climbing.
May is by far one of the best months to experience everything Florence has to offer. And here are some tips of the travel trade to make sure you get everything and more out of this favourite holiday destination in the Tuscan region:
When you’re packing for your Florence adventure, make sure you pack layers for the warm days and cool evenings that still have a hint of spring chill. Jeans and jumpers are a great addition to your suitcase for this time of the year. Also, since Florence is an extremely walkable city don’t forget a pair of well-worn trainers to traverse the cobble and steps.
Although sometimes you might get tired from all of the walking, remember that taxis are expensive in Florence. During the week and on Saturdays the metre starts at about 2.60 pounds (3 euros), while Sundays and less popular times during the day see an even higher surge. Another important thing to take into account is that hailing taxis is actually illegal in Florence, and you should either call ahead or find a taxi service running from all of the major squares throughout the city.
To discover more about Florence and the rest of your Italian holiday, check out Italian Breaks for when to go, where to stay and what to do.