Florence is in many ways the antithesis of Rome. Thanks to its Tuscan roots, or perhaps the refined history of its residents, the Renaissance city is much smaller than Italy’s capital and far less chaotic.
That said, the ease with which expats can get around Florence depends on their mood. Few people in Florence drive and the city moves at an unhurried pace, so expats who enjoy leisurely walks down beautiful streets are in luck.
Public transport in Florence
One would think that public transport in Florence would shine thanks to the scarcity of cars, but within the city itself, it’s lacklustre at best. There is no metro since the city is too small and much of its activity is focused in a 10-block radius, so there’s no demand for a metro system. However, there are bus and train services available which are quite comprehensive and especially useful for travelling to destinations outside of Florence. Travelling by public transport is cheap, whether by bus or tram, and expats can save if they buy a bulk of 10 journeys rather than just a single trip.
Buses are operated by ATAF and are orange, blue or purple and white. More than 100 routes reach most of the city and tickets can be bought at authorised coffee shops, tobacconists, newsagents, online and by SMS. There are also automated ticket machines at the Santa Maria Novella Station and the Piazza San Marco or from the ATAF booth at Piazza Stazione.
Passengers validate their tickets when they get on the bus and being caught with an unvalidated ticket will result in a fine.
Buses are a convenient way to get around, there are many throughout the day, and they have wheelchair accessibility and air-conditioning which is especially refreshing in summer.
Florence has one electric tram line which is a reliable means of transport and just as cheap as the bus. Trams run frequently and can be tracked easily using Google Maps. The tram runs from Via Alamanni to Scandicci, where other modes of transport can be caught to travel outside the city.
Florence is well-connected to the national railway network, which is run by Trenitalia. As well as being an important node in the bus network, Santa Maria Novella is the city’s main train station. The Campo di Marte station, near the football (soccer) stadium on the city’s outskirts, is also used as a hub for national and international travel.
Taxis in Florence
Taxis can’t be hailed in the street and must be called in advance or found at dedicated taxi stops at major town squares and the airport. Passengers must pay an initial fee plus metered charges for the distance travelled.
Otherwise, ride applications such as Uber, Lyft and MyTaxi operate in Florence, which allows expats to order lift services via smartphone.
Driving in Florence
While the outer limits of Florence can easily be navigated by car, the city centre is a different case entirely. As the centre of Florence was built to be traversed by foot traffic, it's not the easiest place to drive a car. The roads are often congested, and parking is difficult to find or expensive, especially close to tourist attractions.
Drivers will also need a ZTL pass from the city council to park in the city centre, although an alternative is hiring a driver who does have a ZTL pass.
Expats can also drive a scooter in Florence and can rent Vespas and motorcycles from various locations. Although expats do not need to worry much about the ZTL pass for this, they must have a license for this type of vehicle.
Walking in Florence
Florence is a city for walking. Expats who live and work in the centre won’t have a problem getting around on foot. Most locals and all tourists do it, so expats in a hurry should avoid the heavy foot traffic of the main streets around Il Duomo.
Buying a pocket-sized map to help get around in Florence during their first couple of weeks is advisable. The city is small, but it has many side streets and alleyways that are easy to get lost in, and navigation applications aren't always reliable because mobile reception can be patchy.
Expats committed to walking everywhere should bear the weather in mind, though. Florence is prone to extremes, so walking in summer or winter can be a test of endurance. Summer days can be sweltering so expats travelling on foot should bring an umbrella and lots of water to avoid dehydration.
Florence is generally safe, as the main streets are packed with people at almost all hours. However, expats should be careful of walking around the San Lorenzo Markets, Santa Maria Novella Station and the outer streets late at night and early in the morning. These are some of Florence’s less wholesome and trafficked areas, so it’s a good idea to catch a taxi instead.
Remember to always use caution when walking on or crossing the roads in Italy. Italian road culture can be aggressive, and many drivers assume that they will have the right of way, even at pedestrian crossings, so expats should always look before they cross.
Cycling in Florence
Despite the abundance of car-free streets, there isn't a strong cycling culture in Florence as many locals don't cycle. There aren't any bicycle lanes in the historical centre, but that’s no reason not to get around on a bicycle. Outside the historical centre, there are around 56 miles (90km) of dedicated cycle lanes, mainly along the Arno River.
There are several stores where expats can purchase a bicycle in Florence while buying one online or through newspaper classifieds is also possible. The Florence City Council runs a bicycle-sharing scheme and numerous rental stations are located around the city.