Florence without a doubt is one of the richest cities when it comes to art. It also has the benefit over other art-packed cities of being extremely densely populated with its collections of art. The entire city is comfortably navigable by foot, which means masterpieces from Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Botticelli, Ghiberti, Vasari, and more are all within a short stroll from each other. It can seem as though every time you turn around in Florence you are witness to a new masterpiece (ital: capolavoro).
And of course with this density of cultural significance and small-city charm comes scores of people queueing up to see it. Indeed Florence is home to the museum with one of the largest queue times in the world–the Uffizi can have waiting times up to 5 hours in the high season.
If you’re one of the many visitors who only gets to spend a few days in the city, you could easily spend a third of your waking time waiting in line. And if you’re staying for an extended period of time, like more than a month, long waits looming over your head can prevent you from going to places you might like to otherwise visit on a regular basis.
But what if I told you that you could skip most of the big lines in Florence, and even save money while doing so? I’ve spent close to 5 months studying, vacationing, living, and working in Florence now and have learned a few things about avoiding lines during that time. Here’s some of the best ways I’ve found of skipping the lines in Florence so you can spend more time savoring the sights and enjoying your vacation.
The Amici Degli Uffizi Card
Free Admission And No Lines Fore All Of Florence’s State Museums
There’s no better place to start than with the grand daddy of them all. The gold card of Florentine convenience. Your own personal VIP card in the city–at least it can make you feel that way! No, I’m not talking about the more expensive Firenze Card that only lasts 72 hours. I’m talking about the lesser-known and less expensive Amici Degli Uffizi card.
This card is a membership card for the Amici Degli Uffizi (ital: Friends of the Uffizi) Association, a non-profit organization that conserves and protects the art in the Uffizi Gallery, among other culture-related services related to the museum. Purchasing the card gets you membership within the organization for the solar year, meaning it is valid through the December 31 after you purchase it, but chances are you’ll only need it for the shorter period of time that you are in Florence. But trust me, don’t let the extra validity time make you think you won’t be utilizing the card to its full potential–that time is just an extra perk in case you like it so much you want to come back to Florence to use it some more–it is still very much worth it even if you are in the city for a few days, and we’ll examine why below.
Having an Amici Degli Uffizi card gets you free “privileged” admission to all of the State Museums in Florence, in addition to the Uffizi. A full list of these is below, but let’s just run through the highlights real quick: the Uffizi (of course), the Accademia (home to Michelangelo’s David), the Bargello (home to Donatello’s David), plus all of the Pitti Palace museums and gardens, including the Boboli and Bardini Gardens.
You’ll notice I called it free “privileged” admission. The “privileged” part means that in addition to not needing to pay anything for your ticket, you also get to skip the normal line! How this happens varies by location, but at the Uffizi there is a separate entrance (Door #2) for reserved admissions. There’s almost always a worker in a red vest at the front of the line there, and if you show them your card and ask where you should go they will usher you in so you can use your card at the ticket counter for a free (ital: gratuito) ticket.
The Uffizi is the most valuable line skip, but it also comes in handy for the Pitti Palace (ital: Palazzo Pitti) and Boboli Gardens (ital: Giardini di Boboli), as that line can get quite long as well from the spring onwards. Many people visiting for the first time get confused at where the ticket office is here, and they end up walking directly into the main entrance of the palazzo without a ticket in hand first. But the ticket office is actually located to the far right of the building when walking up its large stone driveway.
This is perhaps the least graceful of the line skips, as the reservation (ital: prenotazione) ticket window is in the same small building as the normal ticket window, with only one small door as the entrance. The line stretches through the door, so you’ll likely have to excuse yourself past the people waiting in line within the doorframe. Chances are they will not be Italians, so to make it clear (and less awkward as you pass them in line…) you could say in English, “Excuse me, I have to get to the reservation window” while holding up your membership cards. Some venues ask to see your ID along with the Amici Degli Uffizi card, but with the Palazzo Pitti if you only send one member of your party with all of your cards it should be more convenient that way. The ticketing office there is so small that the workers seem to understand, as I’ve never been asked for the identification of my group mates at this particular stop.
It’s the same ticket office for entering the Palazzo Pitti itself with all of its museums as it is for entering the Boboli Gardens–but each requires a separate ticket. With the Amici Degli Uffizi card you can just ask for both tickets and you’ll be presented with both for free! Or you can come back on separate days and enjoy them more leisurely. I like to come to the Boboli Gardens once or twice a week to lay out, read, write, and take in some people watching, and I wouldn’t be able to stomach the wait or the admission cost every time if I didn’t have the card.
The Accademia is of course another long line in Florence. Having your Amici Degli Uffizi card will automatically place you in the “with reservation” line, which is much shorter than the normal line and moves quite quickly. Even if it seems you’re a while back, chances are your wait here will be about 5-10 minutes.
These are the main lines you get to skip with the card, but let’s take a look at a full list of the locations you get free admission to once you have the card:
|Full List Of Places With Free Privileged Admission|
And the price comparison for the Amici Degli Uffizi card versus standard admission prices at the main attractions (as of May 2015):
|Amici Degli Uffizi Price List||Admission Prices To The 5 Main State Museum Attractions|
As you can see, even if you plan on going to just these 5 main attractions that are on most visitors must-do list, you actually save money no matter your age. If you’re an adult, whereas you would pay €65.60 for full admission you pay only €60 for the card. If you’re a youth (ages 18-25) from the U.S. you pay only €40 instead of the full €65.50 you would have to pay for full admission. If you’re an EU citizen youth, your reduced admission price at these 5 stops would cost you €44 instead of €40 with the card.
And this doesn’t even take into consideration the time you save by skipping the lines, and the additional admission fees you save should you take advantage of going to any of the 12 other State Museums that are included for free in your Amici Degli Uffizi membership! Or visiting the 5 biggies more than once at your leisure!
If you’re ready to go for it, you can buy an Amici Degli Uffizi card online via PayPal from the Association’s website here. Then you can pickup the card from Entrance 2 of the Uffizi when you arrive in Florence, or even request that they mail you the card(s) if you’re buying them over a month before leaving on your trip.
Final Recommendation: Buy the Amici Degli Uffizi card and skip the lines with free tickets at some of Florence’s biggest attractions.
Piazza del Duomo Without A Line
Of course, other great paid attractions exist in Florence that are not State Museums whose line we can skip with the Amici Degli Uffizi card. Chief among them is the Piazza del Duomo suite of 6 attractions: the Dome (ital: cupola), the Cathedral (ital: duomo), the Baptistery (ital: battistero), the Bell Tower (ital: camponile), the Crypt (ital: cripta), and the Museum (ital: museo).
Climbing to the top of the Duomo’s cupola is a top-ticket item for most visitors to Florence, but there’s only one line in–no reservations, no special passes to get to the front–and it can get very long. And if there’s one place in Florence you don’t want to be when there’s a big crowd it’s inside the Duomo climbing to the top.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s a bit of a claustrophobic climb as it is, and if you do it when it’s crowded there’s a good chance you’ll get stuck inside a tight, stone spiral staircase in a line of people with nowhere to go for 10 minutes. Plus, when you do reach the top, it’s much less navigable and relaxing when the cupola is packed like a circular sardine can 375 feet in the air.
The secret here to skipping lines? Do the cupola in the morning, before 10:00, or if you’re in the summer high season, right when it opens at 8:30. If you start your Piazza del Duomo adventure after mid-day, climb Giotto’s Camponile instead and enjoy the Baptistery the first day, then come back the following morning for the cupola. This works great since your ticket for the piazza is good for 24 hours after you activate it with your first admission.
Final Recommendation: Split it into 2 days. Start in the afternoon and climb the Camponile on the first day. Then return the following morning to climb the Duomo when the line is shorter, since your ticket is good for 24 hours.
Bonus: Boboli Gardens Without A Line AND Without Amici Degli Uffizi Card
If you’ve decided not to get the Amici Degli Uffizi card, there’s still another way to get into the Boboli Gardens without the line at the Pitti Palace. The trick is to start at the Bardini Gardens, which in Jordan’s and my opinion is actually the more beautiful and relaxing of the gardens. It also has better views of the cityscape, comparable with the views from the Piazzale Michelangelo.
The Bardini Gardens are not far from the Pitti Palace. When coming from the center of Florence, once you cross the Ponte Vecchio instead of continuing straight to the Pitti Palace simply turn left, walk about 50 meters or so, then take the fork to the right that heads up a slight incline (Via de Bardi).
The ticket for the Bardini Gardens is the same ticket for the Boboli Gardens, but there is never any line at the Bardini Gardens. In fact, the room where you buy your ticket for the Bardini looks more like a quiet little bookshop than a ticket office. What’s more, the Bardini Gardens actually connect with the Boboli Gardens via a short walking path that takes you alongside the Forte Belvedere, a Renaissance-era fortification that Galileo was known to have used for some of his observations. The walking path leads you to one of several smaller entrances to the Boboli Gardens that Florentines are able to use for free admission into the Gardens.
Final Recommendation: Start at the nearby Bardini Gardens, which is actually the more beautiful of the two gardens. Included in your Bardini Gardens ticket is admission into the Boboli Gardens via the 5-minute walking path that connects them.