By Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw
After driving around and trying to park in Florence, you'll understand why Leonardo never invented the car. Cars flatten the charm of the city.
Don't even attempt driving into the city center. Florence has a traffic-reduction system that's complicated and confusing even to locals. Every car passing into the Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) is photographed; those that haven't jumped through bureaucratic hoops to get a permit are fined in the mail about €100 per infraction; if you get lost and cross the line several times...you get several fines. The no-go zone (defined basically by the old medieval wall, now a boulevard circling the historic center of town — watch for Zona Traffico Limitato signs) is roughly the area between the river, main train station, Piazza della Libertà, Piazza Donatello, and Piazza Beccaria.
Fortunately, the city center is ringed with big, efficient parking lots (signposted with the standard big P), each with taxi and bus service into the center. I just head for "Parcheggio Parterre," just beyond Piazza della Libertà. From the freeway, follow the signs to Centro, then Stadio, then P; at the elevator exit, you'll see a taxi stand and the bus stop for the #7, which heads to Piazza San Marco, the Duomo, and the train station.
You can park for free along any suburban curb near a bus stop that feels safe, and take the bus into the city center from there. Check for signs that indicate parking restrictions — for example, a circle with a slash through it and "dispari giovedi, 0,00–06,00" means don't park on Thursdays between midnight and 6 in the morning. If you park in the wrong place on a street-cleaning day, you'll get towed.
Free parking is easy up at Piazzale Michelangelo, but don't park where the buses drop people off; park on the side of the piazza farthest from the view. To get from Piazzale Michelangelo to the center of town, take bus #12 or #13.
If you're picking up a rental car upon departure, don't struggle with driving into the center. Taxi with your luggage to the car-rental office, and head out from there. For more parking information, ask at your hotel.