By Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw
If you don't get a Firenze Card, and don't plan to book a private guide, it's smart to make reservations at the often-crowded Accademia and Uffizi Gallery. (Some other Florence sights — including the Bargello, Medici Chapels, and Pitti Palace — have reservation systems, but it's not essential to book ahead for these; the Brancacci Chapel officially “requires” a reservation, but it’s usually possible to walk right in and get an entry time on weekdays or any day off-season, especially before 15:30.)
Get reservations for the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery as soon as you know when you'll be in town. You can generally get an entry time for the Accademia a few days before your visit, but reserve for the Uffizi well in advance. Without a reservation at the Accademia and Uffizi, you can usually enter without significant lines from November through March after 16:00. But from April through October and on weekends, it can be crowded even late in the day. Any time of year, I'd consider reserving a spot.
There are several ways to make a reservation:
For either sight, reserve by phone before you leave the States (from the US, dial 011-39-055-294-883, or within Italy call 055-294-883; €4/ticket reservation fee; booking office open Mon–Fri 8:30–18:30, Sat 8:30–12:30, closed Sun). The reservation line is often busy. Be persistent. When you get through, an English-speaking operator walks you through the process — a few minutes later you say grazie, having secured an entry time and a confirmation number. You'll present your confirmation number at the museum and pay cash for your ticket. Note that you pay nothing up front when you phone.
Using a credit card, you can reserve your Accademia or Uffizi visit online via the city's official site (€4/ticket reservation fee). To start, click on the gray "B-ticket" strip, and make sure you "Add" your ticket to the cart before you "Buy" it. You'll receive an immediate confirmation email, which is followed within three days by a voucher. Bring your voucher to the ticket desk to swap for an actual ticket.
Pricey middleman sites — such as uffizi.com and tickitaly.com — are reliable and more user-friendly than the official site, but their booking fees run about €10 per ticket (proceed carefully when ordering from these broker sites — it's easy to confuse Florence's Accademia with Venice's gallery of the same name).
Through Your Hotel
When you make your hotel reservation, ask if they can book your museum reservations for you (some hoteliers will do this for free; others charge a €3–5 fee in addition to the reservation fee; they'll probably give you a confirmation number that you'll take to the museum, where you'll pay cash for your ticket).
The Firenze Card (€72) is pricey but convenient. This three-day sightseeing pass gives you admission to many of Florence’s sights, including the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia. Just as important, it lets you skip the ticket-buying lines without making reservations. For busy sightseers, the card can save some money. And for anyone, it can certainly save time.
With the card, you simply go to the entrance at a covered sight (if there’s a “with reservations” door, use it), show the card, and they let you in (though there still may be delays at popular sights with bottleneck entryways or capacity limits). At some sights, you must first present your card at the ticket booth or information desk to get a physical ticket before proceeding to the entrance. For people seeing five or six major sights in a short time, the card is well worth it.
The Firenze Card is valid for 72 hours from when you validate it at your first museum (e.g., Tuesday at 11:00 until Friday at 11:00). It covers the regular admission price as well as any special-exhibit surcharges (which are commonly tacked on at major sights such as the Uffizi). The card is good for one visit per sight. It also gives you free use of Florence city buses. The card is not shareable, and there are no family or senior discounts for Americans or Canadians.
Getting the card makes the most sense in peak season, from April through October, when crowds are worst. Off-season travelers could do without it. To figure out if the card is a good deal for you, tally up the entry fees for what you want to see. The card is great for popping into lesser sights you otherwise wouldn’t pay for.
Many outlets around town sell the card; if you decide to get one, there's no need to buy it in advance.
Take a tour that includes your museum admission. For example, ArtViva Walking Tours offers tours of the Uffizi, Accademia, and both museums.
If you arrive without a reservation, call the reservation number (see "By Phone" above); ask your hotelier for help; or head to a booking window, either at Orsanmichele Church (€4 reservation fee, daily 10:00–17:00, along Via de' Calzaiuoli) or at the My Accademia Libreria bookstore across from the Accademia's exit (€4 reservation fee, Tue–Sun 8:15–17:30, closed Mon, Via Ricasoli 105 red). It's also possible to go to the Uffizi's official ticket office (use door #2 and skirt to the left of the long ticket-buying line), ask if they have any short-notice reservations available, and pay cash (€4 fee, Tue–Sun 8:15–18:35).
Gene Openshaw is the co-author of the Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook.