In the five years that I have been creating itineraries for independent travelers to Italy, I’ve never met a traveler who wanted to go to Florence and skip a visit to the city’s famous Uffizi art Gallery. But the Uffizi is a huge and exhausting museum with thousands of paintings and sculptures that can make your brain hurt (or worse). You need a plan of attack for this museum, so below are pros and cons of five ways to visit Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. Since several of those mean buying your own admission tickets, I’ve also described five ways to get Uffizi skip-the-line tickets.
But first let me emphasize that there is no good reason to stand in a three-hour ticket line at the Uffizi:
Hire a private guide to take you through the museum. I’ll say right off the bat, this is what I recommend if your budget allows. There are lots of excellent private guides such as Freya’s Florence. Pros: Your guide will get your skip-the-line tickets. You’ll book the tour starting time according to your own schedule. An expert guides you through the galleries and you’ll learn a huge amount about art, about history, and about Florence. Tailor the tour as you’d like (for example you might want to spend more time on Caravaggio and less on Botticelli), moving at your own pace and asking for bathroom, coffee, or bookshop breaks according to your own needs. Cons: this is probably the most expensive option for 2 visitors (but if there are 4 or 5 or 6 of you, a private guide might be less expensive than a group tour). What it costs: For a 2-3 hour tour, a private guide will cost your group about 200 – 300 EUR plus admission tickets which are about 15 EUR for adults including booking fees.
Many companies offer guided group tours at various prices and lengths (usually 90 minutes, 2 hours or 3 hours) and you’ll see the groups throughout the museum when you visit. These tours must be booked in advance, leave at pre-scheduled times, and the groups are of various sizes. As long as the group is small – so fewer than about 12 people such as the tours offered by Context Travel or Walks of Italy – a group tour can be great. Larger tours may make you feel like you’re being herded like cattle. Pros: Skip-the-line admission tickets are included when you book a tour. An expert takes you through the galleries, providing history and context. Your specific questions are answered by a real person. Cons: You can’t tailor the tour to your own needs. If the tour is large, there’s that cattle thing. If you decide to take a tour with a larger group, make sure to stick close to the guide so you can hear everything. What it costs: Expect to pay about 50 – 75 EUR per adult for a 2 or 3 hour smaller group tour; a larger group tour might be half of that or even less.
Before you leave home, download an Uffizi audio tour onto your phone or other device, and then book your own skip-the-line admission tickets using one of the five methods below. Pros: Very inexpensive, go at your own pace, still get a great tour, and you can listen to the audio ahead of time if you want (to make sure it’s clear, not an annoying or monotone voice etc). Cons: You have to book your own skip-the-line tickets. You can’t ask a guide questions. It’s difficult to chat with your fellow travelers unless you press pause and pull your headphones off your ears. It drains your battery. What it costs: Entrance tickets plus the audio tour: Rick Steves Uffizi audio tour is free; the itunes Uffizi audio tour app is $2; these children’s Uffizi podcasts are free.
Pick up the Uffizi’s official audio guide – with one or two headsets – when you arrive at the museum as long as you have ID. Pros: Inexpensive, you move along at your own pace, skipping pieces if you’d like, and the audio guide contains excellent information. Plus it doesn’t drain your phone battery. If you’re traveling with just one other person, the 2-headset option means you can pause at the same time and same place in the tour for discussion, which is nice. Cons: You need to buy your own skip-the-line admission tickets (use one of the approaches described below). You can’t ask a real person any questions. It takes time to pick up and drop off the audio guide at the beginning and end of your visit (potentially more lines). Some people describe the audio tour as dull and monotonous, but others say the tour is delightful and the voice is cheery, go figure. What it costs: Entrance tickets plus 6 EUR for a single pair of headphones and 10 EUR for an audio guide with 2 pairs of headphones.
Book your own skip-the-line tickets using one of the methods described below, then walk through the Uffizi galleries on your own, avoiding large tour groups, and read about works of art at your own pace. For pre-printed materials, you could just buy a book, or you could find a list of the Uffizi’s most famous works and print out information from the internet (wikipedia, for example) to bring with you. Or, buy this excellent Uffizi art history guide for the kindle, iPad or iPod for $4 which you can read either on your device or print out and bring with you. You can even study up before departure so you’re not overwhelmed by seeing everything for the very first time, by spending time online at the Virtual Uffizi. Pros: It’s inexpensive. Go at your own pace. Easy to start a discussion within your group / family. Just see what you want to see. Cons: Your eyes are on the page rather than on the work of art. You can’t ask an expert if you have questions. You have to book your own tickets. What it costs: Entrance tickets plus a few dollars.
This is of course an option, but not one I’d recommend and I can’t think of any pros here. The Uffizi is not set up as an interactive museum. The labels next to the paintings are not descriptive; most just have the name of the painting and the artist, so you won’t get any context or history. You’ll be annoyed by the tour groups disrupting your peace, and like this Tripadvisor reviewer, you may decide you’re “bored to death” after looking at “500 year old paintings of angels and cherubs” with no additional information.
Buy them online, ahead of time. The official website for booking Uffizi tickets is this one, where you’ll pay 6.50 EUR for an adult ticket or 11 EUR if there’s an exhibition, plus a 4 EUR booking fee per ticket. [UPDATE: As of November 1st, 2014, basic adult ticket prices are going to increase to 12.50 EUR.] You’ll pick the day and a time for your visit. (Doing an online search for Uffizi tickets will bring up lots of websites selling these tickets but don’t be surprised to see them at 23 EUR a ticket after a markup.) These tickets are skip-the-line tickets, but you’ll print a voucher and then you’ll still need to pick up your tickets at the Uffizi at Door Number 3, where there could be a (shorter) line of people, like you, who bought tickets online. Then you’ll enter the Uffizi through Door Number 1, where again there could be a (shorter) line.
Buy a Firenze Museum Card. With a Firenze Card you can skip the line into the Uffizi too, but at 72 EUR per person, whether the Florence museum card is worth it depends on how many museums you plan to visit in Florence in the 72 hour period the card is valid. I’ve done the math for many clients to see whether it’s worth buying this card, and I haven’t yet advised anyone to buy it. But, you don’t need to worry about making reservations ahead of time, so that is a major plus.
Buy a Friends of the Uffizi Card. In Italian, it’s the Amici degli Uffizi card. It also allows you to skip the line and go whenever you like, so no need to pick a timed entry. For adults it’s 60 EUR but it for a family of 4 it’s 100 EUR so is a much better deal than the Firenze Museum Card. It’s still only worth it if you’re going to be visiting several museums, but it’s valid for a year.
Get last minute tickets in Florence. If you arrive in Florence without Uffizi tickets, and there’s a long line at the Uffizi, head over to the Church of Orsanmichele in Via dei Calzaiuoli (between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria) where there is a Firenze Musei ticket office open Monday – Saturday between 9 am and 4.15 pm. But don’t rely on this approach: you risk that there are no available tickets, or that there aren’t enough for your party, or that you can’t go when you wanted to go. However if the alternative is going to stand in that long line, then it’s worth checking here first.
Make reservations over the phone at no charge, and pay later. If you think you might go to the Uffizi while you’re in Florence and you want to make a reservation just in case, this is a great option. Call the Uffizi Gallery at +39 055 294883 and make your booking. You’ll get a reservation number. Then when you get to the Uffizi on the day of your reservation, pay the admission fees plus booking fees at Door Number 3, then enter through Door Number 1. If you call to cancel your reservation, it costs you nothing. But if you reserved 4 tickets and show up needing fewer tickets, you still need to pay the booking fee – but not the admission – for all the tickets you reserved.
Whew! I think that’s it. Do you have any advice to add?
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