Driving into and parking in Florence is very difficult at best and comes with the risk of a heavy fine. The roads around the city center are a restricted driving area (ZTL) and, if entered without a special permit, you will be fined. There are parking areas around Florence outside the ZTL, but they are expensive the closer to the city. The ones farther away will require some form of public transportation (or a long walk) to get from car to city center. If you are staying in a hotel in Florence for several days, I highly suggest you not have a car with you – it is just an added expense and, once in the city center, Florence is a very walkable town.
The closest place to park is at the parking garage under the Santa Maria Novella train station. This would ideal for a quick in and out of town, but not for long term parking as it is rather pricey (€2 per hour for 1st two hours and €3 per hour afterwards; a five-day parking pass can be had for the bargain price of €140. It is open 24 hours a day.
Here's a website that lists the various places to park with the fees and shows you on a map where the sites are: Florence parking map.
I live in Florence and I often have to take taxis because of my job and to get around the city, so if you don't feel like walking and you don't want to rely on the always-late-often-on-strike florentine public transports, I recommend you take a taxi. Florence has excellent taxi services. I find that taxi company 0554390 guarantees a quick service. You can call a taxi via skype for free, or via sms without having to wait in line for an operator. You can see the cost of your ride before you actually get on the taxi, just by going to the website http://www.florenceintaxi.it; and what I like most, being a very eco-friendly person, is they have ecological taxis. They even show online the departures and arrival of flights at the airport to make it easier for travellers to get to their flight in time. I personally found this very useful. I suggest you check it out!
Next to the main train station in Florence, Santa Maria Novella, there is a large underground car park/parking garage. It's not cheap, but it is open 24 hours a day, and from there you can walk to almost everything. Just follow the signs to Stazione S.M. Novella. Acrosss the street from the train station, toward the church Santa Maria Novella, you'll see a Tourist Information office where you can get a free map, etc.
In Sep 2007 we spent one night in Florence, arriving by train from Venice. The following day we picked up a hire car, as we were going to be exploring Tuscany for a few days and car is the easiest way to get around this region. Please note that you do not need a car to explore Florence - by foot is the best way to do this!
We hired a car through Europcar. We have used them several times in Europe and have found the prices competitive, service good, and cars reliable. Europcar have a few depots in Florence, so when you are booking take care to choose the most convenient one for you. We booked and paid in advance to secure the best rate, which included unlimited kilometres.
If you still don't want to walk around in Florence by foot I can recommened taking a taxi. The traffic is awful in Florence, which means you might end up paying quite some money if you go during the wrong time of the day. But it's still easy to find a taxi, and if you call for one they will come very quickly.
Just remember that the taxameter starts when you make the call, so if the taxi company send a taxi to you from the other side of the city, it will be very expensive...
Best place to grab a taxi is at the central station, Santa Maria Novella. There are taxis passing by all the time at the special taxi parking, so you just need to stay in line and wait for your turn. If you're unlucky the line is very long, and then you'll have to wait. So if you're going somewhere important it could be a wise choice to go there early.
I flew into Pisa and took a taxi from the airport to Florence, this is about an hour and probably more journey and cost about €150, so make sure you pop this into the cost of travel should you decide to take this route.
Some road distances from Florence to:
- Rome: 285 kms.
- Paris (France): 1.146 kns.
- Warsaw (Poland): 1.570 kms.
- Madrid (Spain): 1.688 kms.
The website gives you some other road distances together with driving times and best routes.
I wouldn't really recommend driving in Florence. There is parking on the Oltarno side right next to the river. Driving isn't so difficult, it's just high level of traffic and the signs that will cause problems. Signs are very small and as soon as you see a sign telling you to get into another lane, it's already too late. I'm just thankful that my driving experience in Florence was not on a weekday during peak traffic hours....I have a feeling I would have had problem then.
The Autostrada is equal to the U.S. Interstate Highway system (more specifically the toll turnpikes around the U.S.). The speed limit is about 130 km/hr. You pay for the distance you drive. When getting on or off, unless you have a pass, you go to the far right line and get a ticket. You do the same, when getting off, hand the ticket to the agent and he tells you how much you owe.
A few differences with the Autostrada. Once you get on, you are on. If you miss your exit, it can be a pain in the ass because there aren't as many turn-offs and you can't simply get off, go over the overpass and backtrack as you would in the U.S. Also, the on and off ramps have quite tight turns so you have to go fairly slow when exiting and entering. This can cause problems merging with the high speed traffic. Oh, and please let the Italians drive on the left lane, slower drivers should keep right. The shoulders also aren't that broad, but one nice thing, if you do break down, there are plenty of SOS phones en route. And lastly, for gas and food, you don't have any other choice then stopping at the Autogrill. There will be different gas stations along the way (though most are located at or near the Autogrill). The Autogrill is essentially a mini-mall that has a variety of food options. It's a very nice concept, but it tends to concentrate drivers all in one location (since this is there only stopping option). You will find burger king, pizza hut, a wine and cheese shop, convenience store with car items, etc. at the Autogrill.
If you use Michelin's website, you can calculate how much your journey will cost and where the tolls are located.
Like most European cities, Florence doesn't use a grid and in fact can be extremely difficult navigating around, so best to have a map handy and know all the street names you need to follow to get to your destination. Street signs are on the sides of buildings so pay close attention. In addition drive carefully as Italian drivers have a reputation of not liking rules and rarely signal or follow the rules, so don't assume everybody will follow the rules. Especially watch out for the scooters who have a strong tendency to cut in front of cars without warning.
If it's late at night and you can't find a bus, don't wait an hour and a half for something that might not be coming. Instead, take a taxi! It might cost a bit more, but the taxi drivers in Florence are honest, at least the ones I've met.
.......if you park in the wrong place. I saw lots of towtrucks roaming the streets. This one was causing much interest as it removed a car, parked on a corner so the bus couldn't get round (and thus creating a huge, horn-honking tailback). I also saw a police scooter being similarly lifted, but didn't dare take a photo as a (rather cross-looking) police lady was standing by! So park in permitted places, or expect your car to disappear (and you'll have to pay to get it back).
The city's traffic is rather thick and chaotic; also, one needs a permit to drive in the central parts of Florence. I know people who have permits to the areas where their jobs are or where their kids go to school, and yet they prefer to take the bus or bike, because their permit allows them to be in that area for a very limited period of time (in many cases just for an hour, or even a half hour!). This doesn't mean I recommend biking, though! I admire all those nicely dressed Florentines - skirts, high heels and all - who bravely zip by on bikes, but I feel much safer walking.