Things to Do in Florence
Known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is the capital of Tuscany and the region’s artistic gem. This medieval city of red-tiled roofs is full of world-famous art, and is one of the most popular destinations in Italy. Florence's historic center is home to the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia, both must-see stops for visitors, with artwork by the likes of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, and more. For fantastic views over the city, climb to the top of the Duomo, Brunelleschi’s architectural masterpiece and an iconic shape in the skyline. See where Michelangelo’s David first stood in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and count the number of replicas now placed around the city. A stroll across the Ponte Vecchio provides views of the Arno River and the bridge's jewelry shops, while the Boboli Gardens and the Palazzo Pitti showcase the former home of the powerful Medici family. And, of course, when in Italy, it’s all about food: sample Tuscan cuisine, browse the colorful stalls of the Mercato Centrale at San Lorenzo, or take a cooking class. To explore outside of the city, try day tours into the Tuscan countryside to climb the leaning tower of Pisa, sip Chianti wine, see the medieval towers of San Gimignano, or walk around Siena's main square, home to the famous Palio horse race.
1) Piazzale Michelangelo
If you want to catch those iconic, sweeping views of Florence you've seen in postcards, head to Piazzale Michelangelo. From an elevated position overlooking the city, the fabulous views take in the city's fortified walls, the River Arno, the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and, of course, the round red dome of the Duomo.
During the day, drink in the views as you stroll along the Renaissance promenade, overlooked by yet another copy of Michelangelo's David. Return in the evening for magical views of Florence floodlit at night.
2) Michelangelo's Statue of David (Il Davide di Michelangelo)
There is no shortage of “David” statues in Florence, but if you want to see the real thing—the one that inspired all the copies—you've got to go to the Galleria dell'Accademia, or Accademia Gallery. It was custom built to showcase Michelangelo's masterpiece, and it does so beautifully.
Michelangelo's “David” was carved from 1501 to 1504 and originally stood at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria. Not long after the statue was unveiled, a particularly rowdy fight taking place in the Palazzo led to a chair getting thrown out of a window—directly onto the David's arm, which broke in three places. The statue was moved to its present home in 1873 to further protect it from damage, and a replica was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the spot where the original first stood.
The marble Michelangelo was given to work with for this statue was imperfect and had already been partly carved by his predecessor.
3) Uffizi Galleries (Gallerie degli Uffizi)
The Uffizi Gallery houses the world’s most important collection of Florentine art, so unless you have Skip the Line tickets you’ll need to get ready to queue! The collection traces the rich history of Florentine art, from its 11th-century beginnings to Botticelli and the flowering of Renaissance art. At its heart is the private Medici collection, bequeathed to the city in the 18th century.
4) Florence Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria dei Fiori)
You'll catch glimpses of the red-tiled dome of the Duomo, or Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori, peeping over the rooftops as soon as you arrive in Florence.
The 13th-century Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio was responsible for building many landmarks in Florence but this is his showstopper. The beautiful ribbed dome was creatively added by Brunelleschi in the 1420s.
The building took 170 years to complete, and the facade was remodeled to reflect Cambio’s design in the 19th century.
Inside the Duomo, your eyes are inevitably drawn upwards to that soaring painted dome and lovely stained-glass windows by such masters as Donatello. Visit the crypt, where Brunelleschi's tomb lies, or to the top of the enormous dome itself for stupendous views over Florence.
5) Piazza della Signoria
Florence’s spacious Piazza della Signoria has long been one of the city’s main meeting points. The Palazzo Vecchio, which anchors one side of the square, was once home to the rulers of the Florentine Republic, and today still serves as the city’s town hall. This square, then, was often used by those seeking favor (or protesting) their government.
Today, the Palazzo Vecchio houses a museum along with the town hall, and the Piazza della Signoria is lined with other major attractions. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio you’ll find a copy of Michelangelo’s famous “David” statue (in the place where the original once stood). The open-air gallery that is the Loggia dei Lanzi contains a collection of sculptures. And to one side of the Palazzo Vecchio is a fountain with a huge statue of Neptune.
The Piazza della Signoria was the site of the 14th century “Burning of the Vanities” led by the monk Savonarola, and it’s also where Savonarola was later hanged.
6) Opera del Duomo Museum (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo)
Despite the name, Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo has nothing to do with opera music - “opera” also being the Italian word for creative works, in this case the artwork that was once inside the cathedral.
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is located conveniently right behind the Duomo, for which most of its collection was originally created. Inside you’ll see an unfinished Michelangelo pieta that he had apparently started as a piece to decorate his own tomb. He was later so unhappy with it that he broke it, but it was later put back together by a new owner. The face of Nicodemus is said to be a self-portrait of the sculptor.
Other highlights of the museum collection are Ghiberti’s original bronze panels from Florence’s Baptistery. The doors you see on the Baptistery today are excellent reproductions, but the originals are kept in air-tight containers to prevent further damage.
7) San Miniato al Monte
There are so many churches worth visiting right in the streets of central Florence that you might think it’s no big deal to skip San Miniato al Monte, sitting as it does high above the city in the hills. But couple the fact that it’s an incredibly beautiful church with the fact that you’re rewarded for your uphill efforts with some of the finest views of Florence and you’ll see why it’s such a highly recommended stop. The church of San Miniato al Monte was started in the early 11th century on the site where Saint Miniato is said to have died. The interior of the church features beautiful multi-colored marble and a sparkling 13th century mosaic over the altar. The remains of Saint Miniato are said to be in the church’s crypt, but there is only one tomb in the church itself - that of Cardinal James of Lusitania, who was the Portuguese ambassador in Florence in the 15th century. There is a monastery next to San Miniato al Monte, where the monks produce the sought-after honey and liqueur
8) Ponte Vecchio
The ancient Ponte Vecchio bridge is as much a symbol of Florence as the red dome of the Duomo. Ponte Vecchio means old bridge, and indeed it dates back to the 14th century. The three-arched bridge is picturesquely lined with several stories of jewelry shops and market stalls. It’s one of the most popular places in Florence for taking a stroll or just hanging out, and the decorative central arches are picture-perfect spots for snapping photos of Florence. Running across the top of the Ponte Vecchio is part of the famous Vasari Corridor, built for the ruling Medicis by the Renaissance painter and designer Vasari. The private enclosed walkway leads from the Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi Museum, across the top of the bridge to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the river.
9) Palazzo Vecchio
Historic Palazzo Vecchio ('old palace') has been at the political heart of Florence for more than 7 centuries. With its late-medieval crenellated roofline and soaring defensive tower, it dominates the lovely buildings and sculptures of Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence.
The striking building was built in the early 1300s, and was redecorated by the ruling Medici family in the 16th century. Inside you can imagine how life at the top was lived in Renaissance Florence by touring the luxuriously decorated chambers.
From the courtyards to the chapel and private rooms, you’ll see elaborately decorated ceilings, frescoes by the celebrated Renaissance painter Vasari, and statues by such luminaries as Donatello and Michelangelo.
Climb to the top of the tower for stupendous views of Florence and the Arno valley.
10) Brunelleschi's Dome (Cupola del Brunelleschi)
Standing tall over the city of Florence, Brunelleschi’s Dome is an architectural feat, the most prominent part of the Florence Cathedral, and a symbol of Florence itself. Located in the city's historic center, the cathedral complex that holds the dome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whole area is known to locals as the “Duomo” or dome, after the structure. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and completed in 1436, it took sixteen years to build. And at 45 meters wide, it is the single largest masonry dome in the world.
Brunelleschi came to the rescue when, after over 100 years of cathedral construction, there were plans for to add a dome but no idea how to erect one. He went against existing construction norms and resolved to build a dome without wooden scaffolding — one that would support itself as it was built. It was an engineering and design marvel at the time, and the fact that it still stands tall more than 600 years later is a testament to its masterpiece.
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