Florence’s attractions largely center on art – from the works hung in the Uffizi and theGalleria dell’Accademia to the architecture of the Duomo and the Palazzo Pitti. But all of the beauty hasn’t been captured in stone and canvas; make a retreat to the verdant Boboli Gardens, take a walk along the Arno and over the Ponte Vecchio or eat your way through Firenze’s cafes, gelato shops and ristorantes.
Places to visit in Florence
Piazza della Signoria
Loggia dei Lanzi, in the Piazza della Signoria, is an open-air (and free) museum that was designed in the 14th century by Orcagna, an influential architect and artist. Below the building’s curved arches are dozens of sculptures (notable ones include Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines and Cellini’s Perseus), which draw crowds of tourists and locals alike. Behind it sits theGalleria degli Uffizi. The Piazza della Signoria is also filled with its (more than) fair share of sculptures, including a towering replica of Michaelangelo’s David
Take your time wandering around, and if you get tired, grab a seat along the Loggia dei Lanzi, or make your way to a cafe near the Fountain of Neptune. Recent visitors said this is a great area to people-watch and view magnificent sculptures while also resting travel-weary feet.
Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore)
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (known simply as the Duomo) is not only Florence’s religious center, it’s also the city’s most recognizable attraction. Occupying the Piazza del Duomo in the heart of the city, this massive Gothic cathedral was erected during the 14th century on the former site of the Roman church, Santa Reparata. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you find yourself straining your neck to see the church’s massive, iconic dome. The red-tiled cupola was designed by Brunelleschi and is described as a must-see by experts and travelers alike.
Visitors like to joke that the cathedral was designed inside-out: its exterior boasts intricate designs and breathtaking features while the interior is surprisingly plain. For many, the main reason to visit is to climb to the top of the dome (the cupola) where you’ll find spectacular views of the city. (Be aware that there is no elevator and some of the narrow walkways require you to stand to the side while people pass in the opposite direction.) However, if you are interested in looking around inside, guided tours are available.
Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi)
Occupying the top floor of the U-shaped Palazzo degli Uffizi along the banks of the Arno River, the Uffizi Gallery was Europe’s first modern museum, created by the Medici family at the end of the 16th century. Today, the museum is any art lover’s dream: it still displays the family’s prominent art collection, which includes such masterpieces as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” Raphael’s “Madonna of the Goldfinch” and Titian’s “Venus of Urbino.”
Because of the many works of art housed here, you’re going to need to take your time. One of the best ways to see the highlights and learn about the lesser-known pieces is to take a tour or rent an audio guide. Many recent visitors also said that the main problem with this museum isn’t art overload, it’s the crowds. Before you visit, check out the museum’s official website, where you can purchase tickets in advance and acquire additional information about the gallery’s extensive art collection, showcased in more than 45 halls
The Battistero is the oldest building in the city, and although the current façade dates from the 11th century, historians have dated the Baptistery back to the 5th century. It hasn’t been proven, but many say that this octagonal building was once a temple dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war.
Today, this ancient building is a must-do for any art lover. Wake up early to beat the crowds, who flock to the Battisteroin search of the Gates of Paradise. Designer Lorenzo Ghiberti’s delicate depictions of Christ and other religious symbols on these massive doors inspired awe in even the most renowned artists, including Michelangelo, whose praise of the doors earned them their name. Note: the doors have been undergoing restoration since 2014, and upon completion will be moved to inside the Opera del Duomo museum. Replicas are currently in their place.
Basilica di Santa Croce
Santa Croce is similar to the Duomo in style (both churches represent dominant Gothic traits), but most visitors aren’t drawn here by Santa Croce’s looks: Come here to pay your respects to such notable Italians as artist Michelangelo, scientist Galileo Galilei and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. Santa Croce is also home to what some say is the most important art collection of any church in Italy, the most notable works being spectacular frescoes done by Giotto.
After you’ve sufficiently toured the church, head next door to the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce (Museum of Santa Croce), which houses several objects formerly found within the church itself. You can also spend a few hours shopping or sipping cappuccino in the neighboring Piazza Santa Croce, which is home to an impressive collection of leather shops. In fact, the Scuola del Cuoio (leather school) – which was started after World War II in part by the Franciscan friars of Santa Croce – is connected to the church. It’s free to explore the school – and a good place to search for leather souveniors – but it costs 6 euros (about $6.50) to enter the church and museum. The church, museum and piazza sit just east of the city center. Both buildings are open to from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 2 to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. You are also welcome to participate in religious services at Places to visit in Florence
Giotto’s Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto)
Designed by Giotto in the early 14th century, this ornate 277-foot high bell tower is part of the renowned Duomo in central Florence’s Piazza del Duomo. Although it is known as Giotto’s Bell Tower, it actually required three architects to finish. The changes in style and design are apparent. Today, you can admire the tower’s external design from the square below – make sure to spend plenty of time admiring the statues and reliefs by such famed artists as Donatello and Andrea Pisano. Or you can climb the 414 steps to the top for spectacular views of central Florence, a hike that recent visitors said leads to a better panorama than you get at the top of the Duomo because you get to view the Duomo from this vantage point.
However, the climb can be a real workout, so make sure to pace yourself. Travelers appreciated that there were several places where they could stop to catch their breath and admire the views on the way up to the top, which they said were well worth the steep climb.
You can see the Campanile for free at any time of day by taking a nice passeggiata (or stroll) around the piazza. Or, for 15 euros (about $16), you can take on the stairs and strive for magnificent views; OPA ticket price also includes access to the Duomo, Baptistry and other sites. The bell tower is open every day from 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. For more information, visit things to do
Much like London’s Tower Bridge, the Ponte Vecchio was built to replace an earlier bridge. Once dominated by butchers and bakers, the original bridge was washed away during a flood in the early 14th century. When the new Ponte Vecchio was completed, it too was home to local food stores until grand Duke Ferdinand I of the Medici family decided to designate this unadorned bridge the epicenter of the city’s gold and jewel trade. It has maintained this identity ever since.
The Ponte Vecchio traverses the Arno River near central Florence. Throughout its history, it has survived floods and even attacks during World War II, making it one of the oldest bridges in Italy to span the Arno. Today, it is one of the most popular sites in the city, which means you should be prepared for heavy crowds and high prices. If you’re looking for river views without fighting the tour groups, try the nearby Ponte Santa Trinita instead.
Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)http://thingtodo.org
Originally, these beautiful gardens belonged to the Boboli Family; it wasn’t until the late 18th century that the gates opened to the public. Today, Boboli Gardens (located in the Oltrarno) offers sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the tourist-trodden city center. While you stroll through this extensive green, keep your eyes peeled for the numerous sculptures strategically placed along the paths, like Giambologna’s Bathing Venus. Also swing by the Isolotto, a large fountain located at the southwestern end of the park.