People from all around the world flock here to tackle the best things to do in Florence every year. Everyone wants to see the Duomo and gaze at the Statue of David before heading to the Uffizi galleries and the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge and, sure, they are attractions certainly worth visiting (even if a bit crowded) but there is so much more to Florence: from under-the-radar museums to shopping destinations that double as historical sites, markets and one of the oldest gelato shops in town, this Italian city will entice all sorts of visitors.
During ancient history, Florence was once a Roman city and then developed into a thriving medieval commune. It is hailed as the birthplace of the Renaissance movement, and throughout the 12th, 15th and 16th centuries, was one of the most important cities of the world. Notable residents of Florence included Machiavelli, Lorenzo Medici, Dante, Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo and Raphael.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Florence:
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (or simply, 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.
The red-tiled cupola was designed by Brunelleschi and is described as a must-see by experts and travelers alike. It was the largest in the world until 1881 and, as long as you don’t mind 463 steps plus some tight spaces, clambering up to the lantern at the very top of the structure will take you to the highest point in central Florence.
The Uffizi (Palace & Gallery)
Occupying the first and second floors 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.”
We’d recommend setting aside at least three hours to navigate the u-shaped gallery and glimpse at all the unmissables. Plus, the venue itself is architecturally fascinating: built in the 16th century and designed by Italian painter Giorgio Vasari, the extending colonnades, linear columns and traditional pediments all contribute to the classical design – a perfect pairing to the astonishing artwork housed within its walls.
Though many will be in line next door at the Uffizi, most won’t know about the beautiful building just next door.Whilst the Duomo is the most important religious building, the Palazzo Vecchio is the most importance administrative building in Florence. The “old palace” – a name earned after the “new palace,” Palazzo Pitti, was built across the river – is thronging with magnificent pieces of artwork and rooms full of frescoes.
On the front facade, a series of coast of arms can be seen that represent various families and important individuals relating to the history of the city.
The interior of the palace is also sublime with a series of originally decorated rooms such as The Hercules Room and The Room of Cybele.
In this museum, you can see Dante’s death mask and even embark on a tour that leads you through the secret passages built into the palace. Make sure you climb the tower during your visit. On the way up to the top, you’ll be able to see the prison cells where the famous Savonarola was kept before he was executed down in the piazza in front of the building.
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.
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.
If you only have a limited amount of time for art museums while you’re here, devote some of it to the Galleria dell’Accademia for one simple reason: the David. Though there are more historic works of art in the Galleria dell’Accademia than you’ll find in most entire cities, this museum seems to be made specifically to show off this marvellous statue. Aside from this original piece of genius, the museum also houses other sculptures and works from Michelangelo and is split into several different interesting halls.
Here you can find a wealth of historical art, and also a great deal of history pertaining to 14th and 15th century Florence.
Located on the Southern Banks of the River Arno, the Palazzo Pitti has stood since the 1400’s as a fine example of Renaissance architecture.
This former Renaissance residence is now home to Florence’s most extensive grouping of museums. The most notable of the Pitti’s galleries is the Galleria Palatina. It comprises impressive collection of works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens – is second in prestige only to the Uffizi Gallery. TheJupiter room for example contains some amazing frescos but also the famous Veiled Lady by Raphael. Other museums within the palace spotlight everything from historical fashion to household treasures once belonging to the Medici family.
BONUS – Corridoio Vasariano
The Vasari Corridor was originally created as a private walkway for Cosimo de Medici from the Palazzo Pitti to the Palazzo Vecchio – The high ranking individuals of Florence during the 1500’s were often reluctant to walk out in the public.
Starting at the Palazzo Vecchio, the enclosed corridor stretches alongside the Arno river, and then cross over the Ponte Vecchio and continues on to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side.
Inside the corridor there is a host of artwork and refurbished paintings that have been damaged in years past.
Although the corridor is currently closed for renovations, you can still marvel at its design and trace its passage from start to finish.