Florence is the capital city of Italy’s Tuscany region and internationally renowned for its Renaissance art and architecture. The city gave birth to the Italian Renaissance movement as it served as an important centre trade and commerce during the medieval times. It has provided a base to many artists, inventors, writers and explorers. Artists like Michelangelo and Brunelleschi were deeply inspired by the city. Florence is also credited with inventing opera and the florin currency which lifted Europe from the Dark Ages. However, Renaissance art is not the only reason to visit this ancient city. Visitors will be equally mesmerized by its gorgeous sunsets, Italian cuisine and its unbeatable romantic charm. If you are planning to visit, here are the most popular places to visit in Florence.
1. Santa Maria del Fiore
Also known as Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore is not only the religious centre but also the most recognizable attraction in the city. This majestic cathedral features the world’s largest masonry dome and around 600 years worth of architecture and artworks. Located in the heart of the city in the Piazza del Duomo, this Gothic cathedral was erected during the 14th century replacing the formal Roman church, Santa Reparata. From its intricate designed exterior to the red-tiled cupola which was designed by Brunelleschi and its elaborate interior of stained-glass windows, mosaics and frescoes, this Duomo complex also includes Baptistery and Giotto’s bell tower. Climb to the top to enjoy the incredible views of the city.
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2. Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio was built to replace an earlier bridge that was washed away during a flood in the early 14th century. Traversing the Arno River, it is one of Florence’s oldest and most photographed bridges. Noted for its three segmented arches, there is a line of high-end jewellery shops adjoining each of its edges. Visitors like to come here for shopping and taking photographs. The bridge gets lightened and looks stunning during night time. The bridge has survived floods and even attacks during World War II throughout history. Today, it is one of the most popular Tourist attractions in Florence which means you will find it crowded and pricey.
3. Uffizi Gallery
Located on the top floor of the U-shaped Palazzo degli Uffizi, it was Europe’s first modern museum. This former palace was built in 1560 and eventually evolved into an art gallery to its stunning collection of Renaissance art treasures by the ruling Medici family at the end of the 16th century. It was opened to the public in the year 1765, it offers a peek into the artworks of masters like Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian. Highlights include Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” Raphael’s “Madonna of the Goldfinch” and Titian’s “Venus of Urbino”.
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4. Piazza Della Signoria
An open-air museum designed in the 14th century by the architect and artist, Orcagna, Piazza Della Signoria is one of the topmost Places to visit in Florence. It has served as an important centre for politics over the centuries and has been the site of numerous historic episode. This beautiful square is centred among the top attractions of the city including Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Museum, Palazzo Uguccioni, Loggia de Lanzi and the nearby Ponte Vecchio Bridge. You will also find here notable sculptures such as a replica of Michelangelo’s Statue of David, Fountain of Neptune, Hercules, Cacus and many more. Take your time wandering around and enjoying the view or make your way to café for coffee near the Fountain of Neptune.
5. Piazzale Michelangelo
Perched in the Oltrarno district across the Arno River, Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the most popular viewpoints in Florence. It is definitely a must-visit attraction especially if you are visiting the city for the first time. Laid out in 1860 by a local architect, Giuseppe Poggi, this square offers a magnificent view of the city. To reach the square, you will have to walk and take the flight of stairs leading from the Piazza Poggi which might seem a little daunting but the view is worth the effort. Watch the sunset from one of the outdoor cafes located around the square.
6. Baptistry or Battistero
The oldest building in the city, the Battistero has been dated back to the 5th century by the historians. However, the current structure dates from the 11th century. Many say it was once a temple dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war. You must visit this ancient building if you are an art lover and or an architecture enthusiast. Beat the crowd by visiting during the morning hours. Most visitors flock to Battistero in search of the Gates of Paradise. The depiction of Christ and other religious symbols on these doors by the designer Lorenzo Ghiberti evoke awe in the artists worldwide including Michelangelo who has praised these doors.
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7. Palazzo Pitti
Located on the opposite end of Ponte Vecchio from the city centre, this former Renaissance residence is now home to Florence’s most interesting museums, housing a total of six separate museums. The palace has serves as the residence of Florence’s rulers until 1919 after which it was transformed into a museum complex by the Italian state. Galleria Palatina with its impressive collection of works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens, is the most notable and comes second in popularity only after the Uffizi Gallery. Other museums in the Palazzo exhibit historical objects and household items that once belonged to the powerful Medici family.
8. Palazzo Vecchio
Overlooking the Piazza Della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio was built in the 12th century and housed the powerful Medici family. One of the most significant buildings in Florence, it provided residence to the supreme governing body for about six centuries. The palace was turned into a museum and town hall in the year 1872. It houses a number of artefacts and artworks including frescoes, intricate carvings sculptures, painted ceilings and tapestries depicting Biblical events.
9. Galleria dell’Accademia
The Galleria dell’Accademia or “Gallery of the Academy” is most popular for its exhibition of the sculptures by the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo. It is your chance to see this world-renowned artist in all his glory with works like David on the display. The gallery gets flooded with tourists who are keen to see this famous piece. Take your time to admire the lesser known works such as the unfinished Slaves and Prisoners while waiting for the crowds to clear. Other important displays include the Florentine paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries like Giambologna’s original plaster for the Rape of the Sabine Women.
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10. Basilica di San Lorenzo
One of the oldest churches of Florence, Basilica di San Lorenzo is located at the city’s main market district. Originally designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in the 15th century, it is an early example of Renaissance architecture. The original church is said to have been founded by St. Ambrose in 393 that was rebuilt in the 11th century in the Romanesque style. In 1419, the Medici commissioned Brunelleschi to transform the church into what you see today. The work was completed in 1460 after his death but following his plans. However, the exterior of the church was never completed which lends to it a rustic appearance. It is also the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family.
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11. Boboli Gardens
Located behind the Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens originally belonged to the Boboli Family and wasn’t opened to the public until the late 18th century. Featuring a large number of statues and fountains, this beautiful garden offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It has gone through several stages of enlargements and restructuring throughout the centuries. It has come to form an outdoor museum with sculptures including the Roman antiquities like Giambologna’s Bathing Venus and other later works.
12. Basilica di Santa Croce
Similar to the Duomo in style, most visitors come to this place to pay respects to the city’s most famous artists who are buried within the church. The final resting place for luminaries like Michelangelo, Rossini, Galileo and Dante, it has been nicknamed the Temple of the Italian Glories. Some might say that it houses the most important art collection of any church in Italy including frescoes done by Giotto and “Death of St. Francis” that laid the foundation for the Renaissance Era. The Pazzi Chapel, located in the cathedral’s first cloister is another must-see attraction here.
13. San Miniato al Monte
Situated on top of a hill, San Miniato al Monte is the oldest church in Florence and offers panoramic views of the city. The inlaid green-and-white marble facade is renowned for its beautiful art and was used for the first time in Florence after which soon became a popular form of decoration. Medieval frescoes and mosaics adorn the chapels representing the diversity of the renaissance era. Cappella del Cardinale del Portogallo and San Minato are worth visiting in the early evening when monks celebrate mass with Gregorian chanting.
14. Mercato Nuovo
Explore this sixteenth-century Mercato Centrale, one of the most unusual marketplaces in Florence. You may find souvenirs to take home but it is most famous for history and legends connected to the place. See the “stone of shame” in the centre of the loggia where debtors were once punished with bare-bottom spankings. You will find the Fontana del Porcellino, a fountain featuring a bronze boar statue on the southern side of the loggia. Rubbing the nose of the boar is said to bring good luck.
15. Piazza Della Repubblica
Sitting on the site of the city’s Roman forum, the Piazza Della Repubblica is one of the oldest parts of Florence. The exact centre of the ancient settlement is marked by a monument Colonna dell’Abbondanza built in the year 1431 and was densely inhabited during the medieval times. The square was renovated in the 1800s and an arch was constructed on the west side of the plaza to commemorate its transformation. Today, you will find stunning neoclassical structures, shops and outdoor cafes here. Visit the famous Giubbe Rosse café, a favourite amongst artists and writers.
16. Giotto’s Bell Tower
Located in central Florence’s Piazza del Duomo, this ornate 277-foot high bell tower was designed by Giotto in the early 14th century. Although it has been named after Giotto, it took three architects to finish the work. Admire the design of the tower from the square below while appreciating the statues and sculptures designed by artists like Donatello and Andrea Pisano. If you do not mind walking, climb up the 141 steps to enjoy a spectacular view of central Florence from the top.
17. Bargello Museum
With its setting in one of the oldest buildings in the city dating back to 1255, Bargello Museum is one of the Top things to do in Florence and the four Michelangelo masterpieces displayed here is the reason behind it. You will also find artworks by Donatello, Robbias, Cellini, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, and other 14th- to 16th-century Tuscan artists. There is also a room filled with the ivory carvings, enamels and gold work offering a chance to the visitors to admire this Florentine Renaissance speciality. This special display of decorative arts and sculpture sets apart Bargello from the other art museums in Florence.
18. Mercato Centrale (Florence’s Food Market)
If you think Florence is just a massive open-air museum, you are probably true but there is another side to the city that needs to be explored as well. There is no better place to get a glimpse of the local life and people, visit the food market of Mercato Centrale. The ground floor hosts traditional vendors offering fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs and meat, and there is an enormous food court upstairs with five hundred seats where you can enjoy your food and free Wi-Fi. This is a good spot to buy gifts like fine Tuscan olive oils, olives and candied fruits to take back home.
19. Santa Maria Novella
While visiting this Dominican church, you may find the façade of inlaid marble familiar which are also worn by several other churches in Florence but it has been interpreted here quite differently. With its curving designs, imitating windows and rows of arches, you will find here some of the city’s finest frescoes, by masters such as Masaccio, Giotto, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Lippi, Andrea di Bonaiuto’s and Paolo Uccello. In addition to the frescoes, you will also find a marble pulpit designed by Brunelleschi, Vasari’s Rosary Madonna, and a bronze by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Visitors can buy herbal balms and floral lotions from the convent’s historic pharmacy.
20. Piscina Comunale Costoli
A complex of pools, Piscina Comunale Costoli has something for everyone. Beat the summer heat by heading to these impressive outdoor pools, one of the best in the city. It is 50 meters long with a separate pool for kids and divers. Located near the Artemio Franchi Stadium next to the Mandela Forum, the complex is surrounded by a large lawn with lots of trees where you can lay down to enjoy some sunshine and to get that perfect tan. The admission fee gets reduced after 3 pm.