Prato is the capital of the Province of Prato and is a major city in the Tuscany region of central Italy. Throughout the ages, Prato’s major source of economy has been based on the textile industry but it is also a producer of some famous foods such as Cantucci and Biscotti. Various archaeological finds have shown that Prato has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period and was then colonized by the Etruscans.
During the Middle Ages, Prato had influences from both the Byzantine empire and the Lombard rulers, and the city was first truly developed during the 10th century. With close ties to neighbouring Florence, Prato was involved in the War of the Holy League during the 1500’s, and rose to prominence during the 19th century and the unification of Italy. Today, Prato is a fascinating city to visit and stands in its own right as a tourist destination that is not overshadowed by nearby Florence.
Due to its rich history, Prato features a plethora of interesting structures such as the Emperor’s Castle and the Chiesa di San Francesco. Furthermore, due to its location, Prato is in close proximity to various natural areas of beauty such as the Parco dei Laghi and offers various opportunities for those who love the outdoors and adventure.
Lets explore the best things to do in Prato:
1. Duomo di Prato
Although not as large as some of the other Cathedrals in Italy, the Duomo di Prato is just as impressive and beautiful.
Constructed in the 10th century, this is the oldest church in the city and was complete over a period of several hundred years.
The front facade is still incomplete but features a striped marble design with a large central clock face.
Inside is the real treat and the black and white striped design is continued.
Furthermore, the is a myriad of fine sculptures and colourful frescos that retell various religious scenes such as stories of St. John the Baptist.
2. Museo di Palazzo Pretorio
Located in the Piazza di Commune, the Palazzo Pretorio is an ancient building that has served as Prato’s town hall for hundreds of years.
The structure resembles a medieval stone keep and is topped with crenulations and a bell tower.
Inside the palace is an ever-changing museum that is dedicated to the arts and currently contains exhibits on sculptor Jaques Lipchitz and the Renaissance artist Filippo Lippi.
3. Castello dell’Imperatore
The Emperor’s Castle is a medieval structure that was constructed especially for Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Created between 1237 and 1247, the castle offered a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside and was perfectly situated as a defensive bulwark against invaders.
Today the castle stands in a remarkable condition for its considerable age and 6 of its 8 original guard towers stand in perfect condition.
The entrance to the castle features a similar striped design to the Duomo di Prato and the inner courtyard still features an old water well.
For a glimpse into the past of Prato, this castle is a fantastic site to visit.
4. Prato Textile Museum
Prato has a long and celebrated history that is closely linked the the textile industry; indeed this industry served as the cities main source of economy and income for hundreds of years.
Today, the textile museum is part of the European Route of Industrial Heritage and has a fantastic series of interesting exhibitions.
Inside the museum, you can find a detailed history of the textile industry in Prato, together with a wonderful collection of artefacts, machinery and tools that were used in this trade.
5. Lago di Bilancino
Whilst Prato offers a great deal of historical and interesting sights, the surrounding countryside also offers many opportunities.
Located 30 minutes to the north of Prato is the Lafo di Bilancino which is a fantastic man-made lake that was once used to alleviate any flood pressure from Florence.
This charming natural area features several beaches where you can sunbathe and play ball-games or even take a dip in the water.
Furthermore, the surrounding area is a nature lovers paradise and you can see numerous birds here and even turtles! If you are looking for a place to escape the busy cities, Lago di Bilancino is the perfect attraction!
6. Try the famous Prato Biscotti
Prato is famous for its delightful variety of culinary wonders and people flock to the city to sample its fine selection of traditional foods.
Biscotti is a form of hard crust biscuit that is filled with a variety of savoury or sweet ingredients – The resulting taste is simply divine.
True Biscotti is said to come from Prato, and this city is renowned for its biscuit creations.
Many shops, cafes and restaurants sell authentic home-made Biscotti – look out for the tell-tale cobalt-blue bags.
The Mattei shop in particular is famed for its traditional recipie that has been handed down for generations.
Consider trying your Biscotti with a glass of wine – many people actually dip their biscuit in their drink!
7. Try the equally famous Mortadella Salumi
Another famous creation from Prato is the Mortadella Salumi – This cured meat is a Tuscan tradition and offers a beautiful variety of flavours.
Mortadella Salumi is created using a range of herbs and spices including Cinnamon, Coriander, Nutmeg, cloves and a slight helping of Alchermes Liquer.
This combination of ingredients creates a unique and vibrant taste and is produced by many butchers in Prato.
Consider visiting one of the local butcher’s shops such as Macelleria & Salumificio Mannori and sampling a variety of their tasty homemade goods including the mouthwatering Mortadella Salumi.
This cured meat is traditionally eaten with bread and is a fantastic light snack.
8. Piazza Mercatale
Located on the banks of the Fiume Bisenzio River, the Piazza Mercatale is a large square and one of the central points in Prato town centre.
Historically, this square was a main meeting point for merchants and trade activities, and it is considered one of the most extensive in Europe.
At the right hand side of the square is a large oval park that contains a manicured lawn and a series of beautiful trees.
Furthermore, the surrounding buildings have a historic feel and create a charming feel to the square with many arches and coloured shutters.
If you are looking for a place to eat, there is also a host of different restaurants and cafes here that offer fine authentic Italian cuisine.
9. Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci
Whilst most museums feature hisotrical art from centuries past, the Luigi Pecci museum is dedicated solely to contemporary and modern art and is a fine establishment to visit.
Located to the south of the historic town centre, the museum is housed within a fascinating building that looks something like a spaceship! Collections within the museum include works from Sol LeWitt, Jan Fabre and Paolo Scheggi to name a few, but the list goes on that the diversity of art displayed here will keep you entertained for hours.
10. Chiesa di San Francesco
The front facade of this historic church bears an uncanny resemblance to the Cathedral of Prato and features a similar striped design that is quite striking.
Created in 1281-1331, the church has seen much restoration during its history and now stands as fine example of a Romanesque and Gothic religious structure.
Of particular interest is the detailed and colourful fresco above the front entrance, the renaissance paintings inside, and the ornate altar covers laced with gold.
11. Parco dei Laghi di Suviana e di Brasimone
One of the finest national parks in Italy, the Parco dei Laghi di Suviana borders both the Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna regions and can be reached from Prato in a car in roughly an hour.
This protected natural area centres around two large reservoirs that were built during the early 20th century and the lake Suviana.
Throughout the park you can find various species of tree including Oak and Chestnut, and an abundance of wildlife including Deer and Wild Boar.
For those who love the outdoors, the Parco dei Laghi offers a great opportunity to explore with the myriad of hiking and cycling trails.
Furthermore, Suviana Lake offers water sport opportunities and a chance for a dip.
12. Prato Chinatown
Since 1988, the Chinese population of Prato has exploded in size, and the area surrounding Via Pistoiese is like another world.
Here you will find a myriad of Chinese shops, food stalls, restaurants and bars – the mix of Italian architecture and Chinese culture is quite intriguing.
13. Pavoniere Golf Club
The golf course at Pavoniere combines a fantastic playing course together with the sublime landscape of Tuscany and is a delight to visit.
For those who love the sport, this course is extremely high quality and is renowned throughout Europe.
Designed by non other than Arnold Palmer, each hole offers a challenge and features a myriad of bunkers, water features and rolling fairways.
Aside from the course, there is also a luxurious country club that serves fine meals and drink, and even a hotel complete with swimming pool.
14. Take a cycling tour of Prato
Prato is situated in a beautiful region of Italy and the surrounding countryside offers a plethora of different activities.
For those who love the outdoors and cycling, Prato has an abundance of well-maintained cycling routes to explore.
With over 53km of cycling routes through scenic countryside, you can trundle through various towns and villages such as Poggio a Caiano, Viano and Galceti Park.
In the town centre, and along the river, there are various rental companies where you can hire a bike for extremely reasonable prices.
The Prato tourist information office will have an abundance of leaflets and information about cycling routes and national park and will provide advice about potential tours you could take.
15. Take a day trip to Florence
Whilst Prato is a fine city in its own right; Florence is a true jewel of Italy and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
This historical city lies approximately 40 minutes to the east of Prato and can be reached by train and bus.
Florence offers a huge amount of cultural sights and historic buildings – sights of interest include the Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, the mighty Florence Cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile and Michelangelo’s David.
If you are staying in Prato, it is advisable to spend at least one day in Florence to experience the birth of the Renaissance in all its glory.