Florence is renowned as one of the most cultural and historical cities in the world and is packed full of amazing architecture and places of significance. As the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy, Florence has a population of 383,000 and a wider metropolitan population of 1.5 million. This wonderful city lies in the central region of Italy and has a well developed rail network with connections to Pisa and Bologna.
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.
Today, tourism is undoubtedly a major part of the economy of Florence and an average of 13 million people visit the city each year. Aside from tourism, Florence has a major industrial sector and is a producer of such goods as furniture, rubber, chemicals and food. Industrial districts such as Prato-Pistoria have historically exported high-quality goods such as Vespa scooters. If you are looking for a dose of culture and want to see fantastic buildings such as the Duomo, Florence will not disappoint.
Lets explore the best things to do in Florence:
1. Florence Cathedral
Possibly the most celebrated cathedral in the world, the Duomo as it is simply known in Florence is the jewel of the city.
It was initially constructed in 1436, but the astonishing front facade wasn’t completed until the 19th century.
Located in the centre of the old city, the Duomo stands out for miles and creates an imposing sight amongst the other medieval buildings.
The exterior and front facade of the Cathedral are monumental – covered in white marble and red, pink and green polychrome designs; the colour and style is breathtaking.
Furthermore, an immense dome sits at the read of the cathedral and can be accessed via a series of steps.
Although the interior of the cathedral is quite bare in contrast, it still speaks of grandeur and has several interesting pieces such as the large clock face and the magnificent Last Judgement fresco that covers the underside of the dome.
Suggested tour: Duomo Guided Tour & Reserved Cupola Access
2. Giotto’s Campanile
Many people believe that Giotto’s Campanile is connected to the Duomo however it is a separate building in its own right.
This structure is a true masterpiece of Gothic architecture and is one of the most renowned designs in the city.
Split into five distinct levels, the exterior of the tower features polychrome marble decoration that is also present on the Duomo in brilliant green and pink colours.
Constructed in 1334 through to 1359, the building was designed by the famous artist Giotto, but finished by Talenti who added the last levels after Giotto died 1343. A plethora of sculptures, artwork and decorated panels cover the tower and it is a true masterpiece of Renaissance art.
Aside from the decoration, you can also climb the 414 steps in the tower for fantastic views of Florence and the Duomo.
3. Palazzo Vecchio
Whilst the Duomo is the most important religious building, the Palazzo Vecchio is the most importance administrative building in Florence.
This structure stood as the palace of the Signoria of the Republic of Florence and was also a town hall in later years.
Originally built in 1299, the Palazzo was designed by the same architects that worked on the Duomo and the church of Santa Croce.
With a square design and a number of crenulations, the building almost looks like a castle; it also has a large bell tower.
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.
Recommended tour: Palazzo Vecchio Guided Tour
4. Ponte Vecchio
Florence is full of famous buildings and the Ponte Vecchio is an extremely famous and old bridge.
Spanning the river Arno, the Vecchio Bridge is noted for the number of shops that are built into the sides of the bridge, its decorated history and the plethora of shops that line the main walkway.
History records date the bridge as early as 996 but its true origin is unclear.
Walk onto this fantastic structure and look at the various shops and vendors – You will find jewellers, art dealers and souvenir shops.
Once at the midpoint, the bridge opens up and you are rewarded with fantastic views down the river Arno.
Aside from walking on the bridge itself also walk along the Corridoio Vasariano to see the exterior of the Ponte Vecchio and its marvellous house-like attachments.
5. Basilica of Santa Croce
Whilst the Cathedral of Florence boasts immense size, the Basilica of Santa Croce is truly beautiful and inviting.
Constructed at a similar time to the Duomo, it also features a front facade that includes pink, green and red marble polychrome panels contrasted with polished white stone.
Sitting in the Piazza di Santa Croce, the Basilica takes centre position and frames the square perfectly.
Aside from the beautiful exterior, the interior is home to the tombs of some of the most influential Renaissance artists and scholars in the world including Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.
6. Baptistery of St. John
Completing the trio of buildings associated with the Cathedral of Florence, the Baptistery sits in front of the main facade of the Duomo and is a completely separate building.
As one of the oldest buildings in the city, the Baptistery has been revered and its exterior features the wonderful “Florentine” design that is similar to both the Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile.
The three sets of bronze doors are of particular interest and depict various religious scenes and human virtues.
Inside the Baptistery, a stunning golden Byzantine style fresco covers the ceiling and upper walls and depicts the last judgement and other stories from the Bible and Genesis.
7. Uffizi Palace and Gallery
Located just off of the Piazza della Signoria, the Uffizi Palace and Gallery is a renowned art museum and is considered one of the most important Italian museums in the world.
The building itself is a marvel and the inner courtyard features a series of intricate columns and arches that are adorned with marble statues.
Inside the museum there is an immense collection of Renaissance Art from artists such as Botticelli, Da Vinci, Titian and Raphael.
It is one of the most wondrous collection of Renaissance art in the world and many of the pieces are simply fantastic such as The Baptism of Christ by Da Vinci, the Adoration of the Magi by Botticelli and the Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio.
For loves of art and history, the Uffizi Palace will provide hours of engagement.
Available tour: Skip the Line: The Uffizi Gallery Ticket and Tour
8. Basilica di San Lorenzo
Sitting in close proximity to the Duomo, the Basilica di San Lorenzo was constructed under the designs of the powerful Medici family that ruled Florence for many years during the Renaissance.
Although not as grand and ornamental as the Duomo, this church is still an impressive building with its huge dome and characteristic terracotta tiled roof.
Inside the church is a plethora of beautiful artwork and decoration including a gold and white gilded ceiling and a superbly decorated dome interior.
Many frescos and sculptures frame the dome and create an interesting mix of patterns and colours.
Furthermore, a great deal of the Medici family are buried here and their tombs inside the chapel are quite exquisite.
Tickets available online: Entrance Ticket to the Basilica of San Lorenzo
9. Piazza della Signoria
Secondly only to the Piazza del Duomo, the Piazza della Signoria is just as important and contains a myriad of buildings and classical art.
The square is located to the south of the Piazza del Duomo and is easily accessible due to its central location.
The main structure of the Piazza is the magnificent Pallazo Vecchio with its huge clock tower and fantastic statues of David and Hercules.
To the left of the palace is the wonderful fountain of Neptune, and to the right is the Loggia dei Lanzi which contains some beautiful Renaissance sculptures including Perseus, Menelaus and Hercules.
Finally, a grand statue of Cosimo Medici stands near the fountain of Neptune, and a host of high-end shops line the buildings.
10. Galleria dell’Accademia
Located in close proximity to the Piazza del Duomo and the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the Gallery of the Academy of Florence is a hugely important museum.
A simple building that you might pass buy if you didn’t know where it was, the Gallery contains some masterpieces of Renaissance art including the original Michelangelo’s David sculpture.
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.
Finally, there is also a museum of musical instruments that contains a myriad of old and unique musical inventions.
Recommended tour: David at Accademia Gallery: Skip-the-Line Guided Tour
11. Palazzo Pitti
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.
A grand square sits at the front of the palace and frames the symmetrical front facade perfectly.
Although once home to Italian royalty and powerful families such as the Medici’s, the palace now stands as the largest museum complex in Florence.
Inside the palace, there are a myriad of different galleries that are all richly decorated, but also contain a host of Renaissance artwork.
The Jupiter room for example contains some amazing frescos but also the famous Veiled Lady by Raphael.
Other well known artists featured include Titian, Rubens, Caravaggio and Vernonese.
12. Boboli Gardens
Connected to the Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens are immense and beautiful.
Covering an area of 45,000 square metres, the gardens are some of the largest in Florence and are a true delight to walk through.
Created in the 16th century, the Boboli Gardens feature a myriad of different sections including a main lawn with a fountain and obelisk, a selection of worldly trees, plants and flowers, and several large ponds complete with water features.
If you want to escape the city, you can find solace in this wonderful place and enjoy the beautiful designs and natural specimens.
Suggested tour: Boboli The Medici Gardens & Hidden Messages
13. Piazzale Michelangelo
This square offers the best view of Florence and of the Cathedral in the entire city.
Located on the South banks of the River Arno, the Piazzale Michelangelo sits high on a hill near the Boboli Gardens and the Palazzo Pitti.
In the centre of the square stands a wonderful Bronze statue of David, and at the edge of the square there is a series of vendors and artists selling their wares.
The view from the Piazza is unrivalled and you can truly see Florence in all its glory, framed against the River Arno.
If you are looking for a truly memorable photograph, this is the place to be!
14. Church of Santa Maria Novella
Located in front of the main railway station, the Church of Santa Maria Novella is a beautiful structure that has a similar design to both the Duomo and the Basilica of Santa Croce – Another fine example of Renaissance architecture using polychrome and white marble to create a striking front facade.
Whilst the exterior and surrounding Piazza are magnificent in their own right, the interior is a true marvel too.
Contained within the church is a myriad of chapels dedicated to various wealthy and prominent Florentine families during the Renaissance era.
Detailed frescos cover the walls and ceilings and the church contains artwork from famous artists including Botticelli and Ghiberti.
15. San Miniato al Monte
Located high up on a hill on the far side of the Arno River, the San Miniato al Monte is a charming church that has a fantastic front facade that is similar to Florence Cathedral.
If you take the time to walk to the church and adjoining monastery, you will be rewarded with stunning views across to the old centre of Florence – From here you can see the magnificent Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio.
Aside from the views, the church itself is truly spectacular with a white and green marble front facade.
The interior is just as decorative and features some amazing frescos, artwork and marble columns.
Furthermore there is a plethora of ancient artwork on the walls and a funerary monument to Cardinal James.
16. Piazza del Duomo
Located in the centre of Florence, the Piazza del Duomo is one of the main squares in the city and contains some sublime architecture.
This is a great place to start your tour of Florence and from here you can see the magnificent Florence Cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile, The Baptistery of St. John and the Loggia del Bigallo.
Aside from the buildings, there is also a myriad of shops, restaurants and cafes to enjoy , plus a range of souvenir stalls and vendors.
As one of the most thriving and busy parts of the city, the Piazza del Duomo is an absolute must!
17. 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.
18. Forte di Belvedere
Standing in the grounds of the Boboli Gardens, the Belvedere Fort is the second largest fort in Florence and takes a commanding position on the southern banks of the River Arno.
Constructed in the late 1500’s the fort was meant to demonstrate the power and wealth of Florence during this period.
Today you can admire the fantastic architecture and design of this Renaissance fortification and understand why it held such a strategic position.
Furthermore you can also see across to the city and take some amazing photographs of the historical landscape.
19. Statue of David
Possibly the most renowned and well-known sculptures in the world (not just because of his genitals), the Statue of David is a magnificent piece of renaissance art created by the legendary artist Michelangelo.
This statue depicts the biblical hero David who was said to be the first King of Israel and it is renowned due to its fantastic detail and unwavering accuracy of depicting the human form.
The original statue can be found in the Galleria dell’Accademia and a replica stands proudly at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio.
20. Bargello Museum
Another of Florence’s fine museums, the Bargello Museum contains a myriad of Renaissance sculptures and artwork.
Located a short walk to the north east of the Piazza della Signoria, the Museum is housed within a building that once served as a castle and fortification in the Middle Ages – You can still see the guard tower and the crenulations.
Inside the building is a large collection of important sculptures including works by Donatello.
Particular sculptures of interest include David by Donatello, Bacchus by Michelangelo and a bust of Christ by Lombardo.