EVERYTHING to see in Florence!
Updated: Jun 8
Florence is truly one of the most romantic cities in the world. Musicians woo you to stop to listen while you wander around in awe of the art & architecture, and you can smell pizza everywhere- do you need more reasons to go?! Florence was one place that I did absolutely no research on before I went. This meant that I hadn’t seen a single picture of anything in Florence. Now I’m not sure if I should recommend this type of travel to anyone, becuase there is too much of the unknown, but it did have one amazing advantage. I was truly stunned by what I saw!
1. Florence Cathedral (Duomo)
The Duomo or the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, really did make my eyes widen, and maybe even made my jaw drop (I cannot remember :P), but my first sight of the Duomo is one that I will never forget. It is built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata. The remains of the old church can still be seen today, if you go to the crypt of the Duomo.
The construction of this church occurred between the 13th & 15th centuries, and statues of its two main architects, Arnolfo di Cambio & Fillipo Brunelleschi stand outside the cathedral.
It is possible to climb to the Dome of the cathedral, and see all of Florence from there!
The Giotto’s Campanile & the Baptistery of St. John along with Duomo are in the complex of buildings that are protected under the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
2. Giotto’s Campanile
The Giotto’s Campanile is the bell tower adjacent to the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It has 7 bells. Its main architect was Giotto di Bondone, who took over after the death of Arnolfo di Cambio.
Visitors can climb the bell tower, but be prepared for a steep, narrow climb-not recommended for people who’re claustrophobic, or have difficulty climbing stairs. (you are going to spend more time climbing up than up at the roof.) But it is a magnificent view of Florence from the top. ( Though the Dome of the cathedral is higher by a couple of metres)
The view of the Brunelleschi's Dome and the rest of Florence is beautiful form here, but the view is obstructed by the wire netting at the viewpoint on top of the bell tower. So you have to be really creative for a picture without the netting, or use your smartphone for it.
3. Baptistery of St. John
It is one of the oldest buildings in Florence (constructed between 1059 & 1128). The octagonal structure is a minor basilica. The famous poet Dante Alighieri was baptised here. Prior to it being a baptistery, it is believed that it was a roman temple dedicated to the roman god of war & agricultural guardian, Mars.
The interiors have beautiful artwork depicting events from the life of John the Baptist.
Did you know that the octagonal shape of the baptistery is a common shape for baptisteries since the early Christian times? The reasoning behind the shape has to do with prominence of the number 8.(6 days of creation, 1 day for rest, & 1 day for recreation through the sacrament of baptism)
4. Museo del Duomo
The combined ticket for the Cathedral, the Dome of the Cathedral, the bell tower, the baptistery & the museum is €18, and is available for purchase online. There are no separate tickets available for any of the above mentioned attractions. Keep in mind that lines for all these places will be really long, so keep aside almost an entire day if you want to see all of them & make full use of the ticket. Getting there early in the morning, will help a little bit, and try to allocate yourself a certain amount of time for each of these attractions (maybe with an alarm), so you get out on time. You will not notice the time pass by once you get in!
Tip to manage your time
Especially if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, getting there at opening time, and setting an alarm for each of these places will help you get through them a lot quicker.
The following is the link to buy cumulative tickets, and to select your time slot for entry.
5. Take a Gelato break!
Now gelato is everywhere in Italy, and if you are on a tour of the whole country, there is no doubt that you would have had your fill of it. But that shouldn’t stop you from having gelato in Florence!
I had a chocolate gelato from Venchi and it was divine! It was so dark & indulgent, and yes, worth the hype! There are many gelaterias all around town, & no-one would blame you if you had a few every day!
6. Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio has a medieval fortress, roman ruins, renaissance paintings & chambers. Construction of the fortress began in 1299, over the ruins of the Theatre of the Roman colony of Florentia, which dates back to the 1st century AD!
Get a combined ticket for the underground archaeological site & the Palazzo Vecchio Museum. Else, just the underground gallery is €4.
The Palazzo Vecchio was built to host the city council of Florence.It overlooks the Piazza della Signoria.
7. Piazza della Signoria
The most popular piece of artwork in the Piazza della Signoria is the copy of Michelangelo’s sculpture, David. Unfortunately, I had to satisfy myself with the reproduction, as I was too late for the Galleria dell Academia, where the original is displayed.
The Piazza also has other beautiful sculptures-Bartolommeo Bandinelli’s Hercules & Cacus, Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with the head of Medusa are a couple of them.
Right in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, is Bartolomeo Ammannati’s Fountain of Neptune which has a large sculpted marble statue whose face is said to resemble that of the Grand Duke Cosimo of Florence, who commissioned the project. The bronze sculptures around the fountain were done by Giovanni de Bologna.
Read my guide to the best offbeat things to do to see a different side of Florence, than its architecture & museums!
Do you love scouting the best views of a city? My guide to the BEST views of Florence is what you need to read! I've also mentioned the viewpoints that are great for a beautiful, romantic sunset.
8. Ponte Vecchio
A short walk from the Piazza della Signoria is the Ponte Vecchio. It is a covered bridge that overlooks the Arno river, and grants beautiful views of Florence. The view of Ponte Vecchio from other parts of town are beautiful too, because the large arches & colourful facade. There were some local musicians playing from their latest albums for the crowd. They usually have their CDs on sale for around €10.
There are some really nice boutiques along the bridge- and yes, they are super expensive (I didn’t go in, but I could tell from looking in the window.) There are some jewellery shops as well. One of the things I still remember from walking down the cobbled street, are the large wooden doors of the shops that were shut-so beautiful! (they were arched & plain, with gold trimmings & bolts, similar to antique doors of Kerala!)
9. Basilica of Santa Croce
Just under 1km away from the Duomo, is the burial ground of some of the most famous Italian names-Michelangelo (sculptor & painter), Galileo (astronomer & physicist), Machiavelli (philosopher & writer), Foscolo (poet), Gentile (philosopher), & Rossini (composer), and so has earned the title, the ‘Temple of the Italian Glories’. It is the largest Franciscan Church in the world. Even if you aren't in the mood to visit another church in Italy, it would be worth it to go see the resting place of these Italian greats!
10. Uffizi Palace & Gallery
The one place that I desperately wanted to visit, but couldn’t when I was in Florence! It is one of the most important Italian museums that holds works of art from the Italian renaissance. It has works of Botticcelli, Bandinelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, & so many more of Italy’s finest artists from the renaissance period.
The next time I’m in Florence, which I hope is soon, I will definitely make it here on time!
11. Basilica di San Lorenzo
If you want to see the burial place of the Medici family who commissioned the works of most of the noted artists of the renaissance period, and finally donated most of the artwork that the Uffizi gallery proudly holds-go to the Basilica di San Lorenzo.
The basilica is worth visiting as it is in the heart of the city, and is one of the largest churches in Florence.
12. Medici Chapels
The small museum/ enclosure inside the Basilica di San Lorenzo was designed by Michelangelo to celebrate the Medici family. Entry to the Medici Chapels is €15.50 when you book online.
13. Galleria dell Accademia
If the Uffizi is where you go to see paintings by the Italian greats, the Galleria dell Academia is where you come to see the sculptures.
Arguably the most famous exhibit in the Galleria dell Academia, is Michelangelo’s David.
14. Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti is the largest museum in Florence. It was the residence of the Medici family after they bought it in 1549. It is a short 400m walk from Ponte Vecchio ( it lies on the south side of the Arno river). One can spend a few days just exploring the exhibits at Palazzo Pitti-so, visit only if you have the time for it. ( I know most people don’t want to spend days inside a museum, but I mean, prepare to spend a LOT of time inside once you enter).
15. Boboli Gardens
Located right behind the Pitti Palace, you can club the two together. There are a lot of sculptures amidst the lush green hedges of the gardens. A walk through the garden might be a relaxing affair, but I chose not to do it, because I was pressed for time, and thought it was better to spend time exploring more of the city.
16. Piazzale Michelangelo
For an expansive view of Florence, go to the Piazzale Michelangelo! It was designed in 1869 by Giuseppe Poggi, to showcase the works of Michelangelo. The square has replicas of Michelangelo’s David & sculptures from the Medici Chapels of the Basilica of San Lorenzo. There is a cafe & restaurant on the premises now, in the place where a museum of Michelangelo’s works was supposed to be-so, enjoy the view of beautiful Florence with a meal or cup of coffee!
Walk about 450 m to get to a higher vantage point & visit the San Miniato Al Monte Church.
17. Take in the views from San Miniato Al Monte
The church was built between the 11th & 13th centuries. ( yes, you might be maxed out on churches in Florence, BUT! It is located higher than the Piazzale Michelangelo!) The views from here are expansive, and one can see the Duomo & Palazzo Vecchio from here.
Fun fact: the church is home to the tomb of Carlo Lorenzini(Collodi), the author of Pinocchio!
Club the trip to Piazzale Michelangelo with the visit to San Miniato Al Monte.
18. Church of Santa Maria Novella
The construction of the church began in 1279 and lasted 80 years! In 1360 gothic arcades meant to hold sarcophagi were added to the building. The church was consecrated in 1420. The facade of the church is the oldest in Florence, and it was built with its original planned designs. (the plans of most other churches were changed over the years)
Some of the important pieces of work to look out for when at Santa Maria Novella:
The Trinita or Trinity by Masaccio (1424-25), The Crucifix by Giotto (1288-89), The Strozzi Chapel which is dedicated to St. John-events from his life are depicted in paintings on the walls, The Tornabuoni Chapel by Ghirlandaio & his workshop-it is the main chapel behind the main altar in the front of the church; the chapel is dedicated to both the Virgin Mary & John the Baptist, Brunelleschi’s Crucifix (1410-15), The Nativity by Botticelli (1475) & the Pulpit by Buggiano, the small cloister & refectory, & the grand cloister.
19. Corridoio Vasariano (the Vasari Corridor)
The 1 km passageway connecting the Uffizi gallery to Pitti Palace, is closed for renovation till some time in 2021. The corridor is a museum separate from the Uffizi gallery. Its walls are adorned with self portraits of 16th & 17th century artists. The entrance to the corridor from the Uffizi gallery is from the 1st floor, and behind an unmarked door, and most people would be unaware of its existence. The Italian mafia were responsible for a terrorist attack that damaged some of the artwork, and a part of the corridor. The artwork have been pieced back together & are on display as a reminder of the tragedy.
20. Bargello Museum
If you aren’t maxed out of museums yet, you can make a stop at the Bargello museum, which is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Florence. The building was built in 1255, and it was used as a prison in the 1700’s!
Today it is home to sculptures, paintings by Michelangelo & other famous Italian artists including Bandinelli & Ammannati, medals of the Medici family, and many more treasures.