Making a trip to Florence, Italy is synonymous with undertaking a journey back to the 15th century and into the hub of Italian art and architecture. So what are the top 10 things to do in Florence? Be it in the form of a sculpture, tall marble Gothic churches or a big red dome, there’s art in every nook and cranny of this small city. After all, this was where early art and architecture took on a rebirth and inspired art of the modern-day world.
Florence is where you go to see Michelangelo’s David and Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. The many museums and churches here showcase several world-famous paintings, sculptures & reliefs on walls. There are palaces to see, green gardens to wander through and panoramic city views to fill you with awe. Read on for the top 10 things to do in Florence!
1. Experience the richness of the Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore complex
Look at the skyline of Florence and you’ll see that the most distinct structure in town is a big brick dome. And when you set eyes on it, you’ll want to see it up close, and you can!
Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore is also known as the Duomo di Firenze or simply Duomo, meaning Cathedral. When you’re there, make sure you visit a few other landmarks that stand in the cathedral complex. There’s a baptistry, a bell tower, a museum and the Piazza del Duomo itself.
Once upon a time, one had to be baptized to be able to enter the duomo. And if you were to follow that rule today, you would start off with a visit to the octagonal baptistry, setting your eyes upon a towering 8-sided ceiling that’s laid with golden mosaics that portray images of Jesus, angels, and other biblical references. The Museum of Opera of Saint Maria of Fiore displays religious art and some original arts and parts of the cathedral. Go up Giotto’s Bell Tower and you will be able to see views of the city and also get a view of the dome. However, climbing to the top of the dome is the icing on the cake. The 450-odd steps to the top will reward you with sweeping views of the land.
2. See religious art at Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella
If you’d like to see a few more churches while you are experiencing the top 10 things to do in Florence, you could add Santa Croce Basilica and Santa Maria Novella to your list. Both these places of worship are built in Gothic style and have marble facades like that of the Cathedral but they don’t see as much traffic.
These are places where you can take in religious art at a more relaxed pace. Both churches are known for their frescoes. Santa Croce Basilica also holds tombs of greats like Michelangelo, Galileo & Machiavelli. Basilica di Santa Maria Novella also has within it the famous Crucifix by Giotto and Masaccio’s Trinity, among other great works.
3. See the masterpieces at Galleria degli Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia
If you’re in Florence, you cannot miss the art it’s known for and some of the most well-known masterpieces of the world can be found at the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’Accademia.
Galleria degli Uffizi once belonged to the Medici Family and housed their personal art collection on the top floor of a building of offices. Later, it let in special guests and gradually came to be opened to the public and gained the status of a museum. In fact, it’s one of the oldest museums in the modern world and has been attracting art lovers as early as 1765. This U-shaped building is where Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels can be seen.
Visitors to Florence never skip the opportunity to walk into Accademia Gallery because this is where you get to see Michelangelo’s David. This perfect example of Italian sculpture isn’t the only thing to see at this gallery. There are several other marble unfinished or left-that-way figures by the master sculptor that line the corridor to where David stands. Apart from that, there are several celebrated paintings, sculptures & alter pieces. In it is also a museum of musical instruments you do not want to miss.
4. Look around Piazza della Signoria
Adjacent to the Uffiz is Piazza della Signoria, a public square that saw several historical and political events in the past. Today, it’s a popular public square surrounded by several imposing buildings, one of the most distinct ones being Palazzo Vecchio.
If you’re not able to visit the famous museums when experiencing the top 10 things to do in Flornece for some reason or the other, Piazza della Signoria is the one place you should visit to get a taste of the art in the city. This piazza with all its handsome buildings is also an open-air sculpture gallery with several noted works and the Neptune Fountain. You’ll even see a replica of David here. The original masterpiece of Michelangelo, as you know, now stands in the Accademia Gallery.
5. Tour Palazzo Vecchio
When you’re in Piazza della Signoria, the one building you will not miss is the Palazzo Vecchio or the ‘old palace’ with its tall clock tower. This Romanesque building, which housed a couple of powerful families of the past, now serves as the Town Hall.
Mostly known for being the residence of the Medici family, parts of this palace can be seen on a guided tour. There are also several other special tours that give you an opportunity to go further in. Palazzo Vecchio’s many attractions include its frescoed walls, ornate high ceilings, artistic decor, secret passages, prison cells & the Arnolfo’s Tower.
6. Visit the museums of Palazzo Pitti
When the Medici Duke left what is now the old palace or the Palazzo Vecchio, the family shifted base to this new palace called the Pitti Palace that was situated just across the river. Soon this place too became a treasure trove of art.
Today’s Pitti Palace is a collection of 6 museums housed in a royal building surrounded by gardens. These museums are an awesome option as one of the top 10 things to do in Florence! Boboli Gardens is the name given to the 45,000 square meters of greenery and it’s well landscaped with beautiful lawns, trees, ponds & a fountain.
7.Walk the lanes of Oltrarno
While you’re on the south side of the Arno River to see Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens, it would be a great idea to explore the Oltrarno area to see the everyday life of Florence. These parts are far from the touristy throngs and most of the noise.
Walk the streets of Oltrarno to see how the locals live and watch artisans at work. You’ll see people making musical instruments and artists engrossed in painting or touching up ancient works. Before you leave the area, drop into a restaurant for an authentic Florentine meal.
8. Enjoy the greenery of Giardino Bardini
If you find that you enjoy the quieter side of the city but still want to experience one of the top 10 things to do in Florence, you could find your way to Giardino Bardini. These gardens are calmer than the Boboli Gardens.
It’s in a hilly area on the Oltrarno side and has a 17th-century grand stairway, and 3 types of garden areas, each with a character of its own and developed at different times. If you go in spring you get to walk through a canopy of wisteria. You’ll also get to see the city of Florence from a distance.
9. Take in the views from Piazzale Michelangelo
Another place that shows you Florence from a vantage point is the Pizzale Michelangelo. This square, also in the Oltrarno side is a popular spot for panoramic views of Firenze. The square is dedicated to Michelangelo, the renaissance artist and sculptor, and also has some bronze replicas of some of his works adorning the area.
From the terrace built here, you’ll be able to see the historic center, the Duomo and its bell tower, the Arno River & the many bridges that cross it & a sea of terracotta-tiled roofs. It’s a great place to watch the sunset, too!
10. Stroll beside the Arno at sunset
To watch the sunset, you could also head closer to the Arno River, walk its banks and watch the sky and the water turn crimson. Make sure to look at and photograph the bridges over the Arno.
Either to or from your trip to Oltrarno make it a point to take the Ponte Vecchio, the covered bridge over the river. The Ponte Vecchio is mostly filled with shops selling gold and silver jewelry is quite a sight to see and is definitely one of my favorites in the top 10 things to do in Florence.