The best things to see and do in Florence

The top things to do in Firenze

Florence is the capital of the Renaissance, the home of Dante Alighieri and Lorenzo De’ Medici. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Locals and tourists get lost in its winding streets, stumbling upon architectural masterpieces and jaw-dropping views along the way. As you stroll, you’ll find that art is all around in Florence – in its sumptuous palazzos and gardens, in its under-the-radar museums and leather markets. Whether you’re just spending the day in Florence or staying for a few days, here’s our selection of the best things to see and do in this Tuscan gem.

Duomo di Firenze: Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

guide to piazza del duomo firenze

First things first – no trip to Florence is complete until you visit the Duomo di Firenze, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower. This church dominates the Tuscan capital with its giant dome, boasting a diameter of 45.5 meters, built by Filippo Brunelleschi. The dome’s frescoes were made from 1572 to 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, and were restored along with the whole cathedral from 1978 till 1994. The cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and consecrated by Pope Eugene IV in 1436, is the third largest church in the world and was the largest in Europe at the time of its creation in the 1400s. Apart from visiting the Duomo itself, free of charge, you can visit Brunelleschi’s dome by climbing up 463 steps. 

Best of Florence City Center Private Tour

Experience the best of Florence on this private guided tour of the city center. You’ll skip the line at the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David before taking in the highlights of the city center from the Cathedral Square to the medieval district, Signoria Square and Ponte Vecchio.


Giotto’s bell tower

giotto-tower-view
Photo: Nuno Cardoso (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nunocardoso/

Piazza del Duomo is also home to the famous bell tower by Giotto, adjacent to the Cathedral, and built from 1334 till 1359. This 84.7-meter-high bell tower is one of the most significant testimonies of Florentine Gothic architecture of the 14th century. Covered in white, red and green marble, like the one that adorns the Cathedral, this landmark has a rectangular base and is considered the most beautiful in Italy. If you’re up for going up the 414 steps, we can assure you that the outstanding view of Florence is worth the climb.  


uffizi gallery florence

Since 2014, the Uffizi Galleries connect three fascinating museum complexes – the Uffizi, the Giardino di Boboli and the Palazzo Pitti – through the Vasari Corridor. These three structures, together, make up the core of the art collections of the famous Medici, Habsburg Lorraine and Savoy families. The galleries are an authentic collection of treasures that range from ancient times to the 20th century. The Uffizi Gallery itself occupies the first two floors of the large palazzo on Piazzale degli Uffizi, built from 1560 to 1580, and designed by Giorgio Vasari. Its fame is renowned worldwide for its stunning antique sculpture collection and artworks that range from the Middle Ages to modern times. Among the art collection you’ll find Renaissance paintings that belong to artists like Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Leonardo, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Caravaggio, to name a few. Flemish, Dutch and German masterpieces are also present in the gallery, as well as the Italian collection of sculptures that belonged to the Medici family. Expect great temporary exhibits too. 

Uffizi Gallery Private Tour: Explore the Heart of the Renaissance

Skip the line at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery and discover the largest collection of Renaissance paintings in the world. With a private guide enlivening the gallery highlights with anecdotes and historical context, you’ll gain a more thorough and textured experience of pieces by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and more.


Palazzo Pitti

palazzo pitti florence

Palazzo Pitti has been the royal palace for three dynasties–the Medici’s, the Habsburg Lorraine’s and the Savoy’s. It was first acquired by Cosimo I de’Medici and his wife Eleonora di Toledo for the purpose of transforming it into a grand-ducal residence in 1550. Soon, it became the symbol of the Medici family’s power in Tuscany. The palazzo still bears the name of its first owner, the famous Florentine banker Luca Pitti. Today Palazzo Pitti is home to four different museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes on the ground floor, the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments on the first floor, and the Gallery of Modern Art and the Museum of Costume and Fashion on the second floor.


accademia david florence

While there are replicas of the famous David by Michelangelo in Piazza della Signoria and in the center of Piazzale Michelangelo, the Accademia Gallery is where the original statue of the David is located. But Michelangelo’s masterpiece isn’t the only artwork that’s worth the visit. Among the highlights you’ll find the copy of Flemish artist Giambologna’s masterpiece The Rape of the Sabines, whose original copy is located in the Lanzi Loggia in Piazza della Signoria. Not to mention The Slaves by Michelangelo. 


The Boboli Gardens

Boboli Gardens or Giardino di Boboli

Behind Palazzo Pitti you’ll find the marvellous Boboli Gardens. Not only are these gardens known as the “green lung of Florence” they’re a true testament of Italian-style gardens and were used as inspiration to create many European Royal gardens (yes, Versailles too). The 45,000sqm gardens are an open-air museum, with ancient and Renaissance statues, fountains and centuries-old trees adorning the space. The Medici family were the first to establish the layout of the Boboli Gardens, until the Habsburg-Lorraine and Savoy dynasties later enriched the gardens, extending its borders up to Porta Romana. 


The Bardini Gardens

Bardini Gardens: Florence’s Best Kept Secret Garden

While not as popular as the Boboli Gardens, trust us when we say the Bardini Gardens are a must-visit. Not only are they less crowded than the Boboli Gardens, they have a splendid panoramic view of Florence, so much so that Villa Bardini (where the gardens are located) was nicknamed Villa Belvedere. The Bardini Gardens have always belonged to rich families that have succeeded one another. They were first created as an agricultural area and were later transformed into a wonderful Italian-style garden. The garden integrates three gardens, different in style: the Italian-style garden with its stunning Baroque staircase; the English garden which represents a rare example of Anglo-Chinese landscape; and lastly the Agricultural Park where the renowned wisteria pergola is located. 

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Piazzale Michelangelo

best panoramic view in florence:piazzale michelangelo florence view

If you want to get one of the best views of Florence, there’s no doubt you need to head to Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers a panoramic view of Florence and the Arno river. It was designed in 1869 by the Florentine architect Giuseppe Poggi as a major renovation of the city walls. The piazzale was built in honor of Michelangelo and his works, which were supposed to be displayed here, both the David and the sculptures found in the Basilica di San Lorenzo. 

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Palazzo Vecchio

torre arnolfo palazzo vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio is the political symbol of the city of Florence, located in Piazza della Signoria. It was the former residence of the Medici family and was also used as the city hall of Florence in later years. The original project was by Arnolfo di Cambio, who designed a fortress in 1299 that was supposed to rise over the ruins of the Ghibelline towers of the Uberti, who were defeated by the Guelph faction (and also mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy). The name Palazzo Vecchio or “old palace” was given to the palazzo after Palazzo Pitti was built, which took the name “palazzo nuovo” or “new palace”. Among the must-visit rooms in Palazzo Vecchio is the Sala del Cinquecento with its stunning frescoes and the secret passages inside the palazzo. 


Palazzo Strozzi

palazzo strozzi florence

Palazzo Strozzi is one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Italy, born from the rivalry of the Strozzi family with other Florentine noble families, specifically with the Medici family. As you can imagine, the rich Florentine families were always in competition with one another to have the most marvellous buildings. Thanks to this rivalry we have the stunning Palazzo Strozzi which, in 2006 , became a public-private cultural foundation which organizes ancient, modern and contemporary art exhibitions. 


The Basilica of San Lorenzo and the Cappelle Medicee

Basilica di San Lorenzo florence dome
Photo: George M. Groutas – www.flickr.com/photos/jorge-11/ (CC BY 2.0)

For approximately 300 years, the Basilica of San Lorenzo was the Duomo of Firenze, or Cathedral of Florence, before the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore became the Duomo. It’s located near the San Lorenzo Market, footsteps from Piazza del Duomo. Since it was the church of the Medici family, it has remained one of the most important religious buildings in Florence, not to mention that the basilica boasts the second largest dome in the Tuscan capital. Once there, head on over to the Cappelle Medicee, or the Medici Chapel, to have your jaw drop. This chapel is covered in marble, frescoes and statues by Michelangelo. 


Ponte Vecchio

ponte-vecchio-dagli-uffizi

Everyone has heard about the iconic Ponte Vecchio, the famed bridge that crosses the Arno River. The bridge that stood at its place was destroyed after a violent flood until in 1345 Ponte Vecchio was rebuilt. During the Second World War the German army destroyed all of Florence’s bridges, except this one (although they blocked access to the bridge by destroying the two medieval constructions at its sides). Apart from its historical background, the bridge is known for its jewelry and souvenir shops built on the sides of the bridge.

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Explore the Tuscan region by going on a day trip

pienza-day-trip-florence

Tuscany is one of the most beautiful regions in Italy, known worldwide for its Renaissance cities and hilltop towns that overlook the rolling Tuscan hills. From olive groves and cypress trees, from medieval towns and vineyards, there’s sure a lot to see in Tuscany. And lucky for you, Florence serves a great base to explore Tuscany. From Montepulcaino to Montalcino, from Volterra to San Gimignano, from Siena to Lucca, there is so much to see. 

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Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella

santa maria novella florence

This 13th century pharmacy founded by Dominican friars still stands as a historic shop known for its fragrances and handmade healing products. The pharmacy is housed in a cloister next to the church of the same name. Not only can you purchase some top-quality products, enjoy the shop adorned with frescoes and chandeliers, you can also have a tour of the museum by reserving in advance. 

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Food markets in Florence

mercato centrale firenze

Florence is known for its spectacular cuisine. And what better place to indulge in some Florentine specialties than in some of the city’s best food markets? From shopping for fresh cured meats, vegetables, cheese and meat at the Sant’Ambrogio Market, to tasting bollito and stracotto at Mercato Centrale; from the Fierucole and Mercatale markets, there’s lots of great food to taste in Firenze’s food markets.

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