Florence has its share of must-see museums. The world-famous Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, with iconic works by Botticelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo. The Bargello, that mecca of sculpture-lovers. The grand Palazzo Pitti. And the intimate San Marco Museum.
And for those in the know, it also has some lesser known museums that are remarkable in their own right. Spaces that give an insight into the history of the city that was once at the centre of Europe’s cultural world.
7 Unmissable Museums in Florence, Italy
1. UFFIZI GALLERY
Where else to start our journey, but the Uffizi Gallery. With its 93 rooms in a splendid building overlooking the river Arno, the Uffizi hosts the most important collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in the world. Here you can immerse yourself in the masterpieces of Botticelli, Leonardo, Titian, Giotto and Raffaello amongst others. It’s the kind of place that will turn you into an art lover if you’re not already. This museum started its life as a private collection of the Medici family, rulers of Florence for 300 years. It’s a celebration of beauty, and an endless source of fascination. Spend a few hours exploring and decide which of its iconic paintings is your favourite favourite.
2. BARGELLO MUSEUM
The Bargello Museum makes a perfect companion to the Uffizi. After enjoying the world of colours and flowing lines at the Uffizi, head to this 13th century building (located 5 minutes from the Cathedral) to delve into a universe made of marble and bronze. You could say that the Bargello traces Florence’s whole history of sculpture: from Medieval statues, to the best of Renaissance and Mannerist artists. You’ll find Donatello’s famous first nude statue and some splendid works by Michelangelo. Verrocchio, Cellini and the Flemish sculptor Giambologna whose Mercury has an elaborate pose, an exaggeration typical of Mannerism. The building itself – it was Florence’s first town hall – well deserves a visit.
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3. ACCADEMIA GALLERY
You’ve seen plenty of sculptures and statues at the Bargello, but to see the most famous of all, the grand David by Michelangelo, you have to visit the Academy Gallery. He’s the king of the show here. 5 meters high, with a majestic countenance. He’s one of Florence’s symbols, originally destined to be part of the Cathedral decoration scheme.
The Accademia devotes more space to Michelangelo, the artist discovered by Lorenzo de’ Medici that ended up decorating the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Here you can admire his ‘Unfinished sculptures’ in the Hall of prisoners, extraordinary testimony of Michelangelo’s modernity and sensitivity. The Accademia is definitely one of the unmissable museums in Florence.
4. SAN MARCO CONVENT MUSEUM
Not far from the Accademia Gallery and Michelangelo’s brilliance, you find the extraordinary world of Fra’ Beato Angelico. A complete change in tone and atmosphere, here you enter a secret and tranquil space. The San Marco Museum is a former convent where the Early Renaissance artist Fra’ Angelico created the very best of his work. In the mid 15th century this Dominican friar and skilful painter adorned the walls of the monk’s cells and some public spaces with his delightful frescoes. In these scenes from the life of Christ, the devotional spirit shows in the frescoes’ light delicate colours. Don’t miss the room once inhabited by the religious fanatic and leader Savonarola, and the room where Cosimo de’ Medici used to come to pray.
5. PALAZZO VECCHIO is among the unmissable museums in Florence
Would you like to see where the Medici family used to live and rule from? The edifice that proudly watches over the handsome Piazza Signoria, that was the centre of Florence’s civic life? Spending a couple of hours inside Palazzo Vecchio is a great way to relive Florence’s’ history.
If you join the Palazzo Vecchio Secret Passages Tour you can visit the ‘studiolo‘ – the secret room once used by Francesco I, the Medici wannabe alchemist – and the Hall of 500. Its opulence was intended to mirror the power of the Medici, and artists such as Vasari and Michelangelo were employed to fill the rooms with grand works of art and lavish ornamentation.
6. OPERA DEL DUOMO – Florence Cathedral Museum
Once you’ve acquainted yourself wth the political core of the city, it’s time to explore Florence’s religious centre. And what better place to do so than the Cathedral Museum? After seeing the Cathedral you’re going to have a lot of questions about how the amazing dome was built, or what the church would have looked like originally. You’ll find all the answers at the Opera del Duomo Museum. Totally refurbished in 2015, the OPA Museum is a magnificent example of how a museum can help you better appreciate a place. Here you can admire the original Gates of Paradise, see what the original facade looked like, and admire beautiful sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo.
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7. PALAZZO PITTI GALLERIES
The Palazzo Pitti was the palace that Cosimo I de Medici chose as his residence. He and his wife found Palazzo Vecchio too small and uncomfortable and decided to acquire this grandiose edifice from the Pitti family, and created their private park, today known as Boboli Gardens. It was the year 1549.
Today Pitti Palace hosts a series of galleries. Inside the Royal Apartment you can discover how the rich and powerful used to live. The artistic highlight is given by the Palatine Gallery, with its collection of European masters’ Renaissance and Baroque paintings. The Modern Art Gallery has a collection of Italian painting from the 18th to early 20th century. If you’re curious about the Medici’s taste that sometimes bordered on kitsch, pop inside the Silverware Gallery. It houses a huge collection of artefacts, homeware, ceramic and jewellery from the Medici household.
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