If you’re wondering what to see in Florence, we’ve got the answer. Here’s our ultimate bucket list. The magnificent Cathedral, romantic Ponte Vecchio and the jaw-dropping Statue of David, it’s all here and more. If you have a few days to explore this fascinating city, we’ve picked all the top highlights of Florence for the time-starved traveller.
What to see in Florence – Start with Piazza Duomo
The best place to get familiar with Florence is Piazza del Duomo. It might sound obvious this area has been the heart of Florence since Roman times, and it’s here that you find one of Florence’s oldest religious buildings, the Baptistry. Right next to it is the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – also known as “The Duomo”, with its splendid dome that the Florentines affectionally call the ‘Cupolone’ and the elegant bell tower. This square is a crazy place, inundated with tourists, street artists, horses, carts, and tour guides. But it is one of the most famous squares in Italy and there’s no better place to start a tour of Florence and see what it’s all about.
VISIT: the Cathedral and the Baptistry, climb the Dome or Giotto’s bell tower.
Piazza Signoria – Where history meets beauty
Only a few minutes walk along one of Florence’s most celebrated streets Via Calzaioli – and you arrive in the other Florentine piazza that can rival Piazza Duomo for beauty and prestige. Welcome to Piazza della Signoria. This was where the political decisions were taken, and where first the members of the Republic of Florence’s government, and later the Medici, resided to do their duties as head of state. With its handsome ensemble of buildings it’s arguably more beautiful than Piazza Duomo, mainly thanks to the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio. This palace is filled with history and stories which you can learn about on any one of the fascinating tours. Don’t forget the Loggia dei Lanzi, where you’ll see some exquisite statues in a magnificent open air sculpture gallery.
VISIT: Palazzo Vecchio, Loggia dei Lanzi
Uffizi Gallery – A full immersion in Renaissance art
If you love paintings and you love the idea of learning everything there is to know about Italian Renaissance, the Uffizi is the place for you. You find it just off Piazza Signoria. Started as a private Medici collection, this extraordinary gallery hosts 45 rooms filled with work from Italian and European masters – from Medieval to 16th century. It received 2 million visitors last year. The highlights being the ‘usual suspects’ Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raffaello, Caravaggio. This museum is a testimony that Florence gave birth to the Renaissance that revolutionised art at the time, and here you find all the best examples.
Ponte Vecchio – A Medieval bridge at the heart of Florence
A few steps from the Uffizi you find one of Florence’s landmarks, the Ponte Vecchio (literally the ‘old bridge‘). And it is old (it was built in stone in 1345, after the wooden bridge had been destroyed by flooding) with its picturesque jumble of ancient buildings cobbled together on top. They host jewellery shops with glitzy windows – one of the most typical spots to buy gold in Florence. The view is best appreciated at sunset, when the light seems to set the bridge on fire.
The best view over Florence – Piazzale Michelangelo
We’ve shown you the heart of florence, now it’s time to head out of the city, get up the hill and learn to appreciate Florence from different vantage point, Piazzale Michelangelo. A copy of the Statue of David stands here admiring the city below, the river Arno cutting between the red roofed Florentine buildings, the imposing churches, with the Ponte Vecchio showing off all its beauty. Amazing unforgettable view, timeless and romantic.
See the famous David at the Accademia
A must-see for many that visit Florence. Michelangelo’s David used to stand proudly outside the Palazzo Vecchio until 1873 when he was moved to the Accademia Gallery to better preserve him. (Today a copy still takes his place in Piazza della Signoria). In the Accademia it’s undoubtedly the king of the show. For all art enthusiasts and everybody who wants to get a good look at this iconic statue, a visit to the Accademia is a must. Here you’ll also find more works by Michelangelo and take a selfie with one of the most famous statues in the world.
VISIT: Accademia Gallery, with David and the “Slaves” by Michelangelo
In search of your favourite Florentine church
What to see in Florence if not a good old church? Florence is famous for its alluring frescoes and its churches, and there’re a few that definitely deserve a visit. All-time favourites are the Church of Santa Croce, in the splendid square of the same name, where you find the tombs of famous people such as Galileo and Michelangelo and the celebrated Pazzi Chapel – and the Santa Maria Novella Church filled with an enticing cloister, and various chapels frescoed by Renaissance masters.
The Church of San Lorenzo used to be the Medici’s church so if you’re a fan of this Florentine family visit the Medici Chapels where they are buried, with works by Michelangelo. Right there you find the famous San Lorenzo Market for colourful and cheap souvenirs and leather goods.
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VISIT: Santa Croce Church, Santa Maria Novella Church, San Lorenzo and Medici Chapels
The coolest neighbourhood in the Oltrarno
Walk the Oltrarno, which you reach by crossing the river Arno, to explore this artisans neighbourhood with its turbulent past and creative atmosphere. San Frediano, one of the areas within the Oltrarno, has recently been called the “coolest” district in Italy by Lonely Planet. And it’s hard to disagree with. Less touristy, inhabited largely by students, and wannabe artists, it’s an inviting place where you can discover all sorts of little artisan shops, small squares and locales. It’s the less grand and manicured side of Florence, with a hipster touch.