Florence isn’t my favourite Italian city. There, I said it. But it’s undoubtedly beautiful and immensely important for world culture. After all, it’s the birthplace of Renaissance and artists such as Michelangelo created some of their best masterpieces in Florence. Having said that, it’s no wonder than many people find Florence daunting and even overwhelming because of an abundance of must- see museums and art galleries filled with so many iconic sculptures and paintings. Florence is also one of those cities where the tourists outnumber the local population in the period of April to October. So choose your time of visit wisely. I’d suggest to either visit in the early Spring or in the late Autumn. Definitely avoid the summer when it’s too hot to walk around the city. If you’re a first time visitor then definitely focus more on squares and palaces and ice-cream than on museums. Unless, you’re a real culture vulture and you simply have to see the original statue of David in Galleria dell’ Accademia. And book your museum tickets online to avoid waiting in the queue. Even if you only have a day in Florence you can manage to see all of the most important sights I listed below.
So here’s the list of 5 unmissable sights in Florence
- Ponte Vecchio
The oldest bridge in Florence (1345) is also the most beautiful one. The Americans call it the Golden Bridge because of all the high-end jewellery shops on it. It’s always crowded and you should take care of your belongings while admiring all the costly jewellery. If you cross the bridge and go left you’ll reach the Palazzo Pitti and the serene Boboli Gardens. Over the bridge is the Vasari’s Corridor which connects the new Medici palace (Medici family ruled over Florence and Tuscany for centuries) of Palazzo Pitti with the old palace of Palazzo Vecchio. The newest addition to the bridge are the so-called love padlocks. To take the best photos of the bridge you have to either go to the bridge after or before the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
- Piazza della Signoria
Once the political center of the entire region and nowadays a hotspot for locals and tourist alike this gorgeous square is also a sort of museum in the open. The dominating feature of Piazza della Signoria is the medieval town hall of Palazzo della Signoria or Palazzo Vecchio. You can enter it for free but if you want to see the upstairs rooms you have to pay for the ticket. On the right side of the palace is the world-famous museum the Uffizi and on the corner is the Loggia dei Lanzi with a number of interesting sculptures. There are many important art pieces at this square including the copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Accademia). There’s also the Neptune Fountain and the Cosimo I Medici sculpture on a horse. Occasionally there’ll be some temporary modern sculpture or installation too. You’ll probably notice a round marble plaque on the floor in front of the Neptune fountain. That plaque marks the exact spot where the infamous Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned after he was finally captured. He used to organize Bonfires of the Vanities in the 15th century and burn books and artworks. There’s a water tap behind the Neptune’s fountain so you can fill in your water bottle. If you fancy a cup of pricey coffee you can choose one of the two historical cafes at the square.
3. Piazza del Duomo
This majestic square is the heart of historical Florence which is under the UNESCO’s protection. Here’s the Florence’s cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore or simply il Duomo (in Italian duomo means cathedral), Giotto’s tower, the Baptistery, the cathedral’s museum and several other palaces. The cathedral’s got the world’s largest masonry dome built by Brunelleschi in 1436. The cathedral’s colourful exterior is in stark contrast with a rather simple interior. There’s always a queue to get inside the cathedral (free) but there’s an even longer queue to take the tour of the dome (for a fee). You’ll see the incredible fresco of The Last Judgement and walk on the outside part of the dome and take in the impressive view of Florence. If you’re interested in beautiful views of Florence and don’t want to wait in a long queue then visit the Giotto’s tower (85 m tall) right next to the cathedral. It’s a long climb but it’s definitely worth it. The oldest building on the square is the octagonal Baptistery of St. John with beautiful bronze doors with relief sculptures. If you need a map of Florence or some tourist information there’s a small tourist office at the square in Loggia del Bigallo. There are usually several horse carriages at the square too waiting for tourists to take a ride around the city.
- Piazza Santa Croce
Another beautiful square in Florence which is famous for two things. Firstly, there’s a stunning church of Basilica of Santa Croce which is the burial-place of many noteworthy Italians such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Enrico Fermi, Galileo, and Guglielmo Marconi. Secondly, this is the place where the annual Calcio Fiorentino (historic football) games are held. They’re rather violent and have little to do with football and more with UFC fights. Florence used to get regular floods since it lies on the river Arno. The latest big flood was in 1966 and if you look over a leather shop’s window at the end of this square you’ll see a small plaque showing the level of the water after that horrendous flood.
- Piazzale Michelangelo
This is a large square across the river Arno and slightly away from the immediate city center. Basically it’s a 20-25 minutes walk from the Ponte Vecchio bridge and then it’s another 10 minutes climb. This is definitely the best free view of Florence and you can take many Instagram worthy photos from this square. There’s usually a stall with refreshments and a couple of benches. Bonus tip: get some food and have a picnic here overlooking Florence.
Other notable sights
If you have more time in Florence then visit the Palazzo Pitti and its Boboli gardens and the Uffizi museum and /or the Accademia. Maybe you could find some peace and quiet in the Botanical garden? Or take a day trip to Pisa or Siena or Lucca.
Have you been to Florence? What are your favourite sights in Florence?