Whether you’ve organised a relaxed itinerary or vow to experience it all in one go, from urban palazzos to Renaissance churches and bustling squares, there are some absolute must-see attractions in Florence that you can’t miss.
The Tuscan capital has no equivalent; scour the land and you won’t find anywhere quite like it. While its history spans millennia, a well-planned visit reveals that the inner circle of its rulers, writers and architects was so small and exclusive that their names are synonymous with the city. From palaces, churches and gardens to ateliers and bell towers, there is plenty to explore in the city of the Italian masters. To make the most out of your trip, be sure to include these must-visit sights.
Located inside Palazzo Castellani, the Galileo Museum is home to one of the most important scientific collections in the world and is a scientific research centre for Italian and international scholars. A visit to the museum reveals a collection that spans 500 years of instruments, inventions and displays, from the Renaissance period to the 19th century, and even includes Galileo’s famous telescope. Everything from antique globes and celestial spheres to microscopes and special lenses can be found in the museum’s wide-ranging collection.
Housed in one of the oldest buildings in Florence, the Palazzo del Bargello, which dates back to 1255, the Bargello Museum’s walls have witnessed important events in Florence’s civic history, including meetings of the Council of the Hundred, in which Dante himself participated. Tickets to the national museum include a tour of its two halls and courtyard, with works by Donatello (including the early marble David and the later bronze sculpture), unique panels by Brunelleschi, masterpieces by Michelangelo and Bacchus, Roman and Byzantine treasures and Renaissance jewels all on display.
Standing in front of Michelangelo’s famous David sculpture is an unforgettable experience. Visitors slowly circle to observe every angle of this masterpiece in marble, which is found at the Galleria Dell’Accademia and is 5.17 metres (17 feet) tall. The massive marble slab that was used to create David remained untouched for 25 years before the statue was commissioned in 1501, when the artist was just 26 years of age. Michelangelo’s David is depicted before his battle with Goliath, at the instance between choice and consequence. The biblical hero’s eyes exude an expression of warning, and the sculpture is placed facing Rome to represent the defence of the Florentine republic’s civil liberty.
The shining crown of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore is a civic centrepiece from the late 13th century that took 200 years to complete. Built on the remains of a seventh-century church that is visible during a tour of the crypt, the exterior features emerald green and pink marble slabs, while the interiors exude a rather subdued aesthetic to allow the artworks to stand out. The Duomo includes frescoes of Giorgio Vasari’s Last Judgement (1572), scenes of Florence by Dante (1465) and mosaic works spread out like immense carpets. The stately dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.
Although it’s one of the oldest museums in Italy, the National Archaeological Museum of Florence features spacious halls and modern showrooms. The exhibitions here appeal to all ages, offering visitors the opportunity to explore the history of human civilisation through archaeology. Inside is an impressive collection of Etruscan sarcophagi and Roman relics that date as far back as 450 BC, private collections of the Medici and Lorena families, ceramics from Ancient Greece and an Egyptian collection with more than 14,000 artefacts.
According to local legend, in a series of huddled houses near Torre della Castagna stands the birthplace of Dante Alighieri, born in 1265. Rebuilt in the 20th century using historical references, Dante’s home, located in the heart of medieval Florence, is now a museum and centre of study that highlights the life and work of the man himself, one of Italy’s most brilliant thinkers. Guided tours and workshops walk visitors through highlights of the poet’s life.
Located on the left bank of the Arno, Piazzale Michelangelo was built on the hills above the city in 1869, at a time when Florence was the capital of Italy. Designed by architect Giuseppe Poggi, the panoramic terrace is dedicated to the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo, and offers uninterrupted views of Florence in all its splendour. The scene is particularly picturesque at sunset, when the entire cityscape unfolds and historic landmarks glisten in the red sun.