Explore the world capital of the Renaissance, where architectural genius is not just about frescoed basilicas and impressive palazzos but natural spaces, too. Florence’s majestic parks and beautiful green spaces, which feature formal gardens and harmonious designs, are true havens of calm within the city.
The historic city of Florence is utterly picturesque and charming but, like all big cities, it can also be busy and somewhat intense. There’s a lot to take in, but luckily the masterminds of Florence’s greatest landmarks also knew the importance of pleasant green spaces. And, as clever and intricate the designs of Florence’s palaces and fortress are, so too are the parks. Sit against a tree with a book, find the perfect bench to hang out on, or bring a picnic and lay down on the grass for a leisurely afternoon.
From the vantage point of the Giardino delle Rose, amid rose bushes and carpets of green grass, admire the splendid views of Florence stretching out in front of you. Designed by Giuseppe Poggi in 1865 and spanning one hectare (2.5 acres) of land, more than 30 varieties of roses are planted here along with lemon trees and a Japanese garden. In recent years, the park also inherited 12 sculptures by the late Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon. While the month of May is an ideal time to visit, when the spring flowers are in full bloom, the park can be enjoyed all year round, and is also particularly pretty when the leaves change colour in autumn. Located just to the west of Piazzale Michelangelo, the Rose Garden is easy to reach from central Florence and accessible to families, with quiet areas for meditation, relaxation or an afternoon snack.
Situated at the opposite end of Piazzale Michelangelo to Giardino delle Rose is a garden dedicated to the iris flower, which has been the emblem of Florence since 1251. Opened in 1954, the 2.5-hectare (6.2-acre) garden is home to 250 endangered species of the iris plant and offers a place to pause – and take in the iris-perfumed air – between sightseeing and trekking on Florence’s cobblestone roads. The countryside-style setting is aesthetically balanced with panoramic views of the ever-prospering city of Florence, and the tranquil spot is particularly popular with writers, bookworms and artists. You’ll have to wait for the spring months to view the garden in all its splendour, though, as it is only open 20 days of the year (end of April to end of May). Nearby are the grounds of the annual International Botanical Competition that takes place every May and makes a great combination visit.
Built over the course of 400 years, the Boboli Gardens were commissioned by the Medici family, and now span approximately 45 hectares (111 acres) of land. Here, history, architecture, landscaping and nature come together, never compromising on elegance, harmony or beauty. It is perhaps the most frequently visited garden in Florence, and inside you’ll find the Artichoke Fountain, the handmade Buontalenti Grotto and centuries-old cypress trees. The gardens’ amphitheatre is a great spot for a midday rest or to salute the sun in the evening. Also within the gardens is the Museum of Porcelain, from which stretches the manicured Giardino del Cavaliere (Knight’s Garden) that overlooks the sublime Tuscan hills.
When it comes to gardens in Florence, space is everything. The more expansive, the louder the declaration of love for the city that seems to be expressed through the garden’s design. The enchanting, four-hectare (10-acre) Giardino Bardini (Bardini Garden) comprises English woods, an Italian garden and fruit orchards protected by the medieval city walls. Access to the garden requires a rather steep 15-minute hike up the hill but is well worth the effort; the garden is also accessible by car along a charming country road. In the spring, the violet wisterias are in full bloom and wrap around the pergolas, competing for visitors’ attention against the backdrop of the city. Extend your visit with a drink at the café with a view or stop by the garden’s restaurant, La Leggenda dei Frati, for a romantic afternoon lunch. Check the website for special events and exhibitions.
At many palazzos in Florence, there is a hidden world behind closed doors – an urban paradise abundant in lush greenery and fragrant flowers accessible only to special visitors. One of these is located on the grounds of the Four Seasons Hotel, the Giardino della Gherardesca, which was first planted by Italian politician and author Bartolomeo Scala in the late 15th century. The garden is one of the biggest in Florence, featuring 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres) of perfectly manicured lawns, romantic walkways and majestic trees. These include the Taxus Baccata, one of the longest living evergreens in Europe, which is celebrated in the literary works of numerous renowned writers, including Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling. In 1844, the first mandarin orange trees to arrive in Florence were planted in this Renaissance garden.
Located on the grounds of the Stibbert Museum, this 19th-century garden is a calming sanctuary, tucked in the green hills near Fiesole. Its owner, Frederick Stibbert, an Englishman born in Florence and heir to a considerable fortune, purchased the property in 1849 with the intent of creating a museum. It was opened to the public in 1887, with 64 rooms set across two floors. The garden retains the same sense of medieval romanticism, with evocative temples, caves, ponds with goldfish and turtles, and an English-style garden with 56 plant species. Stibbert commissioned two temples here, too: the Hellenistic temple with a majolica dome and an Egyptian-style temple accessible by rowboat, inspired by archaeological discoveries at the time.
The largest privately owned city garden in Europe, the Torrigiani Garden is an attractive seven-hectare (17-acre) garden and woodland hidden in the heart of the Oltrarno neighbourhood of Florence. It was conceived as a botanical garden in the 16th century until its purchase by the Marquis Pietro Torrigiani in the 19th century, who sought to create an exquisite green sanctuary. Luigi de Cambray Digny was appointed to design the landscape, while Gaetano Baccani constructed a neo-Gothic bell tower decorated with the family crest. The bell tower housed astronomical instruments, a library, a terrace and a mechanical chair for speedy ascents to the top. Accessible by appointment only, guests are taken on a sentimental journey through the botanical garden, woods, temples, statues, rolling green hills and picturesque bridges. Afterwards, visitors can enjoy a drink with the Torrigiani family in their private lounge.