There are countless things to do and see in the birthplace of the Renaissance, but here are the top 10 musts for your trip.
The main attraction in Florence is the largest church in the city. With elaborate architecture and a rich history, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, along with the baptistery and bell tower, dominates the skyline. The building itself contains some religious and royal secrets, Renaissance history and amazing art. You can’t come to Florence without going inside and seeing it for yourself. And if you want a good view, climb the bell tower for great photos.
Home of the famous Botticelli painting, The Birth of Venus, as well as many other Renaissance masterpieces, the Uffizi is a must-see for art lovers. Put that art history class you took in college to some use, and see what you can remember. It’s one thing to see photos, and it’s another experience entirely seeing these beautiful masterpieces in person. Buy your ticket ahead of time and get there early.
The iconic bridge with all its colours and tiny apartments is even better in person. Not only does the bridge have a hidden corridor running above it, where the Medici family used to cross the river unseen (it’s now a museum), it also has interesting World War II secrets. There’s also the old artisan gold shops along the bridge where you can browse as you gaze in a sparkly trance at all the shiny things in the windows.
Explore Florence’s neighbourhoods
This one crams a lot in one must-see, but since Florence is so small and walkable, seeing the different neighbourhoods won’t be hard. Each neighbourhood has a character of its own, as well as a main church or piazza that gives the area its name. The areas of San Lorenzo, the Duomo, Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, and San Niccolò all contain something special. What better way to get to know a city than to explore it on foot.
The grand palace of the Medici family still houses some of the greatest art from the Renaissance era along with family heirlooms and history. The corridor mentioned above that crosses above Ponte Vecchio actually connects Palazzo Vecchio (in Piazza della Signoria which was the main government building of the time), the Uffizi, and reaches all the way to Palazzo Pitti. Now owned by the state as a public building, the entire thing is a museum. Buy your ticket only for the museum, or include the garden as well.
The largest garden in the city belongs to Palazzo Pitti, the palace where the famous Medici family used to live. The garden is separate on the list from the palace, since they are both big and grand enough to be seen on their own. Essentially the palace’s back yard, the garden spans 11 acres with statues, ponds, fountains, hidden mazes, rose gardens, an amphitheater, and even separate buildings containing other museums detached from the main palace. Spend a day here marvelling at the stunning views of the rolling hills, flower gardens and historical artifacts, feeling like you were dropped into a scene from The Secret Garden.
This gallery is owned by the University of Florence, and is the permanent home of Michelangelo’s David. Although there are two other replicas placed outdoors around Florence, the original is something to be seen. Buy your ticket ahead of time, and get in line early when the doors open. Not only does Galleria dell’Accademia boast being the home to a world-famous Michelangelo masterpiece, it also displays countless other sculptures, statues, and masterpieces studied by art historians at the university.
Eat. A lot.
You absolutely cannot leave Florence without consuming half your weight in handmade pasta, pizza, wine, bread, pastries and, of course, gelato. As you may or may not know, pizza in Italy changes depending on which region you are in. Northern Italians like their pizza thin crust with minimal toppings, and Florence is no different. Also, Florence is surprisingly famous for the amazing gelato that the city has to offer. Be sure to do some research to know the exact places to go and the same goes for pasta, and some of Florence’s other must-try foods, too.
Some of the most famous fashion brands in the world are Italian. It comes as no surprise to learn that many of them are actually based in Tuscany, famous for high quality leather production. Whether you want to window shop, or actually shop ‘til you drop, be sure to stroll down the famous Via Tornabuoni where you will see all the high fashion the city has to offer. If you want to stick to your budget, there are also stores like Zara, Mango and other brands, with a Florentine twist.
Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
Last, but not least, before you leave, you absolutely must head up to Piazzale Michelangelo to take in the best view of the city. If you’re going to watch the sunset, bring a bottle of wine, a corkscrew and some plastic cups (bring extra as you’ll be likely to meet fellow travellers and new friends) to enjoy the view. It is legal to drink in public in Italy, so don’t worry. If you can’t make it in time for sundown, going at night is arguably more beautiful, and makes for great keepsake photo memories.