Firenze. It’s the birthplace of the Renaissance and still holds much of the charm from that time. Starting at the Duomo and extending to the Ponte Vecchio, the historic center is only about a mile long. The city was designed to have curved streets so that when walking, you can’t see very far ahead, and therefore, cannot tell the true size of the city. Even though the heart of the city is small, there is so much to see.
1.) The Uffizi Gallery
Visit this museum to view the best collection of Italian art in the world. The Uffizi Gallery is well organized, and you will view the works chronologically starting with medieval era and moving through the stages of the Renaissance. View world famous works by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Don’t miss the many depictions of Madonna, including Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni or Raphael’s Madonna and Child. There are also many interpretations of Venus that can’t be missed, such as Botticelli’s the Birth of Venus, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, or Venus de Medici.
2.) The Duomo
The Duomo is the icon of Florence. The dome of Saint Mary of the Flowers Cathedral was completed in 1463 and designed by Brunelleschi. Work off your latest gelato fix and ascend the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo to get a great view of the Florence with some of the rolling hills of Tuscany in the distance. Climb the 414 steps of Giotto’s Campanile to get a great close up view of the Duomo. (Bonus points and an extra gelato if you do these two back to back!) And to get that iconic photo with the Duomo and the Campanile, journey to Piazzale Michelangelo.
3.) Michelangelo’s Sculptures
Michelangelo was a true Renaissance man. He could sculpt, draw, paint and even dabbled in poetry. A visit to Florence without seeing some of his works would be like going all the way to Italy and only eating at McDonalds. (It really hurts me to think about that!) The Medici Chapels are a great place to see great sculptures by Michelangelo, and you can view the David in Florence’s Accademia along with some other really intriguing unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo.
4.) Pitti Palace and Gardens
The Pitti Palace was purchased by the Medici family in 1549 and is now the largest museum complex in Florence. It houses many galleries including the Royal Apartments, Gallery of Modern Art, Boboli Garden, Carriage Museum, Silver Museum, Palatina Gallery, Porcelain Museum and the Costume Gallery. You probably won’t have the energy to view all of the collections, but focus on a couple that interest you the most. Pretend you are royalty for the day by touring the exquisite Royal Apartments and picturesque Boboli Gardens like you own them.
5.) Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vechhio is the oldest bridge in Florence and has a rich history. The bridge has been destroyed by floods twice, but the current bridge was built in 1345. When the Medici family moved to the Pitti Palace they had to cross the bridge to get to their offices at The Uffizi, and to stay out of reach of the public, they had a passage constructed over the shops to cross the bridge in private. The Ponte Vecchio was originally lined with butcher shops, but the smell bothered the Medici’s, so they ruled that only gold and silver shops could operate on the bridge, and it’s been that way ever since.
6.) Eat like a Florentine
One way to eat like a Florentine is to try the famous Florentine steak. Bring your appetite, because the smallest portion is about 2 pounds. It will be served pretty rare, and don’t even think about asking for it to be cooked any other way. The chef in the kitchen knows how to best prepare this dish, and he was right in my case. Even my semi-vegetarian wife liked it.
7.) San Marco Museum
The San Marco Museum has an interesting history. It was once a convent that housed Fra Angelico and Girolamo Savonarola. Fra Angelico was a gifted artist from the early 15th century who painted beautifully preserved frescos throughout the convent. Girolamo Savonarola was a preacher from the late 15th century who tried to plummet Florence back into the dark ages by burning all vanities such as cosmetics, art, and books. Subsequently, he was burned at the stake for defying the Pope, but you can still see his cell in the convent as well as Fra Angelico’s thought provoking works.
The Bargello was built in the mid-13th century and is the oldest public building in Florence. It was the jail for the city in the 18th century, and was converted into an art museum in the mid-19th century. The museum holds a very impressive sculpture collection, and with pieces like Michelangelo’s Bacchus and Donatello’s David, this museum is definitely worth your time.
The Mercato Nuovo is a great place to shop for your Italian made leather goods, and the Mercato Centrale is the perfect place to shop for your picnic lunch. Florence is known for their premium leather products, and Mercato Nuovo is a great place to splurge a little on a new leather wallet or purse. Even if you’re not buying, the market is still enjoyable to look around. At the Mercato Centrale there’s an assortment of fruit, cheese, meat, and everything in between that you can enjoy.
10.) Palazzo Vecchio
Visit Palazzo Vecchio to experience three different eras in one building: Renaissance, Medieval and Roman. Marvel at the great Renaissance art in the palace, including a copy of Michelangelo’s famous David standing out front of the entrance. Built at the turn of the 14th century, the structure itself was once a medieval fortress that was the town hall of Florence. And, venture into the depths of the palace to view excavations of a Roman theater dating back to the 1st century.
Visiting Florence was better than I imagined. It’s easy for this city to get overshadowed by the historical significance of Rome and the romance of Venice, but Florence is a wonderful blend of Renaissance and modern that is a treat to experience. The markets open each day just like they did hundreds of years ago, yet the goods have changed from silk and straw to leather handbags and tourist souvenirs. The cobblestone streets are narrow as they have been for centuries, but the attire of the pedestrians has changed dramatically. If you stop long enough you can imagine the city as the bustling Renaissance center, or as the capital of Tuscany that it is today. Either way, I can’t wait to go back. There are still so many things to experience and gelato flavors for me to try!
Is there something different on your list of top things to do in Florence? Please comment and let me know what you would add. Grazie!
Read Next: 3 Days in Florence