Florence is known all over the world as a city for art lovers and history buffs. It is home to ancient pre-Roman civilisations and the city at the centre of the Renaissance. Florence also has some of the most beautiful surroundings of any European city; the hills and vineyards of Tuscany. Whether you’re coming to stay in Florence for the art, the history or the mountains; don’t miss out on these top attractions.
Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is one of the world’s premier art collections; housed within one of the world’s oldest museums. While the museum can become pretty crowded with tourists at times, you’d be mad to miss out on this incredible collection when taking a trip to Florence.
The Uffizi opens at 8:15 and closes at 7pm. Remember that, like many of Florence’s galleries and museums, the Uffizi is closed on Mondays. Arrive early in the morning and this should give you an hour or so of peaceful browsing before the crowds arrive.
It should take around 3 hours to see the entire gallery. Key works not to be missed include Boticelli’s works Primavera, the Birth of Venus and Madonna del Magnificat, located in rooms 10-14. Also Leonardo Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi, located in room 15 is worth seeing. And the works of Raphael and others from the Mannerist school are in rooms 26 & 27. It’s well worth purchasing a guidebook on your way, or downloading the museums app, to give a little knowledge about exhibits.
Statue of David
Michelangelo’s David is one of the most celebrated sculptures in history. It was finished in 1504 when the artist was still in his twenties. The statue of the biblical hero who fought Goliath represents the Republic of Florence’s struggle against its powerful rivals.
The statue stood for centuries in the square outside the Palazzo della Signoria. There it cast a steely warning gaze towards Rome, before the original was moved indoors. Now it resides in the Galleria dell’Accademia, for the sake of preservation. A replica now stands in the statue’s original location.
A bridge is said to have stood at site of Ponte Vecchio since Roman times, although the current bridge was built in 1345. The bridge is one of Florence’s most iconic sights; still lined with small shops as was usual at the time; today they sell jewelry, artwork and souvenirs.
Ponte Vecchio can become pretty crowded during the rush hours and the middle of the day. A visit in the early morning, or at dusk, will offer the best views down the river to the neighboring 20th Century bridges.
Up above the bridge, the Vasari Corridor is still as a symbol of the power held by the Medici clan, who controlled Florence for centuries. The corridor is an extra walkway built in the 16th Century; to save the Florentine Royals walking across the crowded lower levels when going between their Palace and the town hall.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
To get that commanding view of the city and the majestic mountains in which it is nestled, it’s well worth making your way up the stairs to the top of the Cathedral. Most tourists head for stairs up to the top of dome, so a good tip is to try the bell tower instead.
The bell tower is less crowded than the dome. This improves your chances of getting time to enjoy the view, and offers a great view of the dome’s outside. Architecture nerds beware: Climbing the bell tower instead of the dome does as a result mean missing out on the explanation of its groundbreaking construction method.
Tuscany is home to one of the world’s finest cuisines and is based on the abundant fresh produce that grows across the region. Traditional food markets selling this produce are a staple feature in practically every Italian, and Florence is no exception.
The Mercato Centrale is a relatively new appearance on the scene in Florence, placed within a previously disused building, and provides a feast for the senses. The first floor is packed with bars and restaurants offering freshly made pizzas, salads, sandwiches and much more; this floor is open all day until the late evening, perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The lower floor is the market itself, selling fresh foods, souvenirs and everything in between. The market is usually over by mid-afternoon.
For centuries, Florence has been a city of artists. In the city’s Artisan Quarter, the ancient craft and building skills are continue to be practiced and passed on from master to apprentice. Wandering around the maze-like medieval streets of Oltrarno is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, glancing in at the many different workshops – bookbinders, frame makers, metalworkers and much more.
Many of the workshops are open, and the artists themselves are almost always happy to have visitors interested in their craft. Some even offer half or full day classes in a range of techniques from oil painting to sculpting and pottery.
The formal gardens of Boboli were once a part of Pitti Palace. This was the region’s main seat of power during the years of the House of Medici. The gardens are laid out in a typical medieval style, with sculptures, gravel avenues and fountains as centerpieces. This was an incredibly lavish set up because the gardens were only accessible to immediate members of the Medici family, and were never even used to entertain guests.
The gardens have been extended and remodeled several times over the years, and are now essentially an outdoor sculpture gallery containing works from several different periods.
The building which now houses the Bargello Museum has a complicated and fascinating history. Having been built in the 13th Century to house an important politician, it was subsequently used as a police station. It was also used as a barracks and a prison before being converted into a National Museum for the city.
The Bargello houses an excellent collection of Renaissance Masterpieces, including Michelangelo’s Bacchus and the St. George Tabernacle by Donatello. The museum is a little more hidden than the others, so is often missed by visitors to Florence, their collection, however; is one of the city’s best.
The Tuscan mountains which surround Florence are an incredibly beautiful place. While there’s a lot to see in the city itself, some of the outlying towns and villages are also well worth a look if you have the time.
Fiesole is just 8km from Florence, yet the atmosphere here is very different. The mountains roll away offering stunning views in all directions, and there are several ancient ruins to explore. Some built by the Romans and others are from the Etruscan period, before even the Romans arrived.