Florence is said to be the birthplace of the Renaissance and it’s no wonder – the very air is filled with a Renaissance vibe. The capital city of the Tuscany region of Italy, Florence is one of Europe’s greatest cities for art and culture. There are so many sites of historical and cultural importance to visit in Florence and here is how to make the most of your visit here.
Florence is a city of incredible beauty and culture, and there are countless things to see and do during a visit. Whether you’re interested in art, architecture, history, or cuisine, Florence has something to offer everyone. In this article, we’ll highlight 10 of the best things to do and experience during a trip to Florence.
The first thing that stands out upon entering the city is the stunning Famous red dome of the Cathedral, instantly recognizable from pictures of the city. This made my mind that it would be the first place I visit. Known as the jewel of the city the cathedral stands out for miles, probably because the dome is the largest masonry dome in the world. Although the cathedral is more impressive from the outside than the inside, it’s still worth venturing inside, after all, you are in Florence and you can’t come all the way here without a look inside the famous cathedral.
The Duomo, or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is one of the most iconic landmarks in Florence. The cathedral’s dome is an engineering marvel, and climbing to the top provides stunning views of the city. It’s a challenging climb, with over 400 steps, but the view from the top is well worth the effort.
I would highly recommend taking the guided cathedral dome climb.
This stunning garden is located on a hillside overlooking the Arno River and provides breathtaking views of the cityscape. The gardens have a long history dating from the mid-13th century and belonged for many years to the Mozzi family and then later to wealthy Florentine merchant Stefano Bardini and were later restored and expanded in the 19th century. The gardens feature an array of beautifully manicured plants and trees, including roses, lemon trees, and magnolias. Visitors can also explore the various sculptures and fountains scattered throughout the garden, including a stunning water staircase.
The gardens run up a hillside and you may come across an artist or two painting the views across Florence, which reveal themselves by stages as you climb each level.
Additionally, the Bardini Gardens are less crowded than other popular attractions in Florence, making it a peaceful and tranquil retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle. The city of Florence now looks after the gardens and in the year 2000, a massive restoration project transformed the overgrown areas into this heavenly oasis. There are many incredibly beautiful gardens in Italy, and this is just one more to add to the list.
Palazzo Vecchio is an iconic symbol of Florence’s rich cultural heritage and is a must-visit destination for anyone travelling to the city. Originally built in the 13th century, the palazzo has served as the seat of Florentine government for centuries and is home to some of the city’s most impressive art and architecture. Visitors can explore the vast halls and galleries of the palazzo, admiring priceless artworks by renowned artists such as Michelangelo and Vasari. From the ornate ceilings to the intricate frescoes, every corner of Palazzo Vecchio tells a story of the city’s rich history and artistic legacy. Additionally, the panoramic views from the tower offer an unforgettable perspective of the city and its surroundings. In short, a visit to Palazzo Vecchio is an essential part of any trip to Florence, providing an unforgettable experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Basilica of San Lorenzo
The Basilica of San Lorenzo is a must-visit attraction in Florence. This beautiful church is one of the oldest, and most important religious buildings in the city, and one of the largest churches in Florence, with a history that dates back to the 4th century. Don’t let the uninviting exterior facade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo fool you.
This was the parish church of the Medici family and is also their last resting place. About 50 members of the family are buried in the crypt, with the Grand Dukes being buried in the Cappella dei Principi. The Church’s construction began under the direction of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi (designer and builder of the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore).
The basilica is renowned for its Renaissance architecture, with the iconic façade designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, who also designed the famous dome of the Florence Cathedral. Visitors can marvel at the ornate decorations and intricate frescoes throughout the church, including works by renowned Renaissance artists such as Donatello, Michelangelo, and Brunelleschi himself. The Medici Chapel, located within the basilica, is also a must-see, featuring stunning sculptures and tombs of the powerful Medici family. Visiting the Basilica of San Lorenzo provides not only a glimpse into the rich religious history of Florence but also an opportunity to appreciate some of the greatest masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture.
The Laurentian Library, located in the heart of Florence, is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and a treasure trove of rare and ancient manuscripts. Designed by the renowned architect Michelangelo in the 16th century, the library is considered one of the finest examples of his architectural genius. Visitors can marvel at the library’s stunning vaulted ceiling and intricately carved wooden bookcases, which house some of the world’s most precious and valuable books and manuscripts. The collection includes works by renowned scholars and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, and Dante Alighieri, among others. The Laurentian Library is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the history of books, art, and architecture, providing a rare opportunity to explore one of the world’s most important libraries in a stunningly beautiful setting.
You may think I’m going all churchy on you but to really appreciate Florence, plunge yourself into the period when the church was all-powerful and though the Renaissance was a time of new thinking and innovation, the church still dominated people’s lives. Evidence of this can be seen in the number of churches in Florence and in the richness of the interiors. Santa Croce is no exception but the main reason I have included it here is for its tombs of highly prominent people, the amazing cloisters, and the exquisite Pazzi Chapel. History buffs may know that in 1478, whilst Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici were attending mass in the Church, an assassination attempt on the brothers took place resulting in Giuliano’s death. Members of the Pazzi family were involved. It seems all lives are entwined here.
The Bargello Museum
The Bargello Museum in Florence is a hidden gem that should not be missed by any art enthusiast. Located in a former palace that served as a prison and barracks during the Middle Ages, the museum boasts an impressive collection of Renaissance sculptures and decorative arts. Visitors can admire works by some of the greatest artists of the era, such as Michelangelo, Donatello, and Cellini, among others. The museum’s highlight is undoubtedly the exquisite collection of bronze sculptures, including Donatello’s David and Judith and Holofernes, as well as works by Verrocchio, Ghiberti, and others. Beyond the sculptures, the museum also houses a stunning array of ceramics, textiles, and decorative arts, providing a comprehensive overview of Renaissance art and culture. With its quiet and contemplative atmosphere, the Bargello Museum is a true oasis in the bustling heart of Florence and a must-see for anyone interested in the city’s rich artistic heritage.
Stroll through Piazza Del Duomo
Florence’s main public square is the Piazza Del Duomo and one of the most visited places in Europe, with the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore being its main focal point, with its striking Dome instantly recognizable. If you love history, you will love walking around here. The square is surrounded by Renaissance-style buildings but also has a great choice of modern restaurants and shops, with plenty of tasty food, wine, beers, and cocktails. For stunning views of the Cathedral and square, climb to the top of the Campanile, a free-standing skinny bell tower that makes up part of the cathedral. It’s quite a climb though, although to my relief there were stops along the way.
St Davids statue
Instantly recognizable and one of the most famous sculptures in the world is the statue of St David, (the one showing his genitals) Created by Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504. While many full-size replicas have been created, you can find the original located in the Accademia gallery.
Located in the heart of the city is the Uffizi Museum, a haven of Renaissance art. Filled with some of the world’s finest masterpieces, like the birth of Venus and Leonardo Da Vinci’s annunciation, as well as many other masterpieces by Michelangelo and Raphael. For all opening times and prices, visit the website.
Where to stay
The Villa Cora, situated amongst the Tuscan hills and overlooking the Boboli Gardens is fabulous and a great choice. Built in the 19th century, the Villa retains the stunning architectural features of that time. This was, for a while, the residence of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III and it’s easy to imagine long summer evenings of dancing and cards when you sit on the terrace at twilight surrounded by roses and fairy lights.
I will leave you to research the hotel’s facilities but I will just point out a few things which may be helpful to you. There is a Hop on Hop off bus stop right outside the hotel’s gates which is really convenient. The walk down the hill to the city centre in the morning is fine, but after a day of sightseeing, the climb back to the Villa is not so funny. In addition, the hotel runs a very handy little shuttle bus every half hour or so to any location in the City which is a real bonus. One more thing, don’t forget to visit the roof garden for the most spectacular views over Florence, and if you are lucky you may see a flock of green parrots flying around!
When to visit Florence.
If you want to avoid the large crowds and the heat, I would not advise a trip in the height of the summer (July and August) – not only is it very busy and very hot but the mosquitos are a menace. May or October would be my recommendation as it’s much quieter and cooler, although still very warm in the daytime.