What to see on a cultural trip to Florence, Italy

firenze, florence, italy

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 Europes greatest cities for art and culture. There are so many sites of historical and cultural importance to visit in Florence that it’s virtually impossible to cover them all but here are a few of my favorites.   

Florence cathedral

The first thing that stood out for me upon entering the city was the stunning Famous red dome of the Cathedral, instantly recognizable from pictures of the city I had seen previously. This made my mind up 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.

I would highly recommend taking the guided cathedral dome climb.

Bardini Gardens

A view of the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

It would be really easy to miss the Bardini Gardens, and I only learned of its existence during my search for a more restful day.  I made an early start before the sun became too warm.   The gardens run up a hillside and you may come across an artist or two sketching or painting the views across Florence, which reveal themselves by stages as you climb each level.  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 Stefano Bardini.  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.       

Basilica of San Lorenzo

Don’t let the uninviting exterior facade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo fool you.  One of the largest churches in Florence, San Lorenzo is also one of the most interesting and the most stunning!  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).

Laurentian Library

Built alongside a cloister is the Laurentian Library designed by Michelangelo, in a style called Mannerism.  The staircase alone is mesmerizing, it looks like slate and feels like silk! The library itself is a work of art and reportedly contains 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books collected by Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent. 

Santa Croce

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 peoples’ lives.  Evidence of this can be seen by 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.     

Stroll through Piazza Del Duomo

Florences 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

<em>The statue of St David by Michelangelo<em>

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.

The Uffizi

florence, italy, uffizi 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.

The Rose Garden

There are many beautiful gardens and parks in Florence, however, on the way to La Loggia restaurant in the Oltrarno area, I came across the gorgeous Rose Garden, a natural setting on the slope of the hill just below Piazzale Michaelangelo.  The walk is delightful if you are able to tackle the incline.  The garden contains about 400 varieties of roses, as well as other plants, lemon trees, and a Japanese garden.  The garden also now contains a number of artworks, including bronze sculptures and chess pieces by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon.  I couldn’t take my eyes off some of them!  Coupled with the view across the city, this garden is a great reason to spend a morning or an afternoon doing very little except gawping with goggle eyes! 

Where to stay

I stayed for a few days at Villa Cora, situated amongst the Tuscan hills and overlooking the Boboli Gardens – it looked fabulous on the website and it turned out to be 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 center 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!

wine glass on a table beside the hotel pool in florence
The busy but beautiful decor of the Villa Cora

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.

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