20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Florence
Called "the birthplace of the Renaissance" by UNESCO, and "the city of art and poetry" by many other travelers, Florence, Italy is also a city filled with splendid architecture. Much of this beauty is a product of the period in which the city became the capital of Tuscany, some one and a half centuries ago, when artists and thinkers like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and the philosopher Dante Alighieri lived and worked.
Today, Florence's cultural heritage is celebrated around the globe, and it attracts not only art and poetry lovers, but also shoppers, tourists, and the simply curious. The skillful paintings of Fra' Angelico, the poetry of Dante, the eloquent sculptures of Donatello, the intricate, colorful ceramics of Pietro de' Medici, and the canals and bridges of the Renaissance world—all reflect the culture and history of Italy's Renaissance.
More than any other city on earth, Florence invites visitors to absorb the grandeur of Renaissance culture, and to revel in the charm of its crooked, narrow medieval alleys and the juxtaposed architectural riches of medieval and modern Florence.
The top things to see and do in Florence include the basilica of San Lorenzo, with its glorious art; the Museum of the Opera of Florence, which has the world's best collection of operatic masterpieces; the frescoes at the Uffizi Gallery; and the Galleria dell'Accademia, filled with remarkable treasures from the artist Michelangelo. For fun, visit the David, the world's most famous statue.
Built in the 15th century for the Pitti family, Palazzo Pitti is one of the city's oldest and most visited museums. Its art collection spans both history and tradition, including works from Western and Asian artists. Highlights include the magnificent three-tiered Chinese Scaglione Fountain (1574) and the Gallery of the Triumph of Venice, with some of the most precious paintings of the Venetian Renaissance. But the real star of Palazzo Pitti is the magnificent gardens. They are situated in a lovely park, with just one entry point and two ticketing points. The six gardens contain some of the most beautiful pavilions in Italy, with some beautifully illustrated frescoes by Mantegna and Botticelli.
The Ponte Vecchio is a magnificent 13th century bridge spanning the Arno River in Florence, Italy. It was named after a running fire that used to burn in the area. Often referred to as the "New Bridge," it is also referred to as the "Vecchio," or "Old" Bridge. This well-preserved bridge was originally constructed in 1280 and has been reconstructed three times. In 1567, a fourth reconstruction occurred when it was strengthened with a third pair of piers to add the present two-pier structure. Along the Ponte Vecchio are the famous merchants and silk shops.
Located in a quiet backstreet of Florence, Santa Croce is one of the most peaceful and beautiful small religious sites in all of Italy. The exquisite early-15th-century Basilica di Santa Croce features an abundance of Tuscan Gothic architecture, which makes the setting all the more romantic. There's little to do in the square itself but you can tour the Basilica, which is the final resting place of influential leader and patron saint Leonardo Bruni. The tomb of Bruni has marble columns carved with many, many scrolls and decorative motifs. The surrounding area around the church is now a small park and café.
Piazza della Repubblica
The Piazza della Repubblica is the perfect example of a perfect city square in a perfect small town like Florence. The piazza boasts a magnificent example of a basilica in its form, the Palazzo Vecchio. Built between 1280 and 1299, this massive building, which dominates the square, has been the seat of the government in the city of Florence ever since. Within the square you will find many other important buildings of the city's Renaissance period, like the Palazzo della Signoria and the nearby Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. A visit to the massive dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a must for any visitor. With a weight of 2,400 tons, the dome represents a technical and artistic achievement for its time.
Piazza della Signoria
In 1434, the Florentines, fed up with being repeatedly attacked and deposed by the Milanese, proclaimed it their own. As a mark of their independence, they named it Piazza della Signoria, or Signoria square, giving it a military association and importance. The exterior is dominated by the Palazzo Vecchio, the Palazzo della Signoria and the Uffizi. Other parts of the square include the Palazzo Comunale, the Loggia dei Lanzi, the Loggia dei Mercanti and the Palazzo della Mercanzia. You can walk around Piazza della Signoria and admire many of the buildings from the other places Florence (which was known as the second city of Italy until the 20th century) had made great strides.
Galleria degli Uffizi
Florence's famed gallery is easily reached from the city center. It houses one of the greatest collections of Renaissance and post-Renaissance art in the world. It contains more than 3,500 paintings, including such greats as Leonardo da Vinci's _The Last Supper_ and Botticelli's _Birth of Venus_, along with many other great works. It is also home to the Palazzo Pitti, a stunning example of 17th-century architecture. Its main entrance, the Loggia dei Lanzi, is open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, with shorter hours on Mondays. There is also an entrance near the back of the complex with its own entrance fee and special exhibitions (€6), which is open on the same days.
Piazza del Duomo
One of the world's most romantic piazzas, Florence's Piazza del Duomo is home to one of Italy's most celebrated religious buildings, the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, and one of Europe's most spectacular squares, the magnificent Piazza della Signoria, flanked by the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo della Signoria. Today, the Duomo is largely surrounded by buildings, but the space originally extended a half-mile in all directions, giving the piazza its vast appearance. An open-air cultural center, the piazza is surrounded by many magnificent Florentine Renaissance palaces including Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo della Signoria. A visit here is a must for anyone interested in the buildings, as well as the artwork that decorate them.
The monumental sculpture-filled Loggia, or Hall, of the Bargello is a fine example of Renaissance architecture. Exhibits include some of Michelangelo's most famous works, including his famous statue of David, which was the original subject of Botticelli's painting The Birth of Venus, and other notable works by Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Antonio Pollaiuolo, and Andrea del Verrocchio. Outside the loggia is a small shrine to Benoit Deschamps, who was hanged on June 12, 1428, by the Florentines for his participation in the condottiere uprising known as the Wars of the Cacciaguida in northern Tuscany. On the north side of the loggia is a statue of Michelangelo himself. During his stay in Florence, he lived in the Palazzo Medici, across from the loggia, while his home was being restored.
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
The main building of the Duomo Museum is at the heart of the Duomo of Florence. It's in the basement of the church that is home to a museum devoted to its magnificent cathedral, one of the most important in Europe, built on the site of a former Roman basilica. This exquisite building was under construction from 1298 to 1359, and is considered to be one of the best Gothic cathedrals in the world, along with that of Notre Dame de Paris. The museum's most famous piece is the Cappella Bardi, Florence's greatest treasure, an extraordinary painted wooden chamber housing statues depicting scenes from the life of St. Dominic and the life of St. Francis. The exuberant style of Italian Gothic art is on full display in this exhibition.
A lot of art history is derived from this small town, and one visit to the Duomo will give you a perfect primer. Italy's first great building, this impressive cathedral was begun in 1296 and was finally completed in the early 1400s, largely thanks to the rule of masons, sculptors, painters and goldsmiths from all over the world. During your visit, remember to climb the 311 steps of the Brunelleschi's dome to the top for an unforgettable view of the city's skyline.
Santa Maria Novella
In recent years, Santa Maria Novella has witnessed an upturn in visitors and in 2007 the historic train station opened its doors to both hotel rooms and restaurants. It's easy to see why. With traditional Florentine surroundings, including picturesque Piazza Santo Spirito, and a striking new train station facade by Italian design firm Studio Pininfarina, this was one of Florence's most under-appreciated areas. As a sign of the times, foodies are the new trendsetters here. Both The Alchemist Café, known for its collection of fine Italian craft beers, and Gelateria della Moka, with its traditional dariole rossa and chocolate ice cream, are located on the ground floor of the station.
Florence was home to the Renaissance and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, so be sure to visit at least one of the city's main sights when you visit. The world-famous Uffizi Gallery, built in the 15th century as an office building, is where Italian Renaissance painters like Botticelli and Ghirlandaio produced some of their most famous works. Two art museums that are still open today are the Palazzo Pitti (the Medici-dynasty home where you'll see the wonderful Uffizi collection) and Palazzo Vecchio (the castle-like town hall that was completed in 1464). If you want to make a day of it, pay a visit to the cemetery-filled area on the southeast side of the Arno where Michelangelo's masterpiece, the David, can be found.
Palazzo Strozzi is a grand, Palladian-style building on the northern edge of Florence, which has been the home to one of the city's most important families since 1494. Dating back to 1583, the palace is a vast and imposing structure, and today it contains several museums and historical collections. The palace's four main museums, including the famous Galleria Palatina, are among the most impressive in Florence. The gardens, including the fountains, are also worth visiting. During the 19th century, the Strozzi family moved to England, where they stayed until the 1950s. The palace now has numerous displays of art from the gallery, and also the chance to see historical collections belonging to the Strozzi family.
Torre del Mangia
An oasis of green space in the center of Florence, the Torre del Mangia is a free-to-access park occupying part of the city's main thoroughfare, Via Calzaiuoli. Its center is a spacious square surrounded by buildings which have been converted into cafés, bars, boutiques, and several excellent restaurants. Inside the park you will find a profusion of rose and plum trees, many of which are bursting with flowers, and a wooden stage, which hosts a number of activities including arts and music performances throughout the year.
Santa Maria Novella Train Station
This former train station, now a shopping and office complex, houses the headquarters of the Banca di Santo Stefano, one of the most famous Italian savings banks. It also has several shops and galleries of luxury brands as well as the Arno River. The surrounding area is known for the swanky shopping opportunities in the boutiques and luxury shops. It's an exciting neighborhood, where you'll find fashion shops, bookshops, and plenty of other businesses.
Proud of its medieval architectural heritage, charming town of San Gimignano is located in a dramatic volcanic area at the top of a hill overlooking the surrounding villages of Volterra, Colle, Florence, and Siena. The town's medieval city walls are among the best preserved in Europe. In addition to them, the main sights include the superb Piazza della Cisterna and the Palazzo Comunale, which now houses the Museo Civico. If you want to avoid the crowds and visit this quaint hilltop town in low season, do so during the week. Here you'll find lively streets filled with craft shops, baroque churches, and fine little restaurants.
The Boboli Gardens
At the center of the garden is an airy fountain that depicts the famous story of the hero Theseus and the hunt for the Minotaur. Created in the late 16th century for the Villa Farnesina, the Boboli Gardens today provide a fascinating insight into the Medici's taste for magnificent gardens. Beautiful trees, and lush flowers lining a wide maze of symmetrical paths, are best enjoyed during spring and summer when the gardens are at their most fragrant and colorful. In addition to this, one of the most interesting things to see in the Boboli Gardens are the Great Gallery (Galleria Magnifica), with frescoes painted by Giambattista Pittoni, as well as the Orangerie (Orangerie) that was designed by Giorgio Vasari for the villa.
In the heart of Siena, the imposing 12th-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta stands proudly overlooking the city's historic Duomo square. One of Europe's finest examples of Gothic architecture, this glorious construction is made of dark gray limestone, red marble, and the golden mosaic. The interior has some beautiful frescoes, such as one by Giovanni di Paolo that is displayed on the first floor. Another fascinating experience is taking the popular Tourist Train that takes visitors on a 2.5-hour tour around the upper levels of the Cathedral. Due to the economic crisis, the entry fee of €3 will not be refunded.
Museo di San Marco
The Museo di San Marco in Florence, built in the 14th century, is the only Gothic church in Italy dedicated entirely to the Virgin Mary and was heavily influenced by France. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most beautiful in Italy. Highlights of a visit to the museum include: the magnificent facade (with twisted columns and inscriptions dating back to the early 13th century); the interior (with Baroque decorative elements such as an 18th-century clock and an 18th-century grand staircase), which is, despite the rich decoration, calm and elegantly simple; and the cloister, a set of mostly-Baroque-style arcades built between 1526 and 1537 and housing the Museum's collection of religious art.
Built in 1885, the first Milanese central market to bring together foodstuffs and their buyers is now set amid the bustle of modern Florentine life. Today, the city's main shopping center and entertainment venue attracts visitors to its new state-of-the-art facilities. The section of the market dating from the late 19th century is an extension of the famous Mercato Centrale in Florence and includes the National Institute of Nutrition, a research institute specializing in the study of human nutrition.