Best Things To Do in Florence
Florence's attractions largely center on art – from the works hung in the Uffizi and the Galleria dell'Accademia to the architecture of the Duomo and the Palazzo Pitti. But all of the beauty hasn't been captured in stone and canvas; make a retreat to the verdant Boboli Gardens, take a walk along the Arno and over the Ponte Vecchio or eat your way through Firenze's cafes, gelato shops and ristorantes.
Updated June 13, 2019
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Loggia dei Lanzi, in the Piazza della Signoria, is an open-air (and free) museum that was designed in the 14th century by Orcagna, an influential architect and artist. Below the building's curved arches are dozens of sculptures (notable ones include Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines and Cellini's Perseus), which draw crowds of tourists and locals alike. Behind it sits the Galleria degli Uffizi. The Piazza della Signoria is also filled with its (more than) fair share of sculptures, including a towering replica of Michaelangelo's David.
Take your time wandering around, and if you get tired, grab a seat along the Loggia dei Lanzi, or make your way to a cafe near the Fountain of Neptune. Recent visitors said this is a must-see spot and a great area to people-watch, view magnificent sculptures and rest travel-weary feet (though past travelers recommended avoiding the restaurants in this area, calling them "outrageously overpriced." To avoid the height of the crowds, visit in the evening. Access to the area is free 24/7.
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The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (known simply as the Duomo) is not only Florence's religious center, it's also the city's most recognizable attraction. Occupying the Piazza del Duomo in the heart of the city, this massive Gothic cathedral was erected during the 14th century on the former site of the Roman church, Santa Reparata. You'll know you're in the right place when you find yourself straining your neck to see the church's massive, iconic dome. The red-tiled cupola was designed by Brunelleschi and is described as a must-see by experts and travelers alike.
Visitors like to joke that the cathedral was designed inside-out: its exterior boasts intricate designs and breathtaking features while the interior is surprisingly plain. For many, the main reason to visit is to climb to the top of the dome (the cupola) where you'll find spectacular views of the city. (Be aware that there is no elevator and some of the narrow walkways require you to stand to the side while people pass in the opposite direction. Some visitors report this is not for the claustrophobic.) However, if you are interested in looking around inside, guided tours are available.
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Overlooking the city from its perch in the Oltrarno district, the Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the most popular viewpoints in the city, and it's definitely worthwhile if you're a first-time visitor. This ornate square is known for its spectacular views and its towering replica of Michelangelo's David. Getting to the piazza can be quite the trek on foot (there is an intimidating flight of stairs leading from the Piazza Poggi), but recent visitors said the panoramic city views are well worth the workout and shouldn't be missed. Plus, there are vendors at the top selling drinks and souvenirs should you need a refreshment.
You can also watch the sunset from one of the outdoor cafes lining the square. Also, there are two flower gardens that come to life with thousands of varieties of roses and irises in the spring months. If you want to avoid the crowds, plan to come early in the morning or at night. Piazzale Michelangelo is free to access 24/7.
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Spanning 25 rooms, three floors and nearly 65,000 square feet, the massive Museo dell'Opera del Duomo houses more than 750 works of art covering nearly 720 years of history. In short, it serves to preserve the artistic masterpieces that were once on display in the Duomo. Highlights from the collection include Ghiberti's original Gates of Paradise from the Baptistery and Michelangelo's Pietà, which many believe he created to adorn his tomb.
Many past travelers suggested stopping at the museum prior to visiting the Duomo to better understand the historical context of the cathedral and surrounding monuments. Plus, entrance to the museum is covered by the combo ticket you're required to buy if you want to climb the steps of the Duomo or visit any of the other sites within the square. Other visitors advised setting aside plenty of time to admire all of the works housed here. What's more, many others mentioned that this museum is not as crowded as the Uffizi.
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Occupying the first and second floors of the U-shaped Palazzo degli Uffizi along the banks of the Arno River, the Uffizi Gallery was Europe's first modern museum, created by the Medici family at the end of the 16th century. Today, the museum is any art lover's dream: it still displays the family's prominent art collection, which includes such masterpieces as Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," Raphael's "Madonna of the Goldfinch" and Titian's "Venus of Urbino."
Because of the many works of art housed here, you're going to need to take your time. One of the best ways to see the highlights and learn about the lesser-known pieces is to take a guided tour from a third-party operator, which many recent visitors highly recommend, or rent an audio guide. Some tour operators also offer "skip-the-line" tours, which reviewers also spoke highly of. Many recent visitors also said that the main problem with this museum isn't art overload, it's the crowds. Before you visit, check out the museum's official website, where you can purchase tickets in advance and acquire additional information about the gallery's extensive art collection, showcased in more than 45 halls.
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Located in an iron-and-glass building designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni in 1874, the Mercato Centrale Firenze is a great place to browse and stock up on tasty Italian foods. The ground floor of the market features vendors selling fresh produce, meats, cheeses, fish, olive oil, vinegars and other local goods. Upstairs from the vendors, you'll find a modern food hall, with shops selling everything from pizza to gelato, where you can sit down to a meal or pick up items for a picnic. Surrounding the building, dozens of vendors also sell artwork, pottery, jewelry, leather, clothing, souvenirs and anything else you can think of.
Recent visitors called the market fun and lively to visit, with lots of tempting things to eat and buy. They also said it was a great value for the money and recommended stopping in a few times over the course of your Florence visit.
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The Battistero is the oldest building in the city, and although the current façade dates from the 11th century, historians have dated the Baptistery back to the fifth century. It hasn't been proven, but many say that this octagonal building was once a temple dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war.
Today, this ancient building is a must-do for any art lover. Wake up early to beat the crowds, who flock to the Battistero in search of the Gates of Paradise. Designer Lorenzo Ghiberti's delicate depictions of Christ and other religious symbols on these massive doors inspired awe in even the most renowned artists, including Michelangelo, whose praise of the doors earned them their name. Note: the doors at the Baptistery are replicas of the originals. If you would like to see the originals, you'll have to pay a visit to the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, which can be found just a short walk behind the Baptistery.
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Located in the Oltrarno, the neighborhood on the other side of the Arno River (opposite the Duomo), this square is a lively hub of activity, especially at night when its many cafes and restaurants draw locals out to relax on terraces and patios for a meal or a drink. A main feature of the square is Filippo Brunelleschi's last church, the Basilica di Santo Spirito, which he designed in 1444, but was unable to finish before his death. Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole and Salvi d'Andrea finished the church by the end of the 1400s.
Manty recent visitors loved the local feel and say it is a nice escape from the tourist crowds. The square is home to a small daily market and since the area has long been an artisan district, there are lots of shops you can visit in the neighborhood. For a real glimpse into local life, this is a wonderful place to sit back and take it all in.
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If you only have a limited amount of time for art museums while you're here, devote some of it to the Galleria dell'Accademia for one simple reason: the David. This is your chance to see one of Michelangelo's most famous works in all his authentic glory and recent visitors say it doesn't disappoint. However, you aren't alone on your mission: The gallery can get flooded with other tourists also eager to see the famous piece. While you're waiting for the crowds to clear, take the time to see some of the artist's lesser-known works, including the unfinished Slaves or Prisoners.
The Galleria dell'Accademia sits several blocks north of the Duomo and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. Admission costs vary, but start at 12 euros (about $14), and timed tickets can be reserved in advance (for an extra 4 euros, or about $4.50). You should also consider booking a tour, according to past visitors, which is a smart way to avoid lines and learn more about the art. Alternatively, you can rent an audio guide for 6 euros (or about $6.75) from the. museum. Check the museum's website for the dates of several free admission days offered during the year, but it's best to plan ahead and show up early to beat most of the crowds. For more information, check out the museum's website.
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If you're headed to Oltrarno for a stroll through the Bóboli Gardens, it's worth it to take some time to tour the Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) as well. This former Renaissance residence is now home to Florence's most extensive grouping of museums. The most notable of the Pitti's galleries is the Galleria Palatina, which – with its impressive collection of works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens – is second in prestige only to the Uffizi Gallery. Other museums within the palace spotlight everything from historical fashion to household treasures once belonging to the Medici family.
Recent visitors suggested going early and blocking out several hours to see the museums and gardens, or even coming back on a second day if you can't fit it all in to one day. Many said the museum is a must-see, but it can be overwhelming to take it all in on one visit.
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Santa Croce is similar to the Duomo in style (both churches represent dominant Gothic traits), but most visitors aren't drawn here by Santa Croce's looks: Come here to pay your respects to such notable Italians as artist Michelangelo, scientist Galileo Galilei and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. Santa Croce is also home to what some say is the most important art collection of any church in Italy, the most notable works being spectacular frescoes done by Giotto. Recent visitors raved about the architecture of the church and suggest giving yourself plenty of time to explore. Others appreciated that it was removed from the main tourist areas.
After you've sufficiently toured the church, head next door to the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce (Museum of Santa Croce), which houses several objects formerly found within the church itself. You can also spend a few hours shopping or sipping cappuccino in the neighboring Piazza Santa Croce, which is home to an impressive collection of leather shops. In fact, the Scuola del Cuoio (leather school) – which was started after World War II in part by the Franciscan friars of Santa Croce – is connected to the church.
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Designed by Giotto in the early 14th century, this ornate 277-foot high bell tower is part of the renowned Duomo in central Florence's Piazza del Duomo. Although it is known as Giotto's Bell Tower, it actually required three architects to finish. The changes in style and design are apparent. Today, you can admire the tower's external design from the square below – make sure to spend plenty of time admiring the statues and reliefs by such famed artists as Donatello and Andrea Pisano. Or you can climb the more than 400 steps to the top for spectacular views of central Florence, a hike that recent visitors said leads to a better panorama than you get at the top of the Duomo because you get to view the Duomo from this vantage point.
However, the climb can be a real workout, so make sure to pace yourself. Travelers appreciated that there were several places where they could stop to catch their breath and admire the views on the way up to the top, which they said were well worth the steep climb. However, if you're visiting during the summer months, reviewers say you'll want to time your visit for the morning (or right before closing), as the climb only gets hotter as the day progresses.
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Much like London's Tower Bridge, the Ponte Vecchio was built to replace an earlier bridge. Once dominated by butchers and bakers, the original bridge was washed away during a flood in the early 14th century. When the new Ponte Vecchio was completed, it too was home to local food stores until grand Duke Ferdinand I of the Medici family decided to designate this unadorned bridge the epicenter of the city's gold and jewel trade. It has maintained this identity ever since.
Recent visitors said it is especially beautiful at sunset. If you don't want to overpay for souvenirs, heed the advice of past travelers and avoid shopping along the bridge. Some reviewers also recommend taking a gondola tour of the Arno River to experience sailing beneath the bridge, though they do warn this will cost you.
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Originally, these beautiful gardens belonged to the Medici family; it wasn't until the late 18th century that the gates opened to the public. Today, Boboli Gardens (located in the Oltrarno behind Pitti Palace) offers sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the tourist-trodden city center. While you stroll through this extensive green, keep your eyes peeled for the numerous sculptures and grottos strategically placed along the paths, like Giambologna's Bathing Venus. Also swing by the Isolotto, a large fountain located at the southwestern end of the park.
Many recent travelers said this is a great place to spend an afternoon outdoors, noting the excellent landscaping, museums and, of course, the picturesque views of the city below, though some visitors were underwhelmed and said the gardens seemed a bit neglected.
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