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 December 11, 2017
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Occupying the top floor 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."
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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 5th 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.
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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. 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 and Prisoners.
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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.
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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.
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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 414 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.
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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.
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Originally, these beautiful gardens belonged to the Boboli Family; it wasn't until the late 18th century that the gates opened to the public. Today, Boboli Gardens (located in the Oltrarno) 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 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.
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