If you’re planning a trip to Florence, Italy, and you’re wondering what you shouldn’t miss, this list will help.
Florence is a stunning destination, also known as the “cradle of the Renaissance,” and is an ideal city for short stays, with incalculable art, culture, and architectural elements.
It’s a one-of-a-kind gem among the most beautiful cities in Italy. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations, both for domestic and international visitors.
As a result, visiting the most famous landmarks, such as the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo complex, and the Uffizi Gallery, which houses and displays thousands of Renaissance artworks, is a breeze.
There is only a ten-minute walking distance between them, so you can easily visit Florence without using cars or buses, simply by walking.
And, if you enjoy hiking, there are numerous options in the surrounding area.
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Here is a list of the top things to do in Florence, Italy
Let’s begin with the heart of the city, where one of the world’s most famous and enchanting complexes can be found: Brunelleschi’s baptistery and dome, as well as Giotto’s imposing bell tower, and the Duomo which stands out with its white, green and pinkish marble facade. Plan your visit here.
Visit Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral (Duomo) complex
The Duomo, Florence’s majestic cathedral, also called Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, is still one of the four largest churches in the world.
It took 170 years to build the Duomo in Florence, and it’s one of the most iconic landmarks in the city with its dimension and the harmony of the patterns all around the marble decorations.
When construction began in 1300, Florence was one of the wealthiest cities in Italy, and thanks to the production of walls and the city’s solid economy, the city sponsored this duomo construction, which had to become the largest cathedral ever built at the time.
The Duomo’s interior includes a massive central nave with a massive pillar and massive Gothic arches. You will walk alongside the beautiful floor pattern that shows three letters, OPA, which stands for “Opera del Duomo”, that is, the institution established specifically for the creation and subsequent maintenance of the Cathedral complex.
The cathedral is open Monday through Saturday from 10:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Climb Brunelleschi’s Dome
Did you know that Brunelleschi, who designed the Dome, was, at first, considered a fool?
When the project began in 1420, he was regarded as a fool because he wasn’t an architect, but rather a goldsmith, and no one believed he would be able to complete the Dome. But, in just 14 years, Filippo Brunelleschi managed to surprise everyone in Florence.
The dome is a true work of art that has enchanted the world for centuries; it is the city’s tallest structure and the symbol of Florence and the Renaissance.
If you aren’t afraid of heights and would love to climb this iconic landmark to enjoy the view over the city and have a closer look at the wonderful frescoes, there are 463 steps to go up in a very narrow passageway (same up and down).
Climbing to the top is one of the most popular things to do in Florence, Italy and must be booked well in advance.
You may need to know that there is a popular saying about the dome: that you shouldn’t climb it before graduating because it’ll bring you bad luck. So, I recommend that you climb it only after you have graduated.
Opening Hours: Monday through Friday : 8:15 am to 7:45 pm. Last entry at 6:45 pm.
On Saturdays, from 8:15 am to 5:30 pm. Last entry at 4:30 pm.
On Sundays and public holidays, from 12:45 pm to 5:30 pm. Last entry: 4:30 pm
Click here to plan your visit.
Climb The Giotto’s Bell Tower
If you aren’t afraid of heights, get ready to live one of those breath-taking experiences, such as climbing to the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower.
The majestic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore’s bell tower offers some very impressive panoramic views from its top. However, to reach the top of the tower, you must climb 414 steps!
But don’t worry, there are several terraces in the tower where you can stop, catch your breath and maybe take a few photos.
There are no elevators or other means of getting to the top of the Bell Tower. Therefore, the climb is not recommended for people suffering from heart disease, vertigo, or claustrophobia.
From the top of Giotto’s Tower, you’ll have a fantastic panoramic view of the city and surrounding hills, not to mention a unique perspective from which to admire the Cathedral and Brunelleschi’s Dome.
Climbing the Dome and the Bell Tower requires climbing over a thousand steps, which is a great workout for both the legs and the spirit. The view from the top is breathtaking, and every sweaty step is well worth it.
Find more information here.
Visit the Baptistery of San Giovanni
The Baptistery of San Giovanni is one of Florence’s oldest churches, located in front of the city’s cathedral, the Church of Santa Maria del Fiore.
When you enter the building, the first thing that draws your attention are the valuable mosaics, which decorate the entire ceiling. They were the largest in the world at the time to be decorated with this technique.
This is one of the most impressive experiences that you can find in Florence. You can cross the church and find yourself in the presence of angels and flowery motives.
Visit the official website for more information.
Admire Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria
From Piazza Duomo, proceed towards Piazza della Signoria, which is the most famous square in Florence and is home to the Palazzo Vecchio, considered the best example of 14th-century civil architecture in the world.
It has an imposing and austere aspect, it was also the private residence of The Medici family.
Part of the palace now houses the city hall of Florence, while the rest is used as a museum.
A replica of Michelangelo’s David is on display at Palazzo Vecchio’s entrance.
But there is a little secret about the original David; in 1520, it was located in front of Palazzo Vecchio, and while there was a large army in the square, the Palazzo window above the statue was opened, and someone threw a bench outside, injuring the poor David; his left hand got detached and fell to the ground. It stayed for four days before being removed along with its 100 kilos.
Fortunately, the original David is now safely housed within the Accademia Gallery.
In the square, there is also the Fountain of Neptune, known as “Biancone,” the city’s first public fountain, and the Loggia dei Lanzi, a fourteenth-century construction that once housed ancient assemblies.
While you are in the piazza Signoria, I recommend a stop to get a delicious gelato.
From Palazzo Vecchio, take via De’ Neri to Piazza Santa Croce. At the last intersection, on your right, you will find the Gelateria de’ Neri, which offers a wide variety of gelato flavors and granita (Italian ices).
Visit the unique Uffizi Gallery
After a delicious break, you’ll proceed to Florence’s largest museum, the Uffizi Gallery.
It is not only a museum, but also a wonderful Renaissance palace where Florentines still walk through the courtyard, which has become a special setting for car exhibitions. But it is best known for the thousands of artworks that are still on display at the gallery.
If you look up on the second floor, you’ll find yourself beneath a spectacular gallery that is still decorated with the original ceilings, which depicted flowers and a few colorful decorations inspired by ancient Roman villas.
There are 120 rooms, and there are absolutely wonderful artworks in the rooms of the most famous artists, such as Giotto, Piero della Francesca, and Porticelli.
“Primavera,” an allegory of springtime painted by Botticelli, is one of the Uffizi Gallery’s most famous highlights. Flora, the Latin Goddess of springtime, is the painting’s protagonist. Another well-known painting by Botticelli is the Birth of Venus.
In addition to the Botticelli room, there are rooms dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci and his “Annunciation,” Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and other Italian masters.
Walk along Ponte Vecchio and Vasari Corridor
Ponte Vecchio is the oldest and most famous bridge in Florence. This bridge is seven hundred years old, but it’s unique not only for its long history but also for the presence of jewelry stores.
When you walk across the bridge, it doesn’t even look like a bridge with all the glittering shop windows. This is where you can still find, after hundreds of years, hand-made jewelry. There are 49 stores selling Florentine 18K jewelry.
The bridge was built at the request of the Medici family, particularly Cosimo I, who commissioned architect Giorgio Vasari to construct a corridor to allow members of the Medici family to move between their house (Palazzo Pitti) and their place of work, the Uffizi, without having to mix with the crowds.
As a result, the project is also known as the “Vasari Corridor.”
This specially designed path connects Palazzo Vecchio to the majestic Pitti Palace, passing through the Uffizi Gallery and above the Ponte Vecchio jewelry stores.
This year this secret passageway will reopen, but don’t think about a narrow tunnel or a dark passageway, you could walk through this passage and enjoy thousands of artworks.
Check out the official website for more information on the Vasari Corridor’s upcoming opening and new admission rules.
Visit Pitti Palace and Boboli Garden
After crossing the Ponte Vecchio, you’ll arrive at Palazzo Pitti, one of the city’s most important palaces and the home of the Medici family since the second half of the sixteenth century.
It is a historic building that houses several exhibitions and rooms, including the Palatine Gallery (with masterpieces by Raphael and Titian) and the Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Silver Museum, the Porcelain Museum, and the Costume Gallery.
The Boboli Garden, which is next to the Palace and is an illustrious example of an Italian garden, should not be missed.
Take in the view from Piazzale Michelangelo and Basilica di San Miniato al Monte
Another must-see attraction is the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, which offers a spectacular view of Florence.
To get there, walk up the famous avenues until you reach Piazzale Michelangelo, which is also famous for its view.
However, the one from San Miniato al Monte is my favorite because it is wider and less crowded with tourists.
I also recommend that you visit the wonderful Giardino delle Rose (Rose Garden), which is located near Piazzale Michelangelo and is a garden that is little known by tourists but is well worth a visit.
The entrance is free and it’s open all year, though I believe the best time to visit is in the spring when the roses bloom. There are 400 different types of roses, and you can also enjoy beautiful views of Florence from the garden.
Visit world famous Accademia Gallery
Lastly, go to the Accademia Gallery to see the original David, whose surface is flawless and whose size is truly surprising, at 16 feet tall plus the pedestal.
The Accademia Gallery is one of Florence’s major art museums. Despite being home to Michelangelo’s David statue, it houses a number of Renaissance works as well. The Accademia also houses the Museum of Musical Instruments, which houses the Grand Ducal collection of over 50 instruments, including the last surviving tenor viola of the Medici Quintet, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1690, which has been preserved in its original splendor.
From Tuesday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. (last admission at 6:15 p.m.).
On Saturdays and Sundays, booking is required.
Closed every Monday.
Check out the official website for more information.
And Leonardo Interactive Museum
Just 100 metres from the Accademia Gallery, you’ll find the Leonardo Interactive Museum, which hosts over 50 large machines based on the codes of Leonardo himself.
Marvel at machines built to scale and according to Da Vinci’s original designs.
Learn about some of Leonardo’s major studies of anatomy and see high-resolution backlit replicas of his main paintings to explore his medical and artistic achievements.
The museum is organised into 4 sections: earth, water, air, and fire; and provides descriptions in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian for your convenience.
Where to stay in Florence
The historic center of Florence, like most cities, is the best place to stay because it is easily walkable and has all the services.
The historic center is divided into different areas:
If you enjoy nightlife, I recommend staying in the Piazza Santo Spirito area, which is full of clubs open until late;
If you’re traveling with your family, I recommend central districts that are a little quieter, such as Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, where Florence’s central station is located. It is very close to the main attractions, only a 10-minute walk from Piazza Duomo, and the prices are even lower.
There are various types of accommodation in Florence’s center, ranging from luxury hotels to B&Bs. The cost of a luxury hotel ranges from very high to medium-low for two-star hotels and hostels.
Oltrarno is a picturesque area immediately on the other side of the Arno river, just a short walk from the historic center, Palazzo Pitti, and the Boboli Gardens.
Here you can find more affordable lodging options, and it’s an excellent location for doing some shopping. There are many distinctive craft stores as well as a plethora of antique stores.
San Niccolò is a quiet neighborhood located south of the Arno River.
It’s a short distance from the Boboli Gardens, and this area also has quieter and less expensive accommodation.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of Florence’s landmarks and must-see sites and that it helped you in planning your trip to Italy.
Happy travel planning!