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Florence is one of Italy’s most visited cities. The capital of the Tuscany region, Florence is home to Renaissance masterpieces and stunning architecture.
At one time Florence operated as the center of medieval European trade and finance, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Its turbulent history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici Family and many political revolutions. Florence served as the capital of Italy from 1865 to 1871. And the Florentine dialect became the foundation for the Italian language.
With its numerous museums and art galleries, Florence attracts millions of visitors in a typical year. Its culture, art, monuments and architecture caused UNESCO to name it a World Heritage Site in 1982.
There’s much to see and do in this beautiful, bustling city. Whether there for a day or a long weekend, take time to check out these ten must visit places in Florence.
Cathedral of Florence
Also known as the Duomo and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, this cathedral complex is a major tourist attraction. If you only have time to see a couple of places in Florence, make sure the cathedral is one of them.
In fact, the Duomo offers four of my top ten sites to explore, making it a great starting off point on your exploration of Florence.
Completion of the church occurred in 1367. The exterior is covered in colorful marble. Most of the stained glass windows, created between 1434 and 1455, include designs by famous artists such as Donatello, Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello.
The dome covering part of the Cathedral of Florence is called Brunelleschi’s Dome. When it was designed it was the largest dome in the world. As the cathedral took shape, the builders left space for the huge dome. One problem existed. No one knew exactly how to build a 150 feet wide dome atop the existing walls. Masons feared the dome might collapse inward.
In 1418 a public competition for the construction of the dome promised 200 gold florins and eternal fame. The Opera del Duomo selected Filippo Brunelleschi to supervise the dome project. Construction began in 1420 and finished 16 years later. Brunelleschi’s Dome is ingenious and innovative, a marvel of architecture that still astounds.
Visitors climb the 463 steps within the dome, appreciating frescoes on the interior and marvelous views of the city from the top. Reservations must be made in advance.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
Also called the Campanile, Giotto’s Bell Tower is the tall tower attached to the Duomo.
Giotto began construction on the Florentine Gothic bell tower in 1334. Although the tower bears his name, Giotto died three years after construction began. Andrea Pisano, following the original design, completed the first two floors, while Francesco Talenti finished the tower in 1359.
Visitors climb the 414 steps inside the tower, with much welcomed rest stops built in, for gorgeous views of Florence at the top.
The Baptistry of St John
The Baptistry is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, believed built in the 800s over the ruins of a Roman temple.
Located across from the Duomo, the Baptistry stands in the Piazza del Duomo. The giant bronze doors are the main attraction, however beautiful mosaics decorate the interior of the cupola. The bronze doors decorate three of the four sides of the building. Three different groups of statues rest above the doors, copies of the originals.
The most famous set of doors are on the east side, facing the Duomo. Called the Gates of Paradise, the panels depict scenes from the Old Testament.
This world famous museum contains works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo and many other artists. Uffizi is ranked 25th on the list of most visited museums in the world, with 2 million visitors annually.
The Gallery occupies two floors of a large building constructed between 1560 and 1580. The building originally housed offices for Florentine magistrates, hence the name. Uffizi is Italian for “offices”.
Within find collections of ancient sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages to the Modern Period. Additionally, the Gallery contains statues and busts from the Medici Family.
Built in 1299, the Palazzo Vecchio, “Old Palace”, is the town hall of Florence. It overlooks Piazza della Signoria and shares space with the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi (see next paragraph).
Originally Palazzo Vecchio was built as a castle with a single tower. Within the tower are two rooms that served as prison cells. Today the palazzo houses a museum that offers Roman ruins and Renaissance chambers and paintings. The Hall of 500 is the largest room, important both artistically and historically.
At the entrance rests a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The original David statue occupied that spot from its completion in 1504 until 1873, when it relocated to the Accademia Gallery for protection from the elements.
Loggia dei Lanzi
Also located in Piazza della Signoria, the Loggia de Lanzi is a free open air museum that adjoins Uffizi Gallery. Designed in 1376, the Loggia features curved arches with a variety of statues resting beneath them.
Included is the statue of Perseo, holding Medusa’s severed head and the Rape of the Sabines, a unique statute containing three figures, all carved from a single block of marble.
Loggia dei Lanzi is a wonderful spot to take a rest break. Large steps leading up the to Loggia offer plenty of seating.
Ponte Vecchio, “Old Bridge”, is a medieval stone bridge spanning the Arno River. Originally built in the late 900s, reconstruction occurred in 1345 after a major flood.
Shops line either side of the bridge, and have since the 13th century. Initially, butchers, fishmongers and tanners occupied those shops, until the stench caused Ferdinand I to issue a decree in 1593. Henceforth, only goldsmiths and jewelers could set up shop on Ponte Vecchio, for the betterment of all.
Ponte Vecchio is a popular bridge to stroll across and shop upon by day. At night it’s considered a very romantic spot with great views of the Arno River.
Special note: from the upstairs windows of the Uffizi Gallery, you have great views of Ponte Vecchio. It’s where I snapped this photo.
Located off of the Hall of Prisoners, so named because of Michelangelo’s unfinished statues, David captures the eye and the heart magnificently. Spend time studying this beautiful statue. Then explore Accademia’s botany, music, textiles and art exhibits.
The smaller, more specialized Accademia Gallery draws almost 2 million visitors in a typical year, making it the second most visited museum in Italy, after the Uffizi. It was founded in 1784 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace
More than just a green space in Florence, Boboli Gardens is the city’s greatest open air museum. Sharing space with Pitti Palace, the gardens contain centuries old trees, sculptures and fountains along with colorful flowers and plants.
The garden’s development, primarily by the Medici and Lorraine Families, spans 400 years and inspired gardens throughout Europe, including Versailles in France.
The enormous Pitti Palace, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was built in 1457 for the Pitti Family. The Medicis bought the palace in 1549, as their primary residence.
Today the palace is a museum, housing Medici household treasures, 16th and 17th century paintings, 19th century furnishings and a Gallery of Modern Art. The Boboli Gardens lie behind Pitti Palace.
Visit Florence Italy
This wonderful old city provides its visitors many opportunities for exploration, education and fun.
In addition to Florence’s culture and art, the city also offers fine dining and shopping experiences. And Florence claims the invention of Italian gelato!
My daughter, grandson and I enjoyed a night and a day in Florence, which feels very different from Rome. Mark Twain once described Florence as a “city of dreams”. With its art, history, culture and beauty, Florence is certainly a visit-worthy destination.
While COVID restrictions currently prevent most of these must see sites from opening, change is coming. I look forward to hearing of the museums reopening.
Have you visited Florence?
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