Florence was at the heart of the Italian Renaissance, which spread culture across the continent of Europe. It was one of the most important religious, political and economic cities in the world during the Medieval Ages, made rich and prosperous by the ruling Medici Dynasty. Florence is incredibly beautiful, with too much art and history to experience on one trip. One of the most impressive things to do in Florence, Italy is a visit to the Duomo, the massive Cathedral that occupies the center of town. If you can handle it, walk up the over 400 stairs to the viewing platform at the top; the views of the surrounding city are hard to beat.
I spent three days visiting Florence (including a day trip to Sienna) and allocated one full day to explore the Art Galleries and another visiting the Duomo and other sights around the city, with lots of time left to just wander and admire the famous city. It was home to some of the greatest Italian artists at the time and many of these great pieces of art still live here today. There are so many impressive buildings found in Florence its hard to keep track and it is why the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fact that it is the capital of Tuscany, which means there is an abundance of locally sourced food and world-class wine, is just a bonus.
The city is home to many palaces turned art galleries, and is home to one of the most famous pieces of art of all time; Michelangelo’s David. The Uffizi Gallery and Galleria dell’Accademia are just two of the many art galleries that you must visit. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the oldest and most comprehensive galleries of Renaissance art, many great works by Sandro Botticelli – The Birth of Venus – as well as works by Leonardo Di Vinci and Michelangelo.
We strongly dislike the idea of declaring that these are “the best” or “most important” things to see in Florence, as lists are always subjective and each visitor will have a different list based on their experiences and expectations. So we wanted to add a personal touch, listing the places and things that inspired us while during out visit. Florence is a city that stands out on a continent of great cities. There is nowhere else like it in the world.
So, in no particular order, these are the “6 Incredible things I did in Florence”.
Looking down at Florence from the top of the Duomo in Florence. 2015.
6 Incredible Things I did in Florence:
1 The Historic center of Florence
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city center contains many great architectural buildings, plazas and public art scattered throughout. The entire city feels like a living breathing museum.
The city flourished during the 16th Century, in part due to the money being invested into the arts and architecture of the ruling Medici Dynasty. It was one of the most important cities in Europe, as Florence was the birthplace of the Rennaisance and saw many great scientists, writers and painters come through the city – Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo to name a few – many of them left their mark on the art and architecture around the city.
Palazzo Vecchio, a 13th-century palace that today is the town hall, is a good place to begin exploration of Florence. Surrounded by the Piazza Della Signoria – the political heart of the city – where you can find a full-size replica of Michaelangelo’s David, and many other great statues and monuments. Take a stroll through the narrow city streets, get lost and just appreciate the architecture, and walk along the banks of the Arno River which runs through the city. Visit the Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge that runs through town, which is lined with jewelry stores.
2 Uffizi Gallery
Florence is famous for being a powerful political, financial and cultural center during the middle ages, and was the birthplace of the Renaissance. The former offices (Uffizi means Office in Italian) were used for administration of the Florentine magistrates, is located adjacent to the Piazza Della Signoria in the Historic Centre of Florence.
The architecture and art that flourished during this period were what made the city so impressive, and much of it is still there today in the many art galleries and museums around the city and the most impressive of these is the world-famous Uffizi Gallery. This museum has been showcasing some of the best art in the city, and has been open to the public since 1765 and houses several famous pieces of art.
When the ruling Medici family lost favour and control in the city, they gifted all of their collected art to the city of Florence. We thank them for that. Botticelli’s the “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”, Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo” and Da Vinci’s “Annunciation” are all pieces you must seek out, and experience you will have to share with hundreds of other onlookers, but worth every minute you spend trying to get a view. And there is so much more!
What is most impressive about the gallery is that it has so many great pieces hidden around every corner. There are many different Roman sculptures that have been collected here and they usually have a visiting exhibition showcasing other art from around Europe. You want to allow yourself several hours to enjoy the gallery; no matter how much time you have, it won’t be enough.
3 Galleria dell’Accademia
The most famous piece of art located in Florence is the Michaelangelo’s statue of David, inside the Galleria dell’Accademia, which is a spectacular piece of art that you have seen a thousand times in pictures but still lives up to all the hype when you get to see with your own eyes.
Gallery of the Academy of Florence is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list, and the building itself is a sight worth seeing on its own.
The Gallery hosts mostly late Rennaisance art from 1300-1600, but of course, the reason most people visit is to see the statue of David, which has been here since it was moved from Piazza Della Signoria in 1873. It is as iconic as the Mona Lisa and was inspiring to see it up close. David was carved out of a single piece of Marble, and depicts the larger than life biblical David, standing naked with a slingshot hung over his left shoulder.
There are many other great highlights found here by Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Titan. When I visited, there was also a traveling exhibit by Dutch artist Gerrit van Honthorst, the Dutch Golden Age painter known in Italy as Gherardo delle Notti.
4 Firenze Duomo / Florence Cathedral
The Duomo dominates the city center and shimmers and shines in the sunlight, reflecting off its white marble exterior. It dominates the skyline from all parts of the city, and if you’re really adventurous, you can take the staircase to the top (its only about 450 steps).
The cathedral named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore and was built on the remains of a 7th-century church (which you can see part of in the crypt). The Cathedral was designed in the gothic style; construction began in 1296 and the structure was finished (with the final installation of the dome) in 1436. The dome – designed by Filippo Brunelleschi – is still the largest brick-constructed dome in the world. Entrance to the cathedral is free, so expect to wait in line to get in. It is worth it. Inside the church, there are many spectacular mosaics and tapestries from famous artists.
The highlight for me was a trip to the top of the dome; it’s “only” 463 steps and it gets pretty tight towards the top of the dome (it was never designed for the number of visitors it sees today) but the reward is worth it. Along the way up, you are able to get an up-close view of Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment, and as you continue onwards to the viewing platform, you are rewarded by an unforgettable panoramic view of the city of Florence
5 Take a day trip to Sienna
There are many amazing medieval towns that you can visit on a day trip from Florence, and it’s hard to argue with a visit to Sienna, one of the most memorable places in Tuscany.
Sienna is famous for its central town, a former walled city which is situated at the top of one of the many Tuscan hills. The entire old town is UNESCO listed, and once you entered the winding streets, it was easy to see why. It was an important cultural center during the Italian Rennesaince. The towers of the Cathedral (church) and the government (state) were built of equal hight to signify their equal importance in society. The two towers dominate the landscape.
It takes less than 2 hours to travel between Florence and Siena by train. There are many other small villages and medieval towns nearby that could be done instead (or a trip to the famous Pisa to the west) but there was just something special about Siena, and if you’re in the neighborhood you really shouldn’t miss it.
6 Michaelangelo’s Plaza
Michaelangelo’s Plaza is the place to end your day of sightseeing in Florence, with amazing views of the city across the river; bonus points if you come here for sunset.
This is the best place to get a view of Florence, where you can see the dome’s and towers of the historic center, with the Tuscan hills in the background. A visit to Michaelangelo’s Plaza is a must do for anyone who is visiting the city.
This park was completed in 1869, by local architect Giuseppe Poggi, as a place to honor the great artworks of Michaelangelo, including a bronze replica of David. The park is designed to allow for the peaceful enjoyment of the city and offers incredible views of the surrounding Florence skyline. You can hire a taxi or walk to the plaza, along with a slow path that leads up from the river to the viewpoint.
It is also worth exploring the “left bank” of Florence (known to locals ”Oltrarno” (or “Diladdarno”) referring to the whole area on the other side of the Arno River. This area includes Michaelangelo’s Plaza and other attractions such as Piazza Santo Spirito and the San Niccolò neighborhood below the plaza.
After walking across the Ponte Vecchio, it was fun to get lost in a new part of Florence, and slowly explore a more local side of town. There are many great bars and restaurants around this area, and it is home to many artists and students, which gives it a lively vibe.