No trip to Italy is complete without a visit to Florence, the capital of the Italian region of Tuscany. Considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is famous for its art, architecture, and cultural heritage. Although there is certainly much more to see in Florence above and beyond the ten sights I have included here, this list is a great start for the first time visitor.
No matter what you decide to see on your visit to Florence, it is sure to be one of the more memorable experiences that you will have on your trip to Italy. Florence is very walkable and visitor friendly and it's possible to see the entire city on foot without using public transportation.
1. The Duomo, The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
As you walk around Florence it's hard to miss the famous Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo. Begun in 1296, the structure was not completed until 140 years later in1436. The beautiful exterior of the cathedral is made of green, white and pink marble and dominates the historic center of Florence.
If you can get to the Duomo early you can get on the first guided tour of the day, which I highly recommend. The tour, which lasts about an hour is informative, takes you places not accessible to the average tourist, gets you access to the rooftop terrace and then on to the top of the Duomo for amazing views of Florence.
The Duomo complex also includes The Baptistery and The Campanile (Bell Tower). The Baptistery is actually a few hundred years older than the Duomo and dates back to the 11th century. Named for John the Baptist, the building is also made of green and white marble.
The entire complex, which includes the Cathedral, the Bell Tower, and the Baptistery, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.
2. Visit the Uffizi
One of the premier museums in the world, the Uffizi, is a must see on your visit to Florence. The Galleria degli Uffizi holds the most important collection of Renaissance art in the world including thousands of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries.
To avoid the long lines buy your tickets ahead of time or plan your visit for late afternoon when the crowds are apt to be a little smaller. Plan on spending a minimum of two to three hours in the Uffizi and certainly longer if you are a true connoisseur of fine art.
The Uffizi was established in 1581 and accommodates over two million visitors each year. The museum contains 45 rooms of artwork and literally thousands of individual pieces including works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio.
3. Climb the Duomo
Climbing to the top of the Duomo, while admittedly not for everyone, was another one of those must do things on my list. Hey, your already here so you might as well climb the 463 steps to the top. We did this as part of the tour that was offered through the Basilica, which I highly recommend.
The views of Florence from the rooftop terrace were great, but from the top of the Duomo we’re talking spectacular. You have an unobstructured 360 degree view of Florence and the city is even more beautiful from this vantage point.
4. Chill out in Piazza della Signoria
The most famous square in Florence is undoubtedly the Piazza della Signoria. It contains many important statues including a replica of Michelangelo’s David and the Fountain of Neptune.
The town hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio, is also located here in Piazza della Signoria. This piazza is a great place to just sit and people watch so grab a seat on the wall of the Loggia dei Lanzi and take it all in. I highly recommend you grab a gelato first.
And to avoid a scolding by the local police please keep your shoes on! We were actually asked by the police to put our shoes back on after we took them off to relax for a few minutes. Go figure!
5. Visit the Accademia
Home to Michelangelo’s famous statue of David, the Galleria dell’ Accademia should not be missed.
The Accademia is home to many other important paintings and sculptures, and this museum also has a rather interesting collection of musical instruments that was begun by the Medici family.
While I did not think that I would be overly impressed by the statue of David I must admit that I was very wrong. It is much larger than I anticipated and the detail on this sculpture it is truly unbelievable.
Be sure to get your tickets to the Accademia before hand as the lines can be very long depending on the time and day of your visit.
6. Ponte Vecchio
This century’s old bridge is the most famous of Florence’s six bridges that span the Arno River and dates back to Roman times. Today, the bridge is a hub of shopping with jewelry, art and souvenir vendors lining the bridge.
Spend some time just strolling around and over the bridge and be sure to take numerous photos of this famous and historic site.
7. Visit the Boboli gardens
Located on a hillside across the Ponte Vecchio and behind the Pitti Palace is the huge Boboli Garden Park. The gardens were laid out in the mid 16th century and have been enlarged and restructured numerous times since.
The gardens today cover 11 acres and offer excellent views of Florence. If you enjoy beautiful gardens, sculptures and fountains then plan on spending a few hours strolling through the park.
8. Visit the Basilica di Santa Croce
The Basilica of Santa Croce is the largest Francision Church in Italy and is located in Piazza Santa Croce. The church contains the tombs of many famous Florentines including Michelangelo and Dante. The church also contains sixteen chapels, many of them beautifully decorated with frescoes.
While the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore gets most of the attention in Florence this Basilica is not to be missed if you have time.
9. Piazzale Michelangelo
For the best views of Florence make the hike or hop on the bus and head for the Piazzale Michelangelo. This famous square with its stunning view of Florence is located across the Arno River and up the hill.
The square, dedicated to the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, contains copies of some of his works including his most famous sculpture of David. For a spectacular nighttime panoramic view of the city of Florence and The Duomo make a visit at night.