Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region and one of the most culturally rich places in Europe. It set standards in European art and culture and became the cradle of the Renaissance. Even many famous artists and scholars lived in Florence like Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, and Raffael. Therefore, this beautiful city is full of its arts and legacies.
Today, numerous museums, remarkable architecture, richly decored churches, picturesque streets, and art masterpieces attract more than 20 million tourists from all over the world every year to the city. With around 380 000 inhabitants, Florence is a pretty big city, but most of its sights are located near the center so that they can be easily reached on foot. Here are the top tourist attractions in Florence:
In Piazza del Duomo, in the heart of Florence, you will find a massive Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, the fourth largest church in Europe. It consists of three buildings: the Cathedral itself, the Baptistery of Saint John, and Giotto’s Campanile (bell-tower). Construction of the church began at the end of the 13th century but, it was not completed until 1436. However, the effort was worth it. Today, Florence cathedral is one of the most visited cathedrals globally, which stands out among the many medieval buildings with its imposing sight.
The cathedral’s exterior is covered with white marble and red, pink, and green polychrome motifs. The interior contains some interesting artworks, such as the large clock face and the magnificent frescoes by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. The entrance to the cathedral is free. But, keep in mind that the cathedral is often crowded, and waiting lines are usually very long.
On the top, there is a huge majestic dome built by famous medieval architecture, Filippo Brunelleschi. The gigantic dome, which is the largest in the world, is more than a hundred meters high, and you can climb a series of 463 steep steps to reach the top.
Next to the cathedral, there is an 85-meter high bell tower designed by Giotto. It is also open for visitors, and those who climb 414 steps will be rewarded with a fabulous view of Florence. You should also visit the Baptistery of Saint John, which is the oldest building in Florence. It is best known for its bronze doors, which feature exquisitely carved depictions of scenes from the Bible. Inside you will find a gorgeous interior decorated in polychrome marble and a cupola with golden mosaics.
Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge over the Arno River and the most recognizable attraction of Florence. This arched bridge was built with huts for butchers and tanners, but today, there are luxurious small shops, jewelers, and antique sellers on both sides of the bridge. In the middle of the bridge, three arcades are opened so that you can enjoy the outstanding view of the Arno and the riverbank.
Above Ponte Vecchio passes the Vasari Corridor, a secret passage between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti used by Medici (noble family) to avoid the crowds. While visiting the bridge, keep in mind that the place is very touristy and perfect for pickpocketers, so keep an eye on your stuff.
The Palazzo Vecchio, built in 1299, is nowadays the main administrative building in Florence and the museum. This massive building with impressive structure looks almost like a castle. However, most visitors come here to look at the exterior of the building and capture it with their cameras. Rightly so, because both the external appearance and the almost 100 meters high Arnolfo Tower offer you an impressive sight.
But, if you think that Palazzo Vecchio is only worth visiting from the outside, you will be surprised when you see the interior. Inside the palace, you can visit many smaller to medium-sized originally furnished rooms full of decorations and beautiful paintings. The main highlight of the palace is “The Hall of 500”.
This hall is 54 meters long, 22 meters wide, and 17 meters high room built in the Venetian style and decorated with numerous frescoes, arches, columns, and sculptures. On the 2nd floor, there is also a balcony with a wonderful view of the hall. Climb there and photograph the most beautiful and largest room in the city.
The Palazzo Pitti is a massive Renaissance palace in the Oltrarno district of Florence on the south bank of the Arno River. It was built for the merchant Luca Pitti in 1458, and today the palace is the largest museum complex in Florence. For those interested in art, the Palazzo Pitti is one of the most important sights in Florence.
You will find some amazing frescoes and paintings from the Renaissance made by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Caravaggio, and Veronese. If you want to visit all the museums in the palace, you should plan at least one full day. Due to the high number of visitors, it is advisable to buy an entrance ticket in advance.
If you want to take a break from the crowds that throng the city’s streets, you should visit Boboli Gardens. With 45,000 square meters, the gardens the largest green space in Florence, located just behind the Palazzo Pitti. Therefore, it takes a full afternoon to visit them. Inside the gardens, it seems to be in a different world. All the noises of the city disappear, and you can hear only nature.
Boboli gardens have a large pond, numerous fountains, pavilions, broad avenues lined with sculptures, and plenty of small roads ready for exploring. Another highlight is the different floors of the park, from which you can have a stunning view of Florence and the surrounding area.
Uffizi Gallery will provide an unforgettable experience for those who love art and history. It is one of the most famous museums in the world because it houses important collections from Middle Ages. Uffizi Gallery was built in the 16th century to accommodate ministries and offices, and nowadays, only a part of it is open to visitors.
It is located next to the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza Signoria which hides the Vasari corridor leading to the Boboli Gardens. Even the building itself is a miracle. In the courtyard, there are many intricate columns and arches adorned with marble statues. Inside, you can admire many masterpieces such as Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” da Vinci’s “Annunciation,” and the richly decorated altar with the “Coronation of the Virgin” by Lorenzo Monaco.
The whole tour around the gallery will last around 3 hours. The Gallery has around 2 million visitors a year, so you should expect crowds and long waiting lines for tickets. To avoid long waiting times at the entrance, you can buy your ticket online in advance.
Basilica of Santa Croce
On the huge square, which is perfect for resting while eating delicious Italian ice cream, you will find a magnificent Basilica of Santa Croce. This largest Franciscan church in the world dates back to the 13th century. It is also known as the “Pantheon of Florence” because it is the final resting place of brilliant people from the Middle Ages such as Michelangelo, Rossini, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Dante.
The church has even 16 chapels which are covered in breathtaking Giotto’s frescoes. Also worth seeing is the crucifix by Cimabue from the 14th century. Because of the massive construction, the Basilica di Santa Croce is a pleasantly cool place and offers you an escape from the summer heat of Florence.
Although the Accademia Gallery is not so big and glamorous as Uffizi Gallery, almost 1.5 million visitors per year testify that a look into the gallery is worthwhile. It was founded around 1563 as the first academy for young artists in Europe. Most visitors come to see the original statue of David by Michelangelo or Botticelli’s artwork called “Madonna of the sea.”
Other artworks you can find there that are worth mentioning are “Prisoners,” “Pietà,” “San Matteo” statues by Michelangelo, “Rape of the Sabine” by Giambologna, and many artworks by Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Sarto.
Piazzale Michelangelo is located on higher ground than the rest of Florence, so it is a very popular viewpoint. From there, you will have an outstanding panorama view of the entire city and the Arno river. Hence, it is no wonder that all tourists come here to capture themselves with Florence behind their back.
When the square was built in 1875, there was supposed to be a Michelangelo Museum. That did not happen, but there is at least a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s “David” statue. On the square, you will also find many stands with a lot of different souvenirs where you can bargain with sellers.
Church of Santa Maria Novella
The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is a beautiful Gothic church and monastery in the northeast of Florence. It is located right across from the main train station in Florence. With its impressive front facade, the church, which dates back from the 14th century, is another fine example of Renaissance architecture.
The church’s interior is built as a Latin cross in three naves, on the sides of which there are many small chapels belonging to various wealthy and prominent Florentine families. The walls and ceilings are decorated with frescoes, including artworks made by famous artists such as Botticelli, Giotto, Brunelleschi, and Ghiberti.