Ciao bellas! Welcome to Italia and the famed city of Renaissance. The gorgeous Tuscan capital of Florence is renowned for its ornate churches, magnificent palaces, and museums featuring art by the likes of Michelangelo and Donatello.
Florence doesn’t have the canals of Venice or the ruins of Rome, but a charm all its own. I am breaking down the top experiences for a first visit, in a city best explored by foot. In a beautiful, historic destination such as this, there is no shame in hitting the touristy spots too! Will you fall for Florence much like me?
Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, which spans the narrowest point of the Arno River, is the only bridge in the city that survived retreating German forces in WWII. It’s rumored that the Ponte Vecchio only survived after Hitler visited Mussselini and was was charmed by the bridge, so ordered it to remain. In 1966, the bridge withstood a flood of epic proportions when the Arno once again burst its banks. She is an everlasting symbol of Florence.Small shops have lined the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Originally butchers and fishmongers resided here, stinking up the bridge. Today, goldsmiths and jewelers along with souvenir sellers are permitted to sell on the bridge in order to “improve the wellbeing of all, including their own as they walked over the bridge.”
Duomo di Firenze
Next stop is to the top of the Il Duomo di Firenze of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or Cathedral of the Flowers. After admiring the Duomo from all sides and touring inside of the cathedral, you must climb to the top of the cupola. 463 steps is all it takes until you are greeted with a breathtaking view over the city!Construction of the Gothic-style cathedral began in 1296 and was consecrated in 1436 as the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence. The intricate exterior façade is faced with polychromatic marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white. To this day, it remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. The interior is fairly barren and lacking in comparison.
Also in the complex is the Baptistery or Battistero di San Giovanni, from the 11th century and one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Outside the main entrance of the baptistery are the strikingly beautiful Gates of Paradise, aptly named by Michelangelo. These gold-plated bronze doors depict scenes from the Old Testament. They are replicas of the originals housed in the Duomo Museum.To beat the crowds, arrive early in the morning. Entry tickets are free so lines can be long but tend to move quickly! Or, for 15€ tickets you are granted access to the Cathedral, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, Baptistry, the Crypt of Santa Reparata and the Opera Museum. You can purchase online or just outside the Cathedral. Open every day 10am-5pm except Sundays and religious holidays from 1:30-4:45pm.
Ponte Santa Trinita
Many think the Ponte Santa Trinita, Italian for Holy Trinity Bridge among the most beautiful in the world. Distinguished by its three elliptical arches and statues of the seasons guarding the four corners of the bridge–Spring by Pietro Francavilla, Winter by Taddeo Landini, and Summer and Autumn by Giovanni Caccini. Constructed from 1566-1569, during WWII, the bridge was destroyed by retreating German troops, but reconstructed in 1958 with original stones raised from the Arno River.
Piazza della Signoria
Serving over the centuries as an important center for politics and the site of several historic episodes, Piazza della Signoria is a large square housing Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Museum, the Palazzo Uguccioni, the Loggia de Lanzi, and numerous statues.The Palazzo Vecchio or Old Palace was first built as a Romanesque fortress-palace in 1299 during a time of political turmoil. Its monumental size and and tall Gothic bell tower flaunted the Florentine Republic’s strength and power to intimidate any potential rivals.The powerful Medici family once resided in Palazzo Vecchio and it served as Florence’s supreme governing body for six centuries. Since 1872, it has served as the town hall and a museum of beautiful frescoes, sculptures, painted ceilings, intricate carvings and tapestries that all depict historic and Biblical events.The piazza boasts numerous sculptures around the square. Let’s take a wander…You are greeted by a replica of Michelangelo’s David at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio; the original is housed in the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts. Hercules and Cacus, by Bandinelli in 1533 to commemorate the victory over the Medici.Perseus with the Head of Medusa, sculpted by Cellini in 1554 is found in the Loggia dei Lanzi.
Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, honoring Cosimo I de’ Medici and sculpted by Giambolognain 1594.Fountain of Neptune crafted by Bartolomeo Ammannati in 1575.
The Rape of the Sabine Women, in the Loggia dei Lanzi by Giambologna.Medici lions, by Fancelli and Vacca crafted in 1598.The giant bronze turtle that has appeared, seemingly overnight, in the middle of Piazza della Signoria seems out of place in a square full of renowned Renaissance masterpieces, but adds to its theatricality. The sculpture, “Searching for Utopia,” is part of “Spiritual Guards,” an exhibit by Belgian artist Fabre seen around the city last summer.
The Galleria degli Uffizi holds the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art. This former palace was first built in 1560 to house the offices of the city magistrates. After the ruling dynasty of the Medici family relinquished its power, the palace evolved into an art gallery and has been open to the public since 1765, The museum showcases thousands of masterpieces by the likes of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Raphael, and Titian.Still itching for an art fix? Palazzo Pitti has a vast range of collections to gawk over. Check out the Palatine Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, Costume Gallery, Silver Museum and Porcelain Museum.
Statue of David
Galleria dell’ Academia, boasts Michelangelo’s Statue of David, one of the most famed sculptures in the world. Spend some time getting lost in the works art collected by the great Medici family that helped define Italy’s influential art scene. For those hoping to see the most famous man in Florence, you’ll want to purchase tickets online in advance to avoid waiting in ridiculous lines (starting from € 16.50 plus € 6.50 service charge)
Stroll along the Arno riverfront
La Basilica di Santa Croce
The Basilica di Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan Church in the world, boating an impressive 16 chapels. Situated along the Piazza di Santa Croce. Guarded by a statue of Dante, it sits with its beautiful facade in front of a modest piazza. The Santa Croce was built for the common citizens of Florence, just a 15-minute walk from the much more grand Duomo.
The church houses tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and the empty tomb of Dante. For this reason, the Santa Croce is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie). Florence keeps the empty tomb of Dante in hopes that one day it shall be filled with his decayed remains, which are currently Ravenna, his final resting place, after being exiled from Florence.
Throw out the map & get lost!
Tried and true advice in most European cities. You never know what gems you will stumble upon (Take this wine fountain for example) Don’t forget the camera and sturdy walking shoes!Keep in mind that Florence is extremely walkable city, so save the hop on, hop off bus tour for Rome. If necessary, reliable bus and train
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze Which is your favorite of Italy’s “Holy Trinity” – Rome, Venice, or Florence? Did I leave out any can’t miss experiences?