Florence is full of must-see churches and museums; let’s look at the top Florence points of interest together to plan a great holiday in the Tuscan capital. Florence is one of the most famous Italian cities, recognized for its rich architecture and artistic legacy. It is the capital of the region of Tuscany in Italy, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. A walk through the city on the banks of the Arno River to admire its Medieval and Renaissance buildings, museums and culture is a worthwhile experience. We propose the 12 most essential points of interest to visit in Florence.
The Duomo of Florence
One of the main symbols of Florence is its Duomo. Construction on the Florence Cathedral began during the late 13th century and was not completed until 1453. Florentine elites of the time wanted the structure to eclipse the cathedrals of Pisa and Siena. They succeeded: the cathedral is the largest in Tuscany and dominates the city’s skyline. While entry is free, there is a combined ticket which gets you into the museum and allows you to climb the 453 steps to the Cupola where visitors get a panorama view of the city, not to mention an understanding of how Brunelleschi built this famous Dome.
Florence’s Baptistery is located across from the front door of the Duomo and is a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture. The octagonal structure sheathed in white and green marble is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Three sets of bronze doors represent three important moments in the history of sculpture and the birth of the Renaissance; by Nicola Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti, take in the Gates of Paradise copies here, and visit the real ones inside the museum. Get the cumulative ticket to see inside the Baptistery, which has an impressive mosaic dome, the only large scale mosaic work this side of Tuscany.
The Ponte Vecchio is an icon of Florence: it is the oldest stone bridge in Europe. Crossing this bridge transports visitors to medieval times. Once lined with Butcher shops and a meat market, the bridge is now occupied by fine jewelry shops. All the other bridges in Florence used to have shops and homes on top of them, and this is the only one that remains.
One of the most essential points of interest to visit in Florence is the Palazzo Vecchio. The building sits on the ruins of a Roman Theatre dating back to the first century AD. Built in the 1290s, Palazzo Vecchio has always been Florence’s town hall: although part of it can be visited as a museum, the mayor and his offices are still here. Decorated with frescoes and antique furniture from the Florentine republic and the Medici rule of Florence and Tuscany, Palazzo Vecchino is where government meets art. The most impressive chamber is the huge Salone di Cinquecento with its ceiling panels recounting Medici wars won.
Piazza della Signoria
Located in front of Palazzo Vecchio, it is no surprise that Piazza della Signoria was once the heart of political life in Florence. This square is an open-air art museum, and its astonishing statues each have their own political message – including Michelangelo’s David, which was first installed here (a copy stands in its place).
For a great view of the city head up to Piazzale Michelangelo where there is an outstanding view of Florence, the Arno River, and the bridges that connect the two sides of the city. The best moment of the day to visit is around sunset, when the magic of colors makes the view even more breathtaking.
The original David by Michelangelo
Although you can see a replica of the David in the city’s main square, the Piazza della Signoria, the original Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo is located in the Galleria dell’Academia. Despite being a bit “overplayed” through reproductions, seeing this work in person is a truly amazing experience. At 14 feet tall, the statue depicts the Biblical hero David getting ready to fight the giant Goliath.
Funerary monuments in the Basilica di Santa Croce
The Basilica di Santa has all the factors that make it worth visiting; the art, architecture, and history. What defines this chruch, also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories, is its being the burial place for the most important figures in the Italian history. Visit the tombs of or memorials to Michelangelo, Dante and Galileo Galilei, amongst others. Each tomb has its own unique story. Whether it be Michelangelo’s stolen bones or the churches refusal to give Galileo a proper Christian burial, your imagination will be captured. Aside from this, don’t miss the early Renaissance frescoes by Giotto and his school throughout the many chapels.
Oltarno is the name given to the “other side of the river,” referring to that not containing the Duomo. This calmer area of Florence has almost a small town vibe despite being quite packed with history and art. Public parks, funky coffee shops and piazzas with locals and their dogs are evidence that this area is truly lived in. It’s famous for its many artisans who you can spot at work in garages or in shops, so this is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir.
The Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi museum is a perfect place for art lovers. It is one of the oldest museums in the world. The halls are filled with Renaissance masterpieces painted by the likes of Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. There are also new temporary exhibits every few months that provide extra, in depth looks at lesser known themes or items on loan from important collections.
San Miniato al Monte
Standing atop one if the highest points in the city, the San Miniato al Monte is built around the legend of the first Christian in the city. It was said an Armenian prince was decapitated by the Romans; then picked his head up and flew. The church, a monastery, and a cemetery were constructed where the decapitated prince finally rested. The church’s façade is a classic example of the Romanesque style and is closely related in style to the Baptistery.
Located directly behind the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens provide visitors with 11 acres of historic green space. The garden is decorated with 16th to 18th century statues. The park was commissioned by the Medici family in the mid 1500s. Since the gardens do not have a natural water source, an extensive irrigation system was developed by feeding water from the Arno to the garden. Do not forget to bring walking shoes!
Being such an important city, Florence does take a while to explore: the average visitor stays 2.5 days, but a week would be great to see all these points of interest, and more. A good way to get into all the museums is the Firenzecard, which gets you into almost a hundred of them – but only in three days. Have you visited Florence? What did you like best?