The 15 most beautiful things to see in Florence
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. It is called the “cradle of the Renaissance” and is rich in monuments, churches, and museums. A concentration of beauty, history, and culture that never ceases to amaze its visitors.
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Florence Cathedral – Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower
It is one of the largest churches in the world, measuring 153 meters in length and 90 meters in width, with a three-nave structure and an octagonal dome. Started in 1396 and completed in 1436, the Cathedral is famous for its unique exterior, made of white, red, and green marble, adorned with lancet windows and characterized by four monumental portals decorated with sculptures. Upon entering, visitors are amazed by the marble floors, the pointed arches by Talenti, and, above all, the 15th-century frescoes, including Paolo Uccello‘s monumental clock, equestrian portraits of Giovanni Acuto and Niccolò da Tolentino, and Domenico di Michelino‘s celebratory painting of Dante Alighieri.
An interesting fact: Giovanni Cavalcanti, in his Florentine Histories, recounts that a man named Anselmo, tormented by a recurring nightmare of being devoured by a lion, once inserted his hand into the mouth of the lion located on the north side of the Cathedral. Legend has it that a scorpion, hidden inside the lion’s mouth, killed him within a few hours.
The Cathedral is always open and can be visited free of charge. Alternatively, guided tours are available for purchase. Info: https://duomo.firenze.it/en/guided-tours
The Brunelleschi’s Dome
Symbol of beauty and human ingenuity, the dome is part of the complex of the Opera of Santa Maria del Fiore and represents the symbol of Florence, the Renaissance, and Western humanism. Built between 1420 and 1436 according to Filippo Brunelleschi‘s design, it is the tallest masonry dome in the world and, most importantly, the only one without support structures: too large and heavy to be held up by wooden beams, with its external diameter of 54.8 meters and internal diameter of 45.5 meters. Octagonal in shape, it is covered with terracotta tiles and features eight white marble ribs converging at the top into the large white marble lantern, standing 21 meters high.
The dome is open for visitation, and the route includes two internal walkways where one can admire the eight compartments of the drum with stained glass windows by Donatello, Ghiberti, and Paolo Uccello. Inside, you can also see the Universal Judgment fresco painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.
An interesting fact: on the night of April 5, 1492, a lightning struck the lantern, destroying half of it. This event was considered an omen of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s death, which occurred on April 8.
Tips for the visit: by purchasing the Brunelleschi Pass, you can visit Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Opera del Duomo Museum, and the Basilica of Santa Reparata.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
The bell tower of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is considered a masterpiece of Italian Gothic architecture. It was designed by Giotto in 1334, but after only 3 years, the artist passed away, and the direction of the project was first entrusted to Andrea Pisano and then to Francesco Valenti, who completed it in 1359.
Having a square base, it is characterized by the alternation of white, red, and green marbles adorned with geometric and floral patterns. The upper level houses 16 niches with as many statues in white marble, partly sculpted by Andrea and Nino Pisano, and partly by Donatello and Nanni di Bartolo. The bell tower contains 12 bells, the largest of which is called “Apostolica” and dates back to 1401.
Curiosity: Until the moment Giotto was given the task of building the bell tower, his name was only associated with painting. Giotto, therefore, received such a prestigious commission despite having no previous experience in architecture. It is not surprising as, according to the standards of that time, having “skill” and “ingenuity” was enough to be devoted to any work!
Tips for the visit: There are 414 steps to climb, so the visit is not recommended for pregnant women and those with heart conditions, vertigo, and claustrophobia.
At the heart of Florence’s social and political life since the 1400s, it has been the stage for some of the most important events in the city’s history, from the return of the Medici in 1530 to the Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497, where Girolamo Savonarola set thousands of sinful objects on fire, to the stake that killed Savonarola himself for heresy a year later. In the square, you can find the Fountain of Neptune, the Equestrian monument of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the Loggia dei Lanzi, and Palazzo Vecchio. Across from them, there’s a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is displayed in the Accademia Gallery).
Today the seat of the Municipality, Palazzo Vecchio is an emblem of 14th-century civil architecture.
Originally called Palazzo dei Priori, it later became known as Palazzo della Signoria, and in the mid-16th century, it took on the name Palazzo Ducale during the period when it served as the residence of Cosimo I de’ Medici.
The visit allows you to take a journey through Vasari’s work. In particular, you can explore the two floors of the structure, passing through various halls. The most representative is the Salone dei Cinquecento with the famous work “The Genius of Victory” by Michelangelo on the south wall. The Sala dei Dugento is reserved for the meetings of the City Council, with its walls adorned with tapestries by Bronzino and Pontormo.
On the second floor, the Sala dei Gigli houses Donatello’s work “Judith and Holofernes.”
Photo Credit: Comune di Firenze.
The Boboli Gardens
It is a large garden located behind the Pitti Palace and was commissioned by the Medici family, who were the first in Europe to introduce the so-called Italian-style garden. Spacious and carefully divided, it boasts a wide variety of plants and flowers, alongside statues, caves, and grand fountains. Inside, you can also find the 18th-century Kaffeehaus pavilion and the Limonaia (lemon groves), dating back to 1777.
A stroll in the Boboli Gardens is an intimate and captivating experience, best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. It is recommended to combine the visit with that of Palazzo Pitti by purchasing a combined ticket.
Ticket information: https://www.uffizi.it/en/boboli-garden
The Baptistery of St. John
It is located in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. An emblem of Romanesque architecture, it probably originated as a pagan temple dedicated to the god Mars before being consecrated in 1059 by Pope Nicholas II. It has an octagonal shape with walls covered in white and green marble, while the dome is adorned with mosaics started by Byzantine masters and completed by Tuscan artists like Cimabue. Access to the interior is through three bronze doors: the south door was crafted by Andrea Pisano, the east door is known as the “Gates of Paradise” and is the work of Ghiberti, while the north door was made by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The Baptistery is characterized by significant works, including Donatello’s “Maddalena” and Pollaiolo’s “Crucifix”.
An interesting fact: On the sides of the “Gates of Paradise,” there are two columns of red porphyry that have little or nothing to do with the architecture of the Baptistery. These columns were supposedly a gift from Pisa to their Florentine allies during the battles of the Maritime Republics in the Balearic Islands during the 12th century. According to legend, this material had the power to expose thieves and traitors, but the Pisans must have thought it was too valuable a gift for Florence, so they made it unusable by rendering it opaque with fire.
A visit to the Uffizi Gallery is an unmissable stop for art history enthusiasts. It is, in fact, one of the most famous museums in the world, housing sculptures and paintings that span the history of Italian art from the Middle Ages to the present day. Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Leonardo, Mantegna, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio are just some of the names of great artists whose works are exhibited here. In particular, the painting section features Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera,” Michelangelo Buonarroti’s “Holy Family” (Tondo Doni), Caravaggio’s “Bacchus,” and many other masterpieces.
You can book or purchase tickets online: https://www.uffizi.it/en/tickets
The Pitti Palace is an ancient residence of the Medici family, and it was purchased in 1550 by Cosimo I de’ Medici and his wife Eleonora di Toledo. Later on, it also housed the Habsburg-Lorraine and the Savoy families. The palace takes its name from its first owner, Luca Pitti, who had it built in the mid-15th century. In addition to the royal apartments, visitors can explore the “Treasury of the Grand Dukes” and the Museum of Russian Icons, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Museum of Costume and Fashion.
For ticket information, you can visit: https://www.uffizi.it/en/pitti-palace
Walking on the Ponte Vecchio is a captivating experience at any time of the day, but if you want a peaceful stroll, it is advisable to choose the early morning hours. For those who prefer a romantic walk with a view of the Arno, the evening is perfect when the jewelry shops close, and the city lights come on.
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella is a Dominican church built in the 15th century, located near the railway station of the same name. It is one of the most well-known churches in Florence, renowned for its facade adorned with inlaid white and green marbles, which was designed by Leon Battista Alberti. The church is definitely worth a visit, especially for its finely decorated interiors and the art treasures it houses.
The interior stretches 99 meters in length and consists of three aisles, containing notable works such as Giotto’s Crucifix and Masaccio’s fresco of the Holy Trinity. The entrance ticket also includes a visit to the Cloister of the Dead, so-called because it served as a cemetery for centuries, and to the museum within the convent complex.
Due to the vastness of the complex, it’s advisable to plan at least 3 hours for the visit to fully appreciate its beauty and historical significance.
The Central Market is a meeting place for both tourists and locals alike. It consists of two floors and offers the opportunity to purchase typical food and wine products from the region, whether to take away or to consume on-site, choosing from the tables made available by the establishment. Each shop offers different products, ranging from “lampredotto” (a traditional Florentine dish made from the fourth stomach of a cow) to “schiacciata” (a type of flatbread), from “stracotto” (a slow-cooked meat dish) to truffle-based specialties.
The “Basilica of Santa Croce” is a monumental complex that covers an area of 12,000 square meters and includes several buildings: the basilica, the Museum, the Crypt with the Famedio, the sacristy with the Medici Chapel, the Pazzi Chapel, and the Brunelleschi Cloister. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1295, the basilica is one of the most significant Franciscan churches in Italy. It has a Latin cross plan with three aisles, five chapels on each side, and chapels in the transept arms.
The basilica houses nearly 4,000 works of art, including Giotto’s “Stories of Saint Francis,” Cimabue’s “Crucifix,” Donatello’s “Annunciation of the Virgin,” and Giorgio Vasari‘s “Last Supper.” It also contains the monumental tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, and Galileo. Particularly noteworthy are the monumental tomb of Vittorio Alfieri, sculpted by Antonio Canova, and the tomb of Michelangelo Buonarroti, designed by Giorgio Vasari.
For ticket information, you can visit: https://santacroce.midaticket.it/en/
The “Galleria dell’Accademia” is one of the most beautiful museums in Italy. Its exhibition halls offer a fascinating journey through Renaissance paintings and sculptures.
The most famous artwork displayed here is Michelangelo’s “David”, a marble sculpture created by the artist when he was just 26 years old. Commissioned in 1501 by the workers of Florence Cathedral, the David stands at 517 cm tall and weighs 5560 kg. Originally adorned with gold details, it was placed in Piazza della Signoria in front of Palazzo Vecchio.
Among the many other works on display, you can find Sandro Botticelli’s “Virgin and Child with the Young St John the Baptist and Two Angels” and Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine”.
They are part of the monumental complex of San Lorenzo and serve as the tombs of the Medici family. The structure, completed in 1524, consists of three parts: the Crypt, where some lesser-known members of the family are buried, the Chapel of the Princes, which contains the remains of six Grand Dukes, and the New Sacristy. The New Sacristy, designed by Michelangelo, contains statues completed by him of the Dukes Lorenzo and Giuliano, as well as some unfinished statues and two statues attributed to Montorsoli and Baccio da Montelupo.