Florence, in the Tuscany region, at the heart of Italy, crossed by the calm river Arno, is the land of the arts and geniuses, and one of the most beautiful cities in this country and in the world. A true open-air museum, with palaces, churches, squares, and art galleries that will awaken all of your five senses. The Tuscan capital is an authentic gem of the Italian culture and art scene, especially from the Renaissance Age. More than the wonderful museum collections with works by reference artists such as Botticelli, the streets of the city present to you the wonders of artistic revelations at every corner and are an authentic dream-scenery.
Join us in a walk throughout the old quarters and the modern sites to enjoy the best of what Florence has to offer you. See below a list with 10 unmissable experiences of the city of a thousand charms, a mere starter’s guide for what can easily become one of the most remarkable experiences of your life.
Admire the stunning Cathedral
The stunning Duomo or Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, located in the square bearing the same name, is the 4th largest in Europe. It can welcome up to 20,000 people inside and is still nowadays the highest building in Florence. Its construction was launched in 1296 but the impressive neogothic, decorated, marble facade was only finished in 1887, almost 600 years later!
The church is considered one of the great structures of the Renaissance period and its most recent decoration in white, green and pink Tuscan marble got its inspiration from the nearby Campanilo, right next to it.
The name “Santa Maria del Fiore” (Our Lady of the Flower) is a reference to the original Latin name of the city, "Florentia", or “city of flowers”, a city which was destined to flourish as it did and whose emblem, the Florentine lily, you can find everywhere. It is impossible to miss this incredible building which is a real landmark of Tuscany and reminisces of a glorious past of the city that is home to it.
Walk around Piazza della Signoria
Florence's public living room and an open-air sculpture gallery, Piazza della Signoria has been at the center of political and social life for centuries.
Here you will find the great bell of the Palazzo Vecchio, the imposing City Hall, once used to call citizens to parliament (public meetings) as the square has long been part of a popular walk for visitors and Florentines alike. The piazza's statues (some of them copies), housed by the beautiful 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi, celebrate the city's great historical events. However, the most famous episode is remembered by a simple plaque on the sidewalk near the Loggia: the execution of the fanatical religious leader Girolamo Savonarola in the 15th century.
This square is a succession of curiosities and historical facts that you will undoubtedly want to explore. For example, legend has it that the statue L'Importuno, representing the profile of a man's face engraved on the facade of Palazzo Vecchio, was carved by Michelangelo because of a bet. Also, the famous statue of David, made by Michelangelo and symbolizing triumph over tyranny, stood in the square until 1873. Damaged in a riot, it was moved to the Academy as a precaution and replaced by a replica.
Embark on this voyage of discovery and be dazzled by the history and stories told here.
Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence was at the center of a cultural and artistic revolution in the 15th century. Inspired by the rediscovery of the classical culture and under the generous patronage of the Medici, then the wealthiest family in Europe, artists such as Michelangelo, Boticcelli and Donatello and architects such as Brunelleschi and Leon Batista Alberti created a city that remains one of the greatest artistic capitals of the world.
Founded in 1563, the Academy of Fine Arts (Galleria dell’Accademia) was the first European school established to specifically teach drawing, painting and sculpture techniques. The unique collection of art on display here was collected and organized in the late 18th century so that students would have material to study and copy.
Michelangelo's proud “David”, dating from the years between 1501 and 1504, towers over visitors at the Accademia and is his most prized work. Its colossal height of 5.2m (17ft) impresses every visitor. When next to it, it is easy to see why this representation of the biblical hero who killed the giant Goliath was the work of consecration of Michelangelo as the best sculptor of his time, when he was only 29 years old. We say this is a mandatory stop while in Florence!
Go on a pasta cooking class
Italian cuisine is an international favorite and probably the one with more variations around the world. Original Italian cuisine has influences from Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, Hebrew and Arabic cooking. Later it went through important changes from the New World (America), with the introduction of new ingredients.
It is a fact well recognized that in Italy pasta is cooked with great wisdom: the cooking technique is excellent using only fresh ingredients to make pasta from scratch and to create combinations of pasta with literally anything: vegetables, meats, fish, seafood, sausages, cheeses, etc. This way, a great variety of textures and exquisite flavors is achieved. Italian gastronomy definitely promotes a very healthy diet and this is deeply linked with an Italian lifestyle and way of life that you will definitely want to know more about. The best way to do this is to join a cooking class in Florence where you will be able to learn about the purest, freshest ingredients at the same time that you hear more about the traditions and the history of the country. More than trying your hand at Italian pasta-making, you will actually be living the true, Italian life.
Visit the Uffizi galleries and admire the great Florentine masters
The Uffizi is one of Italy's largest art galleries. It covers the entire span of Florentine art, from stylized Byzantine icons and the flowing lines of early medieval works, to Renaissance masterpieces and the colorful complexities of Mannerist paintings.
The Uffizi was built in 1560-80 to house offices (uffici) for Duke Cosimo I. The architect Vasari used iron as reinforcement allowing his successor, Buontalenti, to create an almost continuous glass wall upstairs.
From 1581 the Medici used this well-lit space to display the family treasures, creating what is now the oldest gallery in the world. Today, the paintings are displayed chronologically to demonstrate the evolution of Florence's art, from the Gothic to the Renaissance and beyond.
Book your ticket in advance to avoid lining on the site and make sure you have at least one half day free to go through all the wonders on display here!
Shopping in Florence can be one of the most delightful experiences of your stay in the city! Go to the Scuola del Cuoio founded in 1949 and buy handmade leather goods, or watch artisans at work in frescoed rooms at the back of the Santa Croce church.
Continue your tour, pass the Cathedral and go to Piazza del Mercato Centrale in the heart of the San Lorenzo market, the busiest food market in Florence, housed in a two-story cast iron and glass building built in 1874.
The stalls on the first floor sell meat, poultry, fish, hams, olive oils and cheeses. There is also Tuscan food to go such as porchetta (roast suckling pig), lampredotto (pork intestines), and trippa (tripe). The second-floor functions as a large bar/restaurant with seating. There are food stalls, a bank, a bookstore, and a cooking school. On the mezzanine floor you will find a pizzeria and a restaurant.
In the streets of Florence, you will also find many incredible Enoteca stores, which sell different wines from the region and also perform tastings. We say that is the perfect way to finish off a shopping spree in the city!
Get inspired with the parfum scents born within a pharmacy
If you are still in the mood for shopping and you feel like you want something unique to take home, stop at the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a perfumery opened in 1612 in Via della Scala by Dominican friars. Remedies and perfumes have been sold here for over 400 years. Be sure to walk around the store, the museum and have a cup of aromatic tea.
Have a gelato on the go
One of the best known and preferred sweets in the world is gelato, the traditional Italian ice cream. The gelato making tradition in Italy goes back to more than 2000 years ago, when emperors and noble citizens of Ancient Rome had blocks of ice carried from the mountains to cool themselves and to add to fruit and beverages during the hot summer months. In other words, only the upper class of society could enjoy the food. At the time, ice cream was made with ice and snow from the highest mountains in the country and stored underground.
The expansion to the lower classes comes with the explorer Marco Polo, who returned to the country after traveling through Asia, with records of recipes for Chinese ice cream, which was made differently from what the Italians knew, since they used milk instead of shaved ice. Put the two techniques together and you can easily see that it was then that the gelato we know today began to take shape. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Italians started to consume the sweet on a regular basis and the delicacy became popular.
Gelato is so common in Italy that everywhere you go you will see gelato stores even during the Winter to cater for the Italian’s taste! In Florence, one of the most beloved gelato places is Vivoli, located in Via Isole delle Stinche and making traditional ice cream since 1929!
So go on, be a local, grab your favorite flavor and take it outside. Walking the streets of Florence with a gelato in hand is one of the most authentic Italian experiences you will have on your trip to Italy!
Cross Ponte Vecchio and admire the former shops
Ponte Vecchio, the city's oldest bridge, was built in 1345, the last in a succession of bridges and crossings on the site dating back to Roman times. Designed by Giotto's pupil, Tadeo Gaddi, it was originally the work site for blacksmiths, butchers and tanners, all of whom disposed of rubbish into the river. They were unwanted there for the noise and stench that they produced, and were finally expelled in 1593 by Duke Fernando I and replaced by goldsmiths.
The elevated Corridoio Vasariano runs along the east side of the bridge above the shops. Giorgio Vasari designed the corridor in 1565 so that the Medici family could move around without having to mingle with the public. This was the only bridge in the city to escape the destruction of World War II, and today visitors go there as much to admire the views as to browse the antique shops and specialist jewelry. Make sure to include a relaxed stroll across the Ponte Vecchio on your bucket-list for Florence!
Watch the sunset in Piazzale Michelangelo
Of all the great Florentine viewpoints like the Duomo and the Campanilo, none offers such magnificent views of the city as the Piazzale Michelangelo. Designed in the 1860s by Giuseppe Poggi and decorated with copies of Michelangelo's statues, its balconies attract many visitors and the inevitable queues of souvenir sellers. Yet this square remains a landmark of Florence and an absolute must-see place, especially when the sun sets over the Arno River and the distant Tuscan hills.
10 at least...
It is hard to reduce Florence and its charm to a mere list of 10 things to do while in the city. Florence is a real micro cosmos of culture, gastronomy, wine, gelato and of the most amazing scenery. 10 is a round number to get you started on the Florentine experience, however be aware that 10 is hardly an accurate number for the world of possibilities that Florence has to offer you. Go there, enjoy it and be dazzled by it. There will certainly be many more experiences on your list when you come back!