Basilica di Santa Croce
A short walk from Piazza del Duomo, you’ll find the Basilica of Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world. Head inside for only 6 euro, and you’ll see the graves of famed Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Ghiberti, and Machiavelli, among others, as well as commemorative graves for the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and Dante.
Be sure to check out the nearby Scuola del Cuoio (leather school) in the former Franciscan friars’ dormitory, where you can watch artisans craft the leather goods you can purchase all over Florence.
This 11-acre park directly behind Pitti Palace features a collection of sculptures from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.
Only a 30-minute walk from the center of Florence, the Boboli Gardens are a lovely spot to escape the crowds of the Duomo and the Uffizi.
FLORENCE CATHEDRAL COMPLEX
In the heart of Florence you’ll find its cathedral complex: three structures in Piazza del Duomo that are often mistakenly referred to as one. Visit all three by purchasing a cumulative ticket online for 15 euro.
The Baptistery of Saint John is the octagonal building that stands in the middle of Piazza del Duomo, across from the cathedral. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed during the 11th and 12th centuries in the Florentine Romanesque style (similar to the Cathedral and Campanile, but not exactly the same).
Though the Italian poet Dante (a revered figure in Florence) and many members of the Medici family were baptized here, its real significance comes from the bronze doors and relief sculptures that depict scenes from John the Baptist’s life as well as Christ’s life in the New Testament. You can see reliefs of the doors on the side nearest to the Cathedral without even going inside.
Directly next to the Florence Cathedral is Giotto’s Campanile, a freestanding bell tower that is arguably Florence’s best-kept secret. While most rush to make reservations to ascend to the top of the Duomo, those who have been to Florence before know that the better view of the city (and of the Duomo itself) can be found at the top of the Campanile.
The 414 steps to the top are divided between five viewing levels, and the shapes cut into the walls make for a fun photographic distraction from the tiring climb.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Fiore (Florence Cathedral)
The over-580-year-old Gothic-style Cathedral sits in the middle of Florence, and is one of the largest churches in Italy.
Its green, pink, and white exterior mimics the colors of the Italian flag. Entrance to the Cathedral is free, though you’ll likely have to wait in line. Reservations are required if you want to make the 463-step climb to the top of the Dome itself, but the views of Florence are well worth it.
Known best for one particular statue, the Galleria Accademia is one of the most famous art museums in Florence. Its shining star is Michelangelo’s David — the real one (not the replicas in Piazza della Signoria or Piazzale Michelangelo). With nearly 1.5 million visitors per year, the Accademia is one of the most popular sites in Florence. Make sure to buy your ticket before you go!
Galleria degli Uffizi
Florence’s most famed art museum can be found adjacent to Piazza della Signoria. With over two million visitors every year, the Uffizi Gallery has become one of the largest and best-known museums in the world, housing some of the most important artistic works of the Renaissance. Even the building itself is considered a work of art. Our suggestion? Do a little research before you go. Due to its size and popularity, the Uffizi can feel overwhelming even for seasoned travelers. Know what you want to see or, better yet, schedule a tour so you can hear the stories behind the paintings as well. If there’s one spot in Florence for which you buy your tickets in advance, let it be the Uffizi!
The “Old Palace” is Florence’s town hall: the brown building with a clock tower that overlooks the Piazza della Signoria. Inside, you can explore Roman ruins, a medieval fortress, chambers from the Renaissance, and art, too.
Be sure to check out the replica of Michelangelo’s David by the entrance, and Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus on his left.
Piazza della Signoria
A stone’s throw from Piazza del Duomo, you’ll happen upon the Piazza della Signoria, an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (which is often subsequently referred to as “Piazza Vecchio” for that reason). Piazza della Signoria acts as a meeting place for travelers and locals alike, features many notable statues, and leads right to the entrance of the Uffizi.
The open, arched area on the far side of the square is known as “Loggia dei Lanzi.” Though once a terrace from which Medici royalty watched ceremonies, it is now home to 10 sculptural masterpieces. Make sure to visit at night, when the statues are illuminated against the night sky.
Just south of the city center, across the Arno and up a hill, you’ll find Piazzale Michelangelo, which overlooks Florence.
The square features yet another replica of Michelangelo’s David, though this statue is a bronze cast (lending to its greenish coloring). The Piazzale offers one of the best views of the Florence skyline, and is popular both during the day and at night.
This closed-spandrel arch bridge spans the Arno River and is lined with shops on both sides. Though butchers once occupied the shops, jewelers and art dealers have since taken their place. During WWII, unlike all the other bridges in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio was unharmed by the Germans, who were given strict orders from Adolf Hitler to leave it untouched (he presumably had a soft spot for the centuries-old bridge). The “Old Bridge” is a popular sunrise and sunset location, though you’ll have more luck with the former. For the latter, you’ll want to head elsewhere to get photos of the bridge itself in the evening light.
Header image by Camilla Ignacchiti.