Nestled among the rolling hills of Tuscany in Central Italy, Florence—the cradle of the Renaissance—is one of the world’s most fabled cities. And today, especially if you’re a lover of Renaissance art and architecture, wonderful cuisine, magnificent vistas, and much more, it remains one of the world’s most fabulous.
Of course, it requires a visit of at least several days to let Florence properly seep into your soul. A day will give you only a glimpse of this great city’s riches. But, if a day is all you have, here are a few sights and places you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
- The Duomo, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the Baptistry Doors. Thankfully, these three sights are all next to each other. The Duomo is the popular name for Santa Maria del Fiori, the great cathedral that dominates Florence’s skyline. A highlight of the structure is the magnificent dome designed and built by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the most celebrated architects and engineers of the Renaissance. Next to it is Giotto’s Bell Tower, designed by Giotto de Bondone, one of the most original artists of the late Middle Ages and a major inspiration for many of the great Renaissance artists. Finally, there are the beautifully sculpted bronze doors of the nearby Baptistry, which depict scenes from the Bible.
- Ponte Vecchio. Just a few minutes away is the Ponte Vecchio or simply “old bridge” (pictured above at night). Built in 972 A.D., it spans the Arno River and serves as home to a wide variety of interesting shops, which have been part of the bridge since the 12th century. Of special interest are the bridge’s gold and jewelry shops.
- The Uffizi Galleries. And just a few minutes away from the Ponte Vecchio are the Uffizi Galleries, widely regarded as one of the most important art museums in the world. Built in the 1500s for Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici, this contains some of the best-recognized and often reproduced masterworks of the Western world. Just a few of the artists whose works are represented there include Michelangelo, Leonardo, Giotto, Raphael, and Botticelli.
- Galleria dell’Accademia Speaking of Michelangelo, you can see several sculptures by him at the Galleria dell’Accademia (Academy Gallery) just a few minutes away from the Uffizi. These include: the Prisoners, the St. Matthew, and the very famous statue of David. Founded in 1784 as an artists’ academy, the museum houses hundreds of pieces from the 14th through the 19th centuries.
- Church of Santa Croce. Built by Franciscans in the late Middle Ages, Santa Croce includes both some amazing Giotto frescoes and the tombs of such renowned Florentines as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini, and Galileo in addition to a memorial to Dante.
- Palazzo Pitti and the Galleria Palatina. Once the official residence of the reigning Medici dukes, the Pitti Palace offers still more amazing Renaissance works. A highlight is the Palatine Gallery, which consists of 26 rooms filled with art by such Renaissance and later artists as Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Murillo, and Caravaggio.
- Boboli Gardens. While you’re at the Pitti Palace, you might stop and enjoy the adjoining Boboli Gardens, which are both lovely in their own right and offer great views of the city.
Several of these sights such as the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace can take an entire day (or more) to see to some art lovers’ satisfaction. And we’ve left the Bargello Museum, the Medici Chapels, the Church of Santa Maria Novella, and many, many other wonderful experiences off this list. This, of course, only underscores the futility of trying to see all there is to see in Florence in a very short time.
But, if a first, brief glimpse of Florence has you yearning for more, just start planning for a second, more extended visit. It will definitely be worth it, too. Like so much of the fine art in its many museums and galleries, Florence gets better with each successive viewing.
If you have additional thoughts about “must see” places in Florence, please submit a comment. We’d love to hear from you!