Italy Travel Guide: Best Places to Visit in Florence

Italy Travel Guide: Best Places to Visit in Florence

Italy Travel Guide: Best Places to Visit in Florence

Florence’s is famous for its beauty, but the city’s medieval art and architecture are unsurpassed and it is these magnets that attracts the majority of visitors to the city.

During the Renaissance (the period from the 13th to the 16th centuries that witnessed the rebirth of classical art, literature and architecture in Europe), Italy was acclaimed as the center of western civilization and Florence was its crown jewel.  A list of residents of the city from this age represents the “Who’s Who” of the Renaissance Masters, including: Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Of course, Florence proudly displays the works of these and other of its Masters.

Tourist Florence is a compact area on the north side of the Arno River and the major attractions are close together and easily accessible, but don’t let its size lure you into scheduling a quick trip.

Florence has a lot to offer the art lover, especially those entranced with the Renaissance.  If you are an admirer of the works of Michelangelo, Donatello or Fra Angelico you may never want to leave Florence. However, for most of us touring gallery after gallery with a  quick peek at a medieval building or two in-between soon starts to get old.  When one painting starts to look like the next, it is a good time to look for other, less cultural alternatives, which can easily be found in Florence. It is for this reason that visitors should consider spending several days in Florence – or suffer “over exposure”.

The Piazza del Duomo & Piazza San Giovanni

Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo

The Piazza San Giovanni and the adjacent Piazza del Duomo provide numerous famous sights, including the Baptistery, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the Campanile known as Giotto’s Bell Tower and  the Duomo itself (the Cattedrale di San Maria del Fiore).

  • The Duomo (13th century with later additions) is considered an architectural masterpiece and its Gothic interior is a sight to behold.  The cathedral is impressive due to its size and the incredible dimensions of its amazing dome.  You can climb the several hundred steps to the top of the dome to see its amazing frescos by Vasari, and for an amazing view of the city. If you want to see the original art from the Duomo, it is on display at the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo.
  • The Dome is open Monday through Friday from 0830 to 1900 with shorter hours on Saturday.  The Dome is closed on Sundays.  Note that there is no elevator (lift) and ascending requires climbing 463 steps.
  • See the official website  of the Duomo for more details on visiting (The site is in Italian, so use Google Translator or a similar service).
  • Hours of operation for the Duomo are: Monday through Wednesday 10:00  – 1700. Closes early on Thursdays (15:30) and Saturdays (16:45). Open Sunday from13:30 to 16:45. Closed Easter, Christmas and some other holy days.

The Museo

The Duomo Museum
The Duomo Museum
  • The Duomo Museum is a knockout and includes an unfinished pieta by Michelangelo (the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is acknowledged to be Michelanglo’s finest). Ghiberti’s original bronze panels for the  Baptistery Doors and works by Donatello, including several magnificent statues, are on display in the Museo.
  • Hours of operation are: Monday through Saturday 0900 to 1800 and later in peak tourist season.  Closed Sunday afternoon. Last admission 40 minutes before closing.  Closed Easter and some other holy days.

The Baptistery

The Baptistery Florence
The Baptistery
  • The Baptistery, one of the oldest buildings in Florence, is at the front of the Duomo.  It  is known for Ghiberti’s bronze door panels (see the originals in the Museo).  In addition, the interior of this octagonal building is decorated with impressive mosaics and an extraordinary inlaid marble floor.
  • Hours of operation: 1215 – 19:00 but 08:30 to 14:00 on Sundays and the first Saturday of the month.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
Giotto’s Bell Tower

Giotto’s Bell Tower

  • The Bell Tower, an 87-meter high campanile, is a building of architectural renown.  The Bell Tower provides outstanding, aerial views of the Duomo. Construction started in the fourteenth century, outlasted Giotto and was completed by Talenti who followed Giotto’s design.
  • Hours of operation are 8:30 to 19:30 daily with last tickets sold 40 minutes before closing.  The Bell Tower closes earlier in off-season so be sure to check locally when you visit.
    • Note there is not elevator (lift) and the climb is up 414 steps.

Museum note – additional information about visiting the grand museums of Florence can be found at the Polo Fiorentino Museale website.   If our links the the museums do not work, you should be able to navigate to the museums using this link (Italian and English) www.polomuseale.firenze.it/ .

Uffizi Gallery

  • The Uffizi Gallery is one of the world’s great art museums.  You will find works by Botticelli, Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, as well as works by  German, Dutch and French masters.
  • If you want to see the Uffizi with a minimum of hassle, you need to buy your tickets ahead or wait in long lines and possibly be denied entrance.
    • There are a number of online services that can be used to order tickets but you might want to try the museum’s official website .
    • Hours of operation: Tuesday through Sunday  08:15 to 18:50 (tickets usually are not sold during the last hour). Closed Monday and Holidays )

Galleria Dell’Accademia

Michelangelo’s sculpture of David
Michelangelo’s sculpture of David
    • This small museum is one of the most crowded in Florence due to the world’s fascination with Michelangelo’s sculpture of David. The remainder of the Galleria is focused on Florentine arts and artists.
    • You need to reserve your tickets in advance and we suggest you visit The museum’s official website for information on tickets and the museum.
    • (Hours of operation: Tuesday through Sunday  08:15 to 18:50 (no ticket sales last hour) Closed Mondays and some holidays.)
  • Palazzo Pitti

    Formerly the residence of the grand dukes of Tuscany, the King of Italy and home of the Medici’s, the Palazzo is furnished with treasures from the ages and features several museums/galleries, including:

    • Gallery of Modern Art
    • Costume Gallery
    • Museo degle Argenti (the Medici Treasury)
    • Porcelain Museum
    • The Palatine Gallery, which includes works by Raphael, Reubens Titian and sculptures by Canova
    • The Boboli Gardens, originally designed by the Medici’s, are one of the earliest examples of formal Italian Gardens.
      • Hours of operation: During summer from 08:15 to sunset  but closes earlier in winter (1800). Closed first and last Mondays of the month and some holidays
      • The Palazzo is on the south side of the Arno, so a visit provides a good opportunity to combine it with a look at the Ponte Vecchio.
    • (Hours for the Pitti Palace are 08:15-18:50 Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday and some holidays.)
Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti
  • Museum of San Marco

The former Dominican convent of San Marco contains many of the artistic works by Fra Angelico, a famous Renaissance artist known for his incredible frescoes, many of which decorate this building. Other of Fra Angelico’s works have been added to the collection more recently.

Click for the museum’s official website,

    • (Hours of operation: Open Monday through Friday 08:15 to 13:50. Open Saturday and Sunday from 08:15 to 16:50.  Closed Monday, some holy days, as well as national holidays.)
  • Bargello National Museum

    This museum includes masterpieces by Donatello and Michelangelo and others presented  in the former Council of Justice, a building dating from the fourteenth century.  The collection features statues, including Bacchus by Michelangelo and Donatello’s David.  The collection includes tapestries, furniture and other unique works of art.

    Click for the museum’s official website.

    •   (Hours of operation: Monday to Sunday 08:15 to 13:50 with these exceptions:  open the 1st 3rd and 5th Monday of each month and on the 2nd and 4th Sundays.  Closed some national holidays.)
  • Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio is the best known of Florence’s many bridges across the River Arno. The bridge, which was built in the fourteenth century, has been known for its goldsmith and jewelry shops since the early sixteenth century. Some of Italy’s finest jewelry can be purchased here.

  • Piazza della Signoria

Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio

This Piazza has been the center of politics in Florence for centuries.  Fronted by the famous Palazzo Vecchio and its tower, the Square (perhaps the “L” would be  a more appropriate description of its actual shape) is graced with many beautiful works of art including the well known Fountain of Neptune and the equestrian statue of Cosimo.

  • Several statues (David, the Lion and Judith and Holofernes)  are recreations, although the originals are in nearby museums.
  • The Piazza is a good place to spend a few minutes before your visit to the adjacent Uffizi Gallery. Plan on a short stroll to take in the sights and watch the crowds.
  • This is the plaza known for the original “bonfire of the vanities”.
    •  In the fifteenth century, Savonarola, a monk with ultra-conservative views who had captured the imagination of the city’s residents, led them to burn books, artwork and other items that were considered “evil”.  A year later, after infuriating the Pope with a refusal to appear in Rome, he was hanged and his body burned in the same square.

Additional Resources

The official tourism website for the city of Florence is Firenze Turismo.  The site includes additional information on our recommended best places to visit, as well as details on locations that did not make our list.  The Polo Fiorentino Museale website  is the official master link to many of the museums in Florence that we cover, as well as several interesting attractions not on our list.

If your are looking for country facts and  travel information on Italy  including passports, visas, consideration for driving, personal safety, health issues, etc., see the U.S. State Department Consular Affairs page on traveling in Italy for these details.

The Best Places to Visit in Florence described above include the most popular tourist attractions in Firenze.

Florence offers great restaurants, yummy gelato shops and good shopping to help provide respites from the extravagances of Florence’s art museums. Don’t over reach, if you only have a couple of days in Florence, visit the places that have the most interest for you, but be sure to leave time for good food and good fun.

Information on most major museums in Florence can be found here.  All museums close New Years day, May 1 and Christmas day.  In addition, most museums are closed Mondays. Museum tickets are generally not sold within forty minutes before closing.

The Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’Accadmia are the most popular attractions in Florence.  You should reserve tickets for both attractions by calling ahead (at least one day in advance and more time is preferable).  If you stand in line to purchase a ticket, you will have to wait for hours and may not be lucky enough to get in.  Information on most major museums in Florence, including the contact numbers for reserving tickets, can be found at http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/

Alternatively, you can reserve tickets ahead of time by using one of the many booking services that sell tickets, although these services add surcharges for processing your reservations. Enter “Museum ticket reservations in Florence” in your favorite search engine to find companies that provide this service.

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