Florence was my favorite city in Italy that we visited! It’s so beautiful and has such a rich art culture and history (thanks in part to the powerful and wealthy Medici family living there and loving and collecting Renaissance art).
I was able to spend almost a week there with my parents, and return again for a few days with Omied a couple weeks later. I’ll be honest, when I was first planning our trip I wondered what I would do on that second leg of the trip when I’d be revisiting Florence, and if I’d be bored coming back a second time so soon after spending a week there. That was not the case at all, and actually on our second stint there I wished we had more time in Florence!
Florence is incredibly romantic and magical, with surprises around every corner. And the more you start to explore the city, the more you realize there is to see.
The main attractions are very walkable from most hotels, and if you have time you’ll want to explore outside of the city center as well. If you’re traveling to Florence, here’s a quick list of the Top 10 Florence sights.
Top 10 Florence Sights
1. Piazza del Duomo and everything in it. This includes the stunning Florence Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Opera del Duomo Museum, the bell tower by Giotto, and of course, the Duomo. I know that’s a lot of things to see in one piazza, but they’re all so worthwhile.
The Florence Cathedral is incredibly impressive from the outside, and worth visiting both in the day time and night time. Climbing both the bell tower and the Duomo will give you beautiful views—if you climb the bell tower you’ll have the stunning Duomo in your photographs from the top, but there is a grate surrounding the top of the bell tower so you’ll have to play with positioning your camera in order to shoot between the open spaces, and if you climb the Duomo you’ll be able to see the impressive frescoes inside the dome, as well as have unobstructed views.
In order to visit all of these places, you’ll need a ticket that will include access to the Cathedral, Dome, Baptistery, Crypt, Museum, and Bell Tower. The tickets are good for three days from the first use, so you can spread out visiting these things over a few days if you wish. I highly recommend buying this ticket online ahead of time, due to the fact that you need to reserve a time slot to climb the Duomo. You can purchase a ticket and reserve a time for your climb here.
If you don’t buy tickets online and instead buy tickets in person, you’ll need to go to the ticket office near the Baptistery and buy a ticket inside from a person (not the machines). Then, in order to climb the Duomo, you will need to use a machine at the ticket office to reserve your day and time. Usually this reservation is not available same-day, which makes it difficult to reserve a time for climbing the Duomo if you’re only in Florence 2 – 3 days. Because of this I recommend buying tickets online and reserving your climb time in advance!
The Medici family had the grandiose building built right next to Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of power, to hold their judiciary offices (“Uffizi” means offices in Italian). Since the building wasn’t originally constructed with the intention of being a museum that ~10,000 people a day visit, things can get a bit crowded and overwhelming. But it’s definitely worth it to see art by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo.
I highly recommend visiting with a guide, as they will take you to all of the most notable artworks and share all about the background and history with you, which makes the visit so much more interesting. We did this tour for the Uffizi Gallery and our guide was fantastic.
3. Accademia Gallery. AKA Galleria dell’Accademia, AKA where The David statue is. This statue by Michelangelo is incredible and an absolute must-see when in Florence.
The Accademia Gallery does have other art including a musical instruments section, but really The David is the star of the show.
Again, I highly recommend going with a guide. I went once with my parents and then a second time on a guided tour with Omied when we came back to Florence a couple weeks later, and while the first visit was great and The David was awesome to see in person, going with a guide meant that we learned so many interesting things about Michelangelo and this famous statue, and it really left an impression on me.
4. Piazzale Michelangelo. The Piazzale Michelangelo is a square located across the Arno River, with stunning views of Florence. You can walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, and if you’re staying at a central hotel it’ll take you about 30 minutes. It can also be reached by taking bus 12 or 13, and of course you could also take a cab.
5. Walking Tour. There’s so much interesting history in Florence, and doing a walking tour is a great way to get yourself acquainted with the city and see many of Florence’s top sights. Plus, I love getting recommendations from walking tour guides on their favorite restaurants, wine bars, etc.
Many walking tours in Florence offer combo deals where they will do a walking tour plus a guided tour to the Uffizi Gallery and/or Accademia Gallery (mostly just for The David). I’d recommend doing a separate tour for the Uffizi Gallery, as you really need a good three hours there just to see the highlights. But a combo walking tour + The David like this one is perfect.
6. Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Vecchio is a very famous bridge in Florence over the Arno River. It’s lined with jewelry and silver shops and has beautiful views of the river, making it perfect for a stroll.
7. Basilica of Santa Croce. The Basilica of Santa Croce is a beautiful (and the largest) Franciscan church. Inside you’ll find sixteen chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils.
8. Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens. Palazzo Pitti is an enormous palace designed by Brunelleschi for the Pitti family in 1457. The Medici family late bought the palace and extended it even further. Inside the palace you’ll find the Palatine Gallery, which has 16th and 17th century paintings (including works by Raphael), and the Royal Apartments. Behind the palace lie the Boboli Gardens, a beautiful open air museum with centuries-old trees, sculptures, and fountains. Many royal European gardens, including Versailles, were inspired by the Boboli Gardens.
9. Palazzo Vecchio. Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence, overlooking Piazza della Signoria. In front, there is a replica of Michelangelo’s The David statue, as this is where The David originally stood.
10. San Lorenzo Market. Whether you’re going for people watching, to find a souvenir, to find local ingredients for a dish to make at your Airbnb, or to find something delicious for lunch, San Lorenzo Market is the market to visit. It’s made up of two different markets, the indoor Mercato Centrale, and the outdoor market.
Annnndd a couple bonus items past the Top 10 Florence sights mark that I’d be remiss to leave out…
11. Santa Maria Novella. Santa Maria Novella is an important gothic church in Tuscany, with beautiful frescoes inside.
12. The Bargello. In case you haven’t had enough museums yet, The Bargello is located inside a fortress, and has a room dedicated to Donatello and many of his works.
13. Giardino Bardini. These gardens are beautiful and have gorgeous views of Florence. This space is less well-known than the Boboli Gardens, which means you it’ll be a quiet respite from the tourists swarming the city. You can stroll through in about an hour, and if you’re visiting in April/May be sure to find the wisteria tunnel.
I’m dying to go back to Florence and I miss the magic of this city! Do you have anything to add to my Top 10 Florence Sights (errr, top 13) list? If so I’d love to hear it!
Florence is a very walkable city with everything easily accessible.
The water in Florence is drinkable and safe. They even have a water fill-up fountain in the Piazza della Signoria.
In the major tourist areas, it will be more common to hear the locals speak English. In the smaller town areas, it will be more common for the locals to only speak and understand Italian.
Florence will be more affordable than traveling to Rome or Venice. However, in the peak season prices will be increased.