I fell in love with the city of Florence on my first trip to Italy ten years ago. We spent only one day there, and it was not enough. This time I was so excited about spending 4 days in Florence before going to the Tuscany countryside – Castello Le Leccia – for my daughter’s wedding.
In this post, I wanted to share with you the highlights of my trip to the beautiful city of Florence.
Florence (Firenze in Italian) is an amazing city known as the heart of the Italian Renaissance. It is full of history, art, architecture, and delicious food. The city’s rich history is full of big names such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, and Filippo Brunelleschi.
On our first day, we head out to the Piazza Del Duomo (Cathedral Square) which is the focal point of Florence. This is the main tourist hub, and it is also home to some of the most stunning attractions in Florence including the Duomo, the Campanile, the Baptistery.
The best-known structure of this big plaza is the Florence cathedral – the Duomo. The official name is the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Flower (the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore) but everybody calls it “Duomo”.
The Duomo is the main church of Florence. The entire structure looks enormous and not only the great dome which was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The construction began in 1296 and lasted for one hundred and forty years. The magnificent brick dome that covers the central space of the Duomo is considered the largest in Europe.
It is hard to miss another symbol of Florence – the Campanile. This magnificent tower is standing next to the Duomo, and it was designed by Giotto.
The three hundred feet high tower is one of the best showpieces of Florentine architecture and is often called ‘the Giotto’s Tower’. The façade was built in colorful green, pink, and white marble panels and it matches the façade of the Duomo.
If you want to go to the top of the tower to get the best panoramic view of the city and surrounding hills you have to be ready to climb 414 steps to reach the very top of the tower. There are no elevators! The climb is a workout. But you can go at a calm pace and make use of various terraces where you can stop, relax, and take pictures.
Another impressive structure of the plaza is the Baptistery. The octagonal shape building stands across from the Duomo and the Giotto’s Tower.
The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating back to 1059. The exterior is very ornamental and decorated with Renaissance figures who were baptized here, including poet Dante Alighieri.
But the main attraction is the doors of the Baptistery. You can always see a big crowd of tourists trying to take pictures of the doors on all sides of the Baptistery. But I think the bronze doors portraying scenes from the New Testament draw the most attention. You cannot miss them.
The doors were created by Lorenzo Ghiberti. It took him 21 years to complete this project. These magnificent, gilded bronze doors consist of twenty-eight panels framed by ornamental foliage on both sides.
Palazzo Vecchio and statue of David
On our second day, we walked to the Piazza Della Signoria. It is one of the busiest and most popular squares in the city. The Palazzo Vecchio with a statue of David by Michelangelo is one of the main attractions.
The Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) is the town hall of Florence. This solid massive building with two rows of Gothic windows and one simple tower has a long history.
The construction started in 1299 and lasted for more than one hundred years. In the beginning, it was built for the magistrates of the city. Then in the 1540s Duke Cosimo de Medici moved to the Palazzo and decided to turn this place into his residence showing the security of Medici family power in Florence.
Italian sculptor Michelangelo Buonarotti was born in Tuscany. He is frequently associated with Florence for his relationship with the Medici family. The work of this great Renaissance artist can be still found in Florence – drawings, sculpture, paintings, and architecture.
One of Michelangelo’s most well-known works is a marble statue of David – a symbol of strength and youthful beauty. In 1504 it was installed next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio. In the late 19th century the original statue of David was removed from the piazza and moved indoors to protect it from damage. Later on, the copy of David was placed in the same location.
If you want to see the original David, you need to visit the Museum of the Academia (Galleria dell’Accademia).
The Uffizi Gallery
The city of Florence is covered with fascinated museums, but the Uffizi Gallery is one of the oldest and famous museums in the world. Its name is associated with the work of great Renaissance artists – Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bellini, and many others.
The Uffizi Gallery has an incredible art and sculpture collection. When I travel, I like to go to the museums, but this time I skipped the Gallery because I visited it on my first trip to Florence. If you want to go, I would recommend to pre-buy your tickets so you can skip the waiting line.
The Ponte Vecchio Bridge
You cannot visit Florence and not go and see the Ponte Vecchio bridge built in the 1300s. You have probably heard of it and seen many images. But it is something else when you are there and walk across its span.
The Ponte Vecchio Bridge is a unique place with hundreds of shops hanging over the Arno River. This famous old bridge is described as Europe’s oldest arch bridge.
It was a beautiful day and I spent three hours exploring the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. I feel like I am going back in time except that the vendors are no longer the medieval butchers and merchants. Today, the tiny shops are selling souvenirs, jewelry, and art.
Most people rush through a courtyard in the center of Palazzo Pitti to get to the gorgeous Boboli Gardens. The sandy façade of this grand palace looks rather plain. But when you step inside you will be overwhelmed by the opulence of this monumental structure.
For many centuries, the powerful Medici, Lorraine, and Savoy families served as the Grand Dukes of Florence and used the Palazzo Pitti as their personal residence.
It all started with the wife of Grand Duke Cosimo Medici, who didn’t like living in the narrow Palazzo Vecchio and decided to buy the Palazzo Pitti and turned it into the family residence. The Medici had done many renovations, expanded the palace, and added the large courtyard where many lush celebrations took place.
The Boboli Gardens
We spent a few hours walking around the Boboli Gardens. The most famous gardens in Florence are spread out directly behind the Pitti Palace. Like everything else, it didn’t grow overnight. Its creation started in the 15th century and span over 400 hundred years.
We enjoyed walking through the beautifully manicured gardens and landscapes. You can spend hours there away from the crowds and traffic. It was very peaceful. The gardens are filled with grottos, trails, pools, arched walkways, and magnificent marble statues.
Another interesting fact is the construction of the Vasari corridor. This long-arched walkway was built to connect the Pitti Palace with the Uffizi, church, and Palazzo Vecchio. It would allow the Medici family members to move around the city without facing the public.
Piazza della Repubblica
The Piazza was originally built as a site of the city forum. But today it is a big plaza lined up with elegant cafes and a merry-go-around. We spent many hours walking around and sampling a lot of gelatos.
St. Lorenzo Market
The Lorenzo market is a huge local market located next to the St. Lorenzo church. I was planning to book a food tour there but never did. Probably next time. But I spent hours exploring a market on my own. Fresh produce, local food and wine, olive oil, and vinegar.
At the end of the day, we walked to Piazza Michelangelo for the spectacular sunset over the city with the hills of Tuscany in the background. We had to climb lots of stairs, but we were not disappointed because the views were definitely worth it.
We did a lot of walking all 4 days. Florence is an incredibly amazing city and I want to go back again. If you are new to this unique city, I recommend booking a 90-Minute Walking Tour.
Have you been to Florence? What were your highlights?
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