The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is a city full of culture. Art and architecture dominate the array of things to do in Florence.
The capital of the Tuscany region, Florence began its rise to fame in the Medieval period as a trading centre. The 1300’s saw the city begin the Renaissance, a period of European history that saw great expansion and cultural advances. It’s regarded as very important phase as it ended the ‘stagnation’ of the Middle Ages. The historic centre of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its a popular tourist destination, but worth braving the queues to see some amazing art and buildings.
7 things to do in Florence
1. Stare in awe at the Duomo
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore dominates the Florence cityscape. Consecrated in 1436 upon completion of it’s dome, this Cathedral (duomo in Italian) is truly impressive from all angles. You can explore the interior of the cathedral, where are you are able to head to up to the top of dome and also go down below into the crypt. The former has some impressive fresco’s that are cool to check out. The latter features the remains of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata on which the current Cathedral was built. You can also climb the belltower, Giotto’s Campanile, and for me this gives the best views in the city across the Cathedral and it’s dome.
2. Explore the Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi is one of the biggest and best known art galleries in the world. It holds a vast amount of works, including many Renaissance paintings and sculptures. Established in 1581, this art gallery receives millions of visitors a year. Must see paintings include ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Botticelli, Raphael’s ‘Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals’ and Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio’s ‘Annunciation’.
Depending how ‘into’ this style of art you are how long you will want to spend here will vary. 2 to 3 hours is a reasonable time to fully explore the museum.
Be warned lines here can be long. If you know the exact date you will visit it might be worth buying your tickets online first.
3. Admire The David
Michelangelo’s David is one of his most famous works and you can see it at the Galleria dell’Accademia. The David is a marble sculpture that was put on display in a public square in Florence in 1504 and became a symbol of Florence’s independence. Based on the Biblical David who did battle with Goliath, it’s easy to see why comparisons were made of Florence standing up to Rome. The David remained outside exposed to the elements for years until it was finally moved to the Accademia in 1837. As well as the David Galleria dell’Accademia hosts other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings. You should be sure to check these out as well.
4. Take a walk across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge
There are now only four bridges in the world lined with shops on each side, and Ponte Vecchio Bridge is one of them. Though they were once a common feature in Europe the number of inhabited bridges has been vastly reduced. It’s origins date back to Roman times, though took it’s current form in 1345. Adding to Florence’s charm, it’s often a hub of activity and an interesting place to check out even if you are not shopping.
You can find the other 3 Bridges in Venice (Italy), Erfurt (Germany) and Bath (England).
5. Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
As you can see from the above photo this popular spot gives a great view over Florence. Every time there is a clear day you will find the place busy with tourists and locals alike taking in the sights. Find it on a small hill on the southern bank of the river. The Piazzale Michelangelo was constructed in 1869 and is named so because if is dedicated to Michelangelo and contains copies of some of his works. There are a few cafes around here should you need any drinks or snacks.
6. Hunt for the best Gelato in town
Gelato is an Italian style of Ice Cream, and Florence is an excellent place to try it as there are a vast array of shops in town! Not only will this hunt reward you will good ice cream, but it’s a good excuse to stroll down some streets you’d otherwise miss.
Don’t just go for the shops that have big flashy displays with Gelato piled high. Its quality that matters, look the places that clearly take pride in their Gelato’s taste rather than advertising.
7. Stroll along the river
Regarded as one of of Italy’s most important rivers, the River Arno flows through Florence connecting it to the Mediterranean sea. It contributed greatly to Florence’s wealth, allowing for the city to flourish as a trading centre. It makes for a pleasant walk and it’s interesting to see the architecture of the buildings that line the riverside. The area on the southern bank is interesting too, particularly around the Santo Spirito area. The Santo Spirito itself being a Renaissance style Roman Catholic church.
There are many more things to do in Florence so if you have a few days there you won’t get bored. You’ll find numerous museums and statues are dotted around the city so you can really get your cultural fix. If you fancy a day trip from Florence, Pisa and Lucca are cheap and easy to get to by train. Travel wise, the city is well-connected to Italy’s rail system and there are 2 airports nearby (Florence and Pisa).
There are 2 hostel recommendations I’d make, depending on the atmosphere you want. For a party vibe, head to PLUS Florence, it has a pool and attracts the party groups. If you want to relax then Hostel Gallo d’Oro is a good option.