It is no surprise that the city hailed as “the birthplace of the Renaissance” has a rich and vibrant history. Founded around 59 BCE as a Roman military colony, Florence went on to become a booming cultural, economic, and political hub.
Starting in the 15th century, the city was controlled by the Medici—a banking family and political dynasty. The Medici were also great patrons of the arts, and through their support Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Sandro Boticelli, Andrea del Verrocchio, and Domenico Ghirlandaio were able to flourish.
The enormous impact of Florence’s past is still felt today. The Florentine dialect spoken there became the standard Italian language. North and South America were named for Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci. And the intellectual and cultural advances of the Renaissance forever changed art, architecture, science, literature, and human thought.
Duomo di Firenze: The Duomo, located in the heart of the city, is the main cathedral of Florence and one of Italy’s largest churches. Its dome, which was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in the fifteenth century, remains the largest masonry dome ever built. To see the inside of the dome, visitors must make the steep, narrow climb up 463 steps (there is no elevator).
Palazzo Medici: Built between 1444 and 1484, this palace was used as a residence by the Medici family. It’s famous for its Cappella dei Magi—a private chapel decorated with a series of frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli. Michelangelo lived in the palace for a time as a teenager under the sponsorship of Lorenzo de Medici.
San Lorenzo Church: San Lorenzo was consecrated in 398 by Saint Ambrose, although no trace of this early building still stands. It was completely rebuilt in the 15th century and served as the official church of the Medici. All the principal members of the family are buried there. 2. The Art
Florence is filled with paintings and sculptures by Italy’s great Renaissance artists, but visitors to the city’s many museums will have the chance to see art from many other time periods and locations.
Places to See
Uffizi Gallery: Not only is the Uffizi one of Florence’s most popular tourist attractions, but it is also one of the most visited art museums in the world. It houses works such as da Vinci’s Annunciation , considered to be the artist’s first major work, and Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch . Visitors to the gallery can also check out works by non-Italian artists like Rembrandt.
Galleria dell'Accademia: While a replica of Michelangelo’s David stands in the statue’s original location in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the original lives in the Galleria dell’Accademia. In addition to several Michelangelo sculptures, the gallery also houses works by other great Italian artists such as Botticelli and Ghirlandaio.
“When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelangelo finish it.” -Giorgio Vasari
Pitti Palace: Built in 1457, the palace became the chief residence of the Medici family in 1549. In the late 18th century, Napoleon used it as his base during his reign over Italy. Today, the palace is the largest museum complex in Florence and is divided into multiple galleries and museums, including the Gallery of Modern Art, the Museum of Costume and Fashion, and the Silver Museum. Be sure to stop and walk through the beautiful Boboli Gardens behind the palace.
PRO TIP: For €72, you can purchase a Firenzecard , which gives you priority access to all the major museums in the city for 72 hours. An extra €5 will get you a Firenzecard+ , meaning you will be able to travel for free on ATAF/Linea bus lines and trams during that 72 hours. Check out this article to discover whether purchasing a Firenzecard is worth your while. 3. The Countryside
Florence is located in the middle of Tuscany, which means it's surrounded by a beautiful array of vineyards, green fields, and cypress trees dotting large, rolling hills.
Places to See
Villa Machiavelli: The home of Niccolò Machiavelli is located just outside the walls of Florence in the hills of Tuscany. There you can tour the historical house and the wine cellars, which are still used to this day. Plan to end the day by enjoying a grand meal at the villa’s restaurant.
Be prepared to eat a lot—this meal includes multiple courses and lots of wine! (Reservations are highly advised.)
Villa Demidoff: The Villa Demidoff is an excellent villa park and getaway for those craving a day outside. It is home to the Colosso dell'Appennino, a large stone and brick statue built during the Medici era. It also houses a fishpond, aviary, several fountains, and plenty of beautiful flora and fauna. 4. The Food
Italy is known for its delicious food, so you’ll want to be sure to frequent as many local establishments as possible while you’re in Florence.
But there are some things you’ll want to be sure you keep in mind:
It’s common for restaurants, and other places in Florence, to be closed on Mondays. You can check out this blog post on how to make the most of a Monday in Florence.
Stay away from tourist traps. Restaurants near the big tourist sites might try to rip you off. Here is a list of some restaurants in Florence that are popular with locals.
Sitting down in a restaurant costs extra—you’ll have to pay a sit-down cover charge. If you go to a café, look to see if the menu above the counter has two different prices listed. “Banco” is the price you pay if you stand at the bar and “tavolo” is the price you pay if you sit down.
You’ll be charged for things that are typically free in the U.S., like water and bread.
5. The Shopping
Milan may be the fashion capital of Italy and, arguably, the world. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great shopping opportunities available in Florence—from designer boutiques to markets to antique shops.
Via Tornabuoni: You’ll find the big names in fashion—Gucci, Versace, Hermes, Armani, etc.—on this street in the center of Florence. It’s also home to the outlets of famous Florentine designers like Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, and Salvatore Ferragamo.
San Lorenzo Market: Spend an hour or two wandering around Florence’s most famous market—comprised of the indoor Mercato Centrale and a surrounding outdoor section— and look at all the clothing, pottery, leather goods, souvenirs, and other treasures.
Via Maggio: You’ll find everything from antique shops and art galleries to a chandelier and lamp showroom on this street.