What to Do & See in Florence

Let me say this at the outset: It almost doesn’t matter how long your vacation in Florence is. You won’t see everything on your list. You will, however, make a good-sized dent (with a well-planned itinerary), and everything else will just have to wait for your next trip to the Tuscan capital.

While I might make a beeline for the Uffizi or the San Lorenzo Church when I’m in Florence, that doesn’t mean those are on your must-see list. Here’s a brief overview of the major sights in Florence, plus some of the offbeat attractions, so you can make your own priority list. The things at the top should be the ones that, if you didn’t see them on this trip, you would feel as if the trip wasn’t entirely successful. Start at the top and work your way down in whatever time you’ve got in Florence. The next time you visit, you can pick up where you left off.

This list isn’t comprehensive – not by a long shot – but it should give you a place to start your itinerary planning. I generally like to include a couple weird attractions on my must-see list for any place I visit. It gives me something unique to talk about afterward, and odd sights are often overlooked – and therefore less crowded. It’s a nice respite from the main attractions.

For more help in planning your trip, don’t miss my Florence travel guide.

Florence’s Top Attractions

Florence Duomo at night || creative commons photo by runner310

Florence Duomo at night || creative commons photo by runner310

  • Uffizi Gallery – Florence’s top art gallery, and one of the top art collections on earth, with plenty of masterpieces you’ll recognize instantly. Which means there are often very long (think many-hour) lines to get in, especially in the high season. This is one ticket you want to buy in advance if you can.
  • Accademia Gallery – Michelangelo’s “David” has replicas all over Florence, but the original lives here in a gallery designed just for him.
  • Duomo – Florence’s gorgeous multi-colored cathedral is a bit more ornately decorated on the exterior than the interior, but you can climb up inside the dome for great views (as well as a lesson in 15th century engineering).
  • Giotto’s Tower – The bell tower adjacent to the Duomo also offers lovely views to those who climb to the top.
  • Baptistery – The squat building in front of the Duomo is best-known for one set of bronze doors, which Michelangelo dubbed the “Gates of Paradise.” The original panels are now on display in the Duomo Museum, but the replicas are easily identifiable by the usually large crowd gathered around them.
  • Ponte Vecchio – The only bridge in Florence not damaged or destroyed during World War II, the Ponte Vecchio is lined with jewelry shops and goldsmiths.
  • Bargello – The Bargello Museum (housed in a former jail) is full of sculptural masterpieces, including some of Michelangelo’s earliest work.
  • Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – After the flood of 1966, much of the artwork in the Duomo that had been salvaged was renovated and put on display in the Duomo Museum. It’s also where Ghiberti’s original panels for the Baptistery doors are kept.
  • Palazzo Vecchio – Before the ruling Medici family moved across the river to the Pitti Palace, they lived and worked in the Palazzo Vecchio. Today, the Palazzo Vecchio houses a museum spread out over three floors.
  • Piazza della Signoria – The big piazza in front of the Palazzo Vecchio is one of the central squares of the historic city. It’s got an outdoor sculpture gallery, the Loggia dei Lanzi, and leads to the courtyard of the Uffizi.
  • Vasari Corridor – This corridor was built to connect the Uffizi on one side of the Arno River with the Pitti Palace on the other side, so the Medici and other nobles could walk from one to the other without needing to set foot on Florence’s (then) filthy streets. It’s now something of a gallery, and only open to visitors on guided tours.
  • Pitti Palace – The Medici built the Pitti Palace on the opposite side of the Arno River to get out of the increasingly crowded city center. Today, the immense palace is home to several different museums.
  • Boboli Gardens – Behind the Pitti Palace are the expansive Boboli Gardens, once the private (enormous) backyard of the Medici.
  • Santa Croce – Many of Florence’s illustrious former residents are buried in this church, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. Behind the church, you’ll find the former monastery that now houses a school for leather-working. You can watch the artisans at work, employing centuries-old techniques.
  • Orsanmichele – This former granary and church is now a museum.
  • San Lorenzo – The unfinished facade of the Church of San Lorenzo belies the treasures found inside, including the Michelangelo sculptures in the Medici Chapel and the beautiful Laurentian Library.
  • San Miniato al Monte – High atop a hill overlooking Florence is this jewel-box of a church, decorated with 13th century mosaics.
  • Piazzale Michelangelo – To get that postcard-perfect city view of Florence, you’ll head up to this piazza (now more parking lot than anything else) in the hills of the Oltrarno.
  • Piazza della Repubblica – Once the site of Florence’s ancient Roman forum, the Piazza della Repubblica is now lined with cafes and home to an old-fashioned carousel.
  • Mercato Centrale – Florence has seeral outdoor markets, but the Mercato Centrale is an indoor two-story market with food vendors as well as places to buy prepared foods (a great pre-day trip stop for picnic provisions).

Guided Tours in Florence

Weird Attractions in Florence

La Specola Museum in Florence || creative commons photo by romana klee

La Specola Museum in Florence || creative commons photo by romana klee

  • La Specola – Easily one of the oddest attractions in Florence or anywhere in Tuscany, the Museum of La Specola has a large collection of anatomical wax models that were once used in medical schools so students could see maladies even without a helpful ailing person nearby. The models are intricately detailed, often depicting diseases, and so therefore kind of grotesque.
  • Museo Galileo – Science geeks should have this museum on their list no matter what, but if you’re looking for the odd in everything then seek out the display containing one of Galileo’s fingers.
  • Ferragamo Museum – Famous shoe designer Ferragamo is not only headquartered in Florence, there’s also a Ferragamo Museum here. Among the various exhibits you’ll find shoes made for celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Judy Garland.
  • Fontana del Porcellino – On one side the Mercato Nuovo you’ll find a bronze statue of a boar with a very-polished nose. This fountain comes with a legend – rub the boar’s nose and you’ll have good luck.
  • Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy – This isn’t the kind of pharmacy you’ll visit if you’re sick. This is the world’s oldest pharmacy, with a small museum dedicated to antique pharmaceutical tools, where you can also buy their signature fancy pefumes and scented soap.
  • Savonarola’s Stake Marker – One of the paving pieces in the Piazza della Signoria is red, round, and covered in writing. This marks the spot where the fanatical monk Savonarola was burned at the stake in 1498.

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