1. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, 2. Giotto’s Campanile, 3. Baptistery of San Giovanni, 4. Piazza della Signoria, 5. Loggia dei Lanzi, 6. Palazzo Vecchio, 7. Piazza della Repubblica, 8. Casa di Dante Museum
9. Uffizi Gallery, 10. Palazzo Medici Riccardi, 11. Basilica di San Lorenzo, 12. Mercato Centrale, 13A. Galleria dell’Academia, 13B. Galileo Museum, 14A. Palazzo Strozzi, 14B. Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
Florence is the epitome of Tuscany. It played an important role in medieval trade and very soon became one of the wealthiest cities in Italy. Known for its outstanding Renaissance architecture and style, the city is also considered the birthplace of Renaissance in Italy – and in Europe.
Wherever you turn in Florence, you will stumble upon palaces and other buildings previously in the powerful Medici family’s possession. Their financial influence infiltrated the art, the sculptures, the monuments and everything else.
Florence counts a significant number of churches, monuments, palaces, museums and galleries featuring the culture, architecture and art from all the last centuries. You can easily spend weeks in the city – every day discovering new places and facets!
But maybe you are here for just a few days. How to make the most of your time? We have made a suggestion of a 3-day itinerary, which we believe include some of the best things to see and do in Florence from a cultural point of view. 3 days is definitely a short time in Florence, and you cannot get to see everything, but… with a good plan you will still get time to do many of the best things in the Tuscan epicentre of Renaissance art.
If you have more than 3 days in Florence, you can choose to stretch the itinerary over more days – and if you have only 2 days, we recommend that you do Day 1 and Day 2 – and skip Day 3 – apart from Ponte Vechhio which you will then squeeze into one of the other days. You may then also opt to swap the Casa di Dante for the Bargello National Museum.
Bring good shoes, since Florence is a city where all the best things to see and do can be done and should be done on foot!
DAY 1: What are the best things to see and do in Florence
You will start the day with one of the absolutely top sights in Florence, namely the Duomo – the Cathedral, located in the heart of the city.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is part of the Florence Duomo Complex, which includes the Cathedral with Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Santa Reparata Excavation, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower) and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. It is a must-see in Florence. You can get a combined ticket for the whole Complex.
The Duomo – the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in red, white and green marble was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. It used to be the largest church in the world until St. Peter’s Basilica was built in 1615 in Rome. As one of the top artworks the Cathedral features the frescoes of the Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari.
The magnificent Dome of the Duomo was added later in the 14th century by Filippo Brunelleschi after winning a design competition due to his deep understanding of geometry and engineering techniques. Walk around it and notice the outstanding marble panels in red, green and white everywhere on the façade! It is a true masterpiece and the cream of the crop of Florentine architecture! If you are adequately fit, you can opt to climb the 463 steps in the narrow corridors of the Dome!
Discover San Gimignano
Climb the 400 steps to the top of the Bell Tower (277 ft / 84 m) designed by Giotto in the 14th century – or stick to admiring it from the outside if you are not up to more exercise today! Notice the magnificent reliefs and statues by Donatello and Pisano. The views over Florence are breathtaking from the top.
The Baptistery of San Giovanni from 1059 is the oldest building in Florence. It has its name after San Giovanni or St. John, the patron saint of Florence. Located opposite the Cathedral, it matches the Cathedral’s fine architecture with similar white and green marble tiles. It features the tomb of Antipope John XXIII, and the interior of the Baptistery is decorated with inlaid marble and fine Byzantine golden mosaic. There are three entrance doors to the building. The most famous one is the Gates of Paradise from the 15th century with 10 bronze panels representing stories from the Old Testament. It has become a symbol of Florentine Renaissance.
Now it may be time for a delicious Italian ice cream – or maybe a cup of cappuccino at a café to be able to sit down and relax a bit (especially if you have climbed the stairs of the Cathedral or the Campanile)!
Before or after lunch you will find your way to the famed Piazza della Signoria.
Piazza della Signoria is the main square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. The square was named after this palazzo also known as the Palazzo della Signoria. It is a central square in Florence and a favoured meeting point – you will see flocks of both tourists and locals here.
Other buildings flanking the square are the Loggia della Signoria, the Uffizi Gallery, the Tribunale della Mercanzia and the Palazzo Uguccioni.
Just opposite the Palazzo Vecchio the square houses the iconic café Rivoire. Take a seat here to do some people-watching on the square.
Now you will take a closer look at the Loggia dei Lanzi.
Three open arches make up an open-air sculpture gallery of both antique and fine Renaissance art. One of the major artworks is the Medici Lions. One of the lions is Roman and dates to the 2nd century AD, and the other one is from the 16th century. Previously, they were both at the Villa Medici in Rome.
Palazzo Vecchio is a blend of Renaissance architecture and paintings, Roman ruins of an ancient theatre and an old medieval fortress. The construction was initiated in 1299 right above the ruins of the earlier Uberti Ghibelline towers. At the time, it was meant to host the city council. The original design can be attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio.
Throughout the years the Palazzo Vecchio has also been known by several other names depending on the use of the building: Palazzo della Signoria, Palazzo del Popolo, Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo Ducale.
Outside the Palazzo Vecchio a replica of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ sculpture today stands on the location where the original statue once was erected.
The main hall is absolutely impressive with dimensions 54 m x 23 m x 18 m (177 ft x 75 ft x 59 ft) and lavishly decorated golden ceilings and amazing wall frescoes above grandiose sculptures. The wall decorations with battle scenes of Republic victories are masterpieces by the top Florentine artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti.
If you still feel a bit energetic (and have caught your breath after your morning exercise climbing the Cathedral), you may now ascend the 416 steps of the 95 m (312 ft) high old medieval tower, the Torre di Arnolfo, which has today become a symbol of Florence!
Continue to Piazza della Repubblica, the site of the city’s old Roman Forum located in the very centre of Florence. The Colonna della Dovizia marks the place.
Then, during the 18th century, the old city was ‘modernised’. The old 13-th century city walls and fine medieval towers were unfortunately torn down, and the medieval roads disappeared. The place changed completely character. There were afterwards no visible traces of many of the original constructions.
Later, in the 19th-century excavations, also foundations of a bath complex and a religious building have been revealed.
The piazza developed further in the late 1800’s. In 1890 a bronze equestrian monument in honour of King Vittorio Emanuele II was inaugurated. However, today, it is just the Arc of Triumph that still stands.
Behold the elegant Florentine Renaissance architecture surrounded by trendy restaurants and cafés like the historical Caffé delle Giubbe Rosse and the modern Hard Rock Café.
Last sight today it the Casa di Dante Museum. It is a fine museum showcasing the life and works of the Italian poet and politician Dante Alighieri, born in Florence in 1265, right at the location where the museum is today. Dante’s masterpiece and contribution to the world literature was the comedy ‘The Divine Comedy’. Depending on time and your preferences, you may choose just to see the house, which is an interesting building in itself, from the outside.
Finally, it is time for a Tuscan dinner in one of Florence’s awesome restaurants!
DAY 2: What are the best things to see and do in Florence
Today, you are off for the world famous Uffizi Gallery! You will wisely already have reserved you tickets online – not to risk being disappointed. In this way your visit will be as smooth as possible!
For the next few hours you will be soaking up the atmosphere of a world-class art museum!
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most visited museums in the world and has been open to visitors since the 16th century. The buildings were initiated in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari, as a work for Cosimo I de’ Medici, and were intended to house the offices of the Florentine magistrates. ‘Uffizi’ means offices, which explains the name of the buildings.
Today, the Uffizi Gallery features sculptures and paintings from the 14th century and the Renaissance. Among the world-famous artists you will find Botticelli, Giotto, Correggio, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello. Masterpieces like Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Baptism of Christ can be found here, just to mention a few of the unique pieces in the vast collections.
Also European art is represented here by painters such as El Greco, Velasquez, Goya, Rembrandt and Rubens.
A real gem and a special feature of the Uffizi Gallery is the Vasari Corridor. It is an elevated, enclosed walkway connecting the Palazzo Vecchio with the Pitti Palace on the other side of the River Arno, crossing the famous Ponte Vecchio and continuing through the Boboli Gardens. The Medici family constructed this subtly located Corridor to be able to move unnoticed between their home in Palazzo Pitti to the seat of government in Palazzo Vecchio. The entrance to the Corridor is found inside the Uffizi Gallery, through a door on the first floor. Noticeably, a part of the Corridor was severely damaged by a terrorist attack involving the Italian mafia in 1993 – and a number of paintings were greatly demolished in the attack.
Since the Uffizi Gallery can be quite overwhelming, we suggest that you see the next two things on the agenda only ‘from the outside’.
Now, cross over to Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which you will only see from the outside (or from the inside too, if you have a Day 4 in Florence!). Today, the palace houses temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi is with its arched windows and large rings on the walls to tether horses another one of the outstanding palaces you can see in Florence! It is from 1444, initiated by Cosimo the Elder (designed by the architect Michelozzo), and constructed as a residence for the Medici family.
In 1659 the Palazzo then became Marquis Gabriello Riccardi’s property – hence the name. He renovated the interior of the building in Baroque style (ceilings by Luca Giordano). It was in private possession right until 1814, when the State took over the place. Finally, in 1874, the Province of Florence purchased the palace.
One of the remarkable constructions the palace still features, is the stunning Chapel frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli – the Procession of the Magi.
Now, continue to the large and impressive church – just ‘round the corner’ from the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. You easily spot the Basilica di San Lorenzo!
You will have to prioritise your sightseeing, since you have a limited number of days in Florence. We suggest that you only see the Basilica di San Lorenzo from the outside (or save the full visit for a Day 4 in Florence – in that case you can book tickets online beforehand).
The Basilica in Renaissance style and with bronze pulpits by Donatello is an example of outstanding Florentine architecture. It includes a cloister complex, the Cannon’s Cloister, and a two-storey loggia with a round-arch arcade resting on Ionic columns. The tomb of the artist Donatello and the tomb of Cosimo di Medici can be found in the crypt. Strikingly, the main body of the church is remarkably distinct to other Florentine churches as it is dominated by simplicity, light, straight lines and space.
You can take some great photos of the colourful Basilica from the right angles outside.
Now it is time for lunch – you are probably already starving after quite an intense morning! Luckily you are just at the San Lorenzo Market with several lunch options both inside the market and around.
The architect behind the stunning building with wrought-iron ceiling and covered arcades is Giuseppe Mengoni, who was also the architect behind the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.
Still today, there is a whirl of activity around the place. The San Lorenzo Market comprises both the market building and the surrounding streets with their multitude of shops and stalls. The first floor opened in 2014 with a complete food hall, on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the Mercato Centrale.
In the afternoon you will do TWO of the FOUR options stated below.
You will now have to prioritise – either you will choose to see the Galleria dell’Academia (5A) or the Galileo Museum (5B).
Galleria dell’Academia features an outstanding collection and houses among great Renaissance sculptures the original David by Michelangelo, sculpted between 1501 and 1504. Also works by Boticelli and other grand Italian artists are on display in the Galleria. A large number of these masterpieces were previously in the Medici family’s possession.
If you are interested in Italian Renaissance sculptural art, this museum is a must-see.
The Galileo Museum boasts both the Medicean collection of scientific instruments, as well as other mathematics and physics collections. Specifically, the museum features two telescopes and the objective lens of the very telescope with which Galileo spotted the Galilean moons of Jupiter. Also the Grand Duke Peter Leopold’s chemistry cabinet is on display.
The museum is a real gem if you are interested in science and scientific discoveries.
As the last thing today you will again have to make a choice. You will now choose between the Palazzo Strozzi (6A) and the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella (6B). Opt for the one that appeals most to you.
Palazzo Strozzi from 1489 is one of the finest examples of Italian Renaissance architecture.
It was Filippo Strozzi the Elder’s impressive construction to manifest his political and his family’s status in Florence.
When he died in 1491, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated the palace and continued the works – shaping it in the same rustic style as the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. It wasn’t returned to the Strozzi family until 30 years later – and remained in their possession until 1937.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Novella is adjacent to and has given name to Florence’s central railway station. It was built by the Dominican order of the Catholic Church between 1246 and 1360.
The church and the Green Cloister house significant art treasures such as Gothic and Renaissance frescoes. Moreover, the church includes a number of funerary chapels and monuments for Florentine families.
The church is famed for its impressive green and white marble façade featuring a unique Renaissance architecture. The Romanesque façade was designed by the architect Leo Battista Alberti and completed in 1470.
This is end of the agenda for Day 2 – which probably is the ‘toughest’ of the 3 sightseeing days, so now it is time to relax and get a genuine Italian – and maybe even Tuscan – dinner.
DAY 3: What are the best things to see and do in Florence
(If you only have 2 days in Florence, Day 3 can be skipped. You may then wish to swap Casa di Dante for the Bargello National Museum on Day 1 and squeeze the Ponte Vecchio into one of the first two days as well)
Day 3 will be an itinerary across the Ponte Vecchio – starting on one side of the river and then crossing the famous bridge to continue you itinerary on the other side. The sights will be:
16. Giardino di Boboli
17. Piazzale Michelangelo
18. Ponte Vecchio
19. Mercato del Porcellino
20. Basilica di Santa Croce
21. Bargello National Museum
For a full itinerary description, see: 1-Day Florence Itinerary – Across the Ponte Vecchio
At the end of the day: congratulations! You have now completed an intense 3-day sightseeing of all the best things to see and do in Florence! Maybe the agenda has been packed with Renaissance art and traces of the Medici family, but you will not regret that you managed to do it all!
Read more about day trips in Tuscany: 3 Stunning Towns in Tuscany – Itinerary – One Day and 5 Cream-of-the-Crop Day Trips from Florence in Tuscany
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