Florence city guide

Ponte Vechio, Florence

“The little treasure-city”

Florence is one of Italy’s most beautiful cities. You only have to say the city’s name to conjure up images of a magnificent setting. As the former home of the Medici family, Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello, Galileo, and Niccolo Machiavelli, the City of Lilies has a glittering lure.

With its picturesque river setting and austere elegance, the Tuscan capital is remarkably well-preserved despite Nazi bombing and biblical flooding. It was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982 and is the home of The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli and Michelangelo’s David.

Just gazing upon Brunelleschi’s Il Duomo di Firenze, the magnificent cathedral that dominates the city centre, it is rare to see a city so respectful of its natural environment. Founded in spring in the honour of the goddess Flora by Julius Caesar in 49 BC, the city’s harmony of stone and nature has attracted visitors for centuries.

In the late 19th century up to 30,000 Anglo-Americans adopted the city in what Shelley called the “paradise of exiles”. For modern travellers, there is a romantic myth to Florence; a sense that by being so close to art and nature, you can experience a renaissance of your own.

Il Duomo di Firenze

Il Duomo di Firenze by Adam Smok (Flickr/Creative Commons)

With the Tuscan hills complementing its marble basilicas and medieval bridges, the city follows you like a dream long after you’ve left. What’s more, once you get here, there is an astonishing range of destinations across Tuscany to explore, many of which are less than an hour away from Santa Maria Novella station.

48 hours in Florence

Gondola hidden under the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence

Gondola hidden under the Ponte Vecchio by Dan Cook Archived (Flickr/Creative Commons)

If you are only visiting Florence for a few days, then you will spend most of your time north of the river, home to the city’s biggest attractions but the south bank – Oltrarno with its artisans’ workshops is also worthy of exploration.

Florence has an incredible range of galleries, museums, palaces, cathedrals, and gardens. Most people go to the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace, and Accademia Gallery on a traditional city break.

Such is the wealth of attractions in Florence it’s impossible to see everything in one go. If you have two days or more to spare, then here are some of the city’s most popular sights.

North bank attractions

Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo’s David by Joe Hunt (Flickr/Creative Commons)

  • Ponte Vecchio (Famous medieval bridge dating back to 1345 that narrowly avoided being destroyed by the Nazis in 1944)
  • Uffizi Gallery (World-class art gallery displaying works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and Giotto)
  • Piazza della Signoria (Open-air sculpture exhibition featuring marble depictions of Neptune and Perseus)
  • Il Duomo di Firenze (Bruneschelli’s cathedral dominates the city’s skyline and offers spectacular views from its cupola)
  • Bargello (Medieval art museum featuring Donatello)
  • Basilica di Santa Croce (Marble church and resting place of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli)
  • Accademia Gallery (Michelangelo’s David)

South bank attractions

Vista panoramica da Piazzale Michelangelo

Vista panoramica da Piazzale Michelangelo by Carlotta&Luca ItalyzeMe (Flickr/Creative Commons)

  • Piazzale Michelangelo (a romantic belvedere designed by local architect Giuseppe Poggi in 1869)
  • San Miniato al Monte (hilltop Romanesque church famous for its Gregorian chanting and picturesque views of the city)
  • Santa Maria del Carmine (Medieval fresco paintings by Masolino da Panicale and Filippino Lippi that depict the life of St Peter)
  • Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens (Magnificent private residence and renaissance gardens)
Header image by Ray in Manila (Flickr/Creative Commons)

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