Florence Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Florence

The city of Florence was founded by Julius Caesar in 59 BC as a settlement for veteran soldiers and, as such, was built in the style of an army camp with the main streets intersecting at the present Piazza della Repubblica. The original name Fluentia was due to the fact that the city was built between two rivers. Later, the name was changed to Florentia which means “flowering” or “flourishing”.

The city is famous for its arts and history, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by picturesque Tuscan countryside, laden with a great variety of cultural treasures on the inside, for centuries, it has been an enormously attractive destination that everyone loves to explore. The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is replete with the world-famous monuments and works of art originated half a millennium ago during the unique period of genius and creativity that made Florence what it is today, and which add a great deal of depth and historical appeal to the city ever since. This self-guided walk offers you a chance to visit some of Florence's most alluring attractions in its “centro storico” (old town) incorporating both the city's religious heart, centered around the Duomo Cathedral, and the historic political core at Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria.

To obtain directions to the sights in question, tap the sight's name below this introduction and then tap it on the map at the bottom of the sight's information screen. The GPS navigation function will guide you to the chosen destination.
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Florence Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Florence Introduction Walk
Guide Location: Italy » Florence (See other walking tours in Florence)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: greghasleft
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Florence Cathedral (Duomo – Santa Maria del Fiore)
  • Giotto's Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto)
  • Dante House-Museum (Casa di Dante)
  • Bargello National Museum / Palazzo del Popolo
  • Piazza della Signoria
  • Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)
  • Uffizi Gallery
  • Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)
  • Palazzo Pitti
  • Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)
  • Fort Belvedere (Forte di Belvedere)
  • Piazzale Michelangelo
  • San Miniato al Monte
1
Florence Cathedral (Duomo – Santa Maria del Fiore)

1) Florence Cathedral (Duomo – Santa Maria del Fiore) (must see)

Presiding over the city of Florence, the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral is a Renaissance masterpiece renowned for its masonry dome, the largest in the world. Completed in 1465, this dome is a double shell and is entirely self-supporting. On the inside, it carries the “Dante and the Divine Comedy” painting by Domenico di Michelino, which is particularly interesting since, apart from depicting the Divine Comedy scenes, it also shows images of 15th century Florence and, as such, is considered one of the most valuable artifacts in the cathedral.

The building itself is the product of almost 170 years of sheer hard work. The Gothic-style structure was built in 1296, although it wasn't until 1420 that the true identity of the cathedral was found, courtesy of architect Filippo Brunelleschi who was commissioned to the project after many other architects had given up on it. Brunelleschi looked for engineering solutions to the great dome of Pantheon in Rome but also relied on his own intuition and practical experiments with the large-scale models that he built. To lift 37,000 tons of material, including over 4 million bricks, he invented machines and lewissons for hoisting large stones. Fascinated with this machinery, the then young apprentice, Leonardo da Vinci, made series of sketches for which, later on, he was often credited for the actual invention. Despite that, Brunelleschi's name never fell into the oblivion. Today, a huge statue of the architect is set firmly in the piazza before the cathedral thoughtfully observing his greatest achievement that has since and forever will dominate the skyline of Florence.

Without detriment to the majesty of the dome, getting closer to the сathedral is even more exciting an experience as one can literally feel vertigo observing the high tower, all solid and white, with the delicately made Baptistery doors and massive walls. Whatever time of day, the cathedral is always full of people, queuing outside to climb the bell tower, or simply anxious to admire the Renaissance frescoes of the dome or the colorful marble flooring inside. As to the mixture of marbles outside, it is just as outstanding and represents a unique combination that looks just like paint, whereas in fact, it's a piece of rock art. Still, if you care to go inside the Duomo, make good use of the free tour guides available who will explain to you the hidden meanings of the paintings, marvelous as they are.

***DANTE'S FLORENCE TOUR***
Paintings often really do tell a thousand words and in Michelino's one on the wall of the cathedral, you get to dive into the world of Dante. However, to see it up close you must climb about 450 steps through narrow and spiraling stairs. It is not a continuous climb as the first part levels out at about a third of the way, circumnavigating the inside of the dome.

Tip:
When buying the ticket online, remember to make use of the free ticket that comes with the main one, in order to climb to the top, where you can step out and see the panoramic view of Florence, the adjoining Tuscan scenery and mountains. You have to make a booking for that too, separately, although free. There are museums as well, and you're required to finish visiting all facilities within 72hrs of initial entry to any part of the Duomo complex.

Opening Hours:
[Cathedral] Mon-Sat: 10am-4:30pm; Sun: 1:30pm-4:30pm
[Dome] Mon-Fri: 8:30am-7pm; Sat: 8:30am-5pm; Sun: 1pm-4pm
[Baptisery] Mon-Fri: 8:15am-10:15am / 11:15am-7:30pm; Sat: 8:15am-7:30pm; Sun: 8:15am-1:30pm
[Crypt] Mon-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat: 10am-4:30pm; Sun: CLOSED
[Bell Tower] Daily: 8:15am-7:20pm
[Museum] Daily: 9am-7pm
2
Giotto's Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto)

2) Giotto's Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto) (must see)

The famous Bell Tower of Giotto is a free-standing belfry belonging to the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence, designed by great Giotto Di Bondone to whom it owes its name. Standing 85 meters high, this tower is one of the showpieces of Florentine Gothic architecture, lavishly embellished with sculptural decorations and polychrome marble encrustations.

Unfortunately, the author himself passed away during the construction, so the project had to be completed by two other architects. Giotto, apart from being a pillar of the Italian Renaissance architecture, also went down in history as a talented painter and sculptor, whose legacy is particularly visible in the pictorial and refined covering in white, green and red marble here, much as in the grandiose figurative cycle within the belfry that he had left unfinished.

Exploring the tower inside is possible. Moreover, of all the three major high-standing architectural attractions in Florence, climbing this one is arguably the easiest. Despite the somewhat intimidating number of steps – 414, the staircase is laid out in such a way that it allows some rest stoppages. Each level within the tower houses a large bell, seven in total – one for each musical note. Unlike the Duomo Cathedral and the Arnolfo Tower in the Palazzo Vecchio – the resting areas within the Giotto Tower are quite spacious and entertaining, affording visitors the diverse and quite remarkable views over the city down below. From the very top, one can observe the Cathedral's dome and Baptistery of San Giovanni at a totally different and somewhat unusual angle, plus enjoy a sweeping view of Florence complete with its alleys and rooftops that have changed very little over the past 500 years.

Tip:
Please note that the admission to the tower is open on a combo ticket that covers other sites within the Duomo Cathedral complex as well. Keep in mind that you have 72 hours, from using it for the first time, to visit all the Cathedral sites. Unlike the Duomo, no reservation for the belfry is necessary, although you'll have to stand a line to get in. That line is usually not very long and moves rather quickly.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:15am-7:20pm
3
Dante House-Museum (Casa di Dante)

3) Dante House-Museum (Casa di Dante) (must see)

Found in the heart of medieval Florence, Casa di Dante or the Dante House-Museum is a 20th-century building set on the site – as the records suggest – of a very probable location of the Alighieri family house, the birthplace of one Italy's most cherished poets, Dante Alighieri.

Spread across three floors, the museum displays, among other artifacts, some of the most important works of Dante, illustrative of major milestones in his life. The ground floor is dedicated to Dante's early years, while the first floor showcases documents related to his exile in 1301, plus the final years of his life in Ravenna. Finally, the second floor exhibits a vast collection of Dante’s belongings (both, originals and replicas) garnered over the years. There, you can see a miniature copy of “Divina Comedia”, the smallest printed edition.

In the poem’s first and second books, the poet takes a tour of Hell and Purgatory guided by poet Virgil; in Paradise, however, he is guided by his beloved Beatrice. Although Dante himself referred to his work simply as “Comedy”, it became enormously popular and a deluxe version of it, published in 1555 in Venice, assumed the new title that we all know today.

Tip:
Steep stairs, but there is a lift, which is not obvious when you enter.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm (Apr-Oct); Tue-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat, Sun: 10am-6pm (Nov-Mar)
4
Bargello National Museum / Palazzo del Popolo

4) Bargello National Museum / Palazzo del Popolo (must see)

If Florence, in general, is a paradise for architecture buffs and art lovers, then the Bargello museum is even more so. Occupying a medieval fortress, this museum houses some of Italy's most valuable sculptures and other works of art.

Also known as Palazzo del Popolo (the People's Palace), this is one of the oldest structures in the city, dating back to 1255. Throughout its history, the building has served many different roles. Early on, back in the 16th century, it accommodated the so-called Captain of the People, the police chief of Florence, called “bargello”, hence the name of the palace. After that, the Bargello Fortress served as a prison, up until the mid-19th century, upon which it was converted to a museum displaying a large collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures.

Among the displayed artifacts here are the works of Donatello, Michelangelo, Verrochio, Brunelleschi, and other greats. Notably, Donatello’s statue of David was the first male nude sculpture ever exhibited since ancient times, thus manifesting a turn in the history of European art. The inner courtyard of the museum is an elegant space crammed with the relief and free-standing sculptures; however, the most famous items are placed in the gallery, off the courtyard, and in the large exhibition space above. Apart from the Renaissance items, the collection includes rare artifacts from the Byzantine, Roman and Medieval eras. Alongside sculptures, you can find here jewelry pieces of the European Renaissance and Islamic origin, too. For visitors convenience, all the exhibits are accompanied by English descriptions.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
The museum houses masterpieces by Michelangelo, such as his Bacchus, Pitti Tondo (or Madonna and Child), Brutus and David-Apollo. Bacchus is depicted with rolling eyes, his staggering body almost teetering off the rocky outcrop on which he stands. With its swollen breast and abdomen, the figure suggested to Giorgio Vasari "both the slenderness of a young man and the fleshiness and roundness of a woman", and its androgynous quality has often been noted. The sense of precariousness resulting from a high center of gravity can be found in a number of later works by the artist, most notably the David and the figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Bacchus was carved when Michelangelo was only 22.

Tip:
To better plan your visit to Bargello, check out the museum's website in advance for opening hours, noting that on special occasions it may close rather late. Those brave enough to wander around the eerie, empty medieval building late in the evening, may find this rather entertaining.

Opening Hours:
http://www.bargellomusei.beniculturali.it/musei/1/bargello/
5
Piazza della Signoria

5) Piazza della Signoria (must see)

Alongside Piazza del Duomo, the religious heart of Florence, Piazza della Signoria is another key center of attraction in the city – its civil center, presided over by the imposing fortified palace, known as Palazzo Vecchio. Boasting the finest collection of outdoor statues, this square is the birthplace of the Florentine Republic and, as such, is held dear by the locals as an epicenter of the city's social life. The entire area seemingly transcends time and you can easily imagine Michelangelo's “David” standing here, in its original location, now replaced by a replica.

The piazza has enjoyed central location in the city since the Roman times when it was just as small town of Florentia, with a square surrounded by a theater, a complex of baths and a textile workshop. Later, there were a church, a loggia and an enormous 5th-century basilica added, as revealed by the excavations performed in the 1980s beneath the square during its re-pavement.

The asymmetrical shape of the square, complete with the numerous artworks found within – both large and small, add to its appeal, particularly among the photographers, who flock here in numbers, snapping away frantically in a bid to capture it from every possible angle. Even devoid of camera, standing right in the middle of the square, looking around 360 degrees, is a captivating experience as such.

The imposing seat of the municipal government, Palazzo Vecchio crowns the city skyline and, to one side, just a stone's throw away, is neighbored by an equally impressive Loggia dei Lanzi. An outdoor museum of sorts, it is almost always open to the public and free to access, holding yet another fine collection of statues, including the famous “Rape of Sabine Women”, “Hercules and the Centaur”, and a bronze “Perseus” cleverly positioned so as to be seemingly stared at by the statue of David.

There are a few places to sit here, some out of the sun, but be sure to pace yourself and have plenty of water, if visiting in high summer. Working your way through the crowd can be a challenge but don't always try to walk directly towards your target as you'll invariably keep meeting people doing the same in the opposite direction. It'd be much easier to move a bit like a yacht tacking into the wind – a bit diagonally to the right, a bit more to the left and so on, sidling into the gaps as they appear. Easy-peasy...

Why You Should Visit:
One of the two most important centers of attractions in Florence, along with the Piazza del Duomo.
It might just host the finest collection of outdoor statues in the world and is surrounded by beautifully decorated buildings along with many "very good" to "world-class" museums.
6
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

6) Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) (must see)

Just like the Duomo complex, Palazzo Pitti and major local art galleries, Palazzo Vecchio, or the Old Palace, is one of the key sites in Florence that is absolutely essential for understanding the history and culture of the city. One of the most impressive town halls in Tuscany, this enormous Romanesque-style palace has been the office of a Florence mayor since 1872. Prior to that (since 1299, when it was built), it has been the seat of Florentine government for centuries. When Cosimo I de' Medici became Grand Duke and moved in with his family in 1540, he decided to enlarge and revamp the Medieval building in Renaissance style.

The solid facade is decorated with shields recounting the city's political history, plus adorned with a series of sculptures among which are the likes of Michelangelo's “David”, “Marzocco” – the heraldic lion, symbol of Florence, Donatello's original “Judith and Holofernes” and “Hercules and Cacus”. A standalone attraction within the palace is the Tower of Arnolfo, access to which costs an additional fee.

Walking through the palace, from the huge Salone dei Cinquecento ("Hall of the Five Hundred" – designed to celebrate the glories and victories of the Duke) to the most intimate quarters, virtually transports one back in time, offering a glimpse into the secluded privacy of the Medici rulers, magnificently decorated as part of the iconographic program designed by Giorgio Vasari. It is hence advisable to take one's time and explore the property without haste, so as to be able to get the historically-intense, artistically-rich experience, quite possibly resulting in a crick-in-the-neck feeling from gazing at the gorgeous ceilings above, one room after another.

There are various add-on tours of the palace available that are fun for kids and don't cost too much extra. Among them, for instance, the 'Secret Paths' tour, lasting about 1h½, delivered by knowledgeable guides and allowing access to the parts of the palace otherwise closed for the public, including the famed "studiolo" with its secret doors, magical objects, and strange, exotic substances.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
In the central niche at the south of the large Hall (Salone dei Cinquecento) is Michelangelo's noted marble group The Genius of Victory (1533–1534), originally intended for the tomb of Julius II. The sculpture does not represent a moment of fighting, but rather serves as an allegory of victoriousness. It depicts the winner who dominates the submissive loser with great agility, with one leg that blocks the body of the captive, who is folded and chained. The young man who is the genius is beautiful and elegant, while the dominated man is old and bearded, with a flabby body and a resigned expression. The surfaces are treated expressively to enhance the contrast between the two figures: the young polished to perfection, the old rough and incomplete, still retaining the impression of the heavy stone from which it was made.

***DANTE'S FLORENCE TOUR***
Although Dante is not buried in Florence, the city owns one of the poet's death masks that you can see here, between the Apartments of Eleanor and the Halls of Priors. Resting alone in glass, it came to symbolize both Dante's political contribution to the city of Florence and his pivotal role in the development of Italian literature and culture. Out of interest, this is the same mask that makes an appearance in Dan Brown's "Inferno".

Tip:
If you decide to go on a tour, it is advisable to book directly with the museum by email, stating the preferred date and time, and then wait for confirmation. You will pay upon collecting the tickets on the day of the tour. After it is finished, you can wander freely around the palace at will.
Be aware, though, that since this is an active municipality office, it is quite possible that, on special occasions, the building may be temporarily closed for the public. It is, therefore, recommended to check their website for possible announcements to this effect prior to the visit.

Opening Hours:
[Museum + Archaeological Route] Fri-Wed: 9am-11pm; Thu: 9am-2pm (Apr-Sep); Fri-Wed: 9am-7pm; Thu: 9am-2pm (Oct-Mar)
[Tower + Ronda Walkway] Fri-Wed: 9am-9pm; Thu: 9am-2pm (Apr-Sep); Fri-Wed: 10am-5pm; Thu: 10am-2pm (Oct-Mar)
7
Uffizi Gallery

7) Uffizi Gallery (must see)

If you were limited to visiting just one Renaissance location in Florence, or the whole world for that matter, the most obvious choice would be the Uffizi Gallery. Housed in the Palazzo degli Uffizi, initially designated as the magistrate office – hence the name "uffizi", erected in the 16th century by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo Medici, the 1st Duke of Florence, it represented an ideal setting for the Medicis' art collection as well. The gallery has been open to the public since 1765 and, to this date, become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Florence.

The displayed here must-see works of art include Sandro Botticelli's “Birth of Venus” and “Adoration of the Magi”, not to mention the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and other eternal greats. The collection is truly magnificent and you can easily spend a whole day without noticing!

While paintings and statues are what most people come here for, the decoration of the rooms, especially the ceilings, are just as spectacular and worthy of attention. With more than 50 opulent rooms to explore, it is actually quite hard to absorb everything in one go, so you might want to take a break and “recharge batteries” at an on-site cafe with a terrace which, among other delights, offers visitors some truly great views unseen anywhere else.

Given the world-class status of the museum, it is perpetually busy and the hours-long queue here is not uncommon, especially during peak season. Those who book their tickets in advance from the official website, have a substantially shorter wait and may get it cheaper, too.

***FLORENCE PALACES WALK***
The Uffizi's internal courtyard is so long, narrow and open to the Arno at its far end through a Doric screen that articulates the space without blocking it, that architectural historians treat it as the first regularized streetscape of Europe. Vasari, a painter and architect as well, emphasized its perspective length by adorning it with the matching facades' continuous roof cornices, and unbroken cornices between storeys, as well as the three continuous steps on which the palace-fronts stand. The niches in the piers that alternate with columns of the Loggiato are filled with sculptures of famous artists in the 19th century.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
In the first 8 years of the 1500s, Michelangelo not only carved his giant David and the Bruges Madonna but also chiseled seven other sculptures and four smaller statues for an altar. He also accepted commissions to paint, and the one work displayed in the Uffizi, painted in 1504, is the Doni Tondo ("Holy Family"), a round-shaped painting (nearly four feet in diameter) vividly depicting the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, along with St. Joseph. The juxtaposition of bright colors foreshadows the same use of color in Michelangelo's later Sistine Ceiling frescoes.

It is argued that the picture was used by Michelangelo to defend the Maculist point of view, a philosophy of the Dominican order rejecting the idea of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The Maculist view is that the Virgin did not receive her sanctification at birth but at the moment of the incarnation of Christ; thus, the image depicts the moment of Mary's sanctification by showing the Christ Child blessing her. Michelangelo depicts Christ as if he is growing out of Mary's shoulder to take human form, one leg hanging limply and the other not visible at all, therefore making him a part of Mary.

Tip:
If you decide to go, note that no liquids are allowed onto the premises and the restrooms are available only at entrance and exit.
At your own risk, you may try and go an hour or two before closing just in hopes to get a ticket without queuing. Good luck!

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 8:15am-6:50pm
Closure starts from 6:35pm
The ticket office closes at 6:05pm
8
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)

8) Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) (must see)

Ponte Vecchio (or The Old Bridge) in Florence appeared in documents for the first time in 996. Of all the six local bridges crossing the river Arno, it was the only one spared by the retreating Germans in 1944. Today, this Medieval stone arch bridge stands testament to what a monarch can accomplish in terms of lasting legacy.

Still lined with shops, as was commonplace in the Middle Ages, this bridge is presently occupied by jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers, whereas initially, its tenants were all butchers who habitually dumped rotten animal carcasses straight into the river below. That was the case until the 16th century when Grand Duke Fernandino I de' Medici demanded that all the butcher shops were replaced by goldsmiths – thus not only did he rid the bridge of its rotting stench, but also turned it into the golden-most spot in Italy.

If looking at Ponte Vecchio from a distance, one can notice there an upper level, which is in fact a kilometer-long tunnel linking the Palazzo Pitti with Palazzo Vecchio and using which, back in the day, Duke Fernandino could walk freely between the two palaces whenever he felt insecure in public. Although the passageway is now closed since 2016 for safety reasons, the Uffizi Gallery has announced plans to re-open it by 2021.

One of the legends surrounding the bridge is it that the economic term “bankruptcy” originated right here when a money-changer who couldn't pay his debts, in punishment for his insolvency had his trading table physically broken by soldiers, so he could no longer sell anything. The table was called "banco", and thus the term "bancorotto" came into being.

Today, the Ponte Vecchio is a pleasant place to walk in the evening, if not packed end to end with thousands of tourists traversing the river over its cobblestones.

Why You Should Visit:
The sunset light here makes it a special spot to cross or watch from afar. The morning light on the river is just as gorgeous a sight to behold and, if you come here early in the day, you may stand a pretty good chance of having this “old bridge” all to yourself!

Tip:
If you do cross the bridge, be careful with your surroundings to avoid getting pickpocketed.
9
Palazzo Pitti

9) Palazzo Pitti (must see)

Palazzo Pitti is yet another architectural marvel in Florence to miss which would be a shame. The main highlight of the palace is undoubtedly Renaissance architecture coupled with the spectacular gardens every turn of which breathes new adventure.

Today the enormous palace brings under one roof several museums, whereas originally it was the official (last) residence of the incredibly powerful Medici family from the 16th to the 18th century. First built in the second half of the 15th century for Luca Pitti, it was still unfinished at the time of his death in 1472. In the year 1550, the palace was bought by Eleonora di Toledo, wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. When the Medici dynasty came to an end, the property fell into the hands of the House of Lorraine and, in the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte used it as a power base during his reign over Italy.

Everything about this palace oozes class, be it the Palatine Gallery with over 500 paintings, or the lavish Royal Apartments of the Medicis, or the “Medici Treasury” with the priceless 15th-century silver, or the Costumes Gallery, or the Porcelain and Carriages Museums. The impressive painted ceilings, walls and ground decorations project the image of a private royal residence despite the fact since 1919, the palazzo itself and everything inside have been the property of the Italian people, nowadays attracting over 5 million visitors each year.

***MEDICI LANDMARK***
Here you will find perhaps the greatest concentration of all things Medici in Florence! The artwork formerly owned by the family, and displayed elsewhere, may possibly dwarf the contents of the Pitti in terms of value, but the palace has an incredible array of furnishings and interior decoration!

Tip:
A combined full ticket to the Pitti Museums and Gardens is valid for 2 days. Depending on how much time you've got, you can easily spend 3 hours just walking around the gardens – as long as you don't forget your hat and a bottle of water.
One way to avoid a long queue to the palace is taking a tour – yes, there is a cost involved, but the tour implies skipping the line, plus a good use of your time in Florence because the guides will direct you straight to the highlights of the collections which you otherwise would have struggled to locate yourself. Wise move!

Tue-Sun: 8:15am–6:50pm (including the Palatine Gallery, the Royal Apartments and the Gallery of Modern Art)
10
Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)

10) Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli) (must see)

The Boboli Gardens is one of the most elegant gardens in Florence. Sitting just behind the Pitti Palace, they are said to have been the first few gardens of the 16th century – built for the wife of Cosimo I of Medici, Eleonora di Toledo – involving many renowned landscape architects of the time.

One of them, Niccolo Tribolo worked the gardens till his death in 1550, upon which the job was taken over by Bartolomeo Ammanati and Bernardo Buontalenti both credited with the invention of the so-called Mannerist style that succeeded the Renaissance period in Florence. Replete with long axial developments, wide gravel avenues, a considerable stone element, lavish employment of statuary and fountains, and a proliferation of detail manifested in the classical accents such as grottos, nymphaea, garden temples and the like, the Boboli Gardens thus represent an ideal showcase of the Mannerism in all its diversity. The openness of the garden, with an expansive view of the city, was also rather unconventional for the period and served as the prototype which inspired many European royal gardens, especially Versailles.

Over the years, the Boboli Gardens have undergone large-scale reconstructions as a result of which they now cover an area of approximately 11 acres of land – or 4,5 hectares. They are also often looked upon as an open-air museum displaying art, sculptures and antiquities dating back to the Roman era through the 16th-17th centuries.

Whenever you may want to take a break from it all – noise, crowds, queues – just to be surrounded by natural beauty, this is the place. 10 euros on the door may seem like a steep price, but if you pack your picnic and stick around for a while so as to soak up the atmosphere to the maximum, you will see where all the money goes. It takes some stamina to get around the garden as it is quite hilly and sometimes lots of stairs too, but in return, you will get some truly terrific views of the city, plus the numerous pretty discoveries along the way. There are several recommended walking paths in the garden to match everyone's abilities. At the end, you can take the northern exit to visit Fort Belvedere or the south-western one to visit La Specola which houses the Museum of Zoology and Natural History. The choice is always yours!

Tip:
Entry is included in the FirenzeCard and you don't need to queue if you have the card; go straight to the bookshop inside the Pitti Palace to gain access.
A full exploration will take approximately 2 hours – bring some snacks, water and good shoes.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:15am-6:30pm
11
Fort Belvedere (Forte di Belvedere)

11) Fort Belvedere (Forte di Belvedere)

A perfect sample of both Italian Renaissance and military architecture, Fort Belvedere was built at the end of the 16th century by Grand Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici to protect the city of Florence and to demonstrate the power and prestige of the Medici Family. In addition, it was used to hold the Medici's treasury, as well as to provide emergency shelter for the Grand Duke himself, should the city ever come under attack. For that purpose, the fort was connected to Palazzo Vecchio via corridor over the Ponte Vecchio, plus there were other passages connecting it to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.

From a military standpoint, the fortress – largest in Florence – occupies a strategic vantage point over the city and surrounding area. Due to the nature of the Renaissance-time warfare, forts were paramount to the defense strategy and Belvedere served this purpose all too well as a citadel and garrison for troops for over 100 years after its completion. Its walls are purposely placed at angles to each other so as to allow good observation of and, if necessary, crossfire to defend the neighboring walls. Galileo Galilei, in turn, used it for astronomical observations and, after being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1633, used to live nearby at Villa Arcetri.

After five years of renovation to improve safety, the fort was reopened to visitors in July 2013, now serving primarily as an exhibition center. A small entry fee to the place is worth every penny of it and you can walk around the site freely, enjoying a beautiful panorama of Florence and the surrounding hills.

***MEDICI LANDMARK***
The opulent villa at the center of the fortress, Palazzina di Belvedere, predates the fort and was designed circa 1570. As the fort's secondary purpose was to house the Grand Duke in times of unrest or epidemic, it was built as a comfortable, luxurious palace. Not adhering to military purposes, it housed the Medici family's treasures at the bottom of a well that was well-protected by traps. Any intruders attempting to force open the lock would set off the lethal trap and survival was most unlikely!

Tip:
On the upper floor of the Fort, there is a nice cafeteria where you can have a decent meal or a cold drink.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 11am-8pm
12
Piazzale Michelangelo

12) Piazzale Michelangelo (must see)

Florence is a very beautiful city and Piazzale Michelangelo does prove it in all certainty. Designed by Giuseppe Poggi, this large square – filled with souvenir stalls – provides a magnificent panorama over the rooftops of Florence, with the most recognizable and photographed view being that of the Duomo Cathedral and its cupola, along with the Giotto Bell Tower and Palazzo Vecchio. Over the years, this famous view has been reproduced on countless postcards, although there are other landmarks in the vicinity too, such as Fort Belvedere, Santa Croce, and Ponte Vecchio.

The square itself was laid out in 1869, at a time when Florence was the capital of Italy and the whole city was involved in an urban renewal program, the so-called "Risanamento" ("Rebirth") of the city's middle class.

Dedicated to the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, the square houses copies of some of his works found elsewhere in Florence, such as “David” and the four allegories of the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo. While the originals are all in white marble, the copies here on display are made of bronze and were brought up the hill by nine pairs of oxen, all of them likely in a very sweaty state, to fulfill Giuseppe Poggi's original dream.

Thousands of people want to be here at sunset, which admittedly is beautiful, and if you are in the right spot, you can enjoy the sun reflecting off the Arno river with a glass of wine in hand. Bringing your own drink is a good option, unless you want to take advantage of the restaurants and bars located all around, the most famous of which features a Neoclassical design. Taking into account the precious location, prices here are actually quite reasonable.

About halfway up the main stairway is a city rose garden, where you can spend a quiet half-hour wandering and relaxing, with views of the Duomo and city framed by trees and roses.

After sunset, you can walk down, which is much easier and you can enjoy more of the dusk on the way.

Tip:
The square on a sunny day will torture you with heat – bring your hat at the least.
13
San Miniato al Monte

13) San Miniato al Monte (must see)

Standing atop one of the highest points in Florence, San Miniato has been described as one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany and one of Italy's most beautiful churches. Though it's not easy to get to in case of limited mobility, it makes a very nice combination with Piazzale Michelangelo, and is completely free to visit along with the adjoining Olivetan monastery seen to the right of the basilica, when ascending the stairs.

An Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under Emperor Decius, St. Miniato or Minas was denounced as a Christian after becoming a hermit and was brought before the Emperor who ordered him to be thrown to beasts in an amphitheater where a panther was called upon him but refused to devour him. Eventually beheaded in the presence of the Emperor, he is alleged to have picked up his head, crossed the river Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage. A shrine was later erected at this spot followed by a chapel in the 8th century.

Construction of the present basilica was financed by a clothe merchants' guild who were responsible for the church's upkeep. Tuscan Romanesque in style, complete with beautiful mosaic decorations, superb marble inlay altar, and even a “pagan” horoscope, it is quite a spectacular sight with many pieces created by some of the finest artists in Florence.

Once you have explored the church, it's interesting to poke around the rather surreal and intriguing cemetery that houses some very old and elaborate tombstones, including those of many important city residents, such as Carlo Collodi of “Pinocchio” fame.

Last but not least, the small gift shop on the premises carries a wide assortment of interesting gifts, such as herbal liqueurs, honey, herbal teas, and high-quality medicinal tinctures prepared by the Olivetan monks.

Tip:
At 5:30pm, you can join or observe the mass which is in Latin and Italian with all the hymns sung by the priests. By 6:30 pm, the monks come out to chant their vespers, too!
And, of course, make sure you go behind the church to view the city in all of its glory!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-1pm / 3:30-7pm

Walking Tours in Florence, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Florence

Create Your Own Walk in Florence

Creating your own self-guided walk in Florence is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Medici Landmarks

Medici Landmarks

The Medici family helped to establish Florence as the single most important art capital of Renaissance Europe. In order to prove wealth and power, they built numerous palaces, libraries, churches, chapels and personal residences. The Medicis were big lovers of art and they acquired huge, expensive collections, as well as supporting many sculptors and painters of the time. This self-guided tour...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Florence Palaces Walk

Florence Palaces Walk

Towards the end of the 13th century, Florentine families who had acquired power – both financial, through banking and trade, and political – began to build sizeable new palaces for themselves. The construction of the Palazzo del Popolo (now housing the Bargello museum) acted as an important catalyst in this process, having opened the translation into the private sphere. Early 14th century...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Arno South Bank Walking Tour

Arno South Bank Walking Tour

The area south of Arno river, also called Oltrarno ("Beyond the Arno"), is a quieter place but not less interesting. Here you can find the Pitti Palace whose collection of paintings is second only to the Uffizi and the vast Boboli Gardens once enjoyed by the Medici and the royal family. This self guided walk takes you to these and other wonderful places, along the way passing by charming...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Duomo Walking Tour

Duomo Walking Tour

Duomo quarter is located in the very heart of the Florence Historic Center. This area is deservedly considered the religious and the civic centre of the town. Most of the historic sites Florence is famous for are to be found here. Take this self-guided walk to explore all the masterpieces of the Duomo quarter.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Michelangelo's Masterpieces Walking Tour

Michelangelo's Masterpieces Walking Tour

Michelangelo spent over 20 years of his life in Florence – the birthplace of the Renaissance – during which time he created some of the most beautiful masterpieces the city had ever seen. The most famous of them, the David, was larger than life, and brought a larger-than-life image to the artist. Take this self-guided walk to admire Michelangelo's artistic mastership in Florence as well...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Dante's Florence Walking Tour

Dante's Florence Walking Tour

Dante Alighieri was arguably the greatest – albeit also most controversial – of Italy's poets. After having served as one of the six priors governing Florence, his political activities, including the banishing of several rivals, led to his own banishment, upon which he wrote his masterpiece, “The Divine Comedy”, as a virtual wanderer, seeking protection for his family in one town...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


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