Florence Introduction Walking Tour, Florence

Florence Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Florence

The city of Florence was founded by Julius Caesar in 59 BC as a settlement for veteran soldiers. It was built initially in the style of an army garrison – with main streets intersecting at today's Piazza della Repubblica. The original name, Fluentia, stems from its location between the two rivers; later, it was renamed Florentia, which means “flowering” or “flourishing”.

The settlement did flourish as a trading and banking medieval commune, eventually becoming one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. Throughout the 14th-16th centuries, it had attained enormous influence on the continent, and beyond, as a major artistic, cultural, commercial, political, economic and financial center. Many academics consider Florence to be the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Indeed, the core hot-spots of today's Florence date back to that period. These include the best-known site of the city – the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, known as The Duomo, whose brick-and-mortar dome, built 600 years ago, is still the largest of its kind in the world. The nearby Campanile (the Bell Tower partially designed by Giotto) is another local highlight, much as the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence's Town Hall), which together with the Duomo, dominate the city skyline.

Luckily for visitors, these and other Renaissance landmarks, such as the Uffizi Gallery (premier art museum), the Palazzo Pitti Palace (the powerful Medici family’s royal palace), the Piazzale Michelangelo (the square particularly great at sunset!) and the San Miniato al Monte (church sitting atop one of the highest points), are grouped within a relatively small area, making it very easy to see them all in one day. There are, of course, some other stunningly beautiful places to see too, like the Boboli Gardens and the Bargello National Museum, which is housed within a fortress.

Remarkably, all these marvels have survived despite turbulent history of Florence, during which the city had served as the capital of the unified Kingdom of Italy, from 1865 to 1871, and during World War II, had part of its historic area, directly to the south of the Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge” over the Arno River), destroyed by the retreating Germans after a year-long occupation (1943–1944). In 1982, the historic center of Florence was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site.

If you wish to navigate with ease through some of Florence's most alluring attractions, world-famous monuments, works of art and other centuries-old cultural treasures, take our self-guided walking tour. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes and explore at your own pace!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Florence Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Florence Introduction Walking Tour
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:
  • Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)
  • Campanile di Giotto (Giotto's Bell Tower)
  • Casa di Dante (Dante House-Museum)
  • Palazzo del Bargello (Bargello National Museum)
  • Piazza della Signoria (Signoria Square)
  • Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)
  • Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery)
  • Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)
  • Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace)
  • Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens)
  • Forte di Belvedere (Fort Belvedere)
  • Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square)
  • Basilica di San Miniato al Monte (Basilica of St. Minias on the Mountain)
1
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)

1) Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral) (must see)

Presiding over the city of Florence, the Duomo Cathedral is a Renaissance masterpiece renowned for its magnificent masonry dome, which holds the distinction of being the largest in the world. Completed in 1465, this double-shell structure is a remarkable feat of engineering, entirely self-supporting.

The construction of the Gothic-style Cathedral itself was a monumental endeavor that spanned nearly 170 years, starting in 1296. It wasn't until the mid-1400s that the project found its true champion in the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who was tasked with completing what others had deemed impossible. Drawing inspiration from the engineering solutions used in the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, Brunelleschi conducted extensive experiments with large-scale models and innovative, specially-designed machinery.

One of his notable inventions was a system of machines and lewises specifically designed to lift enormous stones and hoist the immense weight of over 37,000 tons of materials, including more than 4 million bricks. Fascinated by Brunelleschi's machinery, the young apprentice Leonardo da Vinci made a series of sketches, often mistakenly attributed to him as the actual inventor. Nonetheless, Brunelleschi's name endured, and today a monumental statue of the architect stands proudly in the piazza in front of the Cathedral.

Inside the Dome, just before the presbytery, on the left aisle wall, you will find the fresco "Dante and the Divine Comedy" by Domenico di Michelino. Created in 1465 to commemorate the poet's bicentenary, this painting portrays Dante (1265-1321) holding a copy of his renowned "Divine Comedy", depicting the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory, and the spheres of Heaven above. Interestingly, the fresco also includes depictions of Florence as it appeared in the 15th century, even though Dante himself could never have seen these scenes during his lifetime. This makes the painting a valuable historical artifact. To view it up close, you must ascend approximately 450 steps on the narrow and winding staircase that circles the Dome's interior.

The mixture of marbles seen outside is just as outstanding. It showcases an extraordinary combination that creates a stunning visual effect resembling a work of painted art rather than solid stone.

Tip:
When purchasing your ticket online, take advantage of the complimentary ticket that includes access to the top of the dome. From there, you can step out and enjoy a panoramic view of Florence, the surrounding Tuscan countryside, and the majestic mountains. Keep in mind that you will need to make a separate booking for the dome climb, which is free of charge.
2
Campanile di Giotto (Giotto's Bell Tower)

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

The renowned Bell Tower of Giotto is a standalone belfry that belongs to the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence. It was designed by the acclaimed painter and architect Giotto di Bondone, after whom it is named. Giotto is widely regarded as the first in a line of great Italian artists who contributed to the Renaissance. Soaring to a height of 85 meters, this tower stands as a remarkable example of Florentine Gothic architecture, adorned with intricate sculptural decorations and vibrant marble embellishments.

Tragically, Giotto passed away during the tower's construction, and the project had to be finished by two other architects. In addition to his contributions to Renaissance architecture, Giotto also left his mark as a skilled painter and sculptor. His artistic legacy is evident in the exquisite white, green, and red marble adornments on the tower, as well as the grand figurative cycle within the belfry, which he left unfinished.

Exploring the interior of the tower is possible, and of the three major tall structures in Florence, climbing this one is arguably the easiest. Despite the seemingly daunting 414 steps, the staircase is designed in a way that allows for rest stops along the way. Each level within the tower houses a large bell, totaling seven bells—one for each musical note. Unlike the crowded spaces of the Duomo Cathedral and the Arnolfo Tower in the Old Palace (or "Palazzo Vecchio"), the resting areas within the Giotto Tower are relatively spacious and engaging, offering visitors diverse and remarkable views of the city below.

From the very top, one can observe the Cathedral's dome and the Baptistery of San Giovanni from a unique and somewhat unconventional perspective. The sweeping view of Florence includes its timeless alleys and rooftops that have retained much of their charm over the past five centuries.

Tip:
Please note that admission to the Bell Tower is included in a combo ticket that grants access to other sites within the Duomo Cathedral complex. Keep in mind that you have 72 hours, starting from the first use, to visit all the Cathedral sites. Unlike the Duomo, no reservation is required for the belfry, although you may need to wait in a queue to enter. Fortunately, the line is usually short and moves swiftly.
3
Casa di Dante (Dante House-Museum)

3) Casa di Dante (Dante House-Museum)

Florence witnessed extensive reconstruction during the Renaissance, but a distinctive medieval ambiance lingers in the eastern part of the city. As you meander through the labyrinthine alleyways and hidden passages, you'll come across scenes that Dante Alighieri, the cherished Italian poet, would still recognize today. Casa di Dante, his former dwelling, still stands close to the parish church where he first caught sight of his beloved Beatrice Portinari.

Within the three-story house-museum, you'll encounter a captivating display of artifacts that illuminate pivotal moments in Dante's life. The first floor is dedicated to his early years, while the second floor unveils documents pertaining to his exile in 1301 and the final chapters of his life spent in Ravenna. Ascending to the top floor, you'll be greeted by an extensive collection of Dante's personal belongings, featuring both original items and meticulously crafted replicas. Among these treasures, marvel at the miniature copy of the "Divina Comedia", a testament to its enduring legacy as the smallest printed edition.

In Dante's epic poem, he embarks on a journey through Hell and Purgatory, guided by the poet Virgil, only to be led through Paradise by his beloved Beatrice. Although Dante initially referred to his work as the "Comedy," it gained immense popularity. Eventually, a lavish edition published in Venice in 1555 assumed the title we now universally recognize.

Tip:
Please note that the staircase can be steep, but rest assured, there is an elevator available, although its location may not be immediately apparent upon entering.
4
Palazzo del Bargello (Bargello National Museum)

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

If Florence, in general, is a haven for architecture enthusiasts and art lovers, then the Bargello Museum takes this experience to even greater heights. Occupying a medieval fortress, houses some of Italy's most treasured sculptures and artworks.

Also known as the People's Palace ("Palazzo del Popolo"), this is one of the city's oldest structures, dating back to 1255. Throughout its rich history, the building has served various purposes. Initially, in the 16th century, it accommodated the renowned "Captain of the People", the chief of police in Florence, known as the "bargello," hence the name of the palace. Later, the Bargello Fortress functioned as a prison until the mid-19th century, when it was transformed into a museum showcasing an extensive array of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures.

Displayed here are the works of renowned artists such as Michelangelo, Verrochio, Brunelleschi, and Donatello among others. Notably, the latter's statue of David holds great significance as the first male nude sculpture publicly exhibited since ancient times, marking a pivotal moment in the evolution of European art. The inner courtyard provides an elegant space adorned with relief and freestanding sculptures, while the gallery, located off the courtyard, and the spacious exhibition area above house the most famous pieces.

Apart from the Renaissance treasures, the collection includes rare artifacts from the Byzantine, Roman, and Medieval eras. Alongside the sculptures, you'll find jewelry pieces of European Renaissance and Islamic origins. To enhance the visitor experience, all exhibits are accompanied by English descriptions.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
Among the museum's prized possessions are masterpieces by Michelangelo, including Bacchus, Pitti Tondo (or "Madonna and Child"), Brutus, and David-Apollo. Bacchus is depicted with eyes that seem to roll, his staggering body appearing on the verge of toppling off the rocky pedestal on which he stands. Giorgio Vasari observed that the figure conveyed "both the slenderness of a young man and the fleshiness and roundness of a woman", showcasing its androgynous qualities. The sense of instability resulting from a high center of gravity can be found in several later works by the artist, most notably in the David and the figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo carved Bacchus when he was only 22 years old.

Tip:
To make the most of your visit to the Bargello, checking out the museum's website in advance for opening hours, as on special occasions, it may close later than usual. For those brave enough to explore the eerie, deserted medieval building in the late evening, you'll have the opportunity to enjoy the sculptures in solitude.
5
Piazza della Signoria (Signoria Square)

5) Piazza della Signoria (Signoria Square) (must see)

Alongside the Cathedral Square ("Piazza del Duomo"), the religious heart of Florence, Signoria Square is another key center of attraction in the city: its civil center, dominated by the formidable Palazzo Vecchio, a fortified palace. Boasting the finest assemblage of outdoor statues, this square holds significant historical importance as the birthplace of the Florentine Republic. As such, it holds a special place in the hearts of the locals as a hub of social life. The atmosphere in this area seems to transcend time, evoking images of Michelangelo's "David" standing here in its original location, now replaced by a replica.

The square has enjoyed central location in the city since the Roman times when it was just a small town called Florentia. Back then, it was surrounded by a theater, a complex of baths, and a textile workshop. Over time, a church, a loggia, and an enormous 5th-century basilica were added, as revealed by excavations carried out in the 1980s during the square's repaving.

The square's captivating appeal lies not only in its asymmetrical shape but also in the multitude of artworks it houses, both large and small. This makes it a favorite spot for photographers, who eagerly snap away from every conceivable angle. Even without a camera, standing in the middle of the square and taking in the 360-degree view is a mesmerizing experience in itself.

Dominating the city skyline, the imposing Old Palace ("Palazzo Vecchio") serves as the seat of municipal government. Adjacent to it, just a short distance away, stands the equally impressive "Lanterns' Lodge ("Loggia dei Lanzi"). Functioning as an open-air museum, this lodge is almost always accessible to the public free of charge and displays yet another impressive collection of statues, including the renowned "Rape of the Sabine Women", "Hercules and the Centaur", and a bronze "Perseus" cleverly positioned as if engaged in a gaze with the statue of David.

You'll find a few places to sit here, some out of the sun, but be sure to pace yourself and stay hydrated, especially during the hot summer months. Navigating through the crowd can be a challenge, but it's best to adopt a slight diagonal approach rather than attempting a direct path towards your destination, as you'll often encounter people walking in the opposite direction. By maneuvering like a yacht tacking against the wind – moving slightly to the right, then to the left, and so on – you can easily slide into the gaps as they appear. Easy-peasy!

Why You Should Visit:
One of the two most significant attractions in Florence, alongside the Cathedral Square ("Piazza del Duomo"), home to what could be considered the finest collection of outdoor statues in the world, surrounded by beautifully adorned buildings and numerous "very good" to "world-class" museums.
6
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

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

Similar to the Duomo complex, the Pitti Palace, and major local art galleries, the Old Palace, known as Palazzo Vecchio, is an indispensable site in Florence for understanding the city's history and culture. This colossal Romanesque-style palace stands as one of the most impressive town halls in Tuscany and has served as the office of the Florence mayor since 1872. Prior to that, since its construction in 1299, it was the seat of Florentine government for centuries. When Cosimo I de' Medici became the Grand Duke and moved in with his family in 1540, he decided to enlarge and renovate the Medieval building in Renaissance style.

Adorned with shields recounting the city's political history, the imposing facade is also embellished with a series of sculptures, including notable works such as Michelangelo's "David", the heraldic lion known as "Marzocco" symbolizing Florence, Donatello's original "Judith and Holofernes", and "Hercules and Cacus". Within the palace, the Tower of Arnolfo stands as a separate attraction, requiring an additional fee for access.

Wandering through the palace, from the grand Hall of the Five Hundred ("Salone dei Cinquecento") designed to celebrate the Duke's glories and victories, to the more intimate quarters, you'll be transported back in time. This journey provides a glimpse into the secluded privacy of the Medici rulers, adorned with magnificent decorations as part of Giorgio Vasari's iconographic program. It is recommended to take your time and explore the property leisurely, allowing for an immersive experience enriched with historical intensity and artistic wonders. However, be prepared for a potential crick in the neck from gazing at the breathtaking ceilings in each room.

Various optional tours of the palace are available, including family-friendly options that offer an extra dose of fun without costing too much extra. For example, the 'Secret Paths' tour lasts approximately 1.5 hours and is led by knowledgeable guides. It provides access to parts of the palace typically closed to the public, including the renowned "studiolo" with its secret doors, enchanting objects, and intriguing exotic substances.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
In the central niche at the southern end of the grand hall ("Salone dei Cinquecento"), you'll find Michelangelo's notable marble group, "The Genius of Victory" (1533-1534). Originally intended for Julius II's tomb, this sculpture represents an allegory of triumph rather than depicting a moment of battle. It portrays a victorious figure displaying remarkable agility, dominating a submissive captive. The young and elegant genius stands poised, while the dominated older man bears a resigned expression with a flabby body and a beard, emphasizing the contrast between the two figures. The expressive treatment of the surfaces enhances this contrast further, with the young figure polished to perfection and the old figure left rough and incomplete, still bearing the impression of the heavy stone from which it was sculpted.

***DANTE'S FLORENCE TOUR***
Although Dante's burial place is not in Florence, the city possesses one of the poet's death masks, which you can see here, displayed between the Apartments of Eleanor and the Halls of Priors. Preserved behind glass, it has become a symbol of Dante's political contribution to Florence and his pivotal role in the development of Italian literature and culture. Interestingly, this same mask makes an appearance in Dan Brown's "Inferno".

Tip:
If you plan to take a tour, it is advisable to book directly with the museum via email, indicating your preferred date and time, and wait for confirmation. Payment for the tour will be collected on the day of your visit. Once the tour concludes, you are free to explore the palace at your leisure. However, please note that since the palace is an active municipal office, it may be temporarily closed to the public on special occasions. It is recommended to check the palace's website for any announcements before your visit.
7
Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery)

7) Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery) (must see)

If you had to choose just one Renaissance location to visit in Florence, or even in the entire world, the most obvious and compelling choice would be the Uffizi Gallery. Housed in the Palazzo degli Uffizi, originally intended as the offices of magistrates (hence the name "uffizi"), this magnificent structure was constructed in the 16th century by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo Medici, the first Duke of Florence. Not only did it serve as a governmental building, but it also became an ideal space to house the Medici family's remarkable art collection. Since 1765, the gallery has been open to the public and has grown to become one of Florence's most popular tourist attractions.

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 it's easy to lose track of time while immersing oneself in its splendor.

While paintings and sculptures are the main draw for visitors, the gallery's interior decoration, particularly the intricate ceilings, is equally spectacular and deserves attention. With over 50 lavish rooms to explore, it can be challenging to absorb everything in one visit. Therefore, taking a break and recharging at the on-site café with a terrace is highly recommended. Among other delights, you'll be treated to unparalleled views that cannot be experienced elsewhere.

Due to its world-class status, the museum is perpetually bustling with visitors, and long queues, sometimes lasting hours, are not uncommon, especially during peak seasons. Those who book their tickets in advance through the official website enjoy a significantly shorter wait time and may even get discounted rates.

***FLORENCE PALACES WALK***
The Uffizi's internal courtyard is a long and narrow space that opens towards the Arno River through a Doric screen. This unique architectural feature, which allows for an uninterrupted view, is considered by historians as the first standardized streetscape in Europe. Vasari, who was both a painter and an architect, accentuated the perspective length of the courtyard by adorning it with the matching facades' continuous roof cornices, unbroken cornices between storeys, and the three continuous steps on which the palace-fronts stand. In the 19th century, niches in the piers alternating with columns of the Loggiato were filled with sculptures of famous artists.

***MICHELANGELO'S MASTERPIECES***
During the first eight years of the 1500s, Michelangelo not only sculpted his iconic "David" and the "Bruges Madonna" but also chiseled seven additional sculptures and four smaller statues for an altar. He also accepted painting commissions, and one of his works displayed in the Uffizi is the "Doni Tondo" ("Holy Family"), completed in 1504. This round-shaped painting, nearly four feet in diameter, vividly portrays the Virgin Mary, the Christ Child, and St. Joseph. The juxtaposition of vibrant colors in this artwork foreshadows Michelangelo's later use of color in his renowned frescoes on the Sistine Ceiling.

It is argued that Michelangelo used this painting to defend the Maculist perspective, a philosophy of the Dominican order that rejects the concept of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. According to the Maculist view, Mary's sanctification occurred at the moment of Christ's incarnation, rather than at her birth. Thus, the image depicts the moment of Mary's sanctification, as the Christ Child blesses her. Michelangelo portrays Christ as if he is emerging from Mary's shoulder to take human form, with one leg hanging limply and the other not visible, emphasizing his integration with Mary.

Tip:
If you decide to visit, please note that no liquids are permitted on the premises. You may consider arriving an hour or two before closing time to obtain a ticket without having to wait in line. Good luck!
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, the 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.

When observing the bridge from afar, a discerning eye may notice an upper level that unveils a fascinating secret. This concealed feature is a kilometer-long tunnel connecting the Pitti Palace with the Old Palace. Historically, the tunnel provided a secure route for Duke Fernandino to move between the two palaces discreetly whenever he felt uneasy in public. Although the passageway has been closed for safety reasons since 2016, there are exciting plans by the Uffizi Gallery to reopen it.

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 Old Bridge offers a delightful stroll, especially in the evenings, 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 reflecting upon 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 (Pitti Palace)

9) Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) (must see)

The Pitti Palace is yet another architectural marvel in Florence to miss which would truly be a regrettable omission. Its main highlight is undoubtedly Renaissance architecture, coupled with the spectacular gardens every turn of which breathe 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 palace 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:
With a combined full ticket to the Pitti Museums and Gardens, you can enjoy two days of access. If you have ample time, consider spending around 3hrs leisurely exploring the gardens, but don't forget essential items like a hat and a bottle of water to stay comfortable.
To avoid lengthy queues at the palace, opting for a guided tour is a wise choice. Although there is an associated cost, the tour offers the advantage of skipping the line, saving you valuable time in Florence. Moreover, knowledgeable guides will lead you directly to the highlights of the collections, ensuring you don't miss any important exhibits that might be challenging to locate on your own. Embracing this option is a smart move for an efficient and fulfilling visit to the Pitti Palace.
10
Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens)

10) Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens)

The Boboli Gardens, situated behind the Pitti Palace, are renowned as one of Florence's most exquisite and historically significant gardens. Originating in the 16th century, they were commissioned by Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I of Medici, and involved the collaboration of esteemed landscape architects of the time.

Niccolo Tribolo, one of the notable architects, contributed to the gardens until his passing in 1550. Following his tenure, Bartolomeo Ammanati and Bernardo Buontalenti took over, credited with pioneering the 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. Their unique openness, providing expansive views of the city, defied convention and served as an inspiration for many European royal gardens, notably Versailles.

Over time, the Boboli Gardens underwent large-scale reconstructions, expanding to cover approximately 11 acres (4.5 hectares) of land. They are often regarded as an outdoor museum, housing a collection of art, sculptures, and antiquities ranging from the Roman era to the 16th-17th centuries.

If you seek respite from the noise, crowds, and queues, the Boboli Gardens offer a serene retreat surrounded by natural beauty. While the entrance fee of 10 euros may appear steep, it is well worth it, particularly if you pack a picnic and spend ample time immersing yourself in the atmosphere. Exploring the gardens requires some stamina, as they are hilly and encompass various staircases; however, the reward includes magnificent vistas of the city and delightful discoveries along the way. The gardens provide recommended walking paths catering to different abilities.

Upon concluding your visit, you can exit through the northern gate to visit Fort Belvedere or the southwestern gate to explore La Specola, home to the Museum of Zoology and Natural History. The choice is yours!

Tips:
Entry is included in the FirenzeCard, and cardholders can skip the queue by proceeding directly to the bookshop inside the Pitti Palace for access. Plan for approximately two hours to fully explore the gardens, and remember to bring snacks, water, and comfortable footwear for an enjoyable experience.
11
Forte di Belvedere (Fort Belvedere)

11) Forte di Belvedere (Fort 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. The purpose of this grand fortress was twofold: to safeguard the city of Florence and to showcase the power and prestige of the Medici Family. Additionally, it served as a repository for the Medici's treasury and offered a safe haven for the Grand Duke himself in times of potential attack. To facilitate this, the fort was connected to the Old Palace ("Palazzo Vecchio") via a corridor over the Old Bridge ("Ponte Vecchio"), as well as through other passages linking 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 its surroundings. Given the nature of warfare during the Renaissance period, forts played a crucial role in defense strategies, and Belvedere excelled in its role as a citadel and garrison for over a century after its completion. Its walls are intentionally positioned at angles to one another, enabling effective observation and, if necessary, crossfire to defend the neighboring walls. Notably, Galileo Galilei utilized the fort for astronomical observations and, following his life imprisonment sentence in 1633, resided nearby at Villa Arcetri.

After five years of renovation to enhance safety measures, the fort reopened to the public in July 2013, now primarily serving as an exhibition center. The nominal entry fee is well worth it, as visitors can freely explore the site and enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of Florence and the surrounding hills.

***MEDICI LANDMARK***
The opulent villa at the center of the fortress, Palazzina di Belvedere, was designed circa 1570, thus predating the fort itself. 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 breach the lock would trigger a lethal trap, making survival highly improbable!

Tip:
On the upper floor of the fort, there is a charming cafeteria where you can enjoy a satisfying meal or a refreshing beverage.
12
Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square)

12) Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square) (must see)

Florence is undeniably a stunning city, and the Michelangelo Square serves as irrefutable proof of its beauty. Designed by Giuseppe Poggi, this expansive space, adorned with souvenir stalls, offers a magnificent panorama of Florence's rooftops. The most iconic and photographed view from here showcases the Duomo Cathedral and its cupola, along with the Giotto Bell Tower and Old Pace ("Palazzo Vecchio"). Over time, this famous vista has graced countless postcards, yet other notable landmarks can also be spotted nearby, such as Fort Belvedere, the Holy Cross Basilica ("Santa Croce"), and the Old Bridge ("Ponte Vecchio").

The square itself was laid out in 1869, at a time when Florence served as the capital of Italy and the entire city underwent an urban renewal program known as the "Risanamento" or "Rebirth" of the middle class.

Dedicated to the renowned Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, the square features replicas of some of his works found elsewhere in Florence, including the famous "David" and the four allegories from the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo. While the originals are crafted from white marble, the bronze copies displayed here were transported uphill by nine pairs of oxen, likely leaving them rather sweaty, to fulfill Giuseppe Poggi's visionary concept.

Thousands of visitors flock here to witness the sunset, which truly is a sight to behold. Finding the perfect spot, you can revel in the sun's reflection on the Arno River while sipping a glass of wine. Bringing your own drink is a good option, unless you prefer to take advantage of the various restaurants and bars situated around the square, with the most renowned boasting a Neoclassical design. Considering the prime location, prices here are actually quite reasonable.

Midway up the main staircase, you'll discover a delightful city rose garden, where you can spend a serene half-hour strolling amidst the trees and roses, enjoying enchanting views of the Duomo and the cityscape.

After sunset, you can easily descend the hill, relishing the tranquility of dusk along the way.

Tip:
The square can be scorching on sunny days, so remember to bring a hat at the very least to shield yourself from the heat.
13
Basilica di San Miniato al Monte (Basilica of St. Minias on the Mountain)

13) Basilica di San Miniato al Monte (Basilica of St. Minias on the Mountain) (must see)

Perched on one of the highest points in Florence, San Miniato is hailed as one of the most exquisite examples of Romanesque architecture in Tuscany and one of Italy's most splendid churches. While it may pose challenges for those with limited mobility, it forms a delightful combination with the Michelangelo Square ("Piazzale Michelangelo"). Best of all, admission is completely free, allowing visitors to explore the church and the adjacent Olivetan monastery, seen to the right of the basilica while ascending the stairs.

Legend has it that St. Miniato, also known as Minas, an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under Emperor Decius, was denounced as a Christian after becoming a hermit. He was brought before the Emperor, who ordered him to be thrown to wild beasts in an amphitheater. However, a panther summoned to attack him refused to harm him. Despite being eventually beheaded in the presence of the Emperor, St. Miniato is said to have picked up his own head, crossed the Arno River, and ascended the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage. A shrine was later established at this spot, followed by a chapel in the 8th century.

The present-day basilica was funded by a guild of cloth merchants, who were responsible for its upkeep. Adorned with stunning mosaic decorations, an exquisite marble inlay altar, and even a "pagan" horoscope, it is quite a spectacular sight, showcasing remarkable craftsmanship by some of Florence's most esteemed artists.

After exploring the church, it's intriguing to wander through the rather surreal and captivating cemetery, which houses ancient and elaborate tombstones. Among them are the final resting places of many notable residents of the city, including Carlo Collodi, the author of "Pinocchio."

Lastly, don't miss the opportunity to visit the small gift shop on the premises, offering an array of intriguing items such as herbal liqueurs, honey, herbal teas, and high-quality medicinal tinctures prepared by the Olivetan monks.

Tip:
At 5:30pm, you can attend or observe the Latin and Italian mass, where all the hymns are sung by the priests. By 6:30pm, the monks emerge to chant their vespers. And, of course, make sure to venture behind the church to admire the magnificent view of the city in all its glory!

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 Walking Tour

Medici Landmarks Walking Tour

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.

Designed by...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 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. One of the first and most important examples of "Italian Gardens", they later served as...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Florence Food Tour

Florence Food Tour

Food is one of the great Florentine passions, and the great thing about having a delicious authentic Tuscan meal, a snack, delicatessen, or a quality gelato here – besides the abundant variety – is not having to spend a lot of money for it.

In general, the “osterias” and the eateries nestled in Sant’Ambrogio Market will offer cheaper and more casual food with an emphasis on home...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 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 wanderer, seeking protection for his family in one town after...  view more

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

Duomo Walking Tour

Located in the very heart of historic Florence, the Duomo area is deservedly considered the city’s religious and civic center, replete with numerous landmarks. Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, the two most important squares in the city, are steeped in history and the sights and activities found here are truly endless.

The most prominent of these, undoubtedly, is the breathtaking...  view more

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. No amount of photos or copies of the statue will do it justice, so to see it with your own...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


Top 14 Pubs in Florence

Top 14 Pubs in Florence

Florence, the city of art and beauty has no problem in mastering the art of the nightlife as well. Local pubs are very popular and appreciated among the Florentines and the tourists. Locals and native English speakers that study or live in the city cannot wait to welcome tourists in their cozy...
Souvenir Shopping Guide: 16 Unique Products to Buy in Florence

Souvenir Shopping Guide: 16 Unique Products to Buy in Florence

Compared to other Italian "grands" like Rome, Venice, or Milan, Florence is relatively less-known to an outsider for any local products, save, perhaps, Florentine mosaics and Fiorentina FC. Fortunately, there are tonnes of locally-originated things that this Italian city is rightfully...
Florence's Tasty Coffee Shop Guide

Florence's Tasty Coffee Shop Guide

The caffe scene throughout Italy is an important factor of everyday life. People will pop in to their favorite bar on their way to work for a quick espresso breakfast with a pastry, they’ll grab a slice of pizza for lunch or drop by for an aperitivo before dining out and take a peaceful digestivo...