Florence Palaces Walking Tour (Self Guided), Florence

Toward 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 palaces that have survived (e.g. Palazzo Davanzati) are refinements of the appearance of the earlier ones; however, the next decisive stage in the evolution of the Florentine “palazzo” was Michelozzo’s massive new structure for the Medici, which set a precedent followed by several others, such as the Gondi, the Strozzi, and the Rucellai.

Other important palaces in the city include the large Gothic building called Palazzo Spini-Ferroni, which used to be the largest, privately owned palace in Florence, rivaling in size the Palazzo Vecchio, the then-seat of government of the Republic. The latter one now offers Roman ruins, a Medieval fortress, as well as amazing Renaissance chambers and paintings – a microcosm where art and history have been indissolubly bound for centuries.

Add in the Uffizi Gallery and you’ve got yourself the quintessential palace for an art lover. Its collection rivals the Vatican Museums, and the halls are full of statues, paintings, pictures in the ceiling and famous artworks in amazing displays.

Follow this self-guided walk to witness some of Florence's most magnificent palaces, from the rough and fortress-like to their more elegant and intellectual counterparts.
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Florence Palaces Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Florence Palaces Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Florence (See other walking tours in Florence)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Author: greghasleft
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Palazzo Medici Riccardi
  • Palazzo Strozzi
  • Palazzo Rucellai
  • Palazzo Corsini
  • Palazzo Spini Feroni
  • Palazzo Davanzati / Museum of the Old Florentine House
  • Uffizi Gallery
  • Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)
  • Palazzo Gondi
  • Bargello National Museum / Palazzo del Popolo
  • Palazzo dell'Antella
Palazzo Medici Riccardi

1) Palazzo Medici Riccardi

This was the first Medici palace, home to Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent, while also a workplace for many of the top Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, who was discovered by Lorenzo while still in his teens.

The most imposing palace yet seen in the city at the time, it set a new standard with its three orders of graduated rustication and large, regular two-light windows; the whole exterior is capped by a massive cornice. The building has an elegant square courtyard in the centre, completely different from the palace’s powerful external impression; together, though, they expressed the two different worlds of the Medici: rich, powerful, even ruthless on the outside, refined patrons of the humanist Renaissance inside.

While the courtyard and gardens are free, and lovely to wander around, it is well worth the admission price to enter the rooms upstairs. The designs, decors, style, furniture, and collections reflect the power, influence and wealth of the Medici family.

The Magi Chapel is tiny, painted floor to ceiling in frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli that are full of beautiful details (costumes, animals, scenery), and one could spend an hour looking at the reputed likeness of various Medici clan members (not to mention figures such as The Wolf of Rimini – Sigismondo Malatesta). The colors – considering the work was started in 1459 – are incredible and make for a visual feast where the composition is a bit of a whirlwind.

Near the end of the tour is the astonishing Galleria, a completely “over-the-top” Baroque gem with gold-covered walls and an opulent domed ceiling painted with scenes of Greek mythology. There is also an underground sculpture museum in the former stables. There are hardly any queues to get in, and you can enjoy the rooms comfortably and at ease.

You must queue up for entry into the building in the courtyard, at the foot of the stairs.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-7pm (closed on Wednesdays)
Palazzo Strozzi

2) Palazzo Strozzi

With its rusticated stone inspired by the Palazzo Medici, this palace is another example of civil architecture, albeit with more harmonious proportions. Its construction was begun in 1489 by Benedetto da Maiano, for Filippo Strozzi the Elder, a rival of the Medici who had returned to the city in November 1466 and desired the most magnificent palace to assert his family's continued prominence and, perhaps more importantly, a political statement of his own status. Filippo Strozzi died in 1491, long before the construction's completion in 1538. Duke Cosimo I de' Medici confiscated it in the same year, not returning it to the Strozzi family until 30 years later.

Unlike the Medici Palace, which was sited on a corner lot, and thus has only two sides, the Strozzi – surrounded on all four sides by streets – is a free-standing structure. Given the newly felt desire for internal symmetry, this introduced a new problem in Renaissance architecture – that of integrating the cross-axis. The ground plan of the palace is rigorously symmetrical on its two axes, with clearly differentiated scales of its principal rooms. The radiating voussoirs of the arches increase in length as they rise to the keystone (a detail that was much copied for arched windows set in rustication in the Renaissance revival), while the dominating cornice is typical of Florentine palaces of the time.

The venue is now known for hosting ever-changing contemporary art exhibitions and cultural events – so, as exhibits rotate, be sure to check what's on display to see if it is up your alley. You may as well simply walk in the peaceful (free-admission) courtyard and admire the archways and the layout, but if you do go inside, don't miss the little room off the ticket office that has the wooden model of the palace and storyboards on the walls about the Strozzi family – very interesting. There generally is no line, so no need to plan or make a reservation.

As it is one of the few late-opening attractions in Florence, take advantage of this palace to make it one of your stops on your night stroll.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun: 10am-8pm; Thu: 10am-11pm
Last admission one hour before closing
Palazzo Rucellai

3) Palazzo Rucellai

Believed to have been designed by Leon Battista Alberti between 1446 and 1451 and executed, at least in part, by Bernardo Rossellino, the Rucellai Palace. Its facade was one of the first to proclaim the new ideas of Renaissance architecture based on the use of pilasters and entablatures in proportional relationship to each other, and as such is a beautiful pioneering of the three-tier Florentine style.

The grid-like facade, achieved through the application of a scheme of trabeated articulation, makes a statement of rational humanist clarity. The stone veneer is given a channeled rustication and serves as the background for the smooth-faced pilasters and entablatures which divide the facade into a series of three-story bays. The three stories of the Rucellai facade have different classical orders, as in the Colosseum, but with the Tuscan order at the base, a Renaissance original in place of the Ionic order at the second level, and a very simplified Corinthian order at the top level. Twin-lit, round-arched windows in the two upper stories are set within arches with highly pronounced voussoirs that spring from pilaster to pilaster. The facade is topped by a boldly projecting cornice.

The Rucellai, like the Medici, were bankers and the building shows the wealth. Even though there is no way to really imagine the inside of the building, the exterior is there for everyone to admire.

The world-known Il Latini restaurant is located on the ground floor of what used to be apart of the palazzo. They are packed nearly every evening so be sure to make a reservation to enjoy their Tuscan cuisine.
Palazzo Corsini

4) Palazzo Corsini

Standing elegantly on the banks of the River Arno, the opulent Palazzo Corsini is an epitome of Italian Baroque. In the midst of traditional Renaissance and Gothic structures, it boasts a typical 18th-century terrace decorated with a balustrade which has mounted on it statues, figurines and terracotta vases, thus giving it a very dramatic decorative effect, typical to the Baroque era. In its composition, the extremely large palace recalls Roman examples such as Palazzo Barberini.

The grandeur and beauty of the Palazzo that is witnessed today is a result of fifty years of effort and persistence of two Corsini men – Bartolommeo Corsini and his son, who were also responsible for expanding the palazzo towards Ponte S. Trinita. The project involved most of the leading architects of the era: Alfonso Parigi the younger, Pietro Tacca, Pier Francesco Silvani and Antonio Maria Ferri. The edifice is presently owned by the Corsini descendants, Miari Fulcis and Sanminiatelli. Gardens are open to the public for special weekend events.
Palazzo Spini Feroni

5) Palazzo Spini Feroni

Palazzo Spini Ferroni is the grandest private medieval house-palace in Florence, having been commissioned in 1289 by the rich cloth merchant and banker Geri Spini, on plots that he had bought after the 1288 flood of the Arno, from the monks of Santa Trinita. At the time, it rivaled in size the contemporary Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of government of the Republic, which was being built in the same period.

Built during a turbulent medieval century in the city, noted for internecine conflict between families, the palace is a fortress-like stone block, with street-level arches in a tall first story, with a protruding cornice surmounted by merlons.

In 1846, after a spell as a hotel, the palace was purchased by the comune of Florence and later used for state offices during the period (1865–71) when Florence was capital of Italy. In 1874, it was partly renovated in neo-medieval style; shop-fronts were opened in the ground floor and a tower and an arch facing the river Arno were demolished, giving the palace the present appearance. In the 1930s, it was bought by famous shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo and since 1995 the Palazzo has housed a museum dedicated to telling Ferragamo's story, which is quite enjoyable for anyone who likes shoes.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sun: 10am–7:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palazzo Davanzati / Museum of the Old Florentine House

6) Palazzo Davanzati / Museum of the Old Florentine House

An ancient 14th-century construction built as a residence of the Davizzi family (merchants and bankers), this palace bears the name of another family, the Davanzati, bankers for the Popes at Avignon, who bought it in 1578, enriching the facade with their large coat of arms. The palace is opened to the public as the Museum of the Old Florentine House, giving a fascinating and valuable look into a typical wealthy Florentine home of the Medieval to Renaissance era, complete with frescoes, painting, sculptures, and period furniture.

The upper floors can only be visited with a guide, requiring either advance booking on the website or simply booking a time with the receptionist. Seeing the upper floors with all the rooms where a wealthy family would have lived, plus a kitchen fitted out with all the equipment of the period, is absolutely worthwhile (the bedrooms, in particular, have stunning wall paintings), but the lower floors – holding wonderful collections of embroidery and lace-making – can also be visited without a guide. For older kids, the experience will be more educational and interesting than any description in a history schoolbook.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:15-2pm; Sat, Sun: 1:15-7pm
Last entry 30mins before closing time
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.

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.

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.

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
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

8) 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.

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.

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".

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)
Palazzo Gondi

9) Palazzo Gondi

The prominent Gondi family, bankers who had made their fortunes in Naples, commissioned Giuliano da Sangallo to build them a palace commensurate with their position. Inspired by other major works of stately buildings in the city, such as Palazzo Medici and Palazzo Strozzi, he borrowed elements from these earlier works, such as the cube-shape set around a central courtyard, the ashlar sloping on each of three floors, and the arched windows.

Compared to his models, however, Sangallo was able to modify the use of these elements, making it one of the most successful Florentine buildings of its time. The most innovative element is in the design of the windows: the profile of stones arranged in a radial pattern, which resemble the facets of a precious stone. The windows on the second floor were designed slightly wider than the others to compensate for the optical foreshortening.

If possible, try to take a tour of the palace to see its lavish painted ceilings and enjoy one of the best views of central Florence's towers and domes from its rooftop terrace.
Bargello National Museum / Palazzo del Popolo

10) 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.

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.

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:
Palazzo dell'Antella

11) Palazzo dell'Antella

Of medieval origins, Palazzo dell'Antella is the fruit of a series of restructurings and mergers of several housing estates during the course of time, its current appearance having emerged around 1620 when Senator Niccolò Dell'Antella commissioned the repainting of the whole façade, executed by a group of thirteen artists (including Domenico Passignano, Matteo Rosselli, Ottavio Vannini and others).

The painted decoration consists of a series of panels with allegorical representations, puttos, flowers, vegetable motifs and arabesques, while at the centre stands the bust of Cosimo II de' Medici.

As they become closer to the church of Santa Croce, the windows are nearer to each other, allegedly in order to provide an illusory enlargement of the facade, though for many onlookers it is just a funny architectural solution that poses the question of how the rooms look on the inside.

Another interesting feature is the palace having become known as the "Palazzo degli Sporti" at one point, because spectators used to watch the "calcio fiorentino" in costume from the windows. This was, apparently, an early form of football whose cradle is now considered to be the Piazza Santa Croce, where the palace lies. Below the palace's third window one can even spot a marble disk, said by some to mark where the dividing line was drawn across the piazza when the game was played.

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