Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is one of Italy’s most beautiful cities. As you’d imagine, there is no shortage of activities to do while you’re visiting, so it can be hard to narrow down the best things to do in Florence. That’s why we’ve done the research for you and come up with a list of the top 20 things to do in Florence.
So without further adieu, let’s take a look at the 20 best things to do in Florence, Italy in 2021.
An art lover’s dream nestled on the banks of the Arno River, the Uffizi Gallery is a rare look at a treasure trove of priceless artworks dating from the Middle Ages to the Modern Period. Spend a cozy afternoon exploring Europe’s first modern museum, originally curated by the Medici family in the 16th century, taking in the priceless works of art that will be all around you.
Today the gallery is still home to the Medici family’s collection, including such famed masterpieces as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” Raphael’s “Madonna of the Goldfinch” and Titian’s “Venus of Urbino. Patrons will also be pleased to learn that the gallery’s collection has expanded to include pieces by Giotto, Botticelli, Correggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as works by other European artists. Make sure to schedule enough time to peruse the museum’s rich history and extensive collection spanning more than 45 halls.
Basilica di San Lorenzo
Towering over the city of Florence sits the Basilica di San Lorenzo, one of the city’s oldest Cathedrals. This must-see destination was finished in 393 AD, lending to its incredible history, and is just waiting to be explored. The Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the many historical cathedrals and churches that you’ll find in both Florence and Italy as a whole. So if you enjoy this kind of experience, then a trip to Italy is perfect for you.
The cathedral was a stronghold for the Medici family and is a part of their fascinating history. One example is the Medici Chapel, which was supposed to have the Holy Sepulchre at its center, but plans to purchase it and then steal it failed. In addition to a fascinating museum dedicated to its history and rich storytelling, the cathedral is still a place of worship, displaying sculptures by Donatello and Michaelangelo (to name a few!).
While most tourists flock to the Boboli Gardens, few venture to experience the Giardino Bardini. This is where the locals go to experience some tranquility and beautiful greenery while avoiding the crowds. And if the locals do something, there’s usually a good reason for it. We suggest following their leads as they typically have more knowledge about the area and a better understanding of what is truly worth their time.
Whether you’d like to wander through a rolling olive grove, under the majestic purple wisteria arch, or up the pergola-covered stairwell, you’ll be doing so while enjoying spectacular panoramic views of the city. This peaceful space provides a break from museums and crowds and allows visitors to stop and smell the flowers. There is even a beautiful little bar where patrons can enjoy a glass of homemade vino!
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo)
Visitors are in awe of the magnificent Gothic structure near the city center known as Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo). Construction of this massive and aptly-adorned gem took over two centuries, and the massive effort and attention to detail do not go unnoticed! You could spend hours looking at the amazing structure and still be unable to take in every little detail that it has to offer.
The cathedral has been standing tall over the city since the 7th century, when its construction began on the site of the Church of Santa Reparata. Visitors can still see the remains of the site in the crypt, making for a unique and eerie experience. Above ground, visitors will notice the pink, white and green marble decorating the exterior, contrasted by the warmer tones inside. This cathedral is also home to massive works by Giorgio Vasari, Frederico Zuccari, and Domenico, among others.
The Palazzo del Bargello is one of the city’s oldest buildings and also houses the Bargello Museum. If the walls of this museum could talk, they would share the in-depth history of Florence’s civic history, including meetings conducted by the Council of the Hundred, which Dante himself was a part of.
Spending an afternoon at this museum includes a tour of its two halls and spacious courtyard. Visitors will see works by Donatello, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and Bacchus, as well as Renaissance treasure and jewels that have been carefully curated and displayed. Anyone interested in the history of Florence or any famous artwork from the region should take some time out of their trip to visit this famous museum.
One of Florence’s best-kept local secrets, the Palazzo Strozzi, is one of the most unique and contemporary art programs in Italy. Don’t be fooled by the intact historic exterior. The interior is thoroughly modern and a hot spot for art shows. This juxtaposition between the olden exterior and the completely modernized interior makes the Palazzo Strozzi different from any other building in the city.
This freestanding palazzo gives visitors an unexpectedly dramatic modern haven in the richly historic city of Florence. Once inside, visitors will be greeted by a plethora of innovative and interactive exhibits that are sure to amaze the curiosity in all of us. So take some time and spend a few hours, or even a whole day if you want, exploring this intriguing art program.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
Visitors and locals alike are dazzled by this ornate 277-foot tall Bell Tower located in the renowned Piazza del Duomo. One could spend all day exploring what this landmark has to offer and never tire of the intricate detail and amazing views you will have access to. Before going up in the bell tower, check out some of the shops and cafes all around you in the Piazza del Duomo at its base. Enjoy a cup of authentic Italian coffee before venturing up into the nearly 300-foot tower.
Though Giotto gets all the credit, this structure actually required three architects to complete in the early 14th century, giving the tower a character with distinctly different tastes and design styles. Beyond admiring the different architectural styles, visitors can spend time in the courtyard among famed statues by Donatello and Pisano or opt to climb the 400 stairs to the top for a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of Florence. If you brave the climb and make it to the top of the tower, the views you have will be worth every bit of effort it took to make it to the top. Truly an unforgettable view of a gorgeous city.
Giardino di Boboli
It’s no wonder these gardens rank among Florence’s top must-sees. This space offers sanctuary from the bustling city center to a different type of beauty the city has to offer. Easily the most popular gardens to explore while in Florence, there’s usually a reason that something is so popular. While sometimes these overly popular attractions can disappoint, this is not one of those times!
Spend the afternoon learning about the history of these beautiful gardens, originally belonging to the Medici family until the public were allowed to explore the premises in the late 18th century or simply relax and enjoy the landscapes and picturesque scenic views. Whatever you prefer, be sure to look out for many famous sculptures, grottos, and fountains that are strategically placed throughout the property.
Piazza Santo Spirito
Located in the lively Oltrarno neighborhood across the Arno river from the Duomo, this square is where the locals go to listen to music, grab a few drinks, and have a great time. So when you’ve finished your sightseeing for the day and you’re leaving the Duomo, head on over to Piazza Santo Spirito for a great time and a lively atmosphere.
The nightlife lends itself to an evening of relaxing on the patio of a local restaurant, enjoying a meal or drink, or listening to live music. The square is home to a small, local market where you can buy local cuisine and homemade goods during the day. This is truly the best place to experience life as a local in Florence and really take in the Italian culture all around you.
One of the most famous scientists and observers of space that the world has ever seen is, of course, Galileo Galilei. Affording visitors an opportunity to peer into the mind and the treasure trove of genius that this man had, don’t miss the wealth of science and history that has been carefully curated over the years for your enjoyment in the Galileo Museum.
The Galileo Museum is wildly popular with tourists and locals alike and fun for all ages! Housed in an old palace that was fully restored in the mid-1800s, this museum displays a rare and impressive collection dating back to the 13th century. One could easily spend hours taking in the fascinating displays, but you’ll want to leave some time for a walk along the Arno River right outside.
Michelangelo’s David is one of the most famous statues that has ever been built and currently resides in the Galleria dell’Accademia in central Florence. The 17-foot statue draws in visitors from all over the world, and it is something that you don’t want to miss. If the lines to see the real statue are too long for you, consider checking out the replica of David located at the Piazzale Michelangelo in the Oltrarno district.
Thousands of tourists make the trek to the Oltrarno district just for Michelangelo’s David, but the square also offers panoramic city views and shouldn’t be missed. This is the go-to area to catch an incredible sunset, and there are also two notable flower gardens within walking distance. Don’t miss out on the local shops, bars, and restaurants, especially since the Piazzale Michelangelo is free to access 24/7.
Piazza Santa Croce
Come experience Florence’s city center like the locals have been for centuries! This square has been central to Florence’s center since the 14th century, hosting public gatherings, events, seasonal markets, and even football matches. If you want to experience the true culture of Florence in a way that you’ll never forget, spend a few hours at the Piazza Santa Croce, taking it all in.
This square is also home to the famous Basilica of Calcio Fiorentino, the largest Franciscan church, which was constructed in 1212. The church is rich in religious history, noting visits from St. Francis of Assissi, gorgeous marble walls, and housing an astounding sixteen chapels within its walls. This area is also the final resting place for many of the most notable Italian figures, including Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, and Machiavelli.
Da Vinci Museum
Leonard da Vinci is one of the most famous Italian artists, engineering, scientists, and inventors of all time. All that combined with his creative, innovative spirit enabled the construction of many different inventions that can still be felt throughout the world today. He believed that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and this fascinating museum allows visitors into the mind, soul, and history of one of Italy’s finest!
Interactive displays, models, and tours allow visitors to go on a journey through da Vinci’s mind with different areas showing his art and how he contributed to the study of gravity, mechanics, and design. Many of his designs have been recreated throughout the year enabling you to truly peer into the genius of da Vinci and see what was going on in that beautiful mind of his.
The Battistero is one of the city’s most mysterious and fascinating gems. This structure is a temple that is drowned in mystery, as it’s unknown when the first religious building was constructed on the site where the current baptistry stands. Medieval legends tell that it was at one time a Pagan Temple. So if you’re into religion, amazing architecture, or the allure of mystery, visiting the Battistero is the perfect way to spend a couple of hours while you’re in Florence.
This marble-clad mystery is a clever mix of faith, history, art, and beautiful architecture, guarded by massive bronze doors that Michelangelo coined as the “Gate of Paradise.” The inside is adorned by 13th-century works of art and windows depicting scenes from the Old Testament. This structure’s mysterious air only adds to the incredible experience that is a must-do for anyone who loves history and architecture.
The Medici Chapels, are two of the most beautiful buildings in the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which helped set the stage for the Renaissance. This site will blow the mind of any history buff and make you want to delve even further into the art, history, and energy of the period. The stunning frescoes on the dome of the aptly named Chapel of the Princes are some of the most impressive in the world.
The Medici Chapels will make you feel like you are inside the mind of Michelangelo or even a Medici Princess, even if only for a short time. Built by Michelangelo and Bountalenti over the 16th and 17th centuries as the Medici Family mausoleum, these beautifully designed and executed structures are like no other in the world.
Basilica di Santa Croce
While this church bears the classic gothic style architecture found throughout Florence, this church is different, why? This is where some of the most notable Italians from history are laid to rest, including; Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.
This church is a beautiful and cherished piece of Italian history and culture. It also houses one of Italy’s most important art collections, including the spectacular frescoes done by Giotto. After spending the afternoon exploring the Basilica, visitors are greeted by Florence’s warm culture with lovely shops, schools, and café’s nearby.
Enjoy the View From Piazzale Michelangelo
One of Florence’s most popular public squares that affords amazing views to its visitors is the Piazzale Michelangelo in the Oltrarno district. This lavishly-decorated public space gives visitors a viewpoint of Florence that they can’t find anywhere else and is worth adding to your itinerary while you’re in the city.
With plenty of vendors atop the square, you’ll be able to relax once you reach the top of the staircase and enjoy a delicious snack and drink while you peer out over the city. There is also a replica of Michelangelo’s famous David statue to add to the ambiance of such an incredible place to view Tuscany’s capital.
The Ponte Vecchio that you see today in Florence is not the original bridge that was built in its place. The original bridge was destroyed in the early 1300s during a flood and with it the livelihoods of many artisans that used the popular walkway to make a living. After the Ponte Vecchio we see today was created, it was again the center of food trade until Duke Ferdinand I officially made it the center of Florence’s jewel and precious metal trade.
Amazingly, the Ponte Vecchio still acts as the center of this to this day, so it’s worth a visit to check out the incredible wares on display. Not only will the precious metals and jewels blow your mind, but the bridge itself is also a sight worth seeing. With it’s covered top, windows all over, and open-air archways, the Ponte Vecchio is a bridge you don’t want to miss.
After a long day of exploring Florence and sightseeing all over the city, what better way is there to relax and enjoy an authentic Italian treat than to eat some fresh gelato? Being in the city that invented gelato back in the 1500s, Vivoli Gelato is one of the oldest gelato shops not only in Florence but in all of Italy — serving the creamy treat to customers for nearly 100 years!
The ice cream-like dessert is a mainstay of Italian cuisine and is something that you just have to try while you’re visiting Italy. And there’s no better place to get it than the city that invented it, to begin with. Ending your day at Vivoli Gelato is the perfect way to cool off on a hot summer day and just take in the beauty of Florence all around you.
Outside of the world-famous Tiber River, the second most prolific waterway in Italy, the Arno River, is a staple of Florence. Although you might typically think of Venice when you think of waterways and Italian cities, the Arno River in Florence is something that you’ll definitely want to check out while you’re visiting the capital city of Tuscany (and yes, you can take a gondola ride on the Arno).
When Italian summers in central Italy get hot and start wearing you down during your travels, an adventure on the Arno River can be a great experience and can also cool you down at the same time! Rent a boat or even a paddleboard, and take in Florence from an angle you can only get on the river. The different views of the beautiful city will be something you’ll always remember, and the Arno River is the only way you can get them!