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Florence

Florence and its Cathedral

Florence is one of the most visited cities in Italy for both first-time and experienced travelers. The picturesque capital of Tuscany, Florence (Firenze, in Italian) is known for its Renaissance art and architecture and the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marcel Proust called it “a miracle city enbalmed.”

Florence’s skyline is defined by the monumental Renaissance-era cathedral, the Duomo, as well as by the Palazzo Vecchio, a medieval building with a crenellated tower. Florence’s cityscape is a compact and cozy collection of medieval and Renaissance structures, austere palaces, broad public squares, and intimate alleyways, not to mention churches, museums, restaurants, cafes, bars, and gelato shops.

The Arno River runs through the center of Florence, splitting it into a right and left bank, the latter of which is known as the Oltrarno (“Beyond the Arno”). The Ponte Vecchio, famous for the jewelry vendors that line both sides, is Florence’s most iconic bridge.

It is hard to overstate the significance of Florence and its influence on the culture and history of Italy. Florence is the city that produced Dante, the father of the Italian language. Niccolò Machiavelli, the author of The Prince and the so-called Father of Political Science, was also Florentine. Moreover, the most famous names of the Renaissance, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli were born or lived here. And all three of them, including many more of their contemporaries, left behind the incomparable art on display in museums like the Uffizi and the Accademia.

When to Visit Florence

Florence is a fantastic city to visit year-round, as there is plenty to do both indoors and outdoors.

Festivals and Holidays in Florence

See the Italy calendar for details on public holidays in Italy. Some popular holidays and festivals that are particular to Florence are:

  • March/April – Scoppio del Carro, an Easter event
  • May – Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
  • June 24 – Feast of St. John the Baptist, Florence’s patron saint and Calcio Storico, a soccer match played in Piazza Santa Croce

Weather in Florence

Summer is the high season in Florence, starting from mid-May and running through September. August may be slightly less crowded due to the absence of Florentines, who leave for their summer holidays. Early May and the month of October are typically the best times to visit the city thanks to milder weather.

HighLow
January50 F / 10 C35 F/ 1 C
February54 F / 12 C37 F / 2 C
March59 F /15 C41 F / 5 C
April66 F / 19 C46 F / 8 C
May74 F / 23 C52 F / 11 C
June81 F / 28 C59 F / 15 C
July88 F / 31 C63 F / 17 C
August87 F / 31 C63 F / 17 C
September80 F / 27 C58 F / 15 C
October70 F / 21 C50 F / 10 C
November59 F / 15 C42 F / 5 C
December51 F / 10 C36 F / 2 C

What to See in Florence

Though the city is fairly small, there is an awful lot to see and do here. The beauty is overwhelming to the point that it inspires a psychological condition known as Stendhalism, Stendhal Syndrome, or Stendhalismo. The phrase is named after the French writer Stendhal who is said to have experienced hallucinations and fainting when visiting Florence.

Of course, you can have a more easygoing visit to Florence. When planning your Florence itinerary, put the must-see sites on your schedule first, then sprinkle-in visits to smaller attractions as your schedule allows. Make sure you give yourself ample time to eat, drink, people-watch, and stroll through the piazzas.

Must-See Attractions

Duomo and Related Buildings

Street view of Florence Duomo and Campanile
Street view of Florence Duomo and Campanile

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the symbol of Florence and the easiest-to-find attraction in the city. Its distinctive terracotta dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The Duomo is a lot more fascinating from the outside than it is on the inside — the interior is not as decorative as the exterior.

The Duomo is part of a complex of religious buildings that is common in Italy. In addition to the church, there is a baptistery (battistero), a bell tower (campanile), and a museum. Florence’s baptistery is notable for its decorative doors by TK and for having been the baptism site for many famous Florentines, including Dante (TRUE?). The bell tower was designed by Giotto and is the perfect place to get a view of the Duomo and the city below. The museum, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, is behind the church and houses many of the original statues, paintings, carvings, and fixtures from the Duomo and its complex.

Purchase tickets for the Duomo, Baptistery, Bell Tower, and Duomo Museum

Uffizi Gallery

"Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli. One of the highlights of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
“Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli. One of the highlights of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

One of the best museums in the world, the Uffizi Gallery contains some of the most recognizable paintings and sculptures from the Renaissance.

You will want to give yourself several hours to visit the Uffizi. I recommend you purchase timed tickets online as long lines are common, both to buy tickets and to enter the museum. By buying your ticket in advance, you save yourself having to wait in another line. If you don’t buy your ticket in advance, you can purchase a ticket at the museum or from the ticket office at a few other museums in town, including the Pitti Palace and the Bargello. The biggest drawback here is that you will have to take whatever time is available and that may not fit with your travel schedule.

Purchase tickets to the Uffizi Gallery

Accademia Gallery

Michelangelo's David in the Accademia Gallery in Florence
By Michelangelo, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

One single jaw-dropping work of art draws crowds to the Accademia Gallery — Michelangelo’s David. The towering statue, set on a pedestal in the center of a light-filled hall, is truly a masterpiece and you can inspect it from every angle. Michelangelo’s four unfinished sculptures of slaves/prisoners are also on view here as are numerous other works of art from lesser-known artists.

The David is incredible to see in person. Note that there are several other copies of the David in the city, the most famous of which are in Piazza della Signoria (where the work originally stood) and in Piazzale Michelangelo. These are hardly comparable to the original. But they give you a sense of the scale of the sculpture.

Purchase tickets to the Accademia

Other Attractions in Florence

Add these other Florence attractions if your itinerary allows it. They are all more than worthy of a visit but don’t merit “must-see” status unless you have ample time in your travel schedule.

Churches and Religious Sites

  • Santa Maria Novella
  • Santa Croce – Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Rossini are buried here, among many others
  • San Lorenzo
  • Medici Chapels
  • Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine
  • San Marco Monastery and Museum
  • San Miniato al Monte

Museums, Squares, Public Buildings, and Other Sites

  • Bargello Museum
  • Orsanmichele
  • Palazzo Vecchio
  • Piazza della Signoria
  • Piazzale Michelangelo
  • Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens
  • Ponte Vecchio