As an art and book lover who has picked up a couple of Dan Brown novels over the years, I knew I had to include Florence in my itinerary when visiting Italy. It is apparently the Italian Renaissance city where all the great minds of the time rubbed shoulders. During its heyday, Florence was the place to see and be seen at by great Renaissance men, with the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, and Raphael.
Here’s my trail through Florence, visiting the attractions of the Florence Renaissance, and experiencing the other modern glories in the beautiful Italian city.
What to do in Florence: Start with The Florence Renaissance Attractions
Seeing the famous Florentine Duomo up close
Modern-day Florence is just as bustling. On our first day here, my husband and I strolled to the heart of the city and joined the legion of tourists from all over the world to take a close-up look at il Duomo, or dome, Florence’s massive yet intricately designed cathedral.
Officially called the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the building was completed in the 15th century. We learnt that another renaissance man, Filippo Brunelleschi, designed the cathedral’s imposing dome. And complementing its beautiful green and pink marble exterior is an interior filled with detailed carved shrines, colourful frescoes and bronze statues.
Visiting the Duomo is probably in position no.1 when it comes to the top things to do in Florence. It is absolute must-see. It’s grand from the outside, but well worth buying a tour ticket and arriving early to explore the interiors.
Don’t forget to admire the other icons of the Florence Renaissance in the same area. Brunelleschi is credited with inventing the one-point linear perspective which revolutionized art and architecture. His a-ha moment happened standing in front of the Baptistry, the octagonal building in front of the Dome.
From the top of the Duomo, you can also enjoy great views of the city, including some other magnificent structures that stand tall over the reddish little Florentine houses.
Good Food in Florence
When it was time for a bite, we tracked down one of Florence’s street food vendors specialising in trippa alla fiorentina – beef tripe cooked in a spicy tomato sauce – to get a taste of a local favourite. L’antico Trippaio is a food truck that serves that and other bold-flavoured noshes, including lampredotto (the cow’s fourth stomach slathered in the same fiorentina sauce and served in a panino) and the mouthwatering panino con bollito (boiled beef topped with salsa verde in a bun).
In case you didn’t already know, the Italians are magnificent at preparing food. Or maybe Italian cuisine is a better word, because its another level. So make sure good food is on your itinerary of things to do in Florence.
Piazza Della Signoria
Just a short stroll from il Duomo is Florence’s main square, Piazza della Signoria. Flanked by the Palazzo Vecchio, the Loggia filled with Roman sculptures, the Uffizi Gallery and a clutch of ritzy cafes and restaurants, this is where we spent some time viewing the detailed marble statues and at the replica of Michelangelo’s David standing tall and keeping watch at the entrance of the palace.
Marvelling at Marble Sculptures
Visiting the art attractions are a definite must-do in Florence, even if you’re not a huge art fan. You’d be amazed how many masterpieces stand together in the same place out here. Sometimes literally outside. It takes no stretch of the imagination to be impressed by the Italian paintings and sculptures.
The real David is located in the Accademia Gallery, which we visited together with the Uffizi on our second day in the city. Before getting our fill of the imposing 5.17m-tall 16th-century masterpiece, we walked along an aisle in the museum to see Michelangelo’s other marble works, the unfinished Prisoners, that gave us an idea of the great Renaissance master’s creative process.
Another unique museum we visited in Florence is the Uffizi, the former offices of the powerful Medici family in the 16th century. It houses Italian art from the 12th to the 17th century. Some instantly recognisable masterpieces in the collection include Botticelli’s famed Birth of Venus and Primavera alongside many Renaissance creations. A tip when visiting the Accademia and the Uffizi, book your tickets online or purchase the Florence Museum Card to skip the long queues!
Just outside the Uffizi is the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval-era stone bridge that lies over the Arno River. Lined with glittering jewellery boutiques, this old bridge was a beautiful spot to snap some scenic shots of the city while window shopping.
This is one of the most famous spots in Firenze, especially for photos. So you’ll have to squeeze in to take your selfie and run along.
Back to food!
We also made sure to make our way to one of the many gelaterias lining the cobblestone streets to get a taste of the popular Italian treat — gelato. While Florence is known as a city of art, it has a secondary reputation as a gelato haven. Many guidebooks claim that some of the country’s best gelato can be found in this city. I can’t attest to that because I haven’t tried gelato all over Italy, but the ones I tried here were pretty good. I developed a new found love for pistachio gelato when travelling here.
More Michelangelo at the Medici Chapels
On our third day, the husband and I decided to visit the Medici Chapels in San Lorenzo Basilica.
Built by the powerful Medici family, the chapel houses some of Michelangelo’s marble sculptures that decorate the family tombs. We learnt that the Medicis were patrons of Michelangelo’s and the artist lived with the family before moving on to Rome to work on St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Although small, the Medici Chapels houses some of Michelangelo’s greatest works – and we couldn’t help but be astonished at the lifelike sculptures.
After that, we took a bus that wound around a residential neighbourhood to Piazzale Michelangelo to take in the panoramic views of the city. Breathtaking.
Just around the corner from the plaza overlooking the city is San Miniato Basilica, an arresting Romanesque church. We made sure to stay near the 11th-century church till 5.30 pm so that we can listen to the monks chant in the Gregorian style – now, that was a real goosebumps moment.
Florence Hotels: Where I Stayed
I enjoyed my stay at il Bargellino. The eclectically-furnished family-run inn is located a short stroll away from Piazza della Signoria. While it is not a full-service hotel, the inn is cosy and comfortable. We loved hanging out at the rooftop garden dotted with tables and lawn chairs to take in partial views of il Duomo’s beautiful dome.
Best time to visit Florence
Spring and autumn in Florence offer pleasant weather with plenty of sunshine but be aware that April, May, June, September and October are peak tourist season. In the summer months of July and August, the temperature can reach 32° C. Winters are chilly, with temperatures dipping to 10°C. Also, note that some attractions may have shorter operating hours during winter.