Florence is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. The entire city is a work of art, and completely brought the Renaissance to life for me. We stayed in a great Airbnb flat a short walk from the Centro Storico, where most of Florence’s cultural jewels are concentrated.
After just four days, I feel like I barely scratched the surface of this amazing city and wish I could’ve done more off the tourist trail. Having said that, the “tourist circuit” is deluged with visitors for a reason, and is truly worth every bit of time and money. Here’s my list of must-sees in Florence:
The Uffizi Gallery. Home to one of the largest and oldest private art collections in the Western word, the Uffizi Gallery contains masterpieces amassed by the powerful and wealthy (understatement of the century) Medici clan.
Works by the who’s who of Italian art, such as Titian, Caravaggio, Giotto and yes, all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all reside here. The true revelation for me here was Botticelli; though I felt as if I’d seen The Birth of Venus a hundred times in pop culture, nothing prepared me for the impact of the real thing. (Plus: you can get a lot closer to Venus than you can to Mona Lisa.)
Top tips: book tickets ahead at the Musei Firenze website to skip the queue, which can stretch for hours. The site is slow, but totally worth it. Allot at least three hours to soak up the full wealth and wonder of the Renaissance. Be prepared for Stendhal syndrome (as I experienced at the Vatican Museum); it’s best not to schedule anything visually heavy before or after. You’ll need your eyeballs rested for this one.
Also, the Uffizi Gallery has the best, biggest museum bookshop I’ve been in—not just for art and architecture, but also a great selection of kids’ literature, fiction and nonfiction.
Ponte Vecchio. Right outside the exit of the Uffizi, this ancient bridge over the Arno River is iconic Florence. It has always housed shops, from butchers in medieval times to jewelers in the present day.
Top tip: Venture behind the Ponte Vecchio for equally beautiful pictures with fewer tourists.
The Galleria dell’Accademia. The reason for a visit to the Accademia in a single word: David. The most beautiful man you’ll ever meet in your life is made of marble, and it’s hard to walk away from such manly perfection. Pictures don’t do justice to Michelangelo’s masterpiece.
Top tip: again, book tickets in advance at the Musei Firenze site. The Accademia is much more manageable than the Uffizi; an hour and a half should be enough. For music lovers, there’s a great little exhibition of musical instruments in the back, with a real Stradivarius.
Santa Maria del Fiore, a.k.a the Duomo. Begun in the 1200s and finished nearly 200 years later, the Duomo is immense and stunning. The marble cladding alone took a generation to complete.
The eight-sided dome took a lifetime to build and revolutionized architecture. Nearby, its architect and master builder Filippo Brunelleschi, is immortalized forever looking up at his pride and joy.
Top tip: Look up Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Revolutionized Architecture by Ross King. It’s a compelling account of how the Duomo was built, the controversies surrounding it, and a vivid picture of life in Renaissance Florence.
Palazzo Vecchio. Formerly Florence’s seat of power, this museum houses the opulent apartments, offices and private chapels of the Medici family and the Florentine government.
Top tip: Can’t be bothered to go to the Accademia? Take pictures with David’s replica outside the Palazzo Vecchio. What could be better than a hot guy with a twin brother?
Piazzale Michelangelo. Take bus 12 or 13 from the center (we drove) uphill to this piazza for postcard panoramas over Florence.
Top tip: This is a great way to end your trip. The Piazzale Michelangelo is where you’ll get a one-shot glimpse of everything you’ve seen, realize how much more you didn’t see, and swear to come back another time.