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Things to See in Florence

Updated on October 19, 2012

Of all the cities I have visited in Italy, Florence is my favorite. The city is small, steeped in history, beautiful, romantic, walkable, safe, friendly, and surrounded by a stunning, picturesque countryside.

While I spent only two days in Florence, I was able to see everything I wanted to see- and then some! The sights I most recommend are:

  • Pitti Palace (a stunning palace complex and gardens made famous by the Medici family),
  • The Uffizi (one of the world's oldest art galleries)
  • The Academia (famous for hosting Michelangelo's David)
  • Florence's cobblestone-lined shopping streets
  • The Piazza della Signoria
  • Il Duomo (Florence's de facto landmark)
  • The Ponte Vecchio (a very old and very fascinating bridge)

Pitti Palace

The first thing I visited in Florence was Pitti Palace, a sprawling, fortress-like palace first built (or at least commissioned) in 1458 by Luca Pitti, a wealthy Florintian banker.

Located across the Arno from the city center, Pitti Palace feels far away while also being just a couple minutes from all the other major sites in Florence.

Impressive enough on its own, Pitti Palace is particularly notable because of the family that made it famous. In 1549, Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de' Medici, purchased the palace when she realized that the Palazzo Vecchio (the main governmental building/palace in Florence) was just not going to suit the needs of her large and fancy family. In addition to wanting a larger palace to live in, Elenora wanted to avail herself of the beautiful Boboli Gardens the palace has to offer, which are indeed great for travelers who love a good hillside walk!

Pitti Palace is so large, it houses several different museums, including a porcelain museum, a costume gallery, a carriages museum, a silver museum, a gallery of modern art, the Palatine Gallery, royal apartments, a museum of treasures, and a gallery of modern art.

When I visited Pitti Palace, not all of these museums were open, but I did visit the costume museum, the porcelain museum, and the museum of treasures.

Museum of Treasures

The first museum I visited within the palace housed treasures that had been collected by the Medici family. The museum's collections were housed and above the palace's main antechamber and audience room, and included everything from jewel-encrusted ebony cabinets to religious religious relics, figurines, gold chalices, crystal serving plates and goblets, precious stones, jewelry, miniatures, and yes- tiaras.

In addition to being positively star struck by the artistry of these treasures (there was, for example, an extensive collection just of misshapen pearls that resembled body parts, figures, faces, and animals that had been combined with gold casings and other precious stones to create little figurines unlike anything I had ever seen), I was dumbfounded by the sheer volume of items within this museum.

The Medici family- just one family- had more wealth than I can even fathom flowing through the entire world. I find it immensely difficult to comprehend what it would be like to have so much money.

Museum of Treasures Highlights

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Click thumbnail to view full-size

Costume Gallery

The costume museum houses a wide variety of clothing from the 1500s to the 1990s.
The main collections were grouped in such a way as to make a statement about fashion and society- how silhouettes become simpler during tumultuous and uncertain times, for example, and how full skirts and exaggerated features tend to crop up in times of growth and excess.

There were, however, special collections. Though I had absolutely no interest in an exhibit focusing on Native American apparel, I was quite drawn to an exhibit showcasing the clothing that Cosimo I de Medici, his wife Leonira of Toledo, and one of their sons (who died at age 15) were buried in.

To my knowledge, I had never seen actual clothing from the 1500s before- it simply turns to dust by that point- but because these garments had been uninterrupted for so long, and because they were so carefully restored, we could actually see the originals.

One particularly interesting detail about these garments is that they were clothes the Medicis wore on a regular basis- not special funerary garments. Those restoring the clothing knew this by finding spots where the fabric had been patched and repaired.

It was a bit morbid, looking at clothing that had been essentially stolen from graves... But... In this case, the morbidity was not enough to keep me away!

One of the most satisfying aspects of my time spent in the costume museum (aside from the opportunity to gaze upon beautiful garments and walk through sumptuous palace rooms) was the validation of my basic historical sartorial knowledge.

Before looking at the description of each dress on display (as each case typically held garments ranging from 1700 to 1999), I would guess the year the dress was made- and found that I was consistently accurate within two years. When you go, I challenge you to test your sartorial accuracy as well!

The Boboli Gardens at Pitti Palace

Click thumbnail to view full-size

The Porcelain Museum at Pitti Palace

Click thumbnail to view full-size

I give the Uffizi Five Stars! It's a must-see Florence museum.

5 stars for The Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi

The Uffizi is the number one must-see museum in Florence. One of the oldest art museums in the Western World, the Uffizi was built by Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany (husband of my heroine, Eleonora di Toledo) to house his family's impressive art collection (and show off their amazing power and wealth).

The Uffizi, of course, was not always an art gallery. The palace's construction began in 1560 as the offices for Floentine magistrates (which is why the Uffizi has its name- "uffizi" means "offices").

Just being inside the Uffizi is a privilege. It is incredible to contemplate the vast wealth and influence of the Medicis as demonstrated through their art collection. It is also mind boggling to walk down the same halls and through the same rooms in which people from all around the world have been admiring pieces from the Medici collection for hundreds of years.
Of course, the art itself is the real attraction. The vast majority of the Uffizi's pieces (at least the paintings) are religious in nature. When I visited, I spent a lot of time contemplating the serene and resolved face of the Virgin Mary, and wondering about the impact her prominent artistic position has had on women within society.

If you're a fan of art, you will of course be transfixed by Botticelli's paintings- not just Spring and the Birth of Venus (which I spent quite some time sitting in front of), but also his earlier works. It is particularly fascinating to observe the evolution of faces as he perfected his skill. Though one can see their basic style enduring through the ages, his later faces have an element of intelligence, spark, life, and mystery in them that makes them positively mesmerizing.

Must-See Sights in Florence

The Academia:
Gallery of The Academy, Via Bettino Ricasoli, 58/60, 50122 Florence, Italy

get directions

Home of Michelangelo's David- and a host of other pleasant surprises!

The Uffizi Gallery:
Uffizi, 50122 Florence, Italy

get directions

One of the world's oldest and most famous art museums.

Il Duomo:
Florence Cathedral, Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Florence, Italy

get directions

Florence's picturesque cathedral.

Palazzo Pitti:
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace), Palazzo Pitti, 50125 Florence, Italy

get directions

The fabulous residence of Cosimo I de' Medici and his fabulous wife, Eleonora di Toledo

Ponte Vecchio:
Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

get directions

The fabulous bridge!

Piazza della Signoria:
Piazza della Signoria, 50122 Florence, Italy

get directions

Home to the Palazzo Vecchio and some world-famous statues.

The Academia

The Academia is probably the second most famous museum in Florence. Though I expected little from the Academia, which I had only known to visit because it houses Michelangelo's David, I was pleasantly surprised.

One pleasant surprise is that this museum houses an exhibition showcasing some of Ferdinand de Medici's collection of musical instruments. Most of them were Baroque, though there were some older pieces, too. One prized piece of the collection is a dulcimer made with three different colors of marble (and can actually be played!).

As I wandered through the museum, beautiful harpsichord music floated through the air. While I thought it was a recording, I realized upon reaching the end of the hall that a woman was actually practicing on one of several museum pieces displayed in an adjoining room.

As I love harpsichord music so much, and I have never had an opportunity to see someone play a period harpsichord for a prolonged period of time, I ended up watching her for close to 45 minutes. It was delightful to see such a talented musician at work- and to see what practice sessions are like as well!

Long story short, I STRONGLY recommend that you check out the musical instrument wing of the Academia!

You'll also love seeing Michelangelo's David, of course.

Honestly, the statue was far more inspiring than I expected it to be. David's expression of confident, firm resolve; his posture, his tense muscles, plus the general story of a shepherd who, without armor and experience, used the one weapon he know how to use to defeat an armored giant, all come together to form a large dollop of enthusiasm and courage than falls upon anyone who takes a moment to actually contemplate the work (I can say with disappointed confidence that most visiting the museum did not give the piece much thought).

Connected to the hall where David stands is another pleasant surprise: the recreation of a famous late 18th century sculptor's workshop. This sculptor was apparently a well known Florentinian artist who lived from around 1770 to 1860 and created busts for every notable foreign visitor who stopped by Florence on his or her world tour. His dedicated hall features plaster copies of marble statues and busts he created (most of which exist at known spots throughout the world), which, as I understand it, were used to create additional bronze statues or marble copies.

As many of the commissioners were English, and as this artist was working at the height of the Regency Era (he actually got famous after doing several busts for Napoleon's family), there were loads of busts of personages from one of my favorite times and places in history. As the casts were lined up along long shelves along the high walls, I felt as though I were looking at some strange three dimensional yearbook of Jane Austen characters. It was marvelous.

Shopping Streets in Florence

While I did not really think of Florence as a 'shopping' city, it does have some excellent shopping streets and seems to be great for cheap leather goods and expensive jewelry.

As I'm a gal with a smaller budget, I stuck to the leather goods end of the spectrum, and was really happy with the two purses I bought- both for around $25.

When shopping on Florence's streets, I highly recommend haggling.

My best haggling tips:

  1. Carry little cash
  2. Care little about the things you might purchase
  3. Wear skimpy clothing

Piazza della Signoria

The Piazza della Signoria is the most famous piazza in Florence. In addition to playing host to quite a few famous and impressive statues, the Piazza della Signoria is where one will find the Palazzo Vecchio, which was Florence's primary governmental building.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Il Duomo

Il Duomo is Florence's de facto icon- it seems to show up in the vast majority of post cards and keychains featuring the city, and it certainly is impressive.

Also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, construction for this amazing church first began in 1296. It was structurally completed in 1436, and is famous for its large dome, which was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi.

Alas, because I dress like a strumpet (in other words, because my knees were exposed), I could not tour the inside of the Duomo (traveler's note: wear clothing that covers your shoulders and legs if you'd like to enter a cathedral!), but seeing the outside was inspiring enough for me!

Ponte Vecchio

One of my favorite spots in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge essentially connecting Pitti Palace to the Piazza della Signoria. As this bridge spans one of the narrowest portions of the Arno river, there have been bridges in this spot since ancient Roman times, but the present bridge was build in Medieval times.

Since Medieval times (or possibly earlier!), the bridge has housed shops. These days, some of the city's most expensive jewelry can be purchased in the stores overlooking the river, but the bridge initially played host to butchers!

Fun fact about the bridge: word has it that the concept of bankruptcy was invented there! Back in the day, merchants who couldn't pay their debts would have their tables (their "bancos") broken ("rotto") by soldiers, who called the practice "bancorotto". Ta-da! Bankruptcy!
Want to keep the tradition alive? Buy something from one of the jewelry shops on that bridge? Just one of those dang necklaces would be enough to put me in the red.

Museum Tickets in Florence

Florence is famous for its museums, so it should come as no surprise that nearly everyone visiting the city wants to go to as many as possible- or at least the two big ones: the Uffizi (which houses the most famous pieces of the city) and the Academia (mostly visited by those wishing to see Michelangelo's David).

What happens when a large number of people want to visit a museum? Lines form. Long, long lines. When I visited

The best way to avoid the worst lines is to book tickets in advance. While it is possible to purchase tickets to the major Florentine museums online, I found the purchase interface to be slow and impossible. The easiest way to go is to ask one's hotel concierge to book one's tickets on his or her behalf.

Museum tickets in Florence that have been purchased ahead of time come in the form of vouchers for specific time slots that must be picked up in a special office and exchanged for physical tickets used for museum entry. Are there lines involved in this little maneuver? Yes. Are the lines shorter? Absolutely.

When I visited the Uffizi and the Academia, I was immensely happy to have had my tickets reserved ahead of time by my hotel's concierge. Getting into the Uffizi first thing in the morning was a breeze, and I was able to avoid a four hour long line at the Academia in the afternoon.

Lesson of the day: Get your tickets ahead of time!!

Oh, and have fun. Florence is magical. I hope you get to visit it soon!!

I'm a big fan of Florence- I bet you will be, too!
I'm a big fan of Florence- I bet you will be, too!


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    • Nardi Doda profile image

      Nardi Doda 

      19 months ago

      This is great article! Thanks for sharing!

      A Day In Tuscany

      My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed this day trip to beautiful Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa stopping at Poggio ai Laghi winery for some lunch and wine tasting...Our guide Lorenzo was very knowledgeable and gave us much information with a great sense of humour...always checking on us to make sure we were happy and ok. The bus driver Antonio was and excellent driver and we felt very safe in the bus and also enjoyed his taste in music.

      Tour from

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I had been to Florence twice but always just for the day so I have not really checked out the museums. I would have loved to see Michaelengelo's David.

    • EZ Swim Fitness profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Southern Wisconsin

      Simone Smith,

      Awesome! What a great hub with fantastic details and photos. Italy is on my radar. In fact long ago, I bought the CDs to learn Italian. Recently I downloaded a free app to learn Italian - thank goodness the expensive CDs are much better than the free app! Thank your allowing me to live vicariously through you.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks Melbel! You are going to have THE BEST TIME in Florence! I am so excited for you- and jealous!!

    • melbel profile image

      Melanie Shebel 

      8 years ago from Midwest, USA

      Such an awesome hub! I may be going on a study abroad thing this coming summer and I'll be staying in Florence for six weeks. I was really nervous that I might not like it, but after looking at all the pics in this hub I can't WAIT to go! Great hub, thanks for sharing (and for calming the butterflies!)

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks so much for your comments, everyone!

      Rochelle Frank, I hope you WILL get a chance to see Florence in person someday. I know you'd adore it.

      Thanks so much for those shares, Suzie HQ ;)

      Thank you, mjkearn! And also thanks for catching the embarrassing typo in this Hub and sending me an email about it!! You're the best.

      Hahaa, rfmoran- I had always wondered where you were when your Profile photo was taken. What a fabulous location!

      VirginiaLynne, you MUST visit Florence. Though China sure is impressive, too!! Gosh- so many places, so little time (and money! UGH!).

      Carter06, thanks so much for the kind words about my photos. I feel like Florence and its contents speak for themselves! Hahaa, all one has to do is point somewhere random and click.

      I *bet* you have spent a lot of time in Italy, stugod! I envy you- Mont Blanc has been on my must-see list for quite a while. And what experiences you have had there!

    • stugod profile image

      Stuart Goddard 

      8 years ago from Bradford

      Believe it or not I have spent a lot of time in Italy. Mainly in the north which is a lot like my native Yorkshire. I loved it especially the food. We regularly travelled over Mont Blanc which is where the infamous tunnel fire occurred a few years ago. On one occasion we were one of a handful of vehicles to get over the mountain in a blizzard.(We followed a snow plough). I sure have some great memories of Italy if you ignore the riot I started at Carrisio truck stop. Better stop there;););)

    • carter06 profile image


      8 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      I was blessed to visit the beautiful city for the first time early last year and I have to say I was a bit mesmerized by it's beauty...I stood in awe beside the magnificient David in the Academia and imagined the 5 stones in his hands before he toppled Goliath (I was stunned at how enormous his hands were)...such an amazing experience...

      Simone those pictures of the crown and jewels are just exquisite...and the the views over the city and your detailed hub are such a lovely trip down memory lane for me and a reminder that I need to go back and to see so much more (sigh)...thank you so much for sharing this...VUUABI shared & tweeted...cheers

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 

      8 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Beautiful hub on a beautiful city I'd love to visit. Fantastic Simone :)

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 

      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Beautiful. I love Italy, but I haven't made it to Florence yet. I am having a little travel jealousy right now :) Voted up and sharing.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      8 years ago from Essex, UK

      Very informative guide Simone, useful for anyone thinking of visiting the city and in need of ideas on where to go. And nice photos too. Voted up. Alun.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      What a comprehensive overview with so many gorgeous pictures! I hope to get there someday.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      8 years ago from United States

      You have really made me want to visit Florence. I've never been to Europe before, even though I've visited China 3 times. What a wonderful Hub which really gives someone an idea of how much you can see in a quick trip. I like to travel densely like this. You certainly have given me a great model for how to do a Hub of some of my travels. Thanks! Voted up and pinned!

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      8 years ago from Long Island, New York

      I only spent a day in Florence and was stunned by the beauty of the place. It's on my list of places to revisit. You can tell that it impressed me. My bio photo shows me with the Ponte alle Grazie in the background. Thanks for this excellent resource hub Simone. I shall consult it before my next visit. Great photos!

    • artofadulthood profile image


      8 years ago

      I would LOVE visit Florence! Even more so now after reading this! Great hub!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, Simone, for this deja vu return visit to Florence, one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world. The museums alone would be reason to re-visit. And the Ponte Vecchio is an added attraction!

    • daisydayz profile image

      Chantele Cross-Jones 

      8 years ago from Cardiff

      Eoe it looks like such a beuatiful place I would love to visit one day

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great post! And I love all your fabulous pictures. Florence is such a beautiful city! Now I'm wishing I could go back. I'll have to keep returning to the hub to flip through the pictures, they're much better than any I took.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi Simoney

      Florence definitely suits Your Highness. Fabulous hub and stunning photos. Great job on links to book tickets which I wish I'd seen before spending an infuriating hour+ queuing in Rome for the Colosseum.

      I've a friend who uses the same quote as you before telling any story and I love it,

      "Long story short"

      and on hearing the short story I'm so glad I missed the long version. There isn't enough time in one life.

      Yet another impressive hub from the "Bat". Great job S. Voted Up, ticked and shared.


    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      So well presented and interesting.


    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 

      8 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Simone,

      Seriously great work on my yet to visit favourite places in Italy! What fantastic detail and pics! Love the wear skimpy clothes tips! lol

      VU, shared and pinned! :-)

      Ciao !

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Simone. Simply wonderful. One of my favorite places in the world. So much art, history, culture and food. I can't wait to return someday.

      Meraviglioso. Ciao

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country

      As an art History major (and Michelangelo) I am a big fan of Florence. My parents were there a couple of times. I will probably never see it, but enjoyed visiting, vicariously, with you.

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 

      8 years ago from Clinton CT

      Wow. This hub was E.P.I.C. Nice work! :)


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