The city is as much a masterpiece as the works of art that reside there.
The narrow streets of the Centro Storico, lively Piazzas, and views from across the Arno of seemingly endless red tile roofs stay in your memory forever. To walk in the footsteps of the great Renaissance artists is an inspiration for all who are fortunate enough to visit.
Depending upon how much time you have there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the museums to cover. Our advice, pick a few, there are the obvious must-sees, and leave enough time to do what is so magical about Italy. Wander. Explore. And take time to just stop and smell the roses.
1) Michelangelo’s David
Perhaps the single most stunning piece of artwork we have ever encountered. But what made it so amazing was the story told by Angelo from Artiva tours http://www.italy.artviva.com
, which is a must experience. If you do go on your own, without benefit of this amazing storyteller, or at least the research behind the masterpiece, you’ll think it just an amazing statue of a naked man. What we learned (and we don’t intend to tell the whole story here…15 things you might not know about ‘The David’
) is about the original commission, its intention to have been seen from the top of the cathedral, and the political and religious statement Michelangelo was making. So much more than a statue, it is a testament to the perfection of the human form and the hero in all of us.
2) Climbing Brunnelleschi’s Dome
This is an adventure, with the skyline of Florence as the reward. 463 narrow, winding steps, where the darkness is pierced by blinding shafts of light through the narrow windows.
Before reaching the top, the narrow ledge allows amazing views of the inner dome where The Last Judgment scenes painted by Vasari and Zuccaro are among the largest paintings on Earth. This will rank as an unforgettable moment…not to be missed.
3) Crossing the Ponte Vecchio at night
Spanning the river Arno, the old bridge, thankfully spared in WW II, is romantically lit, and though crowded, a stroll across is enchanting.
If shopping is on your list, come back during the day for jewelry shopping. Either way, Stop for a gelato at the far side, and take in the history.
4) Piazza Republica
This quickly became our favorite nighttime hangout.
From the comfy couches at the Gilli bar (though it is actually best known as a daytime cafe), enjoy the best cocktails, listen to the music, watch the carousel spin, and enjoy the absolute best people watching anywhere!
5) The walk (and stop) to Piazzale Michelangelo
As Carla says…this is when a place finds you…whenever in Italy, the very next spot where you will sit, eat, drink and know that life is good, waits just down the next alley.
It was a long walk, it was hot, so we just stopped at Bevvions Enoteco Bar. 2 hours, 6 new friends, all you can eat cichetti and numerous chiantis later it was a bit difficult to remember why we came!
Of course, we did continue on to see the amazing view of Florence from the Piazzale. Looking out past the Arno, over the rooftops and the Duomo and Campanile was spectacular.
6) Dinner on the hillside
Just a short taxi outside the city brought us to La Cava Di Maiano. It was like an excursion to Tuscany, with houses set into the hills, sweeping views amidst the Tuscan Cypress.
7) The baptistry, bell tower, cathedral and duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore
Of course must be discussed, the very centerpiece of Florence. The green and pink marble facade is a magnificent work of architecture. We could go on for pages documenting the history and important works of art here…for a full description check www.visitflorence.com
The museum across the Piazza houses some of the original art. The cathedral itself, though somewhat ‘spare’ compared to more ornate interiors, includes 44 stained glass windows.
Among the incredible masterpieces here are the ‘Gates of Paradise’, the massive 14ft bronze relief doors by Ghiberti, chosen to create them after winning the contest from Brunelleschi, who then turned his attention to architecture and designed il Duomo.
8) The Ufizzi Gallery
Once the private residence of the ruling Medici family, the gallery now holds one of the world’s most important collections particularly of Italian renaissance art, from masters including Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael…again, check here for more detail www.visitflorence.com
To see the entire collection can take the better part of five hours. Once again, we recommend a guided tour to maximize your time. We loved our tour with Artviva, and highly recommend the experience.
9) Santa Maria Novello
This beautiful church is stunning by the art found within, the beautiful courtyards, and the play of sunlight through the stained glass.
Incredible works to see here include:
- Giotto’s Crucifix – so realistic, yet beautiful, it hangs in the very center of the central nave
- Sandro Botticelli – early work, a nativity scene above the door
- Filippo Brunelleschi – The Crucifix (between 1410 and 1425)
- Nardo di Cione – frescoes of the Divine Judgment
- Lorenzo Ghiberti – tombstone of Leonardo Dati(1423)
- Domenico Ghirlandaio – frescoes (late 15th century) in the Tornabuoni Chapel, design of the stained-glass window
- Filippino Lippi – frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel, depicting the life of Philip the Apostle; stained glass window
- Benedetto da Maiano – the Tomb of Filippo Strozzi(1491) at the backside of the Strozzi Chapel.
- Giacomo Marchetti : Martyrdom of Saint Laurence.
- Masaccio – The Trinity
- Paolo Uccello – frescoes in the cloisters
- Giorgio Vasari – Madonna of the Rosary (1568)
10) Piazza del Signore
How we love Italy’s Piazza’s! The center of life, to eat, drink, linger…and we did all three here.
This one in particular is graced by the architecture of The Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) is the town hall of the city. This massive, fortress-palace is among the most impressive structures of Tuscany.
The Loggia dei Lanzi consists of wide arches open to the street, three bays wide and one bay deep. The arches rest on clustered pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The construction of the Loggia is in stark contrast with the severe architecture of the Palazzo Vecchio. It is effectively an open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance art.
- Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati(1575)
- Il Marzocco, (the Lion) with a copy of the “Florentine Lily“, originally made by Donatello (copy)
- Judith and Holofernes, by Donatello (copy)
- Hercules and Cacus, by Bandinelli (1533)
- The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giambologna
- Perseus with the Head of Medusa, by Cellini (1554)
- Medici lions, by Fancelli and Vacca (1598)
11) The Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace
Touring the gardens is a step back in time…we climbed the hills, enjoyed the beautiful views, and enjoyed the contrast of being in such wide open space after so much time spent in narrow streets, museum interiors and even the enclosed Piazzas. Home to a collection of sculptures dating from the 16th through the 18th centuries, with some Roman antiquities.
Honestly, at this point, we hit ‘museum overload’ as mentioned before and did not tour the palace. For information, visit www.visitflorence.com
So, hopefully we’ve given a perspective on a well-rounded, fairly balanced trip to Florence. There is more to see than time usually allows, and we make our choices. As in life, we take pleasure in beauty and knowledge, as well as savoring the physical pleasures of food, drink and simply ‘being’ in an amazing place. Florence has it all, and more. Just rest assured, you won’t have any regrets with what you do choose. And what you miss will be a reason to return.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin