what to do in florence

The one, the only, The David. (Photo: Getty Images)


Visiting Florence? Don’t Miss These Must-Do’s in the Cradle of the Renaissance

There’s something about Florence, Italy’s cradle of the Renaissance and picture-perfect Tuscan town. And the city knows it. Travelers have come in search of its art and beauty for centuries, drawn by its enchanting architecture, medieval streets and wide-open squares.

The city’s lineup of masterpieces, museums, sites and experiences is never-ending, but what to see on limited time? Here’s a best-of list to help you navigate the City of Lilies.

Meet David

Michelangelo’s David is always what comes to mind when thinking of Florence — a monumental sculpture depicting history’s most famous underdog. You’ll find David sculptures all around the city, in all dimensions.

Galleria dell’Accademia is home to the original David, along with a small collection of some unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo, other Renaissance artists and a collection of historic instruments. Book tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line.

Take in the Galleria

The best ticket in Florence is to the Gallerie degli Uffizi. Originally offices for the industrious Medici family, the Uffizi is now the world’s most important museum of Renaissance art.

Here you’ll hobnob with Michelangelo, Botticelli and Leonardo while enjoying a stretch of the Vasari Corridor, the kilometer-long passageway that connects the Uffizi Gallery to the Pitti Palace. During high season, your best bet is to reserve tickets in advance.

Visit the City’s Seat of Power

what to do in florence
Experience the grandeur. (Photo: Getty Images)

Get into the Florence mindset by walking through the Palazzo Vecchio, the medieval fortress in the historic center.

Palazzo Vecchio was, and still is, the seat of Florence’s power, functioning today with the magnificent Sala dei Cinquecento (Room of the Five Hundred) by Giorgio Vasari as a public-access town hall.

Its grounds also host a museum, archaeological site and the Arnolfo Clock Tower, with its 360-degree view of the city.

Live Like a Medici

Although connected by the aboveground Vasari Corridor, the only way to get to the Pitti Palace is by walking across the Ponte Vecchio and through the Oltrarno neighborhood.

The former Medici residence and de facto hub of the Renaissance is a sprawling complex of resplendent rooms and galleries open to the public.

Get a Contemporary Fix

Catch up to the contemporary by visiting Palazzo Strozzi, another off-the-charts amazing Renaissance palace that hosts blockbuster exhibitions, oftentimes focusing on super artists of the 20th and 21st centuries like Ai Weiwei, Carsten Höller and Marina Abramovic.

See Why Oltrarno’s So Hip

Walk around the Oltrarno, the neighborhood surrounding the Pitti Palace, billed as Florence’s hippest neighborhood, and for good reason. For centuries the Oltrarno has been home to artists and artisans, and in its 21st-century incarnation, the Oltrarno is a charming collection of boutiques, ateliers, restaurants, wine bars and residences.

Piazza di Santo Spirito is the unofficial centerpiece of the Oltrarno, a large rectangular piazza lined with restaurants and bars. Alexandra Lawrence of Explore Florence takes you into the alleys and behind the scenes of the Oltrarno.

See the Duomo

The emblem of Florence itself is Il Duomo di Firenze, a beautifully detailed cathedral in the city center capped by an inimitable terra-cotta-tiled dome. It’s just 463 steps through narrow staircases to reach the top of architect Filippo Brunelleschi’s masterpiece and the highest point in the historic center.

Next door is the Opera Duomo Museum, a museum dedicated to the Duomo, as well as an onsite, active restoration laboratory and collection of incredible Renaissance pieces, including goldsmith Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, the original cathedral doors.

Find Zen (and Views) in a Garden

what to do in florence
Press the pause button. (Photo: Getty Images)

Florence’s best masterpiece is the city itself, and to find it, all you have to do is climb the hills. One of the most beautiful views is from the top of the Giardino Bardini, a terraced garden with iris and wisteria plantings.

The Giardino Bardini connects to the Giardino di Boboli, what was once the Medici’s backyard, expansive garden grounds attached to the Pitti Palace.

Eat the Trippa

Eat lampredotto and trippa in Sant’Ambrogio. Florence is known for its lampredotto and trippa panini, stomach and tripe sandwiches.

Chef and restauranteur Fabio Picchi serves up a beautiful and traditional white trippa dish at his famed Trattoria Cibrèo, or you can grab a trippa sandwich at the local Trippaio in the Sant’Ambrogio market or the food truck around the corner.

Sip Aperitivi

Enjoy an aperitivo at Caffe Rivoire, the historic coffee shop on Piazza della Signoria, and watch the sun bathe the piazza’s incredible architecture and sculpture.

A replica of Michelangelo’s famous David stands in the original location in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, while a gang of Renaissance and Baroque greats like Cellini’s Perseus and Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women hang out in the outdoor gallery, Loggia dei Lanzi.