There is something about Florence. It’s that Under the Tuscan Sun Room with A View vibe that makes everyone want to visit and live there. With so many beautiful piazze, museums, galleries, boutiques, and historic landmarks, there is never a question of what to do. To fully immerse yourself in the city’s charm, simply take to the streets and if you need a little more in spa, here’s my list of our top recommendations.
This may be a given but it’s worth taking the time to walk through the Uffizi Galleries‘ amazing collection of who’s who in priceless Renaissance art. Director Eike Schmidt is an butt kicker in the museum world and keeps upgrading the Uffizi visit with new hangs like Room 41, dubbed the Raphael and Michelangelo Room which now focuses on the artistic exchanges between the two masters, re-opened rooms and new rooms. Get the PassePartout 5 Day ticket which gives you entrance to Uffizi Galleries, Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace (BOLO on the costume collection).
If you visit Florence, you need to know all about the Medici and there is no better to place than the Medici Chapels. These two beautiful chapels are the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which set the stage for the Renaissance. They’re a great stop if you’re short on time, a Michelangelo buff, or want to feel like a Medici prince or princess—even for an hour. The site more than lives up to the hype; in fact, many people find the chapels truly mind-blowing. They’ll make you want to delve even further into the history of the Medici family and Michelangelo.
I am partial to the Bargello Museum because the architecture is insane- an old medieval fortress that was once a prison – with its beautiful Gothic arches, crenellations, a bell tower, and ramatic courtyard. The Bargello today houses Italy’s largest collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures and the big draw are blockbuster names like Donatello’s David, and Michelangelo’s Bacchus. Ghiberti’s designs for the Cathedral doors are front and center in this capsule museum, which has somehow remained less trafficked by tourist crowds.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is a gorgeous museum dedicated to the Dome and Basilica, as well as restoration projects. Home to the largest collection of sculptures from Medieval and Renaissance Florence in the world, this museum has an active restoration lab and school on site. Other highlights include Ghiberti’s doors, Michelangelo’s The Deposition, a model of the original, never-completed façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, and a room dedicated to Brunelleschi’s architectural masterpiece: the Dome of Florence cathedral. Be sure to hit the gift shop on the way out; it sells great books.
Walk around Santa Maria Novella Train Station
I have a thing about letters, type and font. Vintage, die-cast lead signs make my heart swell. It’s no wonder I have a huge crush on Florence’s central train station Stazione Santa Maria Novella. Santa Maria Novella is a cache of incredible type – from the standard lean Fascist lead font and neon exit sign to the gorgeous serif numbers that hide throughout the station. All you have to do is wait for your train and take a look around you.
Explore The Oltrarno, History + Artisans
Cross the Arno and head into the Oltrarno to know Florence’s local artisan scene, which has been around for centuries. ExploreFlorence, led by Alexandra Lawrence, has ultra-professional walking tours. Alexandra kicks off the artisan tour in the historic Piazza Santo Spirito. It’s best for those wanting to learn more about Florence’s artisans—the craftsmanship and skill that’s in danger of disappearing—rather than folks hoping to shop for international fashion brands. Groups are small, since it’s a private tour, and you have to book yours in advance.
The Oltrarno has two great gardens- Boboli and Bardini. Grand in design, but intimate in scale, the Giardino Bardini majestically leads up to the Belvedere panoramic terrace in a showstopping pergola-covered stairwell. Know that ascending requires a slight effort—the stairs are shallow and long. It’s the perfect pit-stop if you’re sick of traipsing around museums, as the garden doesn’t present anything all that urgent to do, other than the obvious: stop and smell the flowers. This is where you find Florence’s emblematic irises.
Stadio Artemio Franchi
You want a taste of local flavor? Nothing better than catching a partita (soccer game) at Stadio Artemio Franchi, stadium and home to ACF Fiorentina, Florence’s Serie A team. Serie A is Italy’s top soccer league, so you’re guaranteed to see the country’s best teams compete here. It’s also a great place to bring kids and learn about Italian soccer culture. Get Tribuna Onore seats, which offer views of the midfield away from the teams’ more rabid fans.
One of Florence’s best kept secrets, Palazzo Strozzi is a beautiful, freestanding Renaissance palazzo with an ambitious contemporary art program. Whether its an Olafur Eliasson show, a Carsten Holler experiment or a Marina Abramovic retrospective, Palazzo Strozzi constantly amazes through innovative, often interactive, exhibitions. Although the historic structure remains intact, the gallery space inside is thoroughly modern and aptly renovated for art shows. Most exhibitions require advanced reservations, and the shop sells wonderful made-in-Florence gifts.
Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele pushed the limits, and his greatest creation is Gucci Garden, an interactive complex where fashion, food, history, and art commingle. Located in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence’s Piazza Signoria, Gucci Garden is a colorful journey through the Florentine fashion house’s past, present, and future. The multi-level boutique-slash-museum includes a store selling exclusive Gucci Garden designs, a gallery space with contemporary exhibitions, and a ground-floor restaurant by rockstar chef Massimo Bottura.
Collezione Roberto Casamonti
Open to the public, Collezione Roberto Casamonti is the private home-cum-gallery of collector Roberto Casamonti showcasing a sampling of his modern and contemporary art collection, which has more than 5,000 works. Italian and international artists, including pieces by Warhol, Picasso, and Basquiat, are all represented here. It’s a well-lit, inviting, and organized space that doesn’t draw a ton of visitors, so it’s easy to walk around. In fact, you’ll likely have a room entirely to yourself.
Craft Cocktails and Aperitivi
Did you know the negroni was created in Florence? Join Curious Appetite for their very crafted Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo tours. These customized tours are available for private or small groups, and can be personalized to your specific preferences, such as a particular spirit or cocktail. On foot, you will have the opportunity to explore various cafes and bars. Although reservations are mandatory, you may book your spot up to 24 hours prior to the tour.
Is Florence better than Rome?
Photos: Erica Firpo.