Florence is filled with many churches stuffed with some of the finest art in the world: Santa Maria del Fiore, San Miniato al Monte, San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Trinita, the Brancacci Chapel at Santa Maria del Carmine, Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, SS Annunziata, Ognissanti, and more.
Then there are the art galleries. The Uffizi and the Pitti Palace are two of the most famous picture galleries in the world. But the heart and soul of Florence are in the two superb collections of sculpture, the Bargello and the Museum of the Works of the Duomo. They are filled with the brilliant, revolutionary creations of Donatello, Verrochio, Desiderio da Settignano, Michelangelo, and so many other masterpieces that create a body of work unique in the world. And, of course, there is the Accademia, with Michelangelo's David, perhaps the most well-known work of art anywhere, plus the superb, unfinished prisoners and slaves Michelangelo worked on for the tomb of Pope Julius II.
To get a great overview of the city, you have plenty of choices: climb the dome of the Cathedral or Giotto's Bell Tower which is much easier or head for Piazzale Michelangelo a large parking lot on the hillside just south of the center of town, or climb a bit further to the church of San Miniato al Monte, a sublime 11th century masterpiece, with superb Renaissance sculptures. At vespers, the monks add to the beauty with chants.
Piazza del Duomo
Santa Maria del Fiore topped by Brunelleschi's dome is the third largest Christian church and dominates the skyline. The Florentines decided to start building it in the 1200s. At the outset they were unsure how they were going to do it. It was "technology forcing", not unlike like the American Kennedy Administration's decision to put a man on the moon. The dome was the largest ever built at the time, and the first major dome built in Europe since the two great domes of Roman times: the Pantheon in Rome and the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. In front of it is the medieval Baptistery, where every Florentine was baptized until modern times. The two buildings incorporate the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance in their decoration. In recent years, most of the important works of art from those two buildings and from the wonderful Bell Tower, designed by Giotto, have been removed and replaced by copies. The originals are now housed in the spectacular Museum of the Works of the Duomo, just to the east of the Cathedral. Buy a single ticket costing 10 euros to enter the following monuments.
Santa Maria del FioreAlso known as the Duomo di Firenze is the city's beautiful Gothic cathedral, the symbol of the city. Brunelleschi's huge dome was an engineering feat of the Renaissance. A statue of Brunelleschi is sited in the piazza, with his figure looking upwards towards his dome. It is possible to climb the Dome (entrance on the side of the church), which has 464 steps. Usually has a long lineup.
Giotto's TowerAdjacent to the Duomo, you can climb the tower for a magnificent 360-degree view of the Duomo, Florence, and the surrounding area, and requires some tenacity to climb 414 steps.
BaptisteryFamous for its bronze doors by Andrea Pisano (14th century) and Lorenzo Ghiberti (15th century) and a beautiful interior the vault of which is decorated with 13th century mosaics (the only medieval set of mosaics in the city.
Museo dell'Opera del DuomoPiazza del Duomo 9Phone: Reservations +39 055 230 2885The Cathedral Museum, with artworks formerly in the Duomo and surrounding religious buildings, including sculptures by Donatello, another version of the Piet (different from that one of Saint Peter's Basilica, in Vatican, Rome) by Michelangelo, and the losing entries in the famous contest held in 1401 to design the doors of the Baptistery. Models and drawings of the Cathedral. Worthy.
The Uffizi is the most famous, but Florence also has other amazing museums a short walk away with world class artistic treasures. In all, Florence has something over 80 museums. Among those at the top of most lists are the City hall, the Palazzo della Signoria (aka Palazzo Vecchio), a wonderful building with magnificent rooms and some great art; the Archeological Museum, the Museum of the History of Science, the Palazzo Davanzatti, the Stibbert Museum, St. Marks, the Medici Chapels, the Museum of the Works of Santa Croce, the Museum of the Cloister of Santa Maria Novella, the Zoological Museum ("La Specola"), the Bardini, and the Museo Horne. There is also a wonderful collection of works by the modern sculptor, Marino Marini, in a museum named after him. If you are interested in photography, you should not miss the superb collection of works by the early photographers, the Alinari brothers. The magnificent Strozzi Palace is the site of many special exhibits. Note that all state museums, meaning all the main museums, have reduced prices (50% off) for EU citizens aged 18–25 and entry is free of charge for EU citizens aged over 65. It is best to book ahead at the ticket counters as it can be busy.
Galleria degli UffiziPiazzale degli UffiziPhone: +39 055 294883Hours: Tu-Su 8:15AM-6:50PMPrice: Admission 11, phone booking 4 extra; Online booking 4 extraOne of the world's most famous fine art museums with collections of Renaissance paintings and sculptures from classical antiquity. Included is The Birth of Venus by Sandro Boticelli. There are often long lines and several hours' wait is common, starting even before the doors open. You can call +39 055 294883 to make a reservation in advance and walk right in, which is strongly recommended if you can spare the extra 4. The phone operator will give you an extension number which you quote at Gate 3 to pay (cash only) and get the tickets. Online booking is available but is much less convenient because it costs more, has a 24 hour waiting period, your specified time may change and you need to print an email. The restaurant/caff has a large balcony overlooking the main piazza with good views of the Palazzo Vecchio. It is a great place to take a break for art lovers making a non-rushed visit to this fantastic collection. This cafe is rather expensive however. Street performers are often seen outside the Uffizi. BargelloVia de Proconsolo 4Phone: +39 055 294883Hours: 8:15AM-1:30PM Tu-Su and the 1st, 3rd & 5th M of each month. Closed the 2nd & 4th M of each month as well as May 1stPrice: Admission is 7This museum houses one of the best examples of Renaissance and Mannerist sculpture. The works of many great Renaissance sculptors are on display here, including Michelangelo, Donatello, Ammannati, Bandinelli, Andrea and Jacopo Sansovino, Desiderio da Settignano, Giambologna, and Antonio Rossellino. The museum is near Piazza della Signoria and can be seen in a few hours. Accademia GalleryVia Ricasoli 58-60Hours: Tu-Su 8:15AM-6:50PMPrice: 11 (advance booking: 15)Highlights are Michelangelo's David and the unfinished Slaves. The David was recently cleaned in a controversial project. No photography is allowed inside. Wait times can be under one hour in the off-season. It is possible to reserve at the academia in advance and save yourself the long line. If you're only interested in see David and Rape of the Sabines and are short on cash you can see replicas in Palazzo Vecchio where you can also take pictures. Note that while restoring or repairing art, the gallery often showcases the replicas (you can tell because the toenail is intact for David, for example). Pitti PalaceOn the quieter south bank of the Arno. The former Medici family palace contains galleries of their art and treasures. The Boboli gardens behind the palazzo offer wonderful walks and excellent views of the city and the countryside south of the city. Museo GalileoPiazza dei Giudici 1Phone: +39 055 265 311Hours: 9:30AM-6PM, Tu closes at 1PMPrice: 9This museum shows the evolution of the instruments used in various scientific fields such as mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy. The room of Galileo Galilei shows some of his original instruments as well as models from his drawings. The room of Spheres and Globes houses an excellent cartographic collection. In a rather macabre twist the museum also has the middle finger of Galileo's right hand on display.
For those making longer stays in Florence, the city also has an interesting archaeological museum (the Etruscan art collection is particularly good), a Contemporary Art gallery, seated in Palazzo Strozzi, and other collections.
Old town center
Palazzo VecchioOld city palace/city hall, adorned with fine art. The replica of Michelangelo's "David" is placed outside the main door in the original location of the statue, which is a symbol of the Comune of Florence. The site displays an important collection of Renaissance sculptures and paintings, including the Putto, by Verrochio, and the series of murals by Giorgio Vasari at the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Houndreds) - the hall which used to display the now lost Renaissance masterpiece, that is, the so-called Battaglia di Anghiari, by Leonardo da Vinci.
Ponte VecchioThe oldest and most famous bridge over the Arno; the only Florentine bridge to survive WW2. The Ponte Vecchio (literally "old bridge") is lined with shops, traditionally mostly jewellers since the days of the Medici. Vasari's elevated walkway crosses the Arno over the Ponte Vecchio, connecting the Uffizi to the old Medici palace.
Santa CroceContains the monumental tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, and many other notables in addition to artistic decorations. There is also great artwork in the church. And when you're done seeing that, a separate charge will gain you admission to the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce, where you can see a flood-damaged but still beautiful Crucifix by Cimabue (Giotto's teacher), which has become both the symbol of the flooding of Firenze in 1966 and of its recovery from that disaster. The Pazzi Chapel, a perfectly symmetrical example of sublime neo-Classic Renaissance architecture is also worth visiting.
Santa Maria NovellaA beautiful church with great artwork, including a recently restored Trinity by Masaccio. Also, the Chiostro Verde, to your left when facing the front entrance of the church, contains frescoes by Paolo Uccello which are quite unusual in style and well worth seeing, if the separate entrance is open. Off of the church's cloister is the wonderful Spanish Chapel which is covered in early Renaissance frescoes.
OrsanmicheleA beautiful old church from the 14th century, which once functioned as a grain market.
San LorenzoThe faade of this church was never completed, giving it a striking, rustic appearance. Inside the church is pure Renaissance neo-classical splendor. If you go around the back of the church, there is a separate entrance to the Medici chapels. Be sure to check out the stunning burial chapel of the princes and the sacristy down the corridor. The small sacristy is blessed with the presence of nine Michelangelo sculptures.
San Marco ConventHouses frescoes by Fra Angelico and his workshop. Fra Angelico painted a series of frescoes for the cells in which the Dominican monks lived.
South bank of the Arno
Boboli GardensPrice: A single adult ticket to the gardens costs 7Elaborately landscaped and with many interesting sculptures, behind the Pitti Palace. Wonderful city views. Don't miss the Bardini gardens. Entrance to that is included in the combination ticket price for the Boboli, and it's a short walk from the Boboli Gardens. There are great views of the Duomo from the Bardini gardens.
Piazzale MichelangeloPlaza on a hilltop with a great view of the city (go there by bus) or climb the stairs and paths from the Lungarno della Zecca.
Santa Maria del CarmineFamous frescoes (Masaccios Adam and Eve Banished From the Garden and others by Lippi and Masolino) in the Brancacci Chapel.
San Miniato al MonteThe Sacristy contains frescoes by Spinello Aretino. In the cemetery near this church there are graves of famous people of Florence, including Carlo Lorenzi (Collodi) - author of the famous Pinocchio. Also, turn around when you reach the top of the stairs before entering the church, to see perhaps an even greater view of the city than from nearby Piazzale Michelangelo.
Santa FelicitaContains frescoes of the Annunciation and a painting of the Deposition of Christ by the brilliant and weird mannerist painter, Pontormo. They are to be found in the Barbadori Chapel, which is to your immediate right when entering the church.