One of my favourite cities in the world is Florence. It has an air of magnificence and an ability to inspire, making it a place you must visit at least once in your life. The birthplace, heart and soul of the Renaissance, it is bursting with world famous galleries, artworks and stunning architecture.
If you are planning a short trip to Florence, be sure to book tickets in advance for the main sights – the Statue of David in the Accademia Gallery, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery and Brunelleschi’s Duomo – so you have more time exploring and less time queuing.
Whether you have a day or a week, here is a list of 9 things you must do that will fit any itinerary.
1. Ghiberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’
These golden doors adorn the baptistery in the Piazza del Duomo. Ghiberti won a competition to create these doors depicting twelve scenes from biblical stories. There are actually two other sets of doors in the baptistery, Ghiberti also created the doors with scenes from Jesus’ life and Andrea Pisano created the doors with scenes from the life of John the Baptist.
The most famous of Ghiberti’s doors, with the twelve different scenes, were dubbed the Gates of Paradise by none other than Michelangelo. It is also these set of doors where Ghiberti included himself – he is the bald man half way up the middle of each of the doors, almost like a pair of doorknobs.
2. Brunelleschi’s Duomo
The runner up in the competition to create the Baptistery doors, Brunelleschi was able to prove himself by creating the largest brick dome in the world. This dome is not only a beautiful structure but a feat of engineering.
Climb up the Duomo and come face to face with the frescoes painted on the interior roof before continuing to climb to the top where you will have unlimited views of the terracotta tiles of Tuscany. During peak season, tickets are limited so book in advance.
3. The bronze map of the city in the Piazza della Repubblica
Simple and free, this bronze map shows the centre of Florence in a detailed 3D sculpture. The Piazza della Repubblica is the site of an old Roman crossroads which can be seen on the map. If you look closely, you can see some buildings in a semi-circular shape behind the Palazzo Vecchio. This is where the old Roman amphitheatre once stood. The replica of the city is near the right side of the arch as you observe it from Via Roma.
4. Try a lampredotto
This is for the foodies out there. If you like to sample typical street food when you travel, you need to have a go at one of these. Vendors selling lampredotti are around all the main piazzas in Florence and average around €3.50. This meaty delicacy is served on bread with a delicious herby green sauce and optional chilli sauce.
5. See all three statues of David
If you like to walk, this challenge is for you. While Michaelangelo’s original statue of David resides safely in the Accademia Gallery, there are two more statues of David that can be found around Florence for your admiration.
One is outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria. This statue was originally intended to adorn the Cathedral hence its slightly larger hands and head. Thankfully, the powers that were realised this statue was too brilliant to be viewed from so far away and it was relocated to the front of Florence’s civic centre – Palazzo Vecchio.
The third one is a bit of a walk up a hill, in the Piazzale Michelangelo which looks out over the city. This place is also perfect if you only have a short trip and missed out on the view from the Duomo.
6. Sculptures outside the Uffizi Gallery
While we are on the subject of sculptures, the porticoes outside the Uffizi Gallery are filled with some of the city’s most famous men including Machiavelli, Galileo and Da Vinci. Originally designed to remain empty, a humble printer came up with the idea to fill these niches with statues in the 19th century. Due to the expense of creating so many marble works of art, a lottery was created to fund the project.
7. See the self-portraits in the Vasari Corridor
The Vasari Corridor was built in 1564 as a covered passageway for Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici to walk from his residence in Pitti Palazzo, across the River Arno to his offices in the Palazzo Vecchio. This one is a bit more expensive as it can only be viewed through a booked tour. If you are interested in art history, you can see self portraits from artists including Rembrandt, Velazquez and Filippo Lippi.
8. Ponte Vecchio
This famous bridge was once home to the city’s meat market however with the construction of the Vasari Corridor over the Ponte Vecchio, the market was moved so the Florentine elite would not have to smell such offensive odours. From 1593, goldsmiths replaced the meat market and remain there to this day. In more recent history, it became the only bridge over the River Arno in Florence that the Nazis did not blow up.
9. Piazza Santa Maria Novella
This large open piazza is presided over by the church of Santa Maria Novella and its white and green facade dating back to the Renaissance in the 14th century. This area is perfect to escape from the crowds and settle in the sun for some Tuscan chianti.