7 Must-Do’s in Florence, Italy
An Insider’s Peak at Florence
Florence: the birthplace of the Renaissance. Resting in the center of Italy, Florence has been a very influential city since the early Middle Ages. It is rich in art, history, and welcoming locals. Here are 8 activities to help enhance your Florentine experience.
1. The Duomo
The first thing you need to see is Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo (or Cathedral) of Florence. It is impossible to miss this site as it towers above every other building in the city. Take some time to explore the three main buildings in the square: the church, bell tower, and baptistery. Entrance to the church is free, but for a much more enriching experience, I recommend purchasing the fifteen euro ticket that allows you entrance to all three buildings as well as the museum behind them. The pass lasts for 48 hours so if you are too tired for everything in one day, you can finish up the next. It is beneficial to break up the visit since both the bell tower and the dome of the church each several hundred stairs. The climbs are definitely worth the incredible views. Be sure to get there early in the morning as lines get very long for the museum and both climbs. If possible, it is best to go before peak tourist season.
2. Piazzale Michelangelo
Another must-do is taking in the view from Piazzale Michelangelo. The view from this hilltop piazza is breathtaking, especially around sunset. It is a great place to hang out with friends or that special someone. Vendors sell gelato, wine, and beer and musicians are often playing romantic tunes to set the mood in early evening. It is easy to sit on the stone steps for hours, taking in the entire city below. To get to this magical spot, be prepared for a 20-30 minute walk that includes several long flights of stairs.
One of Florence’s most famous museums is the Uffizi Gallery, known for works like Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring and The Birth of Venus. L’Accademia is home to Michelangelo’s David. Although these two museums are must-do’s, it is very rewarding to make time for some of Florence’s other incredible museums. My personal favorite was the Bargello. Formerly a prison, the Bargello now contains important works like Donatello’s bronze David, the original panels from the competition over the Baptistery doors, and Michelangelo’s sculpture of Bacchus. Another museum that is often overlooked is St. Marco Museum. It is a convent that now showcases works by Dominican monk, Fra Angelico. Savonarola, the Evangelical preacher, known for the “bonfires of the vanities”, also resided there.
4. Boboli/ Bardini Gardens
If you want to spend a beautiful day outdoors surrounded by incredible views, head over to the Boboli Gardens. Just across the river, the gardens are located behind the Palazzo Pitti, the former home of the Medici family. If you choose to tour the Palace on the same day, start out early since there is so much to see. For me, the gardens were the highlight. In the spring, flowers are in bloom and stunning views of the city are around every corner. For more incredible views, take a 10 minute walk to the lesser known, but very beautiful Bardini Gardens, located behind the Boboli Gardens.
5. Santa Croce Church
I have a special place in my heart for Santa Croce Church having lived one minute away. However, everyone visiting Florence should take some time to tour it. Some of the most brilliant and important minds in history are buried there such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo. Connected to the church are charming courtyards and a fabulous museum. Ask for a free tour to learn many interesting facts.
What is a proper vacation without some shopping? Florence has everything you might be looking for. Leather is one of its most notable products. There are two large outdoor leather markets in the city. If you want to be guaranteed you are buying good quality leather, visit La Scuola del Cuoio (The Leather School) behind Santa Croce. The prices are much higher but the quality and style is unmatched. To make your purchase a little extra special, you can get any item embossed with your initials for free. Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world and carries many unique fragrances. A bottle makes a special keepsake. I chose a perfume called “Angels of Florence”, created to commemorate the “angels” who helped clean up Florence after the devastating 1966 flood. Even if you don’t buy anything, it is worth a visit to see the beautiful interior.
7. Immerse Yourself in the Culture
One major part of Florentine life is calcio, or soccer. The stadium is about a 25 minute walk from the city center. Although more expensive tickets will put you closer to the action, a 20 Euro ticket gives you a good view and allow you to watch the die-hard fans set off fireworks in the stands from a safe distance. There are several Fiorentina stores around the city where you can pick up a jersey or scarf to wear to the game. It is fun to feel like you are part of the crowd supporting your team.
One of the most memorable parts of my semester abroad was taking part in some of Florence’s local traditions and holiday celebrations. I was lucky enough to attend Easter Mass in the Duomo and have a front row spot in watching the traditional Exploding of the Cart and historical procession. Historical soccer, usually played every June, is also a big Florentine tradition. The four districts play each other in a game similar to a mix between football and soccer. The game is played on a dirt field with participants wearingtraditional Renaissance garb. It was one of the most unique experiences I had in Florence.
These 7 things are only scratching the surface of what Florence has to offer. Spending an entire semester there will allow you to delve deeper and find your own hidden gems like restaurants, shops, and study spots.