A deep sense of history and culture permeates from every corner of Florence thanks to architectural gems and iconic monuments like the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery. But Florence isn’t a city stuck in the past; new restaurants and innovative bars are popping up, along with fancy boutiques (mostly in the Oltrarno neighborhood) and fashion events that burnish Florence’s reputation as one of the world’s stylish cities.
A visit to Uffizi Gallery is worth fighting the crowds for. Florence’s most iconic museum and Italy’s most celebrated art gallery is housed in what was originally built as the Medici’s administrative center. Botticelli’s La Primavera is merely the icing on the cake here: works by Michelangelo, Raffaello, Tiziano and other great artists will keep you occupied for hours and hours. After a museum tour, walk along the Arno River toward Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge, pictured above), the only bridge not destroyed during World War II, to admire the colored buildings reflected in the water.
Dominating Florence’s skyline, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is impossible to miss. The church is famous for its iconic red dome, the Duomo, designed by the great architect Filippo Brunelleschi. The Duomo is for Florence what the Eiffel Tower is for Paris. Inside you’ll find geometric marble floors, statues and frescos. We highly encourage you climb your way to the top of the dome for a vast view of Florence.
With all this traipsing, you’ll definitely work up an appetite. Go to the Central Market to rest your feet and have a meal. The best of Tuscan gastronomy is on display at this covered food market, from fresh egg pasta and truffles to honey and organic olive oil to, of course, wine and cheese. The recent conversion of the first floor of this magnificent iron and glass building into a stylish food court provides not only a showcase for producers but also an affordable eating venue. The market is open everyday from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Palazzo della Signoria, also called Palazzo Vecchio, the former residence of Cosimo I de’ Medici, is a palace that was built in the 14th century. The building is a massive structure with three courtyards, various rooms and institutional chambers. The most imposing chamber is Salone dei Cinquecento, built in 1494 by the Florentine architect Simone del Pollaiolo.
Florence is said to be the birthplace of ice cream and everyone knows that no trip to Italy is complete without gelato. The city’s best gelateria is Vivoli, near Santa Croce Square. While you’ll be compelled to order quickly so that you can get that cone in your hand as fast as possible, take your time and taste the classic flavors like crema, pistacchio, stracciatella and cioccolato. Gelateria Vivoli is very popular, so be sure to get there earlier in the day to avoid the inevitable long lines.
This lesser-known quarter has artisan workshops, galleries and chic boutiques. Don’t miss a visit to Pitti’s Palace, the largest museum complex in Florence; and Boboli Gardens, dotted with Renaissance statues, sculptures and fountains. Far from the tourist hordes, on a quiet street in the Oltrarno area, you’ll find Gnam, where organic vegetables, herbs and locally produced beef go into tasty soups and burgers. They also serve gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. To purchase a unique souvenir, go to Quelle Tre, an artisan shop with colorful clothing and accessories.
Believe it or not, Milan isn’t the only Italian city with a major influence on fashion. Florence, along with Rome and Venice, was a major player in the birth of what we now know as Italian fashion, the reason for labels that say Made in Italy. If you are a shopaholic, visit the Gucci Museum, inaugurated in 2011 on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the fashion house, with its permanent exhibition of the brand’s iconic pieces, such as bags, clothes and accessories.
Francesca is a journalist and blogger based in Florence, Italy, with a love of travel and an addiction to the Balkan countries.