When I was eighteen, I lived in Florence for 2 months to learn Italian. It completely fell in love with the city and the language. Ever since I’ve been telling people to visit Florence.
But coming back there, 8 years later, I was disappointed to find how much the city has been spoiled by mass tourism. It was always a popular destination, but now, in summer, the streets are crawling with noisy, sweaty and rude visitors from all over the world, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the beautiful buildings, posing for pictures and queuing for hours. I could hardly recognize the city I once loved, like seeing an ex again after years and finding that they’ve not aged well.
But still… something stirred inside me as I was walking those familiar streets. Underneath all the tourist traps and overpriced goods, still lies that spark, that charm, that beauty. Deep inside, Florence is still one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. And I still think you should go and see it. Just don’t do it in July or August.
If you do decide to grace Florence with a visit, go in the early spring (April) or late fall (October), when the crowds are thinner, but the weather is good.
Here are 5 things you absolutely must see when you visit Florence:
1. De Medici Free Walking Tour
The De Medici’s were the most successful self-made family in history. They started with a small banking firm in Florence and grew into one of the most powerful dynasties in Europe. The De Medici line produced kings, queens, and popes. To learn more about this fascinating and brutally ambitious family that shaped Florence as well know it, join the De Medici Free Walking Tour. It will take you past all the highlights for the price of tipping the guide.
The Duomo of Florence rises up over the city, providing a beautiful point of orientation. It lies at a short 10-minute walk from the train station. The white and green marble building is striking, with the Baptisterium and bell tower next to it. The inside of the Duomo is ornately decorated with a mosaic floor, art, frescos, and gold. The dome of the cathedral was designed by Brunelleschi, and the intricate design means that you can actually climb to the top of the roof. The steep climb of 463 steps is not for the faint of heart, but it allows you to see the frescos on the ceiling up close and offers an incredible view of the city from the very top.
3. Galleria Degli Uffizi
Initially the offices of the local government, the Galleria Degli Uffizi is one of the most famous museums in the world. Filled to the brinks with incredible paintings and sculptures, the Uffizi warrants at least a full day visit for art lovers. The highlight of the museum is undoubtedly Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, but there are plenty of other masterpieces to admire. You will have to reserve your ticket ahead of time, weeks even in high season. You can do so on the website.
4. Ponte Vecchio
One of the most famous bridges in the world, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest permanent crossing of the Arno river for citizens of Florence. The original Roman structure was made of wood, and the current stone version dates from 1345. The bridge itself is filled with jewelry shops that hang over the sides.
The Ponte Vecchio takes you to the south side of the Arno and straight to…
5. Palazzo Pitti and Giardino di Boboli
Palazzo Pitti was the palace of the De Medici’s biggest rivals, the Pitti’s. In 1549, the building was sold to the De Medici’s who built a walkway connecting the palace to their old residence, Palazzo Vecchio.
Inside Palazzo Pitti, you can see plenty of beautiful artwork as well as the reconstructed apartments that shows how the wealthiest family of Italy lived. The highlight of the palace, however, are the gardens that lie behind it. The Giardino di Boboli was built in the 16th century and stretch over 45000 square meters. Like other royal gardens, it houses sections in different styles with fountains and green slopes as well as interesting flora. Because the gardens are built on a steep slope, several viewpoints look out of the city and the surrounding countryside.