This past August, Florence was stop two of our “Tour of Italy” after a few jam-packed days in Rome. We arrived on my birthday, and I couldn’t wait to get settled in to our hotel so that I could walk around snapping pictures. We weren’t able to find a hotel until nightfall, but that’s a story for another time. These are the highlights of the most popular attractions in Florence that you can experience without breaking the bank, and all within walking distance!
Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore)
Piazza del Duomo will be one of the first things you will come across after arriving in Firenze SMN Station. Rightly so, it should really set the tone for the city of Florence: gorgeous and full of tourists. The outside of the Duomo is covered in elaborate patterns of pink, green, and white marble. The construction took over 150 years. Beautiful and massive, the Duomo seems to be the center point for navigating the city. We purchased combination tickets (see below) to visit all the buildings in Piazza del Duomo, and the actual inside of the Duomo was the least memorable for me. It’s best observed from the outside or from the Campanile!
Battistero di San Giovanni
Also located in Piazza del Duomo, the outside of the Baptistery was under construction when we visited Florence. It almost dissuaded us from entering, and I’m so glad we didn’t skip it! Pass the huge crowd around of people snapping photos of the copies of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise and enter straight into the Baptistery. There was no line… incredible compared to the line to enter and climb the dome.
The entire inside is split into different types of decor, seemingly from all over the world. The tiled floor looks Islamic, the walls are covered in geometric patterns, while the shining interior of the dome is glowing in gold. The scenes of the dome that you can see below are actually all intricate mosaics! The dome is dominated by a depiction of the Last Judgement (as seen in the Duomo cathedral dome as well as in the Sistine Chapel in Rome) but other scenes include stories from the lives of different apostles and Mary and Joseph. The baptistery was my favorite place we found to hide from the crowds and soak up incredible art. I’m not going to put a photo because it’s worth it to walk in and be knocked off your feet!
The bell tower offers my favorite view of Florence. With half the line compared to the dome’s, I highly recommend it. I prefer the view (and photos) with the iconic dome in them, thank you. With 414 steps (about 20 less than the dome), it’s a hike to get up to the top but the view is more than worth it. Even in August I felt like we weren’t overwhelmed with the amount of people squeezing up there with us, which I can’t say for the climb up the other.
Our guide book discouraged claustrophobic people from climbing, but I made it up just fine. I recommend going in the evening for cooler weather and the pretty, yellow sunlight grazing the terracotta rooftops. There’s a picture for ya.
The last construction of this iconic bridge was in 1345, and today it is filled with jewelers and various artisans. It’s most well-known for the houses built into it. You can get a really great view of the bridge right before sunset along the Arno River. The bridge connects to the next stop… Piazza della Signoria.
Piazza della Signoria
I love the history behind this square and that it’s still central to local life in Florence. That’s one of my favorite things about European cities: that monumental parts of history have taken place in the same spots where today street entertainers perform or toddlers throw tantrums. In 1497 Piazza della Signoria was where the temporary, religious leader of Florence burned all of the city’s art in a “bonfire of vanities.” It was also the site where a monk was burned at the stake, and you can still find a plaque marking the place today. Violent, violent history!
This square holds the Fontana di Nettuno as well as a copy of Michelangelo’s David. The original stood in the same place until 1873, which is hard to picture considering the lock-down most world-famous art works are under now in various museums. My favorite part of this plaza, however is the open-air museum holding different sculptures like the Seven Virtues and Rape of the Sabine Women. It’s free to take a seat on the steps and people-watch.
What’s better than walking around a new city discovering beautiful nooks and building facades? For me, it’s the best part of exploring a new city. As I mentioned before, Florence is very walk-able due to its small size and beautiful scenery. In our four days there I feel like I got a pretty good feel of Florentine pleasures. By the second day of sight-seeing I wanted nothing more than to join them! I could buy a wicker basket and retro bicycle. I could spend the rest of my mornings pedaling to pick up fresh vegetables from the market and afternoons sketching in a piazza.
In reality, if I chose a place to reside in Europe, Italy wouldn’t be close to it… but Florence made me wonder!
Combination tickets to the dome, baptistry, campanile, “crypt” and museum are 10EURO/adult. You can purchase from select spots in the Piazza del Duomo. I bought mine after waiting in line to climb the bell tower. Simple and done.
You must check the closing times for each attraction as they all vary. Tickets are valid for two days, and you may only visit each attraction once with each individual ticket.