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Florence is Renaissance Italy at its civilized best. The most accomplished artists and architects of the period flocked to Florence from all over central Italy to work for the powerful families. Today, the compact historic centre of Tuscany’s busy capital is a mass of masterpieces from that flourishing era.
Set on the banks of the River Arno among gentle hills, Florence and its artistic treasures epitomise the flowering of the Renaissance. The late 14th and 15th centuries saw an explosion of creativity and a return to the principles and styles of the classical world. In no other city can the development of Renaissance art be traced so comprehensively in such a relatively small space.
It is advisable to pre-book timed tickets in advance for some of the main attractions to ensure you can get in at a time that suits you. This includes the Uffizi, the Museo di San Marco, the Accademia and other popular museums and galleries. Morning is the best time to explore Florence, when all the churches and museums are open. During the afternoon many of the smaller churches are closed and you will not be able to appreciate their remarkable interiors.
Read more on this destination in the AA Essential Guide to Florence & Tuscany.
Must-see attractions in Florence
Galleria degli Uffizi - Generations of the powerful Medici family amassed this collection of 13th to 18th century paintings, which is amongst the finest in the world. The Uffizi, designed by Giorgio Vasari, became home to the collection in 1588, with the art bequeathed to the city in 1737.
Duomo and Battistero - The Duomo’s lavish exterior includes Giotto’s 85m high (278ft) campanile (1334) and reliefs by Pisano and Lucca della Robbia. The massive dome (1465) by Brunelleschi was the largest of its time.
Galleria dell’Accademia - Modern Europe’s first art school was founded in 1563, and many of its original exhibits were acquired for the students to study and copy. Today, the main pull of this collection of 15th to 19th century Tuscan art is the Michelangelo sculpture, including the original of his seductive David (1504).
Museo Nazionale del Bargello - The imposing palazzo (1255 – 1345) was the city governor’s residence, from 1574 the police headquarters with public executions were held in the courtyard until 1786. It became one of Italy’s first national museums in 1865, with many of its exhibits coming from the Medici collections.
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi - Generally acclaimed as the finest example of Florentine Renaissance architecture, the palazzo was started in 1444 and was a family home until 1540. Michelangelo may have designed the windows (1517). In the elegant courtyard are sculptures, and on one of the upper floors is the Capella dei Magi with frescoes (1459) by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Palazzo Pitti and Giardino di Boboli - Home to several museums, the most important of which is the Galleria Palatina, where a rich collection of Renaissance masterpieces is hung in the frescoed halls. When open, the 17th century state apartments are well worth seeing, as are the Galleria del Costumes with clothes from the 18th to 20th centuries.
Piazza della Signoria - The political and social heart of Florence is an outdoor gallery with Ammanati’s Fontana di Nettuno (1575) and a copy of Michelangelo’s David among the works that stand outside the Loggia dei Lanzi (1382). The piazza is dominated by the Palazzo Vecchio (1332) a monument to civic worthiness puffed out beneath its 94m (308ft) tower.
San Lorenzo - The bare, unfinished façade of the Brunelleschi church (1442 – 46) hides a Renaissance treasure trove. The bronze pulpits are Donatello’s, as are the sacristy decorations and doors (1435 – 43) and the staircase and ceiling are by Michelangelo.
San Marco - Founded in the 13th century, the convent of San Marco was extended by Michelozzo in 1437. Some cells and parts are decorated with frescoes by Fra Angelico, including a haunting lovely Annunciation.
Santa Croce - The spacious interior of this Franciscan church holds the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli and other Renaissance greats. The artworks are too numerous to mention but include Giotto frescoes and a Donatello wooden crucifix.