Florence is a city bursting with many things to do including art, architecture, culture, and history. Though it is a condensed area, there is so much to see, do, and experience. With so many architectural and artistic masterpieces at nearly every turn, Florence itself seems like an open-air museum. As the Cradle of the Italian Renaissance, it captures the history and culture of days past and preserves the spirit of the many famed artists whose masterpieces call Florence home. To fully experience it, one must not only admire the many monuments and buildings, but also go inside a few of the many stunning museums and experience a variety of the city’s unique activities.
FESTIVAL & EVENTS
While exploring Florence’s streets and taking in the many artistic masterpieces held within the city’s museums are excellent ways to soak up culture, the best way to truly immerse oneself is to do as the locals do and attend one of Florence’s many traditional events and festivals.
If visiting in June, do not miss Calcio storico fiorentino, or Historic Florentine Soccer. This sporting match is a unique and exciting display of Florentine traditions. The sport, which is a combination of soccer, rugby, and wrestling originates from the Middle Ages when noblemen would compete against each other while wearing bright costumes. Today, the traditional roots of the event are honored by a series of matches held in Piazza di Santa Croce. A temporary arena with a sand-covered playing field and bleachers for spectators is assembled, and many locals gather for this celebration of Florence’s historic past. The teams that compete in the event represent the different neighborhoods of Florence.
On Easter Sunday of each year, Florence holds a special religious event called Scoppio del Carro. Meaning “Explosion of the Cart,” this event is a 400-year-old tradition in which a stunningly detailed, two to three story tall wagon is paraded throughout the city. Garland covered oxen pull this massive cart from the Baptistry to the Cathedral, where fireworks are then set off. Many gather to witness the explosion, which, if big enough, is said to signal a good harvest season.
Each year on September 7, the streets of Florence are transformed during the Rificolona Festival. The festival consists of an evening parade featuring hundreds of colorful paper lanterns. The parade extends through the city center from Piazza Santa Felicità through Piazza della Signoria and ends in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.
During October, Florentines celebrate Saint Reparata during the Festa di Santa Reparata. Legend has it that Reparata helped the Florence army fight against the Ostrogoths. Locals celebrate this by holding a massive parade and a feast.
From sagre (food festivals) to events that celebrate local traditions and heritage to festivals dedicated to holidays, there’s always something on the Florentine calendar to experience.
If planning to visit Florence in mid or late September, expect an exciting time of year for the city and all of Tuscany. This is when vendemmia, or harvest season, takes over. This time of year, grapes are harvested and the beginning of the wine production season is celebrated with many events and gatherings. Throughout the Florence and Chianti area, a variety of experiences that highlight this season are available.
Wine lovers would enjoy the EXPO of Chianti Classico. This event in nearby Greve in Chianti consists of four days of wine events and tastings from wineries that specialize in Chianti wine. Also in the Chianti area is Vino al Vino, a festival held in Panzano in Chianti where local wineries gather for wine tastings and jazz music.
In Florence, a must-see event during vendemmia is the Carro Matto, or crazy cart. This event is a one-of-a-kind experience. To celebrate the history of wine and how it once arrived into cities, a massive cart is loaded with more than 2,000 bottles of wine prepared in Rufina in Chianti. Then the cart is pulled into Florence by decorated oxen accompanied by a parade and a cannon.
Other events such as the Bacco Artigiano in Rufina, Festa Dell’Uva in Impruneta, and many more help
locals and tourists celebrate this important time of year for Tuscany.
Strolling through Florence is the best way to get to know the unique character of this enchanting city. Within the historical city center there are countless fascinating monuments to admire that will keep travelers busy for days on end.
Due to the Arno River flowing through the city center, Florence is a city with several bridges. The most well-known and oldest bridge, which has also become a symbol of the city, is the Ponte Vecchio. Completed in 1345, the famed Vasari Corridor that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti, runs over the bridge. Additionally, the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence that was not destroyed during World War II. Today, the bridge hosts some of the city’s most historic jewelry and art shops.
A short walk from the Ponte Vecchio, travelers will find one of the most important squares in Florence: Piazza della Signoria. Dating back to the thirteenth century, the stately square hosts the Palazzo Vecchio, which is the current town hall, and the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open-air museum featuring beautiful Renaissance sculptures. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio, travelers can admire a beautiful copy of Michelangelo’s David. Though the original is currently in the Accademia Gallery, it actually stood in Piazza della Signoria until 1873.
Located along Via Nazionale near the renowned San Lorenzo Market, the Tabernacolo delle Fonticine is a beautiful tabernacle just waiting to be discovered by curious travelers. Composed of glazed terracotta, the grand tabernacle depicts the Madonna with Child surrounded by St. John and four other saints, as well as God, angels, and the Holy Spirit. At the base of the tabernacle are seven fountains that resemble cherubs. The tabernacle is a delightful work of art, especially for those who stumble upon it by chance as they explore the city center.
Yet Florence is not home to only historic art, and throughout the city center it is also possible to admire numerous examples of modern and contemporary art. For instance, the expansive Boboli Gardens, located near the Pitti Palace, are home to a large mythological sculpture by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj. Additionally, many works of public art were installed throughout Florence during the 1980s. A few notable examples include a sculpture by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto found at Porta Romana, a large sculpture dedicated to Galileo designed by Giò Pomodoro located near Porta San Niccolò, and a sculpture of St. John the Baptist by Giuliano Vangi found in the vicinity of the Ponte Vecchio.
Florence is also an excellent place to admire Art Nouveau architecture, which in Italy is called Liberty Style. When Florence became the capital of Italy for a brief period during the second half of the nineteenth century, this led to ambitious urban expansion. Eventually, at the turn of the twentieth century, new architectural projects flowered into Art Nouveau with one of the key architects of this time being Giovanni Michelazzi. Many private homes for upper classes were built in the style as were commercial buildings, such as Palazzo Pola and Todescan as well as Casa Antonini.
From the Middle Ages to the modern era, a stroll through Florence’s city center allows a unique look at some of history’s most important architectural movements.
Within the walls of Florence’s museums are some of the world’s greatest artistic achievements. The famous Uffizi Gallery, Italy’s most visited indoor museum, contains such works as Botticelli's Primavera and The Birth of Venus, Filippo Lippi's Madonna and Child with Two Angels, Leonardo da Vinci's The Annunciation, and countless more. The museum also features an impressive number of statues and busts that were collected by the Medici family.
The Galleria dell’Accademia, most well-known for housing Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David, is also home to fine examples of Florentine paintings by the likes of Giotto and Masaccio as well as incredible sculptures, including a few unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo. For even more artistic experiences, visit the Palazzo Pitti (the largest museum complex in Florence) with its four museums, as well as the Bargello Museum (home to beautiful works of art by the likes of Michelangelo, Donatello, and Giambologna) or simply stroll along the city streets to gaze upon the splendid buildings and monuments.
The most famous site to see in Florence is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo. The eleventh largest church in the world, this massive Renaissance masterpiece features Brunelleschi’s famous dome – which measures nearly 300 feet high and nearly 150 feet wide – and contains 463 stone stairs that lead visitors to an amazing view of the Dome frescos and an incredible panoramic view of the entire city. Directly across from the Cathedral is the Baptistery, the oldest religious site in the city. Renowned for its amazing bronze doors and stunning sculptures, the Baptistery was the location of the baptism of such Renaissance notables as Dante and members of the Medici family.
In the same square, travelers will find the famed Bell Tower designed by Giotto. Standing at nearly 280 feet tall, the tower is elaborately decorated with different colors of marble and offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
A short walk from Piazza del Duomo, travelers can visit the Palazzo Vecchio, which is located in another of Florence’s main squares, Piazza della Signoria. As the seat of the city’s government for more than seven centuries, Palazzo Vecchio is an important symbol of Florence’s civic life. Today the building continues to function as the city hall, and it also houses a museum with beautiful frescoes and paintings. Of particular note is the elegant Salone dei Cinquecento with its expansive frescoes.
Other must-see sites in Florence include the Basilica of Santa Croce (burial site of many important Italians including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli), the Church of Santa Maria Novella (with its breathtaking medieval and Renaissance frescoes), and the Medici Chapels (home to a breathtaking sacristy designed by Michelangelo). When in Florence, the sites are practically endless.
To bring back a piece of Florence, there are many great local places to purchase gifts, souvenirs, and high-quality handicrafts throughout the city.
Perfect for everyone from individuals to large families, the San Lorenzo Market, an iconic open-air market in Florence, has everything one could want including handmade leather goods, shoes, artifacts, and souvenirs. Next to the San Lorenzo Market is the indoor Mercato Centrale, which features fresh produce and local food items. Selling a variety of handcrafted items, the San Lorenzo Market is a unique way to enjoy and shop all things Florentine.
For more leather goods, visit one of the many artisan shops in Florence’s historic center. From fine jackets and belts to exquisite bags, there are classy shops with pristine displays as well as rustic locations that also serve as workshops, exuding the unmistakable smell of leather.
For another renowned Florentine product, jewelry, visit one of the city’s historic goldsmiths on the iconic bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, or one of the many famed jewelers on important streets such as the Via dei Calzaiuoli or Via de’ Tornabuoni.
To capture a piece of Florence’s rich history, consider purchasing something vintage. Places such as the market in Piazza dei Ciompi and the Antiques Market in the gardens of Fortezza da Basso sell a variety of unique and historic pieces.
GROUP AND FAMILY ACTIVITIES
For those traveling with kids, Florence has quite a few locations and activities that are perfect for little ones. In the city’s historic center, families can pick from many gelato shops and enjoy tasting the large variety of unique and interesting flavors of the creamy creation. A visit to the Boboli Gardens will provide a family atmosphere. With its exquisite landscaping and fascinating sculptures, it’s the perfect place to take a stroll. Kids would also enjoy the antique carousel in Piazza della Repubblica, which runs from November through May and is made of wood.
For families with adult sons and daughters or groups, the perfect activities in Florence include wine tastings and cooking classes. Known worldwide for both food and wine, Florence provides excellent opportunities for both. Whether in the city’s historic center or out in the Tuscan countryside, wine tastings provide the chance to sample excellent local wines such as the full-bodied Chianti. While cooking classes teach students the wonder of Florence’s simple, fresh, and rustic cuisine. Shopping the markets for local ingredients and preparing the dishes from scratch is an excellent way to bond and indulge in the city’s culinary gems.
While visiting, take advantage of a few unique and quintessential Florentine activities that can only be experienced in Florence!
Dine on the classic Fiorentina steak. A must-taste for everyone who eats meat, the Florentine steak is a staple in nearly every dining establishment throughout the city. A large T-bone steak cooked over hot charcoal and served rare, the dish is iconic and supremely delicious.
Visit the Salvatore Ferragamo Shoe Museum. One of the most unique and unusual museums in Florence, it features 10,000 shoes that were privately commissioned, including pairs created out of dyed, dried fish skins.
Stroll the Vasari Corridor, a raised passageway that runs through the Uffizi Gallery and across the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti. Also known as the Prince’s Passage, this corridor is a little over half a mile long and is home to a remarkable collection of self-portraits by the world’s most influential artists. Constructed in 1565, it is only open for a limited time during the year and must be booked in advance. The reservations are well worth it, however, as it is one of Florence’s best kept artistic secrets. Though the Vasari Corridor was closed for renovations in 2016, there are plans to reopen it in 2021.
For centuries, Florence has been one of Italy’s top travel destinations — and for good reason. With breathtaking art, iconic architecture, delicious cuisine, and what many consider to be the best wine in Italy, Florence is the epitome of Italian charm.
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