Cultural holidays in Florence
A taste of the Renaissance City's must-sees
HomeAway travel expert
Florence, with its wealth of museums and renowned architecture, is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Brunelleschi’s Dome, Michelangelo’s David, and Botticelli’s Primavera are the most famous of these, and should certainly be seen in person during your lifetime. But the Renaissance city deserves an in-depth visit; a week spent getting to know the markets and local bars, as well as the tourist facilities. Staying in an apartment rental is a great of getting to grips with a city, whether you stay in the summer or during low season. In the summer months it can get crowded, but you have the benefit of all the sun you could wish for; during the off months it tends to be rainy, but there'll be fewer tourists to grapple with.
If it’s your first time in Florence, you’ll surely want to go to the Uffizi, which I'm not including in the list below due to space constraints. Be prepared with comfortable shoes, three hours to kill, and a good guideto the museum's collection. You’ll also want to see the original David housed at the Accademia museum: the copy's outside Palazzo Vecchio, the medieval town hall that is still the city’s place of government, and sections of this building can be visited which contain 16th century frescoes. Below I've listed five attractions that combine ‘must sees’ with sites that are not usually on short-term itineraries, in the hopes you'll enjoy a longer, richer stay in Florence.
Five places any art lover should visit
Florence’s Duomo is famous around the world for the distinctive shape of Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Renaissance structure that tops a Medieval building. Outsmart the other tourists by noting that the multicoloured marble façade actually dates to the 19th century – for the real thing, see the marble on the sides of the building. But also look around the rest of this piazza: visit the Belltower designed by Giotto (you can walk up) or the Baptistry with its mosaic-covered ceiling.
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Church of Santa Croce
I usually recommend that visitors start a trip to Florence at this church, the construction of which began at the end of the 13th century, when the city was at the peak of its wealth thanks to the many banking and trading families. Each church belongs to a religious order, and this one was the Franciscan’s. If you’ve ever heard of Saint Francis, you’ll know that he embraced poverty, but this big building is anything but poorly decorated. It contains frescoes by Giotto and his school, sculptures by some of the most talented early Renaissance artists, and houses the tombs of and monuments to many famous men.
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The city’s sculpture museum does not see nearly as much foot traffic as the more popular Uffizi and Accademia Museums, making it rather pleasant and less tiring to visit. Sculpture, not painting, is where the Renaissance began, and in the Donatello room on the first floor, you can see some of the works that kicked off this epochal period. Other than Donatello, there are works by Michelangelo, including his youthful Bacchus, the drunken god whose marble appears soft. The collection also holds interesting examples of the decorative arts – metalwork, ceramics and jewelry.
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Convent of San Marco
This convent and church belonged to the Dominican order, who preached to the public but retreated otherwise to individual cells for learning and meditation. These rarely conserved cells each contain a small and simple fresco painted by Fra Angelico, a painter (who began as a manuscript illustrator) belonging to this very order. You can visit the cells as well as some public areas of the convent – a refectory (where they ate), a meeting room and the library desired by their patron, Cosimo de’Medici, who spent his final years here.
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This huge Renaissance Palace is one of the largest private buildings in Florence, and in the past decade it has been transformed into a very alive meeting place, not only for the exhibitions it hosts, but also for concerts, activities, and the cafè in the courtyard. At all times except for a brief closure in August and January, Palazzo Strozzi offers a major exhibition on the first floor, and a contemporary exhibit on a related theme in the basement CCC Strozzina gallery – one of the only places in the city to see contemporary art. It is open late on Thursdays, when the Strozzina is free to enter, and there is also free wifi at the bar in the courtyard.
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Images: Convento of San Marco by g.sighele, Palazzo Strozzi by Vernaccia, Bargello Museum by Richard, enjoy my life!