It might be your first time visiting the art capital of Italy. Chances also are that you come to the city every so often after being amused by its bustling historic center, endless museums, and narrow street. Regardless of how many times you’ve been to the capital of Tuscany before, you can always count on finding unseen before, intriguing sites and discovering new things again and again. Yet these 11 places you can never miss, especially if it’s your first time in Florence.
First Time in Tuscany, Italy: The 11 Best Places not to Miss in Florence
Italy is a country of mesmerizing landscape and some of the most world-celebrated artists. Some regions of the Apennine Peninsula are known for their exemplarily cuisines. Others, such as Rome, astound first-time visitors with their historical heritage. The most popular coastal destinations exude an air of perfection intermixed with irresistible charm of the Italians.
The capital of Tuscany combines all of these. The world-known architectural masterpieces, markets that unveil unparalleled Italian culture, impeccable food, and awe-inspiring views from the highest points of the city… Florence abounds with it all.
The city has more than you can imagine to find in one place. So plan to stay longer here, delve deeper into its cultural and historical heritage, eat more, and explore ceaselessly. Those who find themselves in Florence for the first time, start your excursions with these 11 places you can’t miss under any circumstances.
The Top Places and Things You Can’t Miss in Florence during Your First Visit
1. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Of all places you can’t miss in Florence, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the most recognizable. A part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, this classic Italian church bestows on you awe and admiration.
Millions of people come to Florence to feast their eyes on the signature green and pink facade. Inside, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore dazzles with grandiose details and artworks, cherished throughout the world.
If you have any concerns that you might miss the Florence’s most famous church on your first visit, shed them off here and now. The largest brick dome in the world sits in the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) in the center of the old town.
The massive size of the structure is unmissable. The first-time visitors of Florence are almost always compelled to step inside and assess if the highly praised interior matches the grand exterior. The Italians, however, know the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore first of all as the largest church in the country.
2. Giotto’s Bell Tower
Similar to the Cathedral of Sand Maria del Fiore, the Giotto’s Bell Tower is a part of the massive Florence Duomo (Cathedral of Florence). The narrower member of the remarkable structure allures with spectacular views of Florence that the newly-arrived visitors can’t miss.
414 steps lead to the top of the 84.7-meter (278-foot) tower. From here the most persistent travelers get to admire the bustling historic center, lined with street merchants and sit-down restaurants.
The second unmissable landmark first joined the impeccable architectural family of Florence in 1348. It took 11 years to complete the colossal work and adorn it with its elaborate details.
3. Uffizi Gallery
As popular as the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Uffizi Gallery entices with its vast collection of art pieces. Primitive and Renaissance artworks found their permanent residency within the walls of this 16th-century art museum.
Skipping some of the treasured works of art here is impossible. So get ready for a minimum of a three-hour complete immersion in the artistic world of Florence.
If your first visit to Florence is short, like it was ours, still don’t steer clear of the Uffizi Gallery. Instead, explore an urban inner courtyard that looks like an extension of the artistic heritage you find inside. You absolutely can’t miss places like this even during a few-hour day trip to Florence from Rome or nearby places.
4. Piazza della Signoria
Within a minute walk from the Uffizi Gallery is located the Piazza della Signoria. An L-shaped square claims the most prominent location, right in the heart of the old town.
The locals and soon even the first-time visitors of Florence regard the piazza and mainly its Loggia dei Lanzi as an open air museum. Adorned with contrasting sculptures and statues, the area can compete with any official art gallery.
Among other main landmarks you don’t want to miss in the center of historic Florence are the Fountain of Neptune and the Palazzo Vecchio.
5. Palazzo Vecchio
The Palazzo Vecchio, the main symbol of civil power in Florence, is extremely hard to miss thanks to its central location. In fact, the historic town hall overlooks the Piazza della Signoria and meets almost every visitor of the city.
The 14th-century museum inspires you to take a trip back in time through its Renaissance painting and Roman ruins. A stone’s throw away from it nestles the Uffizi Gallery. This close proximity allows you to explore two of the most popular landmarks of the city in a few hours.
Another reason you don’t want to miss the historic town hall of Florence is an exhibit at its front door. A full-sized replica of Michelangelo’s David statue intrigues every art enthusiast, giving a feel of what to expect at the Galleria dell’Accademia where the original resides.
6. Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio in Florence deserves a special recognition. A medieval stone arch bridge spans 30 meters (98 feet) across the Arno River. Along it cluster several shops. Jewelry, souvenirs, artworks, and gifts sold here divert the attention from the bridge. But just for a few minutes. The stunning structure soon gains back the lost interest.
They say even Hitler couldn’t disregard by the beauty of the Ponte Vecchio. He instructed its fleeing army not to destroy the bridge under any circumstances. And so the Ponte Vecchio survived the devastating World War II. In fact, it was the only bridge in the city not affected by the fires of the Hitler’s army.
Yet if you go way back in time to the 13-14th centuries, the first-time visitors of Florence would have gladly missed the Ponte Vecchio. The smell of meat and other produce from butchers’ and farmers’ stalls that lingered in the air at that time was too strong. Luckily, it became just a part of Florence’s history. No nauseating aroma spreads around the Ponte Vecchio today.
7. Piazzale Michelangelo
I must say it. Even if you have a few hours to spend in Florence, do not miss the Piazzale Michelangelo. A spacious square packed with statues is unmatched.
The place sits on the hills located south of the historic center of Florence. Thus, the route to it is never as busy as the touristic center. On top of that, the secluded area presents a different side of Florence. Narrow streets, corner houses with vibrant potted flowers on balconies, and a slower pace of life emerge here.
The last stretch of the route is the most tedious. A long, almost endless staircase that you don’t mind to miss barricades access to one of the most famous squares in Florence. Conquer it one step at a time because a reward you about to receive exceeds any expectations.
The views of the city with the towering dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore are breathtaking. The Arno River below glisters in the afternoon sun. Pastel pink hues descend on the city in the evening. More street performers flock to the Piazzale Michelangelo during this time, letting their music fill the air.
In other words, the towering square in not to be missed, especially during the first, introductory visit to the awe-inspiring city of Florence.
8. Giardino Bardini (Bardini Garden)
Don’t rush to return back to the city center. Instead descend the stairs that lead to the Piazzale Michelangelo and follow the same route until you reach a medieval wall. Turn left here. Steep at the beginning, this road takes you to the exclusive Bardini Garden.
The Italian Renaissance garden belonged to a series of wealthy families. Used solely for agricultural purposes in its early days, the place slowly transformed into a classic Italian garden. But it was Stefano Bardini who in 1900’s transformed the garden and gave it its current look.
Today, apart from the panoramic views of Florence, the Bardini Garden is not to be missed for its baroque staircase, Anglo-Chinese landscaping, and a classic wisteria pergola.
9. Don’t Miss Outdoor Markets in Florence
Not big shopping enthusiasts, we couldn’t miss outdoor markets in Florence. Temporary tents lined up the empty street corners in early afternoon. Loaded with leather belts, purses, carnival masks, and bright summer clothes that looked slightly odd on an unseasonably cold day in March rejuvenated the city center. Pared with the increasing hustle and bustle, Florence looked even livelier with the haggling people around.
10. Galleria dell’Accademia
Every Michelangelo lover can’t miss the Galleria dell’Academia in Florence. The place exhibits the largest number of the famous artist’s sculptures in the world. The museum’s biggest treasure is indisputably Michelangelo’s David statue.
Apart from it, the Galleria dell’Accademia is home to the world’s largest collection of the pre-19th century Venetian paintings. Among its unfading masterpieces are the artworks of Veronese, Tiepolo, Bellini, Giorgione, and Titian.
11. Don’t Miss Food Extravaganza in Florence
Last but not least, you can’t miss out on street food while visiting Florence for the first time. Gathering different kinds of food merchants, the city center is the best place to start. From their Schiacciata farcita, to tagliere, pizza, veggie panini, and Italian traditional gelatos, you look for a day full of tasting and sampling.
Sit-down restaurants that abound in Florence are the next places not to miss. The prices here are normally higher. Their ambiances along with the richer menus, however, promise to compensate for this drawback tenfold.
We were seized by traditional Italian menu of Agricola Toscana. Its slightly sour tomato soup became a culmination of the food fiesta for me. I was impressed so much that I was even inspired to reproduce the dish once back in California.