Florence must-see: the best things to see in Florence, the best Florence attractions and experiences for first-time visitors.
Florence is one of the most beautiful places in Italy and one of the most visited.
Blessed with a wonderful position in the middle of stunning Tuscan countryside, beautiful architecture, unrivaled art and food to die for, it is a destination that appears on all Italy itineraries for first-time visitors and that hardly ever disappoints.
I personally love the city.
I have loved it since childhood and every time I go, I discover something more about it that makes it fall in love with it a little deeper.
This is my selection of the best things to see in Florence and some of the best experiences in Florence.
Save this article on Pinterest for future reference!
The best things to see in Florence
Florence historical center
Florence is a compact city with a small, wonderful historic city center.
Many of the attractions in this list are in this area however, it deserves its own mention as Florence City center is more than the sum of its parts.
As you wander along its meandering streets, you will encounter wonderful churches and museums but you will also soak in the atmosphere of this ancient city.
In Florence, a little bit like in Rome city center or in many Tuscan towns, you walk through history and breath it the moment you leave your hotel room (this is one of the best areas to stay in Florence).
This is, I feel, what makes the city special and why I recommend a leisurely walk in the city center as one of the best things to do in Florence, not just to culture lovers but all types of travelers.
Santa Maria Novella (Church)
Santa Maria Novella is one of the top sights in Florence and one of the most important and famous churches in the city.
It is also one of the first many visitors see, due to its proximity to Florence’s main train station, appropriately called ‘Santa Maria Novella’.
Santa Maria Novella as we see it today dates back to 1279.
That year, the building work started by the design of two Dominicans, Fra Sisto and Fra Ristoro, and it took a couple of centuries for completion.
The work went on well into the 14th century, which explains why the church mixes different architectural styles, including elements of gothic architecture and Reinassance art.
Santa Maria Novella is wonderful inside and out.
The facade has distinctive polychrome marbles that seem to dance in the sun and inside the gothic nave and structure hides beautiful frescoes and altar and cloisters, among the best examples of Italian gothic style.
Address: Piazza di Santa Maria Novella 18, Firenze, Italy
Officina Profumo Santa Maria Novella
The Officina Profumo Santa Maria Novella is one of the world’s if not the world’s oldest pharmacy and it a wonderful, interesting place to visit.
Ita story dates back to the 1400s, when Dominican Friars started cultivating medicinal plants in the yard of their convent in Santa Maria Novella.
In 1381 gave birth to the first perfumed water, rose water, that the friars used as a disinfectant during the Black Death epidemics in the city.
Since then, the pharmacy has been producing perfumes, originally for queens such as Caterina de’ Medici, partial to their bergamot scent, and still nowadays produced perfumes, soaps and beauty products.
The pharmacy opened to the public in 1612 and stayed oper ever since.
Nowadays, you can buy their products but also visit the old pharmacy where you can see the old apothecary pottery.
This is a must-see in Florence for the peculiarity of the space and the connection with the history of the bubonic plague in the city, which played such an important role in the creation for instance of Boccaccio’s Decameron.
Address: Via della scala 16, Firenze, Italy
Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s Duomo, the cathedral of Florence
A short walk down the road from Santa Maria Novella stands maybe the most recognizable and famous building in the whole of Florence: the Duomo.
Florence’s Duomo dates back to 1296, when Arnolfo di Cambio presented the project for its construction.
The building work took over 170 years and over the course of that time, several artists and architects contributed to it including Giotto, Pisano, Donatello and Brunelleschi, among others.
Florence’s Duomo is a marvel and there is much to see here.
Not to be missed are its polychrome facade, the incredible bell tower (campanile di Giotto), the stunning dome by Brunelleschi and the church’s colorful windows and floors.
The Duomo is one of the top attractions in Florence and one not to be missed.
Address: Piazza del Duomo, Firenze, Italy
Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s belltower)
Campanile di Giotto is part of the Duomo complex and sits just beside the main church.
It is elaborately decorated and each of its sides tells a story.
The one looking towards the battistero tells the biblical story of the creation of men, while the other sides represent medicine, astronomy, medieval arts and the universe.
If you are not afraid of heights, a climb up the campanile is one of the best things to do in Florence.
The battistero (baptistry) is also part of the complex of Santa Maria del Fiore and sits right in front of the church.
It has an octagonal pant, which gives it a peculiar, distinct shape and it is entirely cladded with colorful marble, much like the church and belltower beside it.
The baptistry is wonderful inside and out and one of the best sights in Florence for art lovers.
Inside, you have mosaics dating back to the XIII century while outside, as well as the facade, worth noticing are the world-famous bronze doors, sculpted by Pisano, Ghibelli and Della Robbia.
Florence Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is one of the best-known piazzas in Florence and maybe the most recognizable Florence landmark after the duomo.
Located in the city center, the Piazza is a destination in itself, with much to see.
Here you have Palazzo Vecchio, the most recognizable building in the piazza thanks to its imposing tower, now an interesting museum.
La Loggia dei Lanzi, which hosts wonderful sculptures under open-air arches opening onto the street
Palazzo Ugoccioni, Palazzo delle Assicurazioni Generali with classical and neoclassical architerures.
Several important statues, inlcudind copies of Michelangelo’s David, Fontana di Nettuno, Marzocco and Giuditta e Oloferne by Donatello.
A very popular destination in Florence and one of the most visited piazzas in the world, Piazza della Sigonria is a Florence must-see and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Florence city center.
Address: Piazza della Signoria, Firenze, Italy
The Uffizi Gallery needs no introduction.
One of the most famous museums in the world, it is located in the heart of Florence city center, between Piazza della Signoria and the Arno river and is home to priceless art including masterpieces by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raffaello and Giotto, just to name some of the best known.
The Uffizi gallery is vast and busy.
A must-see in Florence, the best way to tackle it is by planning in advance what you want to see or paying for a tour and take it at a leisurely pace: it is the type if museums you can spend days in and still find something to marvel at!
Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi 6, Firenze, Italy
Ponte Vecchio (lit. Old bridge) is the oldest in Florence and the most distinctive.
The bridge connects the two sides of the river Arno and it is peculiar as it is flanked by rows of shops that make it feel more like an enclosed road than a bridge.
History tells us that the bridge hs hosted shops since the XIII century.
Originally it hosted butchers and greengrocers, then in 1593 a decree by Ferdinand the II stated only goldsmiths and jewelers could trade there and this has been the case pretty much ever since!
Ponte Vecchio gets very busy and can feel oppressive on a hot day however it is a place not to be missed and that offers lovely photo opportunities, especially from the banks of the river.
The Boboli Gardens are one of the most beautiful places in Florence and one most visitors don’t hesitate to describe as ‘magical’.
They are the gardens of Palazzo Pitti and they are a large, green space originally wanted by the Medici family and kept alive ever since.
Developing over 45.000 acres, the gardens have fountains, sculptures, caves, stairs, paths that have been designed and created by some of the most important architects and artists in the city.
The Boboli Gardens are not a park as such but an attraction and I recommend them as a must-see in Florence especially for lovers of art and villas more than families (see here if going to Florence with kids)
Address: Piazza de’ Pitti 1, Firenze, Italy
The Accademia Gallery, like the Uffizi, are a world-renowned museum and a must-see in Florence for anyone who loves art and sculpture in particular.
The Accademia is in fact mostly known for its statues by Michelangelo and, most of all, his David.
Address: Via Ricasoli 58-60, Firenze, Italy
Piazzale Michelangelo is a large panoramic square at the top of a hill overlooking the city of Florence.
Located on the same side of the river as the Boboli Gardens (Oltrarno) is it famous for offering iconic views over the city.
The shot of Florence with the river and the red large Brubnelleschi dome is taken from here.
The star of the show here is the view.
The square itself has a leafy cafe but otherwise feels very much like a large parking lot for buses and cars to come and admire the view.
I believe Piazzale Michelangelo is a must-see in Florence but I do recommend to come here for the view, not for a relaxing aperitivo.
One for car lovers: the Ferrari experience, the change of driving a Ferrari, starts at Piazzale Michelangelo!
Address: Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze, Italy
San Miniato al Monte
If you are looking for viewpoints, then you can do even better visiting San Miniato al Monte, a wonderful church in Romanic style perched high above Piazzale Michelangelo and Florence.
The church is wonderful and has beautiful marbles and chapels and the views from outside vast and expansive.
If you don’t mind the walk, climbing up to San Miniato al Monte is one of the best things to do in Florence.
Address: Via delle Porte Sante 34, Firenze, Italy
Santo Spirito is a wonderful church in a quiet area of Oltrarno, overlooking a tranquil square.
From the outside, it is easy to miss the importance of this church.
Unlike the duomo or many other churches in this list, Santo Spirito hasn’t got an elaborate facade made of colorful marbles but rather a plain-looking, rather boring exterior.
However, it has some important works of art by Michelangelo, Perugino, Lippi and it is also worth noticing that is was built by the design of Brunelleschi.
This is a lovely church worth seeing and also home to masterpieces by lesser-known artists that never reached worldwide fame but are nonetheless worth seeing.
Address: Piazza Santo Spirito 30, Firenze, Italy
San Lorenzo church
Art lovers should not miss Piazza San Lorenzo and its church, home to the famous Medici’s Chapels.
This is the place where the members of the Medici family are have been designed by masters such as Buontalenti, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo.
Address: Piazza di San Lorenzo, Firenze, Italy
San Lorenzo Market and Mercato Centrale
Not far from the church of San Lorenzo you will find one of the most fun places to visit in Florence if you love markets, shopping and food: Mercato San Lorenzo.
The market is actually two markets in one: an indoor area, Mercato Centrale, is a mecca for food while the outdoor area has stalls selling pretty much anything else: pottery, leather goods, souvenirs and more.
This is a lovely area to visit and a great place for some of the best food experiences in Florence.
You buy your own or you can indulge in food made here on the first floor, now a fabulous and pretty glamorous food court offering food workshops and high-quality Italian food made with traditional ingredients and methods.
Address: Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento, Firenze, Italy
Piazza della Repubblica
Piazza della Repubblica is a lovely square in Florence city center with stunning architecture and a vintage carousel, a favorite photo op for many.
The square is right in the center of town and a nice place to stop for a drink while shopping or sightseeing.
On the square itself and immediately nearby there are very many cafes and gelato shops that make it perfect for relaxing and people watching.
Address: Piazza della Repubblica, Firenze, Italy
Art lovers will want to make sure they include into their Florence itinerary a stop in Santa Croce, the basilica that now hosts the tombs of some of Italy’s most illustrious sons such as Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Rossini and Galileo Galilei.
It also hosts a memorial monument to Dante however, the poet is not here: he is instead buried in Ravenna, where he spent his exile.
The church is wonderful and has incredible frescoes by Giotto and works by Donatello and it is also in a lively area: after you visit the church, you will find plenty of places for aperitivo or a meal here.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the best things to see in Florence and it gave you an idea of the main Florence attractions to see on your first trip to the city.
Happy travel planning!