Florence’s Top 10 Sites To Explore On Foot

by Katherine Conner

Florence is often regarded as one big open-air museum. As an intern abroad in Florence, you can see some of the best sights the city has to offer in just a few days and while spending only a few Euros! Comfortable walking shoes, a city map, and curiosity are about all you need to have the tour of your life.

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower Florence, Italy
The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower in Florence, Italy. Photo Courtesy of Kaitlin Powers.

1. Florence Cathedral

The Florence Cathedral is enough to make any architecture fan geek out. The cathedral appears massive even in photos but the sheer size and detail of the structure is overwhelming when seen in person. Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi engineered what was thought to be an impossible feat in 1436, when the Dome was completed nearly 140 years after the project began. It still stands today as the largest brick dome constructed in the world. Pay a few Euros and climb the stairs to the terrace of the dome and enjoy one of the best views of the city. Arrive just before sunset to reach the top at sunset and catch a picturesque view.

2. The Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace

One of the first and most formal 16th century gardens lies behind the walls of Pitti Palace. It was once the residence of the grand dukes of the royal Medici Family. Get lost in the detail of the lavish gardens which house iconic statues, fountains, and an expansive view of the city. Although it is most enjoyable in the springtime, the palace and surrounding grounds are a must see any time of year. Join other sunbathers on the urban beach out front of the palace for an afternoon nap or coffee with friends.

3. Ponte Vecchio

Literally translated to “old bridge,” the Ponte Vecchio is one of the most photographed sites in Florence. Built in 1345, it crosses the Arno River at its most narrow point and is lined with jewelry shops and street performers. It was originally built to connect the town hall of Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti and used as a royal corridor. Take great pictures from the neighboring bridges and even enjoy a glass of wine or pizza on one of the platforms lining the bridges.

4. Piazza Michelangelo

A steep walk to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo offers an amazing panoramic view of the city below. Stop along the way at places like the Rose Garden and see replicas of Michelangelo’s best works including the “David”. It is a very popular tourist attraction, but stay patient because the majestic view is worth the wait. It is on the less commercial side of town so it provides a great opportunity for interns in Florence to explore the quaint cafes and shops.

Piazza Michelangelo

Piazza Michelangelo

5. Palazzo Vecchio

Among the most impressive town halls in all of Italy, this fortress/palace and adjacent piazza is one of the most significant public places in Italy, and a great place to bear witness to Florence's artistic heritage. A bold replica of the “David” stands at the entrance of the palace. To the right, stands Loggia dei Lanzi, made of stark columns, wide bays and housing classic Renaissance statues including “The Rape of the Sabine Woman”. Enter and view some of the inside of Palazzo Vecchio for free. Take a look around the walls of the fortress and look for “Michelangelo’s Graffiti,” a secret spot that most tourists never notice.

6. Santa Croce

The Basilica di Santa Croce is a short walk from the Duomo. The church has sixteen chapels, many of which were decorated with frescos by Giotto. Legend says that Santa Croce was funded by St. Francis himself. For a small fee, enter the church and see the burial place of some of the most renowned Italians including Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. Like almost all basilicas in Italy, shoulders and legs must be covered and there is no talking allowed inside.

7. Santa Maria Novella

This is the first great basilica in Florence. The gothic-renaissance façade of the church was completed by Alberti in 1470. The courtyard out front is one of the few grass areas in Florence where you can relax and enjoy the historical ambiance. It’s a great place to people watch or take a break from explorations since it is located right next to the main train station.

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

8. Mercato Centrale

San Lorenzo’s central market was once the main shopping center for local Florentines. Explore the fresh, unique goods offered inside and grab a tasty lunch. See vegetables and meats you’ve never seen before like lampredotto: cow’s stomach which is a tasty specialty in Florence. This is also a great spot to pick up souvenirs like local Tuscan wine, biscotti, cheeses, and meats. Be friendly with shopkeepers and sample some delicious treats.

9. Piazza Della Republica

This was once an important market during medieval times. It became the modern center it is today when Florence was named the capital of Italy in 1865. The square is lined with cafes that usually have a high service fee because of the piazza’s tourist attraction. Throughout the year, this is the home to many different markets and events taking place in Florence. Il Mercato dei Sapori e dei Mestieri, a traditional Culinary and Artisan Tuscan Market takes place every fall where craftsmen and culinary masters showcase their goods. It's open to the public and there are plenty of tasting counters: perfect for food-loving interns

10. Town of Fiesole

After getting a taste for the city, jump on a bus and ride up the hill to Fiesole. This quiet and quaint town is situated five miles above Florence and offers an all encompassing view of the city below. The Roman Amphitheatre is still used today. There are small trattorias, or small, relaxed Italian eateries, spread around the town that are authentic and lack the touristy feel.