The best way to see the Big Five (monuments) in Florence
What to see and what to do during a first visit to Florence? Here are the 5 places not to be missed!
Guests at La Scuola di Furio have the opportunity to combine the relaxation of an holiday home in Tuscany with swimming pool with visits to the Tuscan art towns, most of which can be easily reached by car or train in less than one hour. Without doubts, the most famous city in Tuscany, cradle of the Renaissance, a treasure chest containing priceless treasures is Florence! Many of our guests return to visit Florence for the second, third or nth time. This post lists the places to see absolutely on your first visit to the capital city of Tuscany. They are listed in such a way as to be joined by a simple and beautiful walk (only the last bit is a bit uphill, but the view from the last stage is worth a few climbs! And if you keep on reading you will find a hack...).
Just like those going on a photo safari in Africa want to see the big five, the big 5 unmissable animals to photograph, in this post you will find the BIG FIVE OF FLORENCE, which are not elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard or other animals of the savannah but unmissable Florentine monuments. To be clear... These are the monuments that friends at home ask you about. "But have you been there?". With this guide the BIG FIVE will not escape you (and neither will other places to visit that are in the immediate vicinity).
So let's see together what are the essentials of Florence, the BIG FIVE!
- Piazza Duomo (Battistero San Giovanni, Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and Campanile di Giotto)
- Piazza della Repubblica
- Piazza della Signoria (Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi)
- Ponte Vecchio
- Piazzale Michelangelo
My advice is that you start from the main train station in Florence, Stazione di Santa Maria Novella.
How to get to Florence
- With your car (there is the SMN, short for Santa Maria Novella, underground parking, just below the train station. I find it a bit expensive, because I live in Fucecchio, If you live in a city, it will look common to you. Here the tariffs. Here the route to get there from the La Scuola di Furio in 45 minutes).
- By tram (Here the route to reach the Villa Costanza Viale della Costituzione in Scandicci terminus of the T1 Leonardo line, the line that connects Scandicci to the Careggi hospital, starting from La Scuola di Furio in 41 minutes. Take the tram towards Careggi and reach in 24 minutes the stop "Stazione Santa Maria Novella")
- By train (Reach San Miniato Fucecchio train station in 13 minutes, here the route. From here the fastest train takes 35 minutes to reach the main station of Florence. Otherwise you can reach the train station in Empoli in 24 minutes, from here the fastest train takes 27 minutes).
The Santa Maria Novella (which takes its name from the nearby basilica) train station is already worth seeing, as it is considered a masterpiece of Italian rationalism, designed by Giovanni Michelucci and built in the 1930s.
A small clarification is needed here! Inside the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence, for reasons of architectural conservation, the writings NO longer correspond to what is really underneath!
As you will see, on arrival everyone heads for the hall. From here you can exit on the right (and we are at the tramway stop), cross the ticket office hall and the taxi area or turn left, passing in front of the pharmacy. Our advice is to go to the ticket office hall and cross the gardens.
You will find yourself at a pedestrian traffic light. I recommend this route because, as soon as you cross at the traffic light, you will find yourself in front of the IAT Tourist Information and Reception Office in Piazza Stazione 4. This will allow you to have a free map if you have forgotten the one we give you in your car or at home. From here, head towards Via Panzani, and walk until it becomes Via de 'Cerretani. Take this road too and if it is still not clear to you, I can anticipate that you will end up in Piazza San Giovanni! Piazza San Giovanni takes its name from the Florence Baptistery and is in fact the continuation of Piazza del Duomo. so you have arrived at the
FIRST STAGE: PIAZZA DUOMO Santa Maria del Fiore, Battistero e Campanile di Giotto
The breathtaking first stage of the BIG FIVE OF FLORENCE: Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Baptistery of San Giovanni and Giotto's Bell Tower in a photo by Gabriele Mantellini
Piazza Duomo has practically always been the religious center of Florence and given the presence of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Giotto's bell tower, it is easy to understand why. The buildings date back to different eras but express a great harmony, also given by the cladding in white Carrara marble, red marble from Siena and green "serpentine" marble from Prato.
The oldest building (dating back to between the 4th and 5th centuries AD) is the Baptistery of San Giovanni, named after the patron saint of Florence. With an octagonal plan, it is one of the most important examples of Florentine Romanesque. Do not miss, even during a quick external visit, the doors made in the fifteenth century by Lorenzo Ghiberti (when he was 23!). Now we see copies (the originals are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) but they are enough to be amazed. There are two gilded bronze doors, one to the north (towards San Lorenzo) and one to the east (in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, so beautiful that it has earned the nickname of Porta del Paradiso (Gates of Paradise). If you have time, enter and visit the wonderful cycle of mosaics with a gold background dominated by a wonderful Christ Judge! The baptistery is the place of Baptism. Those who received the sacrament of baptism could walk out the Porta del Paradiso (Gates of Paradise) and enter the Cathedral!
The Cathedral of Florence is called Santa Maria del Fiore. In ancient times this is where Santa Reparata was located Santa Reparata was a much smaller church, dedicated to a holy virgin and martyr who was tortured because she refused to worship the pagan gods. Insensitive to the terrible torture to which she was subjected, she was beheaded. His soul came out of the body in the form of a dove. Why was the name changed? There are a couple of explanations. A more "secular" one that sees the reference to the lily symbol of Florentia (the Latin name for Florence) and a religious one, according to which the Flower is the symbol of the incarnation of Jesus. A third hypothesis sees an imposition by the powerful Arte della Lana, linked to the convent of Santa Maria del Fiore in Fiesole. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is home to numerous works of art by various masters, including Paolo Uccello, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Luca della Robbia. If you are interested, you can go underground to visit the excavations of the ancient cathedral, Santa Reparata. The construction of Santa Maria del Fiore as we see it today started from a first project by Arnolfo di Cambio (who lived between the second part of 1200 and the beginning of 1300) and many others who have succeeded one another over the centuries, such as Filippo Brunelleschi, author of the extraordinary dome. If you are athletic, you can climb the 463 steps to reach the terrace at 91 meters. The 360° degree panorama of Florence will make you forget the steep and claustrofobic stairs! For many years the façade of the Duomo remained rough. It was completed only shortly before Florence was choosen to be the capital of Italy (1865-1871). So, when in a fiction movie we see Dante or the Medici walking in front of the façade as we see it now... It is a historical fake!
Even the bell tower, which we know by the name of "Giotto" is the result of some changes during construction, made when Giotto was already dead. The mullioned windows and the roof that add lightness are in fact ideas of Andrea Pisano and Francesco Talenti. Anyone wishing to visit the Campanile di Giotto should know that the steps are 398 original steps plus 15 of the first flight of stairs, so a total of 413 lung-busting steps!
Here I am on top of Giotto's bell tower! Many steps but the view is priceless!
When leaving Piazza Duomo, you have two possibilities to get to the next destination. Take Via dei Calzaiuoli (advantage: you will pass in front of another IAT Information and Tourist Reception Office in Piazza San Giovanni, 1; disadvantage: you will also pass in front of a Disney Store, a sort of giant magnet for young and old) and then turn right into Via degli Speziali (did you know that Dante was part of the Arte dei Medici e Speziali, one of the seven major arts of the guilds of arts and crafts in Florence?) Or from Piazza San Giovanni, take Via Roma. Either way you will come to the
SECOND STAGE: PIAZZA DELLA REPUBBLICA, the real heart of Florentiz, the Roman Florence.
Despite its current, elegant, Parisian but somewhat affected appearance, Piazza della Repubblica is the real "Roman" heart of Florence. At the time Florence, indeed, Florentia had a rectangular plan, typical of the Roman colonies and in its center there was the forum (today, precisely, Piazza della Repubblica) where the cardo (today Via Roma and Calimala) and the decumano (today Via Strozzi and Via del Corso) met (and still meet).
The point to take as a reference is the Column of Abundance or Dovizia. In Roman times there was another column, which was later lost. It was replaced in 1431 by the column we see today, which had at the top the statue of Dovizia by Donatello, in pietra serena which unfortunately has been damaged and has been replaced by a similar work. At the top there was also a bell to indicate the opening of the market (Mercato Vecchio) that was held here, while at the bottom there were two chains with collars, used to "pillory" the condemned.
Piazza della Repubblica seen by the terrace of La Rinascente department store
The current look of the Piazza della Repubblica, however, is the result of the infamous demolitions and reconstructions when it was decided to make Florence the capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1865-71). If it is true that many of the buildings that occupied it were dilapidated and unhealthy, it is equally true that the Jewish ghetto was completely demolished together with shops, medieval towers, churches and tabernacles... At the time of Florence, capital of the Kingdom of Italy in the center of the piazza there was a large equestrian statue of King Vittorio Emanuele II (which is now in the Cascine park, Florence's largest park, on the North bank of the Arno river).
To compete with Paris and the other glittering capitals of the late nineteenth century, the square was populated with cafes, places that have now become historic cafes in Florence. Caffè Gilli, Caffè Paszkowski and Caffè delle Giubbe Rosse, a meeting place for passionate artists, journalists, writers, intellectuals who often gave rise to heated discussions.
Speaking of cafes, one cannot help but think of drinks and cocktails, such as Negroni. Did you know that the Negroni cocktail was born in Florence? Yes, even if not in Piazza della Repubblica but close, between Via Tornabuoni and Via della Spada. Today there is the Giorgio Armani shop, over the years there has been the Cavalli Cafè and shop, earlier the Caffè Giacosa and even before that there was the Caffè Casoni. In 1919, at the time of the Caffè Casoni, the place was frequented by Count Camillo Negroni who invariably asked for "the usual" at 5pm. Or an "American" (Campari, red Vermouth and Tonic Water in 3 equal parts with ice, lemon zest and a decorative orange slice). One day Conte Negroni asked for a drink that contained gin, making this request to the barman Fosco Scarselli. Il signor Fosco served him a variant, with gin instead of tonic water and a slice of lemon instead of orange. So "the American cocktail in the manner of Count Negroni" was born!
From Piazza della Repubblica you have to 2 more options to get to the third stage. Take Calimala (advantage: in Calimala, on your left, you will find the loggia of the New Market, also known as the loggia of the Porcellino!
ANOTHER CURIOSITY (actually, TWO!)
There are at least two curiosities related to this loggia. Below, near where we now see this wheel carved in the floor, the Florentine Carroccio was kept. The Florentine Carroccio was a battle chariot, which captained the Florentine troops that went out for the various wars. This war cart was equipped with the banner of the city and I suppose it was raraly here, seen the very frequent wars with neighboring cities!
The Florentines have always been merchants and bankers. Sometimes bankers so rich that they even lend a real fortune to a king! In the first half of the 1300s, the Baldi and the Peruzzi, Florentine bankers, lent a pharaonic sum, it is said up to one and a half million florins, to King Edward III of England. Who never repaid them, leading to ruin not only the two historic Florentine families but the whole entire social and economic system linked to Florence!
You are reading this is to explain that everyone in Florence was well aware of the importance of staying away from bancarotta, bankruptcy. To instill the concept, a brutal method was used at the time. Always under the loggia of the New Market, a very central place, where everyone could see what was happening, and always around this stone that on this occasion we will call the “stone of scandal”, a humiliating lesson was taught to failed traders. Those who did not honor their commitments, thus putting the economy of the entire city at risk, were dropped their pants, until the bankrupt was sitting uncovered. At this point, he was forced to sit on the ground, so that his bare bottom touched the stone. Once this "ceremony" was completed, the debtor could no longer be attacked by creditors. That's why in Italian we say "Tizio is with his bottom on the ground" to indicate someone in a difficult economic situation.
and the Porcellino (piglet) fountain
This is me, Tiziana, at the Porcellino fountain. Put a coin in the boar's mouth and drop it in the grate if you want to go back to Florence!
on your left), then turn right on Via della Vacchereccia ((advantage: on your left you can have a coffee at the counter at Caffè Rivoire, with a breathtaking view. Tip #1: if you decide to sit in the outdoor area, ask for the prices before you sit down ! Tip #2: they make a great hot chocolate!) Or (re) go through Via degli Speziali and turn right onto Via dei Calzaiuoli. No matter which toute you take, you will find yourself at the
THIRD STAGE: PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA
What can I say? Whenever we see it, our hearts open up. The two main buildings are Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia dei Lanzi. This square is an open-air museum. Even if some statues are copies, it is a breathtaking sight! Under the Loggia dei Lanzi we can admire, among other statues, the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna (it is in its intended location, still!), the Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini. With its severe appearance, Palazzo Vecchio is always worth seeing. Built in the very same place where in Roman times there was the Roman theater, the fourteenth-century "Palazzo dei Priori", then became "Palazzo della Signoria" at the time of the Republic of Florence, then "Palazzo Ducale" when Duke Cosimo I de' Medici lived in this palazzo with his beloved wife, the second daughter of the Viceroy of Naples, Spanish-born Eleonora (Donna Leonor Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio). The palazzo took the nickname of "Old" when Cosimo I and his wife Eleanor of Toledo moved to the "new" and much larger and more sumptuous Palazzo Pitti (so pharaonic its construction made the incredibly wealthy Pitti family fall into misery!). Impossible not to notice Michelangelo's David welcoming visitors, even if the original masterpiece is in the Accademia Gallery. Those who want to snoop the Florentine town hall, can access the rooms on the ground floor without problems.
Time to move on! I am delighted to say that to continue your walk, from Piazza della Signoria you have to pass between Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia dei Lanzi and you will find yourself in the Piazzale degli Uffizi, a beautiful courtyard with the niches with the statues of the greatest Florentine thinkers. On your to your right there is the ticket office to the Uffizi museum, on your right, the entrance to the Uffizi museum. Continue and at the end you will see the Arno and, on your right, the Ponte Vecchio.
Photo by Gabriele Mantellini
Walk under those arches...
The Loggia of the Vasari Corridor in a photo by Gabriele Mantellini
Walk under these arches full of harmony and history. You will easily find yourself on Ponte Vecchio. Here is the
FOURTH STAGE: PONTE VECCHIO
Did you know that you can take a boat trip on the Arno in Florence?
Walk along the Ponte Vecchio and enjoy!
So far, things have been easy and practically uneven. Now things are getting harder. If you have back problems, heart problems or other pathologies or are pregnant women I recommend you take the ATAF buses or a taxi to get to the
FIFTH STAGE: PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO
As soon as you leave Ponte Vecchio, you can take the first street on the right, Borgo San Iacopo.
After a while you will see the Lungarno hotel on your right (you can sneak under the arch, look out over the Arno and enjoy the view of the Ponte Vecchio, they are usually very nice) and on the left the Ramaglianti tower (and a little further on "Mamma Gina" my friends Monica and Marco's favorite Florentine restaurant). Take a bus at the stop (but, please, bear in mind that diverted traffic due to road works is frequent...), a taxi or go up on foot, take a look at the street signs over there. Return to Ponte Vecchio, take Via de' Bardi on the left, then Via di S. Niccolò, to continue on Via S. Miniato, Via del Monte alle Croci. Then turn left and take the Scalinata del Monte alle Croci, climbing all the way to the left until the longed-for view of Piazzale Michelangelo and immediately after a splendid view FROM Piazzale Michalangelo!
THE CHEEKY ALTERNATIVE
It's too hot to take the steep streets in the last stretch on foot. Or it rains. Or just because you don't feel like it...
You can simply read this list in reverse and take a taxi (it will take from 15 to 20 minutes) from the Santa Maria Novella train station to "il Piazzale" or an ATAF bus from Piazza Adua (see here which bus take, destination Piazzale Michelangiolo, written in this olw fashioned way!). From there you will descend following this itinerary (Viale Giuseppe Poggi, Scalinata del Monte alle Croci, Via del Monte alle Croci, Via S. Miniato, Via di S. Niccolò, Via de 'Bardi, Via de' Guicciardini, Borgo S. Jacopo), it will take you about twenty minutes to get to Ponte Vecchio, and then the other stages backwards!