Must See Museums in Florence Italy…
We’re continuing are Italian Adventures today by exploring Must-See Museums of Florence.
As the Birthplace of the Renaissance and cultural hub for over 2000 years, it could take weeks (to a lifetime) to discover all of the amazing museums, historical and cultural sites that Florence has to offer. As a UNESCO World-Heritage Site, the city of Florence is home to over 70 museums and more than 100 historic churches, as well as architectural wonders and Roman ruins.
I say this because, when I visited Florence at first I felt overwhelmed. I’d studied the city and dreamed of visiting since elementary school and once I got there I realized I wasn’t going to see everything in one trip…I was frustrated at first, but recognized that’s okay. You are better off focus on a few highlights and really taking time to enjoy those museums and sites versus overdoing it. You can always return and see more of the city (Florence is a place you’ll long to return to.)
I’ve broken this list down into a few ABSOLUTELY MUST SEE sites plus additional museums that should be on your list if you have more than one or two days. My list might be slightly different than yours based on interest and that is okay.
When tackling such a culturally renowned city like Florence that has historical sites, art, food and shopping make a list of what you are interest in seeing.
For instance, my friend I traveled with wanted to learn about Italian leather and the fashion heritage of Florence, whereas I was on an Art Expedition to find Michelangelo, Donatello, Giotto and more…We compromised and did a bit of both.
Florence is highly walkable and you can get a lot done in one day, especially if you hire a tour guide (we’ll talk about this in our next blog post – Florence Itineraries).
- Pro Tip: With many of the museums like The Accademia and Uffizi you should plan on purchasing your ‘skip the line’ tickets in advance. On my trip, I reserved a day tour with City of Wonders (I found them on Viator) and it was amazing because they handled the tickets and provided a comprehensive walking tour of the city, plus The Accademia (home to David) and tickets to The Uffizi.
Even if Art History and The Renaissance is not your passion, no trip to Florence is complete without a stop at The Duomo, Uffizi, The Accademia and in my opinion The Bargello
The Duomo and Baptistry:
In truth you on’t be able to escape The Duomo even if you try…this magnificent cathedral towers over the skyline and stuns with its unique design and detailed facade. The Duomo’s official name is The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower). The Fleur de Lis is one of the symbols of Florence. The origins of this red and white ‘giglio – lily’ motif are disputed. Some say it is because of the flowers that grow in the area – either way – Florence’s emblem is this beautiful symbol and St. Mary of the Flower is a fitting name of this glorious cathedral.
- But why call it The Duomo? Actually most cathedrals in Italy are known as duomos – which comes from The Latin word for house as it is the House of God (Domus Dei). Most in Florence simply refer to The Cathedral as ‘The Duomo’
- What is a Cathedral – it is a type of church that is the main ‘seat’ or office where the bishop is headquartered. A cathedral does not have to be large, and sometimes it is smaller than other parish churches in the area…but it is the seat of the bishop…
In the case of The Florence Duomo it is one of the largest churches in Italy and the largest brick dome in the world with 4 million bricks.
The Duomo is nearly 1000 years old and took over centuries to fully complete.
- Work began in 1296 when Florence decided to build a Cathedral to rival those of Pisa and Lucca. The original architect was Arnolfo di Cambio, who sadly died before it was completed.
- Between Cambio’s death and The Black Death that haunted Europe, there were many delays on the completion of the cathedral
- Eventually one of the founders of Renaissance art and architecture, Filippino Brunelleschi took over and did the impossible. He figured out a way to build what remains the largest brick dome in the world.
- The Romans had domed buildings like The Pantheon, but this knowledge was lost in The Middle Ages (blueprints of Roman plans destroyed in raids by invading Barbarians)
- To this day the marvel of the engineering still astounds architects
We’ll tour The Duomo in depth soon and get into a bit of the importance of its architect Brunelleschi as well.
While in the area, YOU MUST STOP at the adjacent Bapistry of St. John and admire The Baptistery Doors. Designed by Ghiberti and considered a pivotal start to The Renaissance, the doors were called ‘The Gates of Paradise’ by Michelangelo.
- The doors on the Baptistery today are perfect copies (to protect the originals from the elements) You can see the original doors in The Opera Duomo Museum (right next door). Learn more here.
Nearby is Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower)
To learn more about The Duomo don’t forget to subscribe for blog updates as we’ll be doing an in-depth tour of The Cathedral, Baptistery and Museum soon.
The Uffizi: One of the GREATEST Art Museums in the World
The Uffizi holds the finest collection of Renaissance artworks in the world, attracting more than 2 million art lovers each year. Within the halls of this hallowed collection you’ll be introduced to works by Botticelli including his Primerva and Venus…You’ll see master paintings by Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and so many more.
Two of my favorite paintings at the museum were Raphael’s Madonna and Child and Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo (Blessed Mary, Jesus and St. John)
- A tondo was a popular circular portrait style used, especially for domestic portraits or of The Virgin Mary in the Italian Renaissance.
- The Doni Tondo or Doni Madonna, is the only finished panel painting by the mature Michelangelo to survive
- Pro Tip: I recomment purchasing your tickets in advance via The Uffizi website or take a tour with an art historian. Make sure to get ‘skip the line’ tickets
- For an art obsessor like me it can take an entire day in The Uffizi, but most need a few hours. Focus on the highlights and be patient with the crowds. If the line at Sandro Botticelli’s Venus is too much, take in one of his other paintings and avoid the crowds.
The Accademia Gallery: Home to Michelangelo’s David
I’ll admit, David was not my favorite statue before visiting Florence, in truth I was more enamored by his Pieta or paintings on The Sistine Chapel, but once you see The David in person, you’ll be forever changed. It is that work of art that sends chill bumps down your spine, because it is so realistic and evokes emotions of courage, fear, innocence and frustration – as David goes to meet his foe Goliath. All of these emotions are so subtly carved by Michelangelo that it is almost understated.
I recommend finding a tour guide when you come to The Accademia because so much of the story of this statue is not just the statue itself but the story of how it was made and the struggle to complete it. (A David vs Goliath story within itself)…Michelangelo was the third sculptor to attempt to use this piece of marble to carve David, but the marble wasn’t the best quality…yet Michelangelo turned it into a masterpiece.
- Don’t simply look at The David and leave, The Accademia also includes several other wonderful Michelangelo sculptures and masterworks by Medieval and Renaissance artists including F. Lippo, Botticelli and more!
- In fact The Accademia has more Michelangelo Sculptures than any other museum in the world
- Make sure to get your skip the line tickets in advance on the official website.
The Bargello: Home to Donatello’s David
The Bargello is often overlooked museum compared to the crowds at The Accademia, but it is a MUST SEE in Florence… The Bargello Museum is Italy’s Official Museum of Sculpture. It is housed in the oldest public building Florence…the word bargello means ‘fortified tower’ and during the Italian Middle Agesthis building ws built to house a military captain in charge of keeping peace and justice during riots. This also used to be site of executions (sadly this was normal in The Renaissance, but Florence was the first city to abolish The Death Penalty in 1786)
Today it houses the preeminent collection of sculpture in Italy including Donatello’s Statue of David.
Donatello’s Statue of David was commissioned by The Medici Family and was the first semi-nude statue to be created since Roman Classical times. Donatello’s David is in bronze and he dons a hat and books with a youthful vigor.
You can also find additional works by Michelangelo, Venetian Sansovino and more.
Plan your visit here. (not their official site, but has great info about the museum)
Other AWESOME Museums in Florence:
- Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) and Boboli Gardens – home to The Medici and one of the great collections of world art from Titian to Caravaggio.
- Palazzo Vecchio
- Dante Museum: Poet and Philosopher Dante was sadly forced to flee Florence during a time of unrest, but his birthplace still tries to claim his genius.
- Galileo Museum
- Salvatore Ferragamo Museum – for the shoe lover!
- Gucci Museum
- Leonardo Da Vinci Museum
- Casa Buonarroti – Home of Michelangelo
Must see churches:
- Basilica of Santa Croce – Resting Place of Michelangelo
- Basilica of Santa Maria Novella – Facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti, inside are works by Giotto, Brunelleschi, Masaccio and Ghirlandaio. See Giotto’s famed crucifix here
- Basilica of Santo Spirito: another Brunelleschi designed church
- San Minianto Al Monte – gorgeous views and beautiful church
- San Lorenzo – home church of The Medici – designed by Brunelleschi
- San Marco – St. Mark’s is home to the awe inspiring frescoes of Fra Angelico and was where the controversial preacher Savonarola
- Brancacci Chapel – beautiful frescoes by Masolino and Masacchio
Next time on American Nomad I’ll outline some itineraries to help plan your trip to Florence before we dive deeper into spots like The Duomo and Uffizi…
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