A Good Walk: Florentine Piazzas
You may come to Florence for the art, but once here you're likely to be won over by the pedestrian-friendly street life played out on its wonderfully varied piazzas. This walk takes you through many of them (but bypasses some of the most prominent ones you'll inevitably encounter while sightseeing).
Start off in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, by the train station; note the glorious facade by Leon Battista Alberti decorating the square's church. Take Via delle Belle Donne, a narrow street running southeast from the piazza, and go left heading toward Via del Trebbio. Here you'll see a cross marking the site of a 13th-century street scuffle between Dominican friars and Patarene heretics. (The Dominicans won.) A right on Via Tornabuoni takes you to tiny Piazza Antinori; the 15th-century Antinori palace has been in the hands of its wine-producing namesake family for generations.
Continue south on Via Tornabuoni, stopping in Piazza Strozzi to admire the gargantuan Palazzo Strozzi, a 16th-century family palace designed specifically to dwarf the Palazzo Medici, and step into the delicate courtyard. Next stop on Via Tornabuoni is the lovely little Piazza Santa Trinita. Take a quick look into the church of Santa Trinita; in its Sassetti Chapel in the right transept, Ghirlandaio's 15th-century frescoes depict the square in which you were just standing.
Continue south to the Arno and cross it via the Ponte Trinita. Go south on Via Maggio, then make a right on Via Michelozzi, which leads to Piazza Santo Spirito, one of the liveliest squares in Florence. Walking away from the piazza's church (heading south), make a left on Via Sant'Agostino, which turns into Via Mazzetta. Stop in Piazza San Felice and note No. 8, home of English poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning from 1849 to 1861.
Via Guicciardini takes you to Piazza dei Pitti, which was intended to outsize Palazzo Strozzi, and it succeeds. Behind the palazzo is the Giardino di Boboli. Walking to its top, you'll pass man-made lakes, waterfalls, and grottoes. Head for the 18th-century Giardino dei Cavalieri; when you arrive, pause and admire the view. It's hard to believe the scene in front of you, complete with olive groves, is in the city center.
Head back toward the Arno along Via Guicciardini. Just before the Ponte Vecchio, turn right onto Via de' Bardi. Stop in Piazza Maria Sopr'Arno and check out the eerie 20th-century sculpture of John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence. Continue along Via de' Bardi until it becomes Via San Niccolò. Make a right on Via San Miniato, passing through the city walls at Porta San Niccolò. Head up, steeply, on Via Monte alle Croci, and veer left, taking the steps of Via di San Salvatore al Monte. At the top is Piazzale Michelangelo, where your effort is rewarded with a breathtaking view of Florence below.