From the masterworks to the overlooked gems, here’s where to see Florence’s best collections of art and beyond.
In Florence, the number of museums may seem overwhelming, which is why we’ve narrowed down a list of the absolute must-sees during your time in the City of Lilies—and they’re not all Renaissance art museums, either. Go beyond David to see celebrity shoes, contemporary art, and church wonders.
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The fortress-like Bargello has had many incarnations—family palace, Florentine government building, prison, and the site of executions. As a nod to its controversial past, it also houses a collection of weapons, armor, and medals from the powerful Medici family. The real draw though is Donatello’s bronze David, standing victorious over the head of Goliath, Michelangelo’s marble Bacchus, and a collection from major Renaissance sculptors.
Galleria degli Uffizi
Galleria degli Uffizi is one of the most visited museums in Florence, Italy, and the world, for a reason. In the former offices of Florentine magistrates, you’ll find an awe-inspiring collection of art. In one room, gaze at Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera, and in another, Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation. Works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto, and Caravaggio are also here and museum aficionados may want to spend several hours exploring. Avoid the lines by booking tickets in advance on The Uffizi Gallery website.
INSIDER TIPMany Florence museums (including Galleria degli Uffizi) have free admission on the first Sunday of the month. This can be a convenient time to visit during the off-season, but be prepared for long lines in spring, summer, and on holiday weekends.
Come to Galleria dell’Accademia for David, stay to see everything else. There’s no doubt that the line running down Via Ricasoli to enter a seemingly nondescript building is for Michelangelo’s most famous man in the world—Il Davide. There is something marvelous about seeing his 17 feet of artfully carved Carrara marble “in the flesh,” poised before his battle with Goliath. After you’ve caught your breath, check out the museum’s early- to late-Renaissance works by Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Sarto; Florentine Gothic paintings; and the collection of musical instruments.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
When Santa Maria del Fiore—also known as Florence cathedral, or Il Duomo—was completed in the late 1400s. Along with its baptistery and bell tower, it was the largest church in Europe and was decorated by some of Italy’s most celebrated artists. But those masterworks that you see on the cathedral today, like Lorenzo Ghiberti’s famous doors, or Gates of Paradise, which took him 27 years to finish, are fake, to spare the original bronze from the elements. The doors and some of the other embellishments and sculptures that once adorned the church are now housed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
INSIDER TIP Buy one ticket that covers entry into the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, and a climb up Florence Cathedral’s bell tower and cupola within 72 hours.
Museo Salvatore Ferragamo
You may think that you’ve died and gone to shoe heaven at this museum in a former Palazzo that has been the former Southern Italian-born shoe designer’s workshop since 1938. The permanent collection from the brand’s archives includes a Technicolor and gold wedge sandal designed for Judy Garland in 1938 and a cross-strap ballet flat created for Audrey Hepburn’s slim feet in the 1950s (which became one of the designer’s signature styles and is still made today). Because of Ferragamo’s status as a “creator to the stars,” the museum often runs temporary exhibits that merge history, film, art, and culture with fashion.
Related: World’s Best Fashion Museums
Florence’s rich and powerful, including the Medicis, the Dukes of Lorraine-Habsburg, and the Kings of Savoy, all walked down the halls of Palazzo Pitti. In its current museum status, its gallery rooms and royal apartments are lavishly decorated as a palace should be. With more than 500 paintings (mostly Renaissance-era) including works by Raphael and Titian in its major gallery—The Palatine—the combination of gold and filigree and artwork can be a bit overwhelming. If you have the stamina, you can visit three other collections in the palace: Modern Art (18th to 20th centuries), a treasury from the Medici and Bishops of Salzburg, and a costume and fashion museum, which is sometimes closed to install new exhibits. For a breath of fresh air, head to the palace’s manicured, vast, and fountain-filled Boboli Gardens.
Related: World’s 20 Most Spectacular Palaces
Unlike city-run museums in Florence (such as Galleria degli Uffizi), Palazzo Strozzi is an independent foundation, meaning the exhibits here range from classic to avant-garde. One show could be a retrospective of Cinquecento art in Florence, a 65-foot spiral tunnel for visitors called The Florence Experiment, or controversial performance artist Marina Abramovic’s The Cleaner, featuring live nude actors. There is also a permanent collection about the history of the palace, which was built for a prominent Florentine banker, Filippo Strozzi, who died before it was completed.
Related: 7 Reasons to Rediscover Florence
Also called Palazzo della Signoria, the monumental building surrounded by one of Italy’s most famous piazzas has been home to Florence’s city government since the Renaissance. Walk past a copy of Michelangelo’s David at the entrance, and up opulent marble staircases to see expansive gold-highlighted and frescoed ceilings and walls. The Salone dei Cinquecento is one of the most grand, designed and painted by celebrated art historian (and artist in his own right), Giorgio Vasari.
INSIDER TIPHike up the palace’s Torre di Arnolfo for unforgettable city views.
In Florence, churches are museums, too. At Santa Croce—considered the largest Franciscan church in the world (and said to be founded by St. Francis of Assisi)—you’ll find 16 chapels that were once frequented by significant Florentine families who funded their decoration. There are frescoes by Renaissance master Giotto in the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels, and a terracotta altarpiece by another quattrocento heavy hitter, Andrea Della Robbia. If the art isn’t enough of a draw to visit one of Florence’s most significant churches, the basilica also holds the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.
Santa Maria Novella
Dominican monks founded the basilica of Santa Maria Novella in the 13th century, making it one of the most religiously significant churches in Florence—and it still is. The facade is a beauty, with green and white marble inlay work by Genoa-born Leon Battista Alberti. Inside are some of the world’s finest examples of Renaissance art. Masaccio’s Trinita fresco painted in the 1400s (which was covered and rediscovered in the 1800s) is on the main altar and is considered one of the earliest examples of perspective during the Renaissance. Giotto’s Crucifix is another masterwork that was likely painted in the late 1200s. In the basilica’s largest chapel, Tornabuoni, Ghirlandaio painted frescoes about the Virgin Mary’s life (to whom the church is dedicated) in the late 1400s.