Things to Do in Florence
With its massive dome patterned in colorful designs, the Great Synagogue is an architectural marvel and significant synagogue of Italy. Historically Florence has always had a small Jewish community, with the first synagogue dating back to the 13th century. The Great Synagogue, however, was constructed from 1874 to 1882 financed by a local Jewish citizen who sought out to create a synagogue with beauty that would rival the other structures of Florence. Today it is still one of the largest in Europe. There is also a small Jewish museum with relics on display.
The synagogue features influences from both Italian and Islamic traditions. Its oxidized bright green copper roof makes the dome stand out in the city skyline. The interior features striking alternating layers of granite and travertine, with three large arches framing the entrance. Many draw comparisons in style to the Hagia Sofia of Istanbul.
Behind the massive Pitti Palace lies the enormous Boboli Gardens - both were once the private domain of Florence’s ruling Medici family, but today they’re both open to the public. The Boboli Gardens are not only typical of formal Italian gardens of the 16th century - they’re actually some of the earliest examples of the style. Along with the manicured lawns, blooming plants, and fountains that you’d expect from a garden, these also have a fine collection of 16th-18th century sculptures on display in different parts of the grounds. The Boboli Gardens were originally started for the wife of Cosimo I de Medici in the 1540s, and were added to later in the 16th century and again in the 17th century. Notable features include tree-lined pathways, sculpture-filled grottos, and an amphitheater with an Egyptian obelisk at its center.
Florence’s one-of-a-kind Ospedale degi Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) is the oldest orphanage on the continent and offers travelers the perfect blend of Italian history, Roman artistry, classic architecture and lush gardens. It can only be described as one of the city’s oddest—and most beautiful—attractions. Built during the early 15th century, Ospedale degli Innocenti has served as a center of care for infants and children for more than 500 years and today also operates as a home for some of the nation’s best-known works of art.
In addition to a vast gallery, this historic landmark is also home to open cloisters and plenty of hospital-like rooms, including an infirmary and group dormitories. Travelers can explore the grounds and bear witness to giant frescos that depict scenes from the historic site’s lengthy past.
This historic Anglican Church in Florence, Italy has English roots — remaining one of three worship centers that form the chaplaincy of the Church of England (the other two are St. Peter’s in Siena and a growing congregation in Bologna.) Built in 1881, it is steeped in local history — part of an old Medici palace, later owned by Machiavelli, and then renovated in neb-renaissance style. It is known as a symbol of Renaissance architecture.
The church often serves the homeless community of Florence and holds mass regularly. It remains a center of Anglo-Catholic religion for the British expat community in Florence. The beautiful interior of the Anglican Church is furthermore a hub of historic art and one of the most celebrated concert venues in Florence with classical performances in music, choral singing, and opera as well as a variety of visiting performers. With only 150 seats, it is an intimate venue to experience a live concert.
Inside the Santa Maria del Carmine church in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood is a particularly famous chapel, the Brancacci Chapel. It’s famous not for who is buried there or who the chapel honors, but for the art that decorates it.
The cycle of frescoes that adorn the walls of the Brancacci Chapel were painted largely by Masaccio. He began work in 1424 when he was only 21 years old. Masaccio died only six years later in Rome, leaving the frescoes unfinished. Some were later completed by Filippino Lippi. After some restoration work, the chapel - called by some the “Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance" - has been cleaned of centuries of dirt, making the frescoes appear almost as colorful as they might have been when they were first painted. Among the more famous panels is Masaccio’s “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” and “Payment of the Tribute Money.”
There is no shortage of “David” statues in Florence, but if you want to see the real thing—the one that inspired all the copies—you've got to go to the Galleria dell'Accademia, or Accademia Gallery. It was custom built to showcase Michelangelo's masterpiece, and it does so beautifully.
Michelangelo's “David” was carved from 1501 to 1504 and originally stood at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria. Not long after the statue was unveiled, a particularly rowdy fight taking place in the Palazzo led to a chair getting thrown out of a window—directly onto the David's arm, which broke in three places. The statue was moved to its present home in 1873 to further protect it from damage, and a replica was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the spot where the original first stood.
The marble Michelangelo was given to work with for this statue was imperfect and had already been partly carved by his predecessor.
Travelers who want to experience iconic Italian religious architecture and art will find exactly what they're looking for at the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. This striking green and white chapel, complete with quiet, picturesque cloisters, is home to incredible frescos, like Masacchio's Holy Trinity, that date back to the early 1400s. A painted crucifix painted by Giotto hangs above the church's nave and can be traced back to the 1200s.
Visitors can admire the stunning altar and wander the peaceful chapels, all of which are decorated with colorful homages to religious icons such as the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist; the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is as much as church as it is a museum dedicated to the holy works of some of Italy's most famous artists.
When you hear people talk about shopping in the San Lorenzo Market, there are actually two markets they may be referring to. One is the popular-with-tourists outdoor market full of leather goods as well as Tuscan and Florentine souvenirs. The other is right next to the street market, but it's indoors with food vendors selling everything from meat and fish to vegetables and bread. Both are worth visiting. The indoor San Lorenzo Market - more commonly known as the Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo - has two floors of food stalls, and it's an excellent place to stroll through if you're wondering what ingredients are fresh and seasonal (and therefore what you should look for on menus) or picking up supplies for a picnic or the kitchen in your rented apartment. Some of the deliciousness can be brought home as souvenirs, too, although be sure you know your country's laws regarding bringing meats and cheeses back home before you spend the money on something that may get confiscated.
More Things to Do in Florence
Built in the 16th century in Florence’s Boboli Gardens, Buontalenti Grotto is the largest grotto in the city. Named after the architect who oversaw its construction in the late 16th century, it was commissioned by Grand Duke of Tuscany and has since featured Dan Brown’s bestselling novel.
A curious-looking place indeed, on both the outside and inside the grotto’s covered in man-made stalagmites and mythical mosaic creatures including sea goats. Buontalenti Grotto is divided into three rooms with the first, and biggest, styled in the most natural way as a cave full of stalactites and stalagmites. There are also a few anthropomorphic creatures created out of stones and shells thrown in there for good measure. The next room is similarly decorated to the first, and includes frescoes depicting Minerva and Giunone. The third room is also known for its impressive frescoes, but here you’ll also see a green marble fountain and a ceiling painted to resemble a sky full of birds.
Italy is known for a number of expensive and high quality designers. As a result, shopping is a popular activity with locals and tourists alike. Just 30 minutes from Florence, you can go shopping at the Barberino Designer Outlet and find designer clothing for up to 70% off the regular prices. There are more than 100 boutiques located here selling Italian and international brands including the big fashion names like Dolce & Gabana, Prada, and Polo Ralph Lauren. You can also find brands like Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein. For more sporty purchases, you can shop at Puma, Adidas, Nike, and more.
Aside from clothing, you can also shop for home goods and accessories. When you get hungry after all that shopping, take a break at one of the restaurants where you can find coffee, Tuscan cuisine, and desserts. If you're a non-EU citizen, ask for a tax refund form at the shops, which can be redeemed at the airport on your way home.
For high-fashion shopping on the cheap, head to the Prada Outlets (called Lo Spaccio, or Space) just outside Florence.
Along with cut-price Prada clothing, cosmetics, shoes, and bags, you'll also find accessories and outfits by Miu Miu and Jil Sander.
While you're here, also drop into The Mall for discount gear from just about every designer imaginable. Get ready to try on everything from Armani jeans and Gucci shoes to Pucci scarves, Fendi bags, Burberry coats, and La Perla lingerie.
Choose carefully and you could pay up to 50% less for top designer fashion that will have your friends green with envy.
Dedicated to one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance, the Leonardo Museum is found in Vinci, a delightful hilltop town about 40 minutes west of Florence. It is made up of several attractions that take in a route around Vinci, including his birthplace (Casa Natale di Leonardo) and museums at Palazzina Uzielli and the imposing medieval Castello Conti Guido. Dedicated to showcasing the genius of the original Renaissance Man, the museum first opened in the castle in 1953 and since then it has been extended several times to incorporate new displays. Exhibitions in both venues feature scale models of Leonardo’s designs for weaponry, clocks and flying machines as well as his architectural designs, engineering feats and work on mathematical theories.
A rock music temple if there ever was one, the Hard Rock brand doesn’t require an introduction; not with 170 establishments worldwide! Both a restaurant, a bar and a museum, this peculiar Florence attraction draws in rock music aficionados thanks to an impressive collection of authentic memorabilia and mouth-watering American-themed menu (something seldom found in all of Italy). Loud rock music, a relaxed atmosphere, original cocktails and humongous quantities of food await at Florence’s most American institution.
Golden records, guitars, costumes and other iconic memorabilia can be found at the restaurant’s two-floor museum. The brand’s most loyal fans will certainly want to stop at the restaurant’s gift shop, where they will be able to extend their pin collection—a popular tradition for Hard Rock fans is to get a guitar-shaped pin every time they visit a new location—with one from Florence.
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