Italy is a stunning choice of holiday destination, wherever it is you choose to visit within it. But, while major tourist centres like Rome and Milan attract millions each year, there are other areas of Italy with a much deeper connection to art and culture – and that offer a much more fulfilling trip for the discerning cultural tourist.
One such destination is Florence, arguably the cultural capital of Italy owing to its foundational part in the Renaissance period. It is a city of unrivalled architecture and art, that was home to Italy’s most renowned and revered artists – from Michaelangelo to Brunelleschi and Da Vinci. As such, it is a mecca of sorts for tourists with an eye for the artistic. But what are some of the best spots in Florence to visit for such a purpose?
Ponte Vecchio is a bridge across the Arno river, and one of Florence’s more recognisable architectural feats. The name literally translates to ‘Old Bridge’, and it happens to be the oldest surviving bridge in Florence – having survived the destruction of World War II.
Ponte Vecchio is not only an historical delight, but an architectural one too. It has shopfronts and other buildings built-in, reminiscent of London’s famous bridge. It is still in active use today, with shops selling artisanal wares that hark back to the bridge’s former use as a market centre.
Santa Croce is Florence’s definitive church, a stone’s throw from Ponte Vecchio and a building suffuse with history. It is the resting ground for many of Italy’s noble and ignoble great, from Galileo and Vasari to Machiavelli. Santa Croce is a mainstay in Italy tours that take in the Renaissance ‘capital’, due in part to its tombs but also to the incredible frescoes that adorn its walls.
Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens
The Palazzo Pitti and its adjoining Boboli Gardens constitute an incredibly vast swathe of Florentine land, all of it crucial to Florence’s rich history in the Renaissance and beyond. The Medicis, Napoleon and the Italian royals each called this palazzo home at some point, adding their own unique elements to it.
The gardens behind are a fascinating illustration of Renaissance garden design, and a fantastic walk for tourists regardless their storied history. Here can be the world-famous Fountain of Neptune, as well as the Buontalenti’s unique grotto vision.
The Medicis were not a monopoly, though, and their chief competitors, the Strozzi family, had their own designs – quite literally. The Palazzo Strozzi is an edificial palace building, commissioned to directly compete with the growing influence of the Medicis. It is home to stunning wrought-iron adornments and designs from torch stands to decorative sconces, as well as a contemporary programme of exhibitions that explore Italy’s wider artistic contributions.