Home to the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art, Florence’s premier gallery occupies the vast U-shaped Palazzo degli Uffizi, built between 1560 and 1580 to house government offices. The collection, bequeathed to the city by the Medici family in 1743 on condition that it never leave Florence, contains some of Italy’s best-known paintings including Piero della Francesco’s profile portaits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino and room full of masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli.
The gallery is undergoing a €65 million refurbishment (the Nuovi Uffizi project) that will eventually see the doubling of exhibition space and possibly a new exit loggia designed by Japanese architect Arato Isozaki. A number of revamped rooms are open, but until the project is completed (date unknown) expect some halls to be closed and the contents of others changed.
The world-famous collection, displayed in chronological order, spans the gamut of art history from ancient Greek sculpture to 18th-century Venetian paintings. But its core is the Renaissance collection.
Visits are best kept to three or four hours maximum. When it all gets too much, head to the rooftop cafe (aka the terraced hanging garden, where the Medici clan listened to music performances on the square below) for fresh air and fabulous views.
This fortress palace, with its crenellations and 94m-high tower, was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1298 and 1314 for the signoria (city government). It remains the seat of the city’s power, home to the mayor’s office and the municipal council. From the top of the Torre d’Arnolfo (tower), you can revel in unforgettable rooftop views. Inside, Michelangelo’s Genio della Vittoria (Genius of Victory) sculpture graces the Salone dei Cinquecento, a magnificent painted hall created for the city’s 15th-century ruling Consiglio dei Cinquecento (Council of 500).
Florence’s Duomo is the city’s most iconic landmark. Capped by Filippo Brunelleschi’s red-tiled cupola, it’s a staggering construction whose breathtaking pink, white and green marble facade and graceful campanile (bell tower) dominate the medieval cityscape. Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio began work on it 1296, but construction took almost 150 years and it wasn’t consecrated until 1436. In the echoing interior, look out for frescoes by Vasari and Zuccari and up to 44 stained-glass windows.
The Duomo’s neo-Gothic facade was designed in the 19th century by architect Emilio de Fabris to replace the uncompleted original, torn down in the 16th century. The oldest and most clearly Gothic part of the cathedral is its south flank, pierced by Porta dei Canonici (Canons’ Door), a mid-14th-century High Gothic creation (you enter here to climb up inside the dome).