Florence is one of Italy’s most magical cities, so when your cruise ship calls on Livorno (the closest cruise port), commit to making the 90-minute commute to the city. You won’t be sorry.
There are too many sights to see in just eight or so hours the ship will be in port, so you’ll need to carefully plan your time. Cruise lines offer a variety of tours, ranging from transportation to the city so you can do your own thing to a guided walking tour. The cruise line tours typically hit the major sights and allow for some time on your own. There are specific tours you can do that focus specifically on visiting either the Accademia Gallery to see David or the Uffizi Gallery for Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. This beautiful Tuscan city will beguile you; as you make your way back to your ship after a day of sightseeing, you’ll vow to return one day.
Here are 10 of Florence’s must-visit sights.
Anyone interested in Christianity, art and/or architecture must visit Florence’s cathedral called Il Duomo. The site dates back to the seventh century, with contributions through Gothic times. Arnolfo di Cambio built the cathedral itself in the 13th century, and Filippo Brunelleschi added the magnificent egg-shaped dome in the 15th century. Entrance to the cathedral is free and, if you’ve got the energy, you can climb the 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s cupola, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the city below. Tip: Be sure to have something to cover your bare shoulders and back or you won’t be granted access.
Where to Find It: Piazza del Duomo (in the heart of the historic district)
If your goal while in Florence is to see the works of Renaissance artist Michelangelo, you must visit the Accademia, where you can view his most famous sculpture, David, as well as Prisoners (or Slaves) and St. Matthew. But there is so much more to see beyond Michelangelo’s work. An incredible number of Renaissance paintings that were originally commissioned for the collection of the Medici royal family were eventually donated to this museum so future generations could enjoy their stunning beauty. You’ll see works by Botticelli, Bartolini, del Sarto and others. Tip: Avoid the long lines and buy museum tickets before you leave for your cruise.
Where to Find It: Via Ricasoli, 58-60113/r
Art lovers the world over have been moved by their visit to the Uffizi, which holds works of art by some of the most revered artists of the Renaissance period, such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, Goya, Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and the list goes on. The gallery spans two floors in the U-shape building that was once the administrative offices of the Medici. In 1591 the royal family moved their art collection to this location and opened it as the first public art museum in Europe. Residents and visitors have been coming to gawk at the art ever since.
Where to Find It: Piazzale degli Uffizi 6 (on the Arno River between Ponte Vecchio and Ponte alle Grazie)
A series of bridges span Florence’s Arno River, but the most famous — and oldest — is the Ponte Vecchio, or “Old Bridge.” The Romans built the stone-arched bridge across the river’s narrowest point in medieval times, and butcher shops and fishmongers once lined the pedestrian walkway. Today, this major tourist thoroughfare boasts souvenir shops, art galleries and high-end jewelers. The bridge connects the area near the Uffizzi with Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river.
Where to Find It: Via Por Santa Maria/Via Guicciardini
Fifteenth-century architect Filippo Brunelleschi designed this amazing basilica, and today it’s one of the largest churches in the city. As it was the family church of the Medici family, it’s always been an important landmark. Donatello lent his artistic eye to the church’s “old” sacristy and installed one of his sculptures there while Michelangelo designed San Lorenzo’s “new” sacristy. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except November through February when the church is closed for tours on Sundays.
Where to Find It: Piazza San Lorenzo (near Mercato Centrale)
This stunning Gothic church is the burial site for a who’s who of the Renaissance, from Michelangelo to Galileo to Machiavelli. Visitors come to Santa Croce to ogle the exterior architecture as well as the collection of fine art. You can view Donatello’s Annunciation, as well as Giotto frescoes in two of the church’s chapels.
Where to Find It: Piazza Santa Croce (between Via dei Benci and Borgo Santa Croce)
The Medicis were not the only noble family in 15th-century Florence. The Strozzis were also well-regarded for a time, especially for their work in the banking world before setting their sights on politics. But there was a rivalry between the two wealthy families, and that’s how Palazzo Strozzi came to be. The Strozzi family built the palazzo to show off their wealth. While the exterior of the building is imposing and stark, it’s the courtyard — with its arches, columns and cornices — that wows visitors. Art shows are staged here frequently. Open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where to Find It: At the corner of Via Tornabuoni and Via degli Strozzi
History buffs and families traveling with children will want to make it a point to visit Piazza della Repubblica. This square has been in existence since the Middle Ages, though the buildings have been rebuilt and repurposed through the centuries. The neoclassical architecture that you’ll see today was built in the late 1880s and 1890s. For children, visiting the square is an opportunity to ride an antique carousel.
Where to Find It: Piazza della Repubblica (bounded by Via dei Brunelleschi, Via delle Oche, Via dei Lamberti and Via Calimala)
While you may not originally think to visit Florence’s first city hall, a trip to Palazzo Vecchio is a must. Built on the eve of 1300, the building looks more like a fortress than a government building. People come here to see the Hall of the Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecentro), which is adorned with massive frescoes depicting scenes from Florence’s long history, as well as Michelangelo’s The Genius of Victory.
Where to Find It: Piazza della Signoria
If you wish to stroll through an authentic Tuscan marketplace, head to the city’s largest market, Mercato Centrale. This two-floor sprawling complex is home to Italian street food as well as more unusual offerings, with stalls selling all types of Italian bread, cold cuts, meats, cheeses, truffles, pasta, olive oil, wine and seafood. Fresh food is on the first floor, but stop on the second floor for lunch or a snack like brick-oven pizza, paninis or traditional Italian desserts and cappuccino. The grocery-style stalls do business Monday through Saturday between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., while the food hall is open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight.
Where to Find It: Piazza del Mercato Centrale (between Via dell’Ariento, via Sant’Antonino and via Panicale)
Editor’s Note: Florence is about a 90-minute drive or one-to-two hour train ride from the Port of Livorono. The train is the most economical, costing between €20 - €40. You can hire a private driver but don’t consider taking a cab as that can cost about €170 per person each way. Your cruise ship might offer shore excursions to Florence that leaves you with time to explore on your own. Check your options and do your homework before your cruise. For helpful tips on traveling to Florence from the Port of Livorono check out this site.