Florence is home to some of the best known museums in Italy and in the world. If you’re planning a trip to Florence, you probably already know this and it’s one of the top reasons you want to go. And you are right, the best museums in Florence will immerse you into Renaissance history and art like no other place on earth. Let’s explore together the best museums in Florence Italy.
In this article I’ve listed my picks for the best museums in Florence, as well as some general tips for museum-going in Florence. So, put on some comfortable shoes and let’s go exploring the best museums of Florence.
Table of Contents
1. La Galleria degli Uffizi (The Uffizi Galleries)
Uffizi Gallery hallway. Florence, Italy.
Petar Milošević • CC BY-SA 4.0
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Why is it one of the best museums in Florence? There’s a reason the Uffizi is one of the most famous museums in the world. It houses some of the best-known artworks from Italian artists, including masterpieces like The Birth of Venus and Spring by Botticelli, Bacchus by Caravaggio, and Madonna Enthroned by Giotto. The sprawling corridors of the building which once served as the Medici family offices (“uffizi” in Italian) are packed with sculptures of antiquity and the layout is very easy to follow for self-guided tours or leisurely wandering.
Uffizi Visiting Tips: Lines to enter the Uffizi can be hours long during peak seasons and certain times of day. If you are visiting Florence in the winter and you go on a weekday you may not have to wait in line, but I still recommend reserving tickets ahead of time if possible. You can reserve advance tickets online, over the phone, or at a number of other in-person locations in the city of Florence for a fee of 4 €. You can find more detailed information about booking advance tickets on this page of the Uffizi website.
If you want to beat the crowds and avoid waiting in the long lines you can purchase skip-the-line tickets to the Uffizi.
2. Galleria dell’Accademia (The Accademia)
Michelangelo’s David on display at the Academy Gallery
CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons”
Why is it one of the best museums in Florence? The Accademia is famously the home of Michelangelo’s David sculpture, which has become a de facto symbol of Florence. While looking at this historic sculpture, take note of the size of David’s head, hands, and feet compared to the rest of his body. You’ll see that they are much larger than they should be! This is on purpose – Michelangelo played with proportions in his sculptures, in this case enlarging the extremities to convey a powerful figure. The Accademia also features a magnificent collection of musical instruments, including a one-of-a-kind viola made for the Medici family by renowned instrument craftsman Antonio Stradivari in 1690.
Accademia Visiting Tips: The Accademia is quite small, so this is a good place to visit if you don’t have much time but want to experience one of the best museums in Florence.
If you want to avoid the crowds and lines purchase skip-the-line tickets to Accademia.
3. Museo Nazionale del Bargello (The Bargello National Museum)
Why is it one of the best museums in Florence? The Bargello and its artworks reside in the historic Palazzo del Podestà, the oldest public building in Florence. The architectural style influenced the design of the nearby Palazzo Vecchio, whose tower is a highlight of the Florence skyline. The building has been used as a prison, a headquarters for local police, and a palace for city council members, and now it is home to Italy’s largest collection of Gothic and Renaissance Sculptures. Visit the Bargello to see stunning statues by Donatello, Michelangelo, and Pallaiuolo, and ornate decorative works by Ghiberti and the Della Robbia family. You’ll also enjoy the open courtyard and peaceful atmosphere of the museum.
Bargello Visiting Tips: The Bargello is not as well-known as the Uffizi or the Accademia, so it’s perfect if you’d like to visit somewhere a bit less crowded. It’s also a fairly child-friendly museum with lots of open-air spaces on the ground floor.
4. Palazzo Vecchio
The iconic Palazzo Vecchio bell tower seen from the Uffizi Museum
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Why is it one of the best museums in Florence? In addition to its function as a museum of history and art, Palazzo Vecchio is still the location of the mayor of Florence’s office and the Florence City Council seat. Construction began in 1299, and the austere building has become an iconic part of the Florence skyline due to its tall bellower. On certain tours of the Palazzo you can go inside the tower and see the prison cell where Savonarola, a zealous and controversial Friar, was imprisoned before his public execution in the Piazza Signoria outside the palace.
The palace is overflowing with art and history, but you can’t miss the Salone dei Cinquecento, a huge chamber that was once decorated with unfinished murals by Michelangelo and Da Vinci. Sadly, these murals were destroyed in an expansion of the chamber led by later Renaissance artist, architect, and critic Giorgio Vasari, but the Salone’s walls are still covered with magnificent frescoes depicting significant historical battles and the life of Cosimo di Medici I. You can also find Michelangelo’s sculpture The Genius of Victory in this chamber.
Palazzo Vecchio Visiting Tips: This palace is another good place to visit with children because there are so many places to wander around inside. However, you can also book some really interesting private tours if you’d like a more curated experience.
5. Palazzo Pitti & Boboli Gardens
The impressive Palazzo Pitti is one of the best museums in Florence
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Why is Palazzo Pitti one of the best museums in Florence? You could easily spend an entire day exploring the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Entry tickets are purchased separately (unless you purchase a combined ticket – see the General Tips section at the end of this article), but each ticket buys you hours of exposure to some of the greatest art, architecture, history, and botany that Florence has to offer. The Palazzo is the largest complex of museums in Florence and it contains galleries upon galleries of the Medici’s private art collections, a treasury full of rare silver and gemstones, and a costume institute.
The Boboli Gardens are an early and significant representation of the Italian Garden style, with many caves and grottoes in addition to manicured lawns, mazes, fountains, sculptures, and flower gardens. Take all of these sights in on a leisurely walk around the garden. A notable Tuscan feature of the garden is the Lemon House, a huge 18th century building that serves as a “house” for the citrus trees in the Boboli Gardens during Florence’s colder months. The potted trees are moved outdoors for the warmer parts of the year.
Palazzo Pitti Visiting Tips: All around the palace and gardens (really, throughout most of Florence) you can play a game of “find the Medici crest”. The crest is five red spheres on a yellow background with one blue sphere on top, and the blue sphere is decorated with three fleur-de-lys. You’ll find this symbol everywhere as a reminder of the Medicis’ massive influence on the city’s history.
6. Gucci Garden
Why is Gucci Gardens among the best museums in Florence? Most museums in Florence – most buildings, honestly – maintain historic decor and fixtures throughout both the exteriors and interiors. It’s one one of the things that makes Florence so special; you are immersed in history wherever you go.
In contrast, the Gucci Garden museum, boutique, and restaurant are all renovated in a highly contemporary style. It’s one of the few places in the city where you remember that you’re actually living in the 21st century, but it’s full of so many beautiful things that you recover from the shock very quickly. Tour the small but impeccably planned galleries to see Gucci luggage, handbags, and couture from 1921 through today, and browse the high-end gifts in the boutique and bookstore for unique Gucci designs only sold at this location.
Gucci Gardens Visiting Tips: The shop does have a few more affordable gift options like books and stationary if you’re traveling on a budget, and in spite of the luxury branding, entry to the museum is only a few euros. It’s also one of the less crowded museums in Florence in my experience, so it’s the perfect place to visit if you enjoy a cool, calm environment.
7. Piazza della Signoria
An open air museum, Piazza della Signoria is one of the best museums in Florence
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Why is Piazza della Signoria among the best museums in Florence? While not technically a museum, Piazza della Signoria is actually an open-air museum free for everyone to simply walk by or linger and admire its art. Throughout this article, you may have noticed that places like the Palazzo Vecchio and the Gucci Garden have addresses in this piazza. Many other museums like the Uffizi are within a stone’s throw of here as well. Piazza della Signoria may well be the center of art in Florence, and just wandering around the huge open space is a lesson in art history. You can see a huge statue of Cosimo de’ Medici, the majestic Fountain of Neptune and its imposing sculptures, and a replica of Michelangelo’s David right outside the Palazzo Vecchio.
The Loggia dei Lanzi is a mini-museum within the piazza: this open-air loggia houses perfect replicas of many of Italy’s most famous sculptures. The loggia is also a great place to sit and cool down on a hot day, and while it can get quite crowded it’s worth waiting for a seat so you can rest and take in the atmosphere.
Piazza della Signoria Visiting Tips: The Piazza della Signoria, like many popular locations in Florence, is often full of merchants wandering around trying to sell you overpriced toys and souvenirs. I don’t recommend purchasing from these merchants, if only because taking out your wallet in a crowded place like this shows every pickpocket in the area where you keep your cash!
Piazza della Signoria Address: It’s the whole piazza! Anyone in the city can tell you how to get there.
8. Biblioteca delle Oblate
Why is it Biblioteca delle Oblate on my list with the best museums in Florence? While the Oblate library is not a museum, it is a significant cultural center in Florence. The Oblate, as it’s commonly known among American students and expats in Florence, is a large public library located in a fourteenth century building that once served as a convent. The library is the perfect place to go if you need to get a bit of work done in Florence, but they also have a huge collection of books in Italian, French, English, and other languages, and they regularly host interesting lectures and events. There are some modern sculptures visible in the cloisters area and a few art pieces scattered throughout the library as well.
The absolute best thing about the Oblate is the second floor cafe. You can come up to the cafe for some food or a coffee while you work or read, and while you enjoy your treats you can take in one of the best views of the Duomo in the whole city. The Oblate is only a few blocks from Florence’s central church, Santa Maria del Fiore, and Brunelleschi’s famous dome looms large in the spacious windows of the second floor.
Oblate Visiting Tips: You may need to create a membership account at the library for certain free services, like Wi-Fi and book loans, but I remember it being quite easy to do so even if you don’t live in Florence.
What Museums in Florence Should I Visit if I’m Short on Time?
The imposing front entrance of Palazzo Pitti museum
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If your time in Florence is limited, I highly recommend booking tickets for museums like the Uffizi and Orsanmichele ahead of time so you don’t waste your time waiting in lines! You can really tailor your museum visits to your specific interests, but I’ve included a couple of recommendations for narrowing down this list below.
If you are passionate about art and art history, you can’t miss The Uffizi and the Brancacci chapel at Santa Maria del Carmine. Both require booking in advance, but they contain some of the most significant artworks in European history.
If you’re traveling with children, you’ll have the best time at The Boboli Gardens and the Bargello Museum. The Bargello is relatively small so it won’t exhaust any small children you have with you, and it’s got plenty of open spaces with lots to see. The gardens are beautiful, spacious, and so fun to explore as a family.
If you’re a history buff, you’ve got to visit… The Basilica di San Lorenzo and Palazzo Vecchio. Both locations are absolutely packed with local history as well as fine art and architecture.
If you’re not that into museums, but you want to experience local culture, then The Gucci Garden and the Oblate library are the most unique cultural institutions on this list, so you’ll enjoy the less traditional museum atmosphere while still experiencing and learning about Italian culture. I’d also recommend visiting a smaller church like Santa Croce because it has plenty of pretty areas to explore inside, but it’s also in a very fun area with lots of nightlife.
Plan Your Visit to the Museums in Florence
One of my favorite things about the museums in Florence is that they are so accessible for people on a budget. Almost all museums in Florence have free admission days throughout the year. Google “name of the museum + free admission” to find out when!
Incorporating a museum visit in your walking tour of Florence will give you the best way to explore this beautiful city.
When I lived in Florence, I would frequently have my money turned away at museums because I didn’t realize it was a free admission day. No matter what your travel budget, you can find a way to visit the best museums in Florence.
You can buy tickets for almost all of the museums listed here online or over the phone if you prefer.
Some of the linked websites are in Italian, but you can use Google Translate to read the pages. I recommend this over trying to find the same information on websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp because only the official website will have the most up-to-date information.
If you know you’ll want to visit the Uffizi Galleries, the Palazzo Pitti, and the Boboli Gardens during your stay in Florence, you can purchase a combined ticket for 38 € in March through October and 18 € in November through February. This is a great deal and it even includes a reserved admission time to the Uffizi Galleries so you don’t have to wait in line. Learn more about the combined ticket here.
If you purchase a reserved admission ticket for the Uffizi or another museum, arrive a few minutes early. Museums in Italy are very strict about rules and they will not let you in past your designated time.
Make sure to check signs in each museum or ask the guards if photography is allowed. Even if pictures are allowed, I would always avoid flash photography as it’s distracting to other museum visitors – this is just good museum etiquette anywhere in the world. Do not try to sneakily take pictures, even with your phone! The guards will come and yell “NO PHOTO!” at you in front of everyone.
I would say that all of these museums are kid-friendly if your children are mostly well behaved.
If you’re visiting Florence (or anywhere else) during the COVID-19 pandemic, all museums will have social distancing measures in place for the visitors and staff. Follow all listed rules for everyone’s health and safety. Be sure to check the websites or call the museums for the most current information.
About the Author: Stephanie Manaster lived in Florence, Italy and spent a year traveling around the continent. She loves visiting churches, trying new restaurants, and getting lost on the wrong side of the river.
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