Florence is one of the most popular travel cities in Italy and holds many free sights and attractions for the tourist. One of the best things to do in Florence is to just walk around and admire the beautiful squares and buildings. Visit the historic center or pick your favorite neighborhood and take a stroll.
Piazza del Duomo - Cathedral Square
Florence's most popular site is its Duomo (cathedral), the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore. The huge Gothic cathedral has an exterior made of green, pink, and white marble with elaborate doors and interesting statues. You can go into the church itself for free. The Baptistery dates from the 11th century making it one of Florence's oldest buildings. Its exterior is made of green and white marble and has three sets of amazing bronze doors (reproductions - the originals are in the Duomo Museum). Also in Piazza del Duomo, the square in front of the cathedral, is the impressive bell tower.
Florence's most famous square, Piazza della Signoria, is the heart of the historic center and a free open-air sculpture exhibit. The Loggia della Signoria holds important statues including a copy of Michelangelo's David. The piazza has been Florence's political center since the middle ages and Florence's town hall, the medieval Palazzo Vecchio, sits on the piazza. You'll also want to admire the fountain in the square.
Ponte Vecchio, old bridge, was built in 1345 and was Florence's first bridge across the Arno River. It's the only surviving bridge from Florence's medieval days (others were destroyed in World War II). Following a flood in 1345, the bridge was reconstructed and changed from defensive to public, adding rows of shops to the bridge. More shops were added later and Ponte Vecchio became a top place for gold and silver shopping in Renaissance Florence. It's still lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry today, a good place for window shopping.
San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo Central Market, is an interesting place to wander around. You may see foods you've never seen in a market before, like several kinds of cow stomachs and intestines at the Tripperia. There are stands selling all kinds of fowl, meats, and fish. You'll see shops with displays of local Tuscan products including wine, biscotti, cheeses, and salami. To get inside the market, walk through Piazza dell Mercato and the stalls outside selling leather goods, clothing, and souvenirs to the door in the big building. Open mornings only.
Tip: There are inexpensive eating places inside the mercato or you can buy goods for a picnic here.
Piazzale Michelangelo - Panoramic Views of Florence
Santa Croce NeighborhoodJust to the east of the center is the Santa Croce Neighborhood. Stop in Piazza Santa Croce, the neighborhood's lively main square, to admire the facade of the medieval Santa Croce Basilica, the largest Franciscan church in the world. By the church is the Leather School of Santa Croce, Scuola del Cuoio, where you can see artisans making leather products and a display of leather-working tools.
To get away from the tourist crowds, head across the river on Ponte Santa Trinita (west of Ponte Vecchio) to the area known as Oltrarno. Here you'll find interesting neighborhoods that see fewer tourists. It's a pleasant place for strolling and you'll see typical Florentine buildings, small stores, artisan workshops, and neighborhood squares. In Piazza Santa Spirito, there's a small morning market and the Santo Spirito Church, designed by Brunelleschi in the 15th century, where there's a wealth of art work. Santa Maria del Carmine Church has a beautiful Renaissance fresco cycle in the Cappella Brancacci (open 10–5, Sunday 1–5, closed Tuesdays).
While some of Florence's churches have an admission charge, many smaller churches are still free and often hold surprising historic art works. Here are a few to visit (note - these churches have free admission at time of writing): Orsanmichele, originally built in 1336 as a market and grain store, has statues of patron saints of each guild. San Miniato al Monte, near Piazzale Michelangelo, was built during the 11th - 13th centuries and has a Romanesque interior with a frescoed crypt. San Marco, in Piazza San Marco, was home to Beato Angelico in the 16th century and holds some of his works.
Having a look around a public square, or piazza, is always free (unless you sit in a cafe for a drink, where you'll pay for table service). In addition to being popular getherins places, several of Florence's squares are like outdoor museums. Here are seven squares worth a visit in Florence.