The Best Views of Florence
Seeking out the best views of Florence requires strength and stamina. The reward is a series of breathtaking panoramas and iconic photos so worth the effort.
No visit to Florence is complete without a photo – or at least a glimpse – of the iconic skyline and the hunt for vantage points has the additional benefit of providing free exercise amid the temptations of fabulous food, wonderful wines and gorgeous gelato. So here is my guide to the best views of Florence, which are accessible to everyone all year round.
There are other towers in the city waiting to be explored, like the 14th century Torre di San Niccolò that was once part of a gate in the defensive wall surrounding Florence, but the opening hours of the tower that now appears like an island on Piazza Giuseppe Poggi are erratic, and for that reason it has not been included in the list. There are also less strenuous, lift facilitated vantage points, usually in connection with bars, restaurants or hotels, but they are not half as fun, as the obstacles that have been surmounted by sore feet, strength and willpower.
Campanile di Giotto
Start the day by climbing the 414 steps to the 84,7 metres top of the freestanding campanile on Piazza del Duomo. The gothic bell tower was designed by the architect and painter Giotto, who also decorated the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, but you won’t notice the painted quality of the exterior from the inside. What you might experience are the seven bells and the fact that the top levels get larger and extend beyond the level below, so that the difference in size counters the effect of perspective. The climb is not recommended for people suffering from heart disease, claustrophobia or vertigo, but there are terraces along the way where you can stop for breath and look out the windows. At the top you’ll reach a large projecting terrace and one of the best panoramic views of the tiled dome, the Medieval city and other Florence landmarks.
On the same ticket, you can also climb to the top of the Brunelleschi‘s cupola, but here you need to make a reservation beforehand, and the scheduled time cannot be changed. In addition there are 463 steep and narrow steps to climb, before you reach the top. Along the way, you can see Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes up close – and the central part of the cathedral 40 metres down on the other side of a protective wall of plexiglass. The climb to the lantern is squeezed in between the outer and the inner shell of the cupola, but once there you can enjoy a magnificent panorama of Florence and the hills beyond.
The Tower of Palazzo Vecchio
If the Cathedral has not cured your curiosity and love of exercise, you might proceed to the tower of Palazzo Vecchio. This 95 metres high hypodermic needle can be accessed by climbing a stone staircase of a mere 223 steps, but you have to complete two stories within the building, before starting the ascent. From the highest level, there is a spectacular view of the city, the Arno river and not least the dome and the bell tower of the Cathedral, if you can see over the battlements.
In summer, the tower is open between 9am and 9pm, except on Thursdays.
Most of the panoramic views of Florence are taken from Piazzale Michelangelo and around sunset the terrace is packed with selfie-sticks. If you fancy a little more privacy, you could continue further up the hill to the San Miniato al Monte. It’s only a five minute walk, but the views are great with a smaller crowd around, and then there’s the church to visit as well. On your way to the top, you might stop by the Rose Garden.
You reach Piazzale Michelangelo by following the ramps along Viale Giuseppe Poggi or the Scalea del Monte alle Croci from Porta San Niccolò. It’s a walk of 5-600 metres, but you can also jump on bus 12 or 13 from the city centre.
Once you have scaled the towers, the dome and the Oltrarno hill you deserve a treat, and for his purpose I’d recommend the penthouse café of a department store called “La Rinascente”. The store is located in Piazza della Repubblica, there are escalators and a lift almost to the top, and from La Terrazza you can enjoy an only slightly over-prized drink, a cup of coffee or a light meal with 360 degree views over the red tiled roof tops of Florence and all the landmarks you have already visited.