Ultimate Guide to Florence's Iconic Museums
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Here's my guide to the best museums in Florence Italy. Florence is an overwhelmingly beautiful city, the "Cradle of the Renaissance." With the best Medieval and Renaissance art in Europe, Florence is a veritable art lovers paradise. Popularized on the 17th century "grand tours," Florence is now a mandatory, and oh so wonderful, stop in Tuscany.
There are countless important artistic masterpieces in Florence. You can be seduced by Botticelli and awed by Michelangelo, in a time tunnel experience. If you're like me, you simply can't get enough.
Let's peak behind the elegant facades and tour Florence's must see museums. We'll visit frescoed churches and elegant palaces. The architectures is almost as magnificent as the art.
Must See World Class Museums in Florence
1. Uffizi Gallery
Florence is synonymous with the Renaissance period of art history. The Uffizi is its premiere gallery, and the third most visited site in all of Italy. For art lovers, the Uffizi is a revered place of pilgrimage.
The Uffizi houses the collection of the Medici, a wealthy family of art patrons that ruled Florence for three centuries. The museum has seminal works from the 13th to 18th centuries.
Some of the world's most famous paintings are in the Uffizi -- Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera, Titian's Venus of Urbino, Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation, Caravaggio's Medusa and Bacchus, Piero della Francesca's unflattering portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, and Raphael's Goldfinch Madonna.
The Uffizi consists of 45 halls of art spread over two floors of the palace. If you have limited time, you should focus your efforts. The must see halls include the Hall 2 (Giotto), Hall 8 (Lippi), Hall 10-14 (Botticelli), Hall 15 (Leonardo), Hall 35 (Michelangelo), Hall 66 (Raphael), Hall 83 (Titian), and Hall 90 (Caravaggio).
Here's my complete guide to the Uffizi Gallery, which includes must see masterpieces and tips and tricks for visiting. I also have a guide to DIY preparation for visiting the Uffizi.
Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi 6
Hours: Open daily 8:15 am to 6:50 pm Tuesday-Sunday, closed Mondays and holidays. In the summer, to accommodate crowds, the Uffizi sometimes stays open until 11:00 pm a couple nights per week.
Entry fee: € 16.50. If you book online here, there's an extra € 4 fee. But it's worth it as opposed to waiting in the general line.
2. Galleria dell'Accademia
After the Uffizi, the Accademia Gallery is Florence's most visited museum. People flock in to see what is probably the world's most famous sculpture, Michelangelo's commanding statue of David. The 17 foot sculpture is considered the embodiment of male beauty, a Calvin Klein-like model of physical perfection.
David was commissioned for Florence Cathedral. The city intended to place the statue high above in a niche. But they decided that David was too beautiful for that location.
Instead, David was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence's seat of government. Originally, parts of David were gilded. But the gilded surfaces were lost during the statue's exposure to the elements. In 1873, David was moved inside to the Accademia.
Michelangelo's Prisoners grace the Hall of the Prisoners at the Accademia. They are four unfinished male nudes that were originally intended for the Tomb of Pope Julius II. You can see Michelangelo's approach to carving; the figures appear to be emerging from the marble.
Other must see Accademia masterpieces include Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines, Pacino di Bonaguida's Tree of Life, Jacopo di Cione's Coronation of the Virgin, and Daniele da Volterra's Bust of Michelangelo.
Address: Via Ricasoli 58-60, near Piazza San Marco
Hours: Tuesday to Friday 8:15 am to 6:50 pm, every 15 minutes. Closed Mondays.
Entry fee: € 12, audio guide € 6
3. National Museum of the Bargello
The Bargello dates from 1255. It was first a prison and then the seat of government in Florence. In 1865, the Bargello opened as a museum by royal decree.
The Bargello houses an amazing collection of Renaissance sculptures. The most important works are in the Michelangelo and Donatello rooms. Those include Michelangelo's first major sculpture, Bacchus, and his Pitti Tondo, Donatello's acclaimed Bronze David and St. George, and Bernini's Bust of Costanza.
Commissioned by Cosimo de Medici the Elder, Donatello's Bronze David is the most famous piece in the museum. It's a daring depiction of a biblical theme. It's the first freestanding nude sculpture since Greco-Roman times. But it's not a heroic rendering.
A nubile David is peculiarly depicted wearing no clothes except for a hat and boots, perhaps to suggest his underdog status. The statue is affectionately nicknamed "Puss 'N Boots."
The Bargello also houses the Competition Panels. In 1401, Florence held a competition for a set of bronze doors to be made for the Baptistry of the Duomo. Artists submitted bronze samples. Ghiberti and Brunelleschi were the finalists, with Ghiberti winning the competition.
For my complete guide to the Bargello, click here.
Address: Via del Proconsolo 4
Hours: Hours vary depending on the season. Typically, the bargello is open from 8:15 am to 1:50 pm. In high season, April to September, it's open until 4:50 pm.
Entry fee: € 8, free the first Sunday of the month. You can also pre-purchase skip the line tickets online at a surcharge. You can also make a free reservation online. The museum accepts the Florence Card, which also lets you skip the line.
4. Galileo Museum
After pondering great artists, perhaps it's time to be awed by the greats of science. The Galileo Museum is housed in a medieval palace, the Palazzo Castellani, that was renovated in the 1800s.
When Galileo proclaimed that the earth revolved around the sun, he got in a heap of trouble. Under pressure, his "friend" Pope Urban VIII made Galileo recant his scientific findings. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition and exiled from Florence. During the Age of Enlightenment, scholars realized that he was right all along.
Over two floors of the Galileo Museum, you'll find an impressive collection of scientific instruments from the Renaissance, including telescopes, clocks, anatomical models, and astrological models. They reflect Italy's claim as the center of the first scientific revolution.
Room 4 is the highlight of the museum. It has Galileo's tools on display, including his famous telescope. Even his middle finger! If you want to pay homage to Galileo, his tomb is in the Basilica of Sante Croce, along with other celebrity tombs.
Address: Piazza dei Giudici 1, a 3 minute walk from the Palazzo Vecchio
Hours: Open Friday through Monday from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm
Entry fee: € 10, audio guide € 5
5. Casa di Dante | Dante's House
The Casa di Dante is supposed to be an exact replica of the house Dante lived in in Florence. Dante Alighieri is Italy's famed 13th century poet and author of The Divine Comedy.
In this epic poem, Dante creates a fictional version of himself, traveling through hell, purgatory, and paradise. His image driven descriptions were hugely influential, producing a plethora of visual art.
Dante famously fell in love with Beatrice Portinari, writing about her as an idealized love in his Vita Nuova. But it was an unrequited love. Dante admired her from afar. His passion became the subject of many paintings by Pre-Raphelite artists, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
If you have an abiding fascination with the great 13th century poet, you'll probably be interested in the displays. There's many copies of The Divine Comedy. Nearby is the church where Beatrice attended mass.
Address: Via Santa Margherita 1
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Entry fee: € 8
6. The Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo
The Medici Chapel has the largest number of Michelangelo sculptures in Florence. It's part of the Basilica of San Lorenzo Complex. But it has a separate entrance and separate ticket. San Lorenzo was the official parish church of the Medici family.
Michelangelo himself designed the Medici Chapel between 1520-34.The chapel's coffered dome is similar to Rome's Pantheon. The walls are clad with pink green, gold, and white marble.
Michelangelo carved six tomb statues -- the effigies of Giuliano and Lorenzo de Medici and the allegories of Night and Day and Dusk and Dawn. Night is regarded as one of Michelangelo's finest works. To me, the effigy of Giuliano is extraordinarily beautiful.
And the museum has a secret room! In 1527, Michelangelo returned to Florence from Rome to defend republican forces during a civil war. When Florence fell, Michelangelo retreated into a secret room below the chapel until he received a pardon from Medici pope Clement VII.
Michelangelo's secret room wasn't discovered until 1975, when a museum director spotted a trap door. The room contained charcoal sketches and doodles by Michelangelo on the walls, identified because they replicated his known works. The room is scheduled to be opened to the public in 2020.
Address: Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini 6, at the northeast side of the basilica
Hours: The Medici Chapel is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:15 am to 11:50 pm, closing at 2:50 from April to September.
Entry fee: € 9. Time slot reservations are possible and worth the extra charge during the high season.
7. The Laurentian Libary
Commissioned by Pope Clement VII, the Laurentian Library is a revolutionary and blissfully uncrowded masterpiece. Construction began in 1524 and the library opened in 1571. It now functions as a museum, not a library.
The Laurentian Library consists of a reading room and a 48 foot vestibule built atop the San Lorenzo cloisters. It has one of the world's most important collections of manuscripts, which belonged to the Medici family.
In designing the library, Michelangelo broke away from classical tradition and rules of proportion. He designed a dream-like space with curves and unusual configurations.
The seemingly oversize Triple Staircase conveys a sense of movement. It seems to pour forward like pools of liquid. It may be the first freestanding staircase in architectural history.
Wild structures surround the staircase. You almost don't see the walls .They're decorated with architectural elements such as extremely large low-hanging brackets. Some of the elements are put into niches, making architecture the artwork. Columns are set into the wall or appear to rest on the corbels.
Unlike the vestibule, the Reading Room develops horizontally. There are two series of wooden benches, called plutei. There's a white and red terra cotta floor and a coffered ceiling.
Michelangelo's dramatic and inventive architectural style marked the beginning of Mannerism, a late Renaissance period that reinvented and put a stylized twist on classicism.
Address: Piazza San Lorenzo 9, entrance is to the left of San Lorenzo
Hours: Open weekdays from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm
Entry fee: € 3. Tickets are sold in the San Lorenzo cloisters or you can buy them online here.