Panoramic views of Florence

Photo by Jonathan Körne
Photo by Jonathan Körne

Panoramic views of Florence

by Candice Barber
Stripes Europe

Florence, Italy, is synonymous with the great minds of Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, and Michelangelo. Even the namesake of the Americas, explorer Amerigo Vespucci, once called Florence home. 

Known as Firenze in Italian, the birthplace of the Renaissance and the home of Tuscan charm also boasts one of the most recognizable skylines in Italy — and maybe in all of Europe. Here, olive groves intermingle with iconic cypress trees and stately villas stand amongst a sea of terra-cotta. 

Florence’s distinctive horizon has been admired for centuries and dominates the history books. With a central location and convenient connections on the autostrada and train system, it’s easy to visit Florence for a weekend to soak up the skyline and all the excitement that goes along.

Charming Fiesole 

Only three miles northeast of Florence, you’ll find Fiesole, a picturesque community perched high on the hills above the City of Lilies. Fiesole is easily reached by car or bus and offers expansive views of the incredible terrain of the Arno River Valley. These same views have inspired the creative minds of Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Proust, and Gertrude Stein, not to mention the countless artists, authors, and architects of the Italian Renaissance. Even Georgetown University and Harvard University host their Renaissance study centers on these hills.

Start your day taking in the view at one of the many mountainside cafes in the area or enjoy a simple and affordable breakfast buffet at Pensione Bencistà Fiesole. This 14th-century villa was originally home to supporters of the Medici family, then later became a convent before it was transformed into its current bed and breakfast. The tranquil atmosphere of their panoramic terrace is a great place to set the stage for your scenic tour of Florence, before heading into the hustle and bustle of town.

The Dome of the Duomo

Venture into the heart of the Tuscan capital and set your sights on the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo di Firenze — the Cathedral of Florence. The cathedral’s octagon-shaped dome took 16 years to complete and was the brainchild of Filippo Brunelleschi, considered to be the world’s first modern engineer. Brunelleschi’s pioneering technique of herringbone brickwork and groundbreaking invention still baffle engineers and art historians alike. Shrouded in mystery, the dome serves as a heralded example of unsurpassed architectural design while offering unparalleled views of the magical city below. 

Reserve your tickets online days in advance to skip the line and secure a scheduled time to climb to the top of the dome. You’ll take 463 steep steps to the top, up corkscrew-like spiral staircases and through narrow claustrophobia-inducing corridors. The cardio exercise is completely worth it once when you get to the top of the cupola and experience 360-degree views of the city and the surrounding Florentine hills. 

Once to the top, you can spend as much time as you like soaking up the panoramic views and the refreshing breeze. The longer you stay, the more you’ll notice how the blanket of light and shadows changes the whole look of the sprawling vista, depending on the clouds and the wind. You’ll notice a swath of sienna shaded tiles with colorful specks of rooftop gardens, pools, and restaurants. After your endurance climb, it’s time for a refreshment at one of Florence’s many rooftop bars!

A Hidden Gem

After taking in the sweeping views from the top of the Duomo and catching your breath after descending the narrow stairways, walk south a few blocks and you’ll find La Rinascente, a high-end Italian department store at the corner of Piazza della Repubblica and Via degli Speziali. Take the elevator or stairs to the 4th level, then navigate your way through the home decor to locate the separate set of stairs for access to the 5th level. 

Here you’ll find Le Terrazze Bar and Restaurant. This cozy terrace can get crowded at times, so be prepared for a wait. Cool off with a Hugo Spritz or a Mojito while taking in the views of the adjacent historical Piazza della Repubblica and the Duomo which you just ascended. Now that you’ve gotten fuel for a long walk, it’s time to travel south for a differently angled view of Florence. Along your journey, explore the Piazza della Signoria and cross the Arno River via the famed Ponte Vecchio to experience the charming sights and sounds of Firenze.

Boboli Gardens

Developed over four centuries and boasting exquisitely preserved marble statues and towering cypress trees, the Boboli Gardens are situated on an elevated plot of land away from the heart of central Florence. Shaded spots are plentiful and a welcome respite from the hot sun as you stroll through what was once the inspiration for Versailles. Here, you really get the feeling of being deep in the peaceful Tuscan countryside, though you’re just a stone’s throw away from the Uffizi Gallery, one of the best-known museums in the world.

Large, well-manicured lawns are dotted with Roman antiquities, and the further you walk through the park, the more expansive the views. When you reach the Giardino del Cavaliere and the Porcelain museum, elegant estates nestled into the adjacent rolling hills seem within an arm’s reach. Near the seafoam green Kaffeehaus is a secluded corner of the gardens which features more views. Basilica di San Lorenzo and other Florentine landmarks can be easily spotted from this vantage point, and you’re now on the same side of the river as one of the best locations to view the sunset over town.

Piazzale Michelangelo

A favorite amongst world travelers, locals, and visiting university students, Piazza Michelangelo offers quite possibly some of the most unforgettable views of Firenze. Unlike many other viewpoints, this panorama includes Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence not destroyed during World War II.  

It’s a steep climb up the hillside to the piazza, but 100% worth the trek. From the top, the views are incredible, especially during the golden hour of sunset. Be like the locals and bring your own wine to enjoy on the steps — or treat yourself to a refreshment at Vip’s Bar at the terrace overlook. Vip’s menu is surprisingly well-priced considering the million dollar view where you can comfortably sit for hours.

While you’re relaxing with your Prosecco in hand, Piazzale Michelangelo is the perfect location to wrap up your day of sightseeing. Take a moment to absorb all you’ve explored in this Renaissance city, while you sit back and savor the Italian art of living ‘La Vita Bella,’ the beautiful life.

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