Florence is filled with beautiful piazzas, but if you’re not used to having several giant and elaborate town squares in your city, they can seem like a bit of a mystery. If you’re wondering what you can do in some of the city’s best public spaces (and what to eat, because duh, it’s Italy) consider this your guide:
Home to some of the most famous statues in the world, Piazza della Signoria is an art lover’s dream. But don’t expect to be alone as you marvel at the impressive works in the outdoor sculpture museum, the Loggia dei Lanzi. At any given point in the day, you’ll be surrounded by hordes of tourists.
A few blocks from the Piazza, you can find Gelateria dei Neri, one of the best gelato places/bakeries in the city. Grab yourself a cone or a cannoli, walk to the piazza, and spend some time admiring the architecture of the Palazzo Vecchio and the copy of Michelangelo’s David in the statue’s original location. Then find a seat on the ledge of the Loggia dei Lanzi and watch tourists react to the sculptures. You’ll hear everything from debates on the ethical issues of marble quarrying to things like, “Isn’t that white naked guy thingy famous?” (Believe it or not, this is a real quote.)
Because it surrounds the Basilica of Santa Croce, the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, Piazza Santa Croce is another major tourist destination. You can expect to see several groups being led by tour guides carrying giant sticks with loofahs on the top, a few souvenir carts, one or two street musicians, and a whole lot of pigeons.
Piazza Santa Croce is a great place to spend a lazy afternoon. Get yourself an unbelievably delicious panino from the nearby Pino’s Sandwiches and head directly for the steps of the Santa Croce. Despite the constant commotion of the piazza’s visitors, the steps are a relatively quiet place to read a good book or spend a few hours people watching.
Piazza della Repubblica has an incredibly long history. Starting as a Roman forum, the piazza is now at the heart of Florence’s shopping district and is filled with interesting people and events. Be prepared to see painters, musicians, and what is quite possibly the world’s coolest carousel.
There’s no shortage of great food surrounding Piazza della Repubblica (seriously, there’s a place that sells chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick) but if you want to go for a classic, get some mind-blowingly good Venchi gelato. Riding the carousel is obviously a magical experience (especially at night), but simply sitting and watching/listening to the musicians and artists is highly enjoyable. If you’re really bored, see how long you can stand in one place without a gypsy approaching you. My current record is 3.5 minutes.
Looking to escape the crazy crowds of tourists? Then take a trip across the Santa Trinita bridge to Piazza Santo Spirito, because you won’t see hardly any of them there. In addition to artsy locals and the gorgeous Santo Spirito church designed by Fillippo Brunelleschi (of Duomo fame), you’ll find pretty trees, a beautiful fountain, and tons of charming restaurants and bars surrounding the square.
Around the corner from Piazza Santo Spirito is Florence’s crowning jewel of a pizzeria, Gusta Pizza. For daytime visits to the piazza, there’s nothing better than getting a gloriously large margherita pizza and eating it on the church steps. But perhaps the best time to visit Piazza Santo Spirito is on weekend nights when it’s absolutely packed with young and fascinating locals. If you’re tired of hanging out in Americanized clubs and bars, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the Santo Spirito nightlife.