Piazza del Duomo marks Florence’s religious heart, home to the (1) Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo) (www.duomofirenze.it); the 14th-century (2) Campanile, or "bell tower"; and the (3) Battistero, or Baptistery. Visit all three before starting this walk, which explores the city’s medieval eastern quarter, a maze of small streets and half-hidden churches rich in historical associations.
Walk south from the piazza on the pedestrian-only Via dei Calzaiuoli, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, noting the pretty (4) Loggia del Bigallo on the right as you exit the square: It was built by a charitable foundation in the 1350s and formed part of an orphanage established by the foundation.
Visit the church of (5) Orsanmichele, midway down Via dei Calzaiuoli on the right at the corner of Via de’ Lamberti (the entrance is to the rear). It is known for its medieval niche statues and for a lovely interior dominated by a grand 14th-century tabernacle and a painting of the Madonna delle Grazie (1347) by Bernardo Daddi.
Almost opposite the church, take Via dei Tavolini and then Via Dante Alighieri. You are now in a district closely associated with the great Florentine poet, Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), author of The Divine Comedy. In the vicinity are the (6) Casa di Dante, or House of Dante (corner of Via Dante Alighieri and Via Santa Margherita; www.museocasadidante.it), a small museum devoted to the poet; (7) Santa Margherita, at Via Santa Margherita, near the corner with Via del Corso, the church where the poet may have married; and the (8) Badia Fiorentina, (go down Via Dante Alighieri and make a right on Via del Proconsolo), the parish church of Beatrice Portinari, Dante’s lifelong muse.
At the Badia, turn right on Via del Proconsolo to the (9) Bargello, directly across the way at Via del Proconsolo 4, once Florence’s medieval police headquarters, prison, and place of execution. Today it houses the cream of Florence’s medieval, Renaissance, and baroque sculpture, as well as numerous beautiful salons devoted to the decorative arts.
East of the Bargello you can meander almost at random, getting happily lost in the old streets en route to the 13th-century church of (10) Santa Croce in Piazza Santa Croce. The best route is down Via Ghibellina, if only because near its conclusion, a tiny right turn, Via Isola delle Stinche, takes you to the Il Gelato Vivoli (on the right at No.7R), widely considered to be Italy’s best ice cream.
Santa Croce is equally mouthwatering; the must-see church in Florence, thanks to numerous important early frescoes by Giotto and others, along with the tombs of some of the city’s most illustrious men and women, including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo.
Few visitors venture beyond Santa Croce, but the Sant’Ambrogio district to the north and east is worth the extra effort. Take Via delle Pinzochere off the north side of Piazza Santa Croce to the (11) Casa Buonarroti, (Via Ghibellina 70 near Via Michelangelo Buonarroti), a stylish museum devoted to Michelangelo.
Walk east from the museum on Via Ghibellina and turn left on Via dei Macci. A short way up on the right is the (12) Sant’Ambrogio market, focus of an increasingly chic neighborhood of cafés and specialty stores.
2015 Traveler Photo Contest
Do you have what it takes to win? Submit your best shots today and find out.