The historic center of Florence is densely urban. Everything is built of stone, and it can be exhausting. You’ll be gasping for a breath of fresh air. Even the River Arno gives little relief as it is choked with traffic rushing along the narrow road alongside it, and only the Ponte Vecchio gives a space to stand and peacefully view the river and breathe the air.
But the city is also designed around squares. Many of them are also intensely urban and busy – not a tree to be seen. But they will give you a sense of space and a chance to see the sky – and they are usually surrounded by some of the city’s most significant sights (and most expensive cafes, you’ve been warned!).
1. Piazza della Signoria – the most important of them all, surrounded by the Palazzo Vecchio (town hall) and the Uffizi Gallery. You’ll find tired people draped around the sculpture court staring at Michelangelo’s David.
2. Piazza di Santa Croce – huge and dominated by the Basilica di Santa Croce. There’s nowhere to sit here but the church has a lovely garden and quiet cloisters in which to catch your breath.
3. Santa Maria Novella Square. Near the station and in front of the church of Santa Maria Novella, with a few patches of grass and some public benches, this is where you’ll find people lying around morning, noon and night just to relax – or party.
4. Piazza della Indipendenza - north of the city center but still near the station, this grassed and treed 19th century square is a little visited oasis in Florence.
5. Piazza San Lorenzo – another very urban space filled with the famous market but if you head inside San Lorenzo itself you’ll find lovely quiet cloisters where you can relax for a while.
If you cross the river you’ll find bigger green spaces: the Boboli Gardens, the hillside leading to San Miniato al Monte church and Piazzale Michelangelo, famous for views of the city.