One of the classic things to do in Florence, the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens should make your list of spots to explore! I’m sharing what to look for in each to get the most of your time.
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Sitting just across the river from Florence’s historic city walls is the ancient home to the Medici family. While the Pitti Palace isn’t the most beautiful of buildings on the outside, the inside is packed with stunning decor and gorgeous paintings!
The Palazzo Pitti or Pitti Palace is most known for belonging to the Medici family and later as the home of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Later, Napoleon claimed it for his own and finally, the Italian royal family lived in the Pitti before donating it to the Italian people.
While the art collection in the Pitti Palace is extensive and beautiful, I loved the building for its interiors more than its art. From stunning chandeliers to plush furniture to frescoed ceilings, the entire building is an elaborate work of art. Ironic to me how simple the exterior is, given the plush details inside.
Similar to Versailles or the Louvre, many of the rooms are preserved or recreated to show how they looked at the height of its residents’ eras, either the Medici or Napoleon. The Pitti Palace does a good job displaying bilingual signs which point out what changes Napoleon made and which century the room is set up to recreate.
The sheer number of gold-framed paintings in each room is arresting. Sometimes I lost the ability to take in each piece for the glamour and glitz of the entire effect.
One painting worth mentioning is a recently reacquired work stolen by Nazis during WWII. The museum details the story, but essentially some Nazi’s grandkid tried to ransom (he framed it as trying to “sell back”) the painting to the city of Florence. Unsurprisingly, authorities were able to track him down and recover the painting. In the age of the Internet, it seems hard to believe that this guy thought it would work unless he was already some kind of criminal mastermind. But hope springs eternal, I guess! The painting itself is beautiful and on display with the full story.
In all the beautiful opulence, don’t overlook some of the smaller exhibits included in the Pitti Palace entry. There are sculpture and jewelry exhibitions set slightly apart from the larger museum space, and they’re excellent. While both display some modern pieces that don’t fit the timeline of the rest of the building, the works are gorgeous and not to be missed.
If you’re a great lover of art, you could spend hours in here. We wandered the halls for about two hours, and especially after seeing the Uffizi Gallery the same day, that was more than enough time.
The Giardino di Boboli or Boboli Gardens are simply the walled grounds connected to the Pitti Palace. Calling them grounds, however, doesn’t do justice to either the art or the sense of space they cover.
At 111 acres, it’s a massive system of gardens, forests, and fountains. There’s plenty to see and if you’re looking for a peaceful place to break up the museum days, come wander the Boboli Gardens for an hour or two.
The central path coming out the back of the palace is probably the most photographed part of the gardens, for good reason. A massive uphill green space that once held theatrical productions on a grand scale, it maintains a level of pomp and circumstance even with some of the statues missing.
Views from the tops of hills or over the walls show how it sits in the perfect location for both city and country life. You climb to the top of the massive walls near the rose garden and look down to see the beginnings of the Tuscan countryside immediately below you. Yet you’re only a 10-minute walk to the Arno River and the city life on the other side. It’s perfectly positioned for a key family of the Renaissance.
While you’re near the rose garden, don’t miss the Porcelain museum tucked into that corner! Again, it’s one of those small treats that’s easily overlooked if you’re rushing through.
It’s a great place to wander because different areas have such different feels. Walking along the garden walls give the place the feel more of a fortress than a pleasure garden, while other areas seem like you’re a million miles from manmade anything. On the other end of the spectrum, the Medici family installed multiple grottoes – pseudo-underground fountains with extensive sculptural aspects – brimming with both whimsy and symbolic imagery.
For the best experience of the Boboli Gardens, watch the Florence episode of Monty Don’s Italian Gardens. While I’m not usually a lover of garden shows, Monty Don brings such unassuming expertise to explore a beautiful and famous place. He’s also an adorable human being! I love that he’s unafraid to tuck his pant leg into his socks to ride a bike on television. 😉
Planning Your Visit
I shared previously about the Passepartout ticket that combines entry for Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, and Uffizi Gallery. In the winter this ticket is a great deal and definitely the way to go, and in summer it’s a great deal if you’re planning to see all three.
If you’re planning to see all three, I would ideally split up your visit to the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. It’ll help you absorb and enjoy the art more to break up the experience. That being said, if have the Passepartout ticket you have to start at the Uffizi, so think that through.