In the splendid setting of Piazza della Signoria, one of the most beautiful and important squares in the historic centre of Florence, the unmistakable silhouette of Palazzo Vecchio with its beautiful civic tower stands out from the rest.
This elegant 14th-century palace, now the seat of the municipality of Florence, has always been the city’s civic palace. Initially known as Palazzo dei Priori, then as Palazzo della Signoria and finally as Palazzo Ducale, during the second half of the 16th century it took the name Palazzo Vecchio following the relocation of the court of Cosimo I de’ Medici to the ‘new’ Palazzo Pitti.
Today, Palazzo Vecchio is one of the monuments not to be missed during a trip to Florence: its unmistakable profile makes it one of the absolute symbols of the city, present on postcards and souvenirs of all kinds; visit its exterior and then go inside, where you can enter some rooms free of charge, while others are part of the Palazzo Vecchio museum, one of the most popular and visited museums in the city.
The importance of Palazzo Vecchio in the economic and social fabric of Florence is such that at the time of Florence’s capital it was used as the parliament of the Kingdom of Italy.
In addition to admiring Palazzo Vecchio from the outside and taking splendid photos, it is possible to go inside the building to see some wonderful rooms. Access to the ground floor, where the three courtyards are located, is free and open to all, while to go up to the first and second floors you must pay the entrance fee.
The main entrance staircase of Palazzo Vecchio leads to Michelozzo’s courtyard, which is open to the public and can be visited free of charge. It takes its name from the Florentine architect who designed it in the mid-15th century, but its current appearance was acquired over 100 years later, when Giorgio Vasari designed a major extension for the occasion of the wedding between Francesco I de’ Medici and Giovanna of Austria.
The courtyard is surrounded by a magnificent portico, the walls of which are richly decorated with the insignia of the churches and guilds of the arts and crafts of Florence; in honour of Joan of Austria, several cities of Central Europe, former possessions of the Habsburgs, such as Prague, Graz, Linz, Bratislava, Vienna, Innsbruck and Constance, are also depicted. Finally, the vaults of the portico are embellished with grotesque decorations.
In the centre of Michelozzo’s courtyard is a small bronze statue of the Putto with a dolphin, which stands in the middle of a fountain. The statue is the work of Verrocchio, but the one that can be admired is only a copy: the original is carefully preserved on the second floor of the palace. The fountain, on the other hand, receives its water from the Boboli hill, by means of an ingenious system of pipes designed and conceived centuries ago.
Michelozzo’s courtyard is also known as the ‘first courtyard’, while the other two are located immediately behind it. They are certainly not the most beautiful part of the palace, yet they are free to visit, and they too have origins dating back to the 15th century, so why ignore them? Passing through them, one can admire fine architectural elements of the period, such as wide vaults supported by massive pillars.
In the second courtyard, also called the Customs Courtyard because of its original function during the Middle Ages, is the museum ticket office and the bookshop, while the third courtyard, also called the New Courtyard because it was the last to be built, is the least interesting: it is an open courtyard without arcades, overlooked by some municipal offices, and from which the staircase leading to the office of the Mayor of Florence also starts.
What for many is the most beautiful room in Palazzo Vecchio is called the Salone dei Cinquecento. It is located on the first floor and has impressive dimensions: measuring 54 metres long and 23 metres wide. Originally the seat of the major council of the city of Florence, it was built at the behest of Savonarola and takes its curious name from the fact that the more than 1,500 citizens who formed the council met in turn in groups of 500 at a time.
At the time of its construction, its dimensions were smaller. Later, Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to enlarge the room so that it could be used as a court hall. Its walls recall the triumph of Florentine military history, especially against the republics of Pisa and Siena, with large frescoes inspired by the wars Florence waged against its historical rivals. The ceiling , on the other hand, is the work of Vasari, and is made of 39 coffered panels all finely frescoed; the subject in this case is Cosimo I, and some important episodes from his life are represented.
On the walls, between one fresco and another, are niches, inside which are some sculptures by Bandinelli, and a series of Medici tapestries.
At the end of the Salone dei Cinquecento is a small windowless room. It is the Studiolo of Francis I, created in the Mannerist style by Giorgio Vasari. One can admire the richness and abundance of works of art, hung on the walls and drawn on the elegant vaulted ceiling. Among the paintings, stuccoes and sculptures, you will not stop gazing and being captivated by all the beauty that surrounds you.
Many of the paintings in Francesco I’s studiolo are representative of the Vasari school, there are portraits of Cosimo I and his wife painted by Alessandro Allori, some bronze sculptures by Giambologna, and two staircases leading to the so-called Tesoretto, the former study of Cosimo I dè Medici.
The Monumental Quarters of Palazzo Vecchio are a series of rooms all located on the first floor, dedicated to the main members of the Medici family. They are richly frescoed and decorated rooms, celebrating the Medici and their dynasty. Long used as reception rooms by the City of Florence, today they are open to the public and can be visited by tourists, with the exception of the Sala dei Dugento, as it is used by the Florence City Council as a meeting room, and therefore cannot be visited.
The Palazzo Vecchio’s Monumental Quarters are the Lion X Room, the Cosimo il Vecchio Room, the Lorenzo il Magnifico Room, the Cosimo I Room, the Giovanni dalle Bande Nere Room, the Writing Desk, the Chapel of Saints Cosmas and Damian and the Clement VII Room. They are flanked by the Ricetto, the Sala dei Dugento and the Sala degli Otto.
Palazzo Vecchio is part of the network of Florentine civic museums, of which it is the flagship. Admission tickets can be purchased on site or online. Entrance is through the main door of the palace overlooking Piazza Signoria or through the side door on Via dei Gondi. In addition to the standard route, there is also the possibility of taking the archaeological route, dedicated to the excavations of the Roman theatre of Florence, and of climbing the tower and the patrol walkway.
The museum organises guided tours lasting 50 minutes, reserved for a maximum of 14 participants, which are also fully accessible to the disabled. Tours are held daily from 10 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. (Thursday mornings only) and are also available in English, French and Spanish.
It is also possible to take part in a tour dedicated to families with children from 4 to 10 years of age, called “Vita di corte”, a guided tour that recalls the times of Cosimo I, his wife Eleonora and their 11 children; the tour is available in Italian and English on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 4.30 pm. It lasts 50 minutes and a maximum of 7 seats are available.
In both cases, the price is 5 euros in addition to the normal museum admission fee.
It is also possible to take part in private guided tours organised by external but regularly licensed and equally valid tour guides.
The Palazzo Vecchio museum has a bookshop, souvenir shop, cafeteria and cloakroom where umbrellas, backpacks and large bags must be deposited, and provides services such as free wheelchair and pram hire. It has a lift for those with mobility disabilities, and a multimedia space on the second floor.
The first tip for visiting Palazzo Vecchio is to book your visit online well in advance to avoid queuing at the ticket office or finding yourself on a particularly crowded day when there are no tickets available. If you can, visit the Palazzo Vecchio out of season to have fewer tourists to avoid taking your photos.
Remember to budget at least a couple of hours, if not half a day. In winter, visit in the afternoon so that you can take advantage of the daylight hours to be outside; Palazzo Vecchio is also an ideal destination to see in Florence on a rainy day!
Remember again that the courtyards on the ground floor of Palazzo Vecchio are completely free, so don’t stop outside, but go inside the building and admire the beauty of Michelozzo’s courtyard and its frescoes dedicated to Francesco I de’ Medici and his consort Giovanna of Austria.
As Palazzo Vecchio is the seat of the municipality of Florence, the city’s civil marriages are celebrated here. The bride and groom can pronounce their ‘yes’ in a truly unique setting, the Sala Rossa, one of the most beautiful rooms in the palace.
Celebrating the wedding in the Red Room is free of charge for residents of Florence; alternatively, fees vary depending on the residence of the bride and groom:
The timetables for celebrating weddings are very tight, so it is necessary to book several months in advance: the Sala Rossa is only available on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, Thursday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, or Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There are also some rooms that can be rented by prior booking, to organise a toast, a buffet or a reception.
The prices listed above are only valid within these hours; outside of them, a rather high additional sum must be paid, which is around 800 euros depending on the residence of the bride and groom.
As an alternative to the Red Room, it is also possible to get married in the magical setting of the Salone dei Cinquecento. In this case, the cost does not change: regardless of the bride and groom’s residence, it amounts to no less than 5000 euro.
Moreover, on the occasion of a wedding in Palazzo Vecchio, it is possible to request access to the car-free zone to enter the centre by car; the Municipality of Florence also provides decorations and green plants inside the rooms.
Palazzo Vecchio is located in Piazza della Signoria, one of the main squares in the centre of Florence. It can only be reached on foot, but distances in Florence are never too long. In fact, it takes just over 10 minutes to walk from Santa Maria Novella station, the same from Piazza Santa Croce and about 5 minutes from Piazza del Duomo. Of course, these are theoretical times: it could take you several hours, given the abundance of things to see along the way!
Arriving at Palazzo Vecchio by car is forbidden, as Piazza della Signoria is part of the city centre’s car-free zone, and like almost the entire area is completely pedestrianised. Residents can park in the nearby Via dei Gondi or in Piazza San Firenze. If you are staying at a hotel in these parts and have arrived in Florence by car, check with the hotel whether you are entitled to car-free zone access or not.
Palazzo Vecchio is located in Piazza Signoria, in the heart of the historical centre of Florence. It is easily reached on foot from the station or from Piazza del Duomo by walking along the elegant Via Calzaiuoli, the city's main shopping street.