Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the best and most famous lookouts for a stunning view of Florence, day or night, and best of all it is free! It just takes a little legwork and there are a few easy ways to get there.
One is a lovely walk along the south side of the river upstream towards the Torre San Niccolò, an old tower of the now destroyed medieval city walls which you can see jutting out over the rooftops from afar. Here, you are directly underneath the piazza, simply follow the looping ramps up to the top of the hill. Another nice walk is from the Porta San Miniato gateway, accessible from Via San Niccolò. Go through the gateway and up a short but steep street; in front of you is the “shortcut,” picturesque stone steps that will lead you straight up to the piazza in a matter of minutes. You will pass by the entrance to the lovely rose garden on the way up. Don’t forget to take a peek behind you to catch the growing panorama of Florence.
The other way up to the piazza, for those who are saving their energy, is to take the local bus number 12 or 13. Find them at the train station, near the taxi stand, either one will take you all the way up to Piazza Michelangelo for the cost of €1.20 a single ride (tickets must be purchased in advance at a tabaccheria, tobacconist).
From the piazza, a five minute stroll up past the church of San Salvatore will take you to the unique and beautiful monastery of San Miniato al Monte. With absolutely the best view of the city, San Miniato al Monte is a stunning example of original Tuscan Romanesque architecture dating from 1013. The monks still make honey, tisanes and liqueurs to sell to visitors and it is also possible to visit the church while the monks sing Gregorian chant at 5.30pm.
In the grounds surrounding the church there is a beautiful monumental cemetery laid out in the mid-1800’s and protected by the old defensive walls of the church designed by Michelangelo during the Siege of Florence in 1529-30.
A wonderful panoramic walk from San Miniato back to the centre of Florence can be enjoyed by turning left (with the church behind you) onto Viale Galileo, the tree lined boulevard. As the road winds along and you enjoy the shade of the trees there are the most splendid views of Florence until you reach Via di San Leonardo on your right. Taking this charming narrow street, look for the plaque on the wall of the first villa on your left that says Tchaikovsky lived here in 1878. Continuing along past beautiful villas and the tiny eleventh century church of San Leonardo in Arcetri you will come to the Forte Belvedere and the 13th century Porta San Giorgio. Here you can either go through the arch of the old city gate and straight down the hill to arrive at the Ponte Vecchio, or you can follow the old city wall to the right and back to the area of San Niccolò, below the Piazzale Michelangelo.