The heart of Florence lies in its historic center, just east of the Arno River. A look at its skyline (best seen from Piazzale Michelangelo or San Miniato al Monte church) provides two immediate details: Florence is hardly a haven for highrises (thankfully) and the most notable landmarks are the adjacent Duomo and Giotto's Tower at the city's center. Located on the Piazza del Duomo with the Baptistery, this is where the highest concentration of tourists will be gathered. All three attractions are fantastic, while the view after the 414 step climb up the bell tower may be our favorite. If you're looking to save money, forget entrance to the Duomo and Baptistery; there are some amazing frescoes inside, but you'll find that there are a lot of churches in Florence displaying high-level artistry. Walk just south to the Piazza della Signoria to see an open-air collection of statues (including a replica of "David") for free, as well as the fortress-like Palazzo Vecchio. Because everything in Florence worth seeing is easily within walking distance, you'll be quite close to the only bridge that remains from WWII bombings, the Ponte Vecchio, which is an iconic symbol of perseverance in the city. On the way, why not visit one of the most famous art museums the world, the Uffizi Gallery? Or head the four blocks or so north of the Duomo and peruse the Gallery of the Academy, where the actual sculpture of David is displayed. And don't forget the other great collection of Renaissance works available at the Bargello Museum, which is also a ten minute walk east from the Duomo. Just please don't try to do this all in one day. You'll be collapsed on a park bench somewhere by mid-afternoon.
Just across the Ponte Vecchio in Oltrarno is the Pitti Palace, the former home of the hugely influential Medici family. There is plenty of fine artwork inside and the Boboli Gardens beyond for anyone who would rather admire the brushstrokes of nature. The aforementioned Piazzale Michelangelo is worth a jaunt from here, although an aperitivo at Santo Spirito is a recommended venture on the type of culture happening in Florence nowadays.
There are also numerous other churches worth a look, even if its from an outdoor cafe. Santa Maria Novella (near the train station), Santa Croce (known for its tombs of great figures), San Lorenzo, and many more are worth entrance for the artistic treasures they hold.
Just be aware that, because this is Italy, very little of what you do is going to be free, so take a look through our individual listings for cost and other salient information before setting out on your great Florentine adventure.