Cultural Heritage Walks: Free Tours in English

The ancient walls on the south side of Florence

One way to enhance your knowledge of Florence is to learn about the culture and history of the city are through Cultural Heritage walks scheduled this spring. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982, the Municipality of Florence developed a program for residents and visitors to explore city’s cultural patrimony sites with a free, guided tour. There will be 16 heritage walks — all starting at 3 pm —   throughout April and May, offered by English-speaking guides.

The itinerary of the walks will take guests to discover lesser-known areas of the historic center, comprising architecture, views, and stories of Florence to expand their knowledge of the city, urban fabric, and landscape. Instead of visiting the most famous streets and monuments of Florence this will be a deep dive into three distinct heritage walks: the southern route along the Oltrarno walls,” one to the north of the city around Porta San Gallo (today’s Piazza Libertà), and one around San Miniato al Monte.

The Oltrarno neighborhood across the Arno river from Florence’s ancient city center was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2021, comprising the church and abbey of San Miniato al Monte, the neighboring church of San Salvatore al Monte, Le Rampe, Piazzale Michelangelo, and the Iris and Rose Gardens.

Basilica di San Miniato takes its name from the martyr St. Minias buried beneath it, a 3rd century Armenian who lived as a hermit near Florence, prosecuted for his Christian faith by the Roman emperor Decius. “This is the gate of Heaven” is inscribed in Latin above the church’s Holy Door, and one can see how truly fitting these words are upon entering and glimpsing the equally beautiful and welcoming interior.

The smooth walls, adorned with uncomplicated patterns, come alive as sunlight slants in through the windows. Every surface seems to be home to an architectural or artistic wonder of some sort. Classical-style capitals can be seen in the supporting columns of the church, taken from the remains of Roman buildings. One of the particularly striking floor panels contains every sign of the zodiac entwined in elaborate lace-like vines, creepers, and foliage — all etched in stone. Works by some of the most famous Florentine artists of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance can be found amidst the church’s plentiful adornments. Especially dazzling are the golden, Byzantine-style mosaics.

Visitors will also find medieval gates, walls, towers, and fortifications in the Oltrarno. Forte Belvedere is Florence’s second largest fortress, built as a means of defense in the 1590s. The military site, Baluardo San Giorgio, is also on the list.  The building sits amidst an olive grove on the outskirts of the city just below Forte Belvedere. It was constructed to protect Florence against the military seige of 1530 by the troops of Charles V, King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor. The Porta Romana gate borders the Boboli Gardens, south of the city center. It is the largest and best-preserved gate in the city, a window on a panoramic view of the Oltrarno area. 

The walls protected the city of Florence in the Middle Ages, but now just serve as a reminder of the city’s history. Tours on foot and by bike will allow visitors to see a city gate once part of the walls, including around Porta San Gallo, on the northern edge of the city, built in 1285.

The tours highlight elements that are meant to help individuals understand the historical evolution of Florence. From experiencing these free tours at first hand, you are able to learn the importance of city as a designated World Heritage site. This free initiative is a way to show and teach people the importance of Florence down the ages.

All Cultural Heritage walks start at 3 pm and are two hours long. The meeting point for the Porta San Gallo tour is via Guelfa 12, in front of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church; for the ancient walls walk, Porta San Giorgio, via San Leonardo; the one culminating in San Miniato al Monte, Porta San Niccolò, piazza Poggi.  All ages are welcome; guests are advised dress comfortably and to bring a bottle of water.  The visits will be canceled in case of rain.

For information, send an email to (Sophia KochGillian Melendez)

Below are the dates for the tours in English.

April 6: Towards San Miniato

April 7: Along the Walls

April 13: Around San Gallo

April 14: Towards San Miniato

April 20: Along the Walls

April 21: Around San Gallo

April 27: Towards San Miniato

April 28: Along the Walls

May 4: Around San Gallo

May 5: Towards San Miniato

May 11: Along the Walls

May 12: Around San Gallo

May 18: Towards San Miniato

May 19: Along the Walls

May 25: Around San Gallo

May 26: Towards San Miniato