One of the oldest bridges in Florence, the picturesque Ponte Vecchio is one of Florence’s iconic landmarks. It’s one of just a few bridges in the world with houses and shops built on it, making it a destination to explore in its own right and not just a way to cross the river. Take a romantic stroll, browse in the shops, or listen to the buskers, following in the footsteps of millions of visitors to the city over the last 600 years.
What to look for
Walking along the street past the shops is not the only way to cross the bridge. In 1565, architect Vasari designed what’s known as the Vasari Corridor. This is the covered pathway that runs above the shops, which was originally built for Cosimo De Medici to celebrate the marriage of his son. It provided a way for the Duke and his family to avoid the crowds below and connects the Pitti Palace to the Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Vecchio. Although the route is just a kilometre long, the Medici family did not always walk. A small carriage for two people would also carry people back and forth.
Originally, the shops on the Ponte Vecchio were butchers shops, perfectly placed for throwing their waste out into the river. But this meant the bridge was very smelly. When the Corridor was built, the butchers shops were ordered to be replaced with jewellery shops, which most still are today, although you’ll also find plenty of places to pick up souvenirs.
As the daylight fades, you’ll see the shopkeepers pull down the wooden shutters and make their way home, although the bridge remains open to walk across day and night. As night falls, the bridge is beautifully lit, making it a lovely place to enjoy a romantic stroll. To see the bridge in full view, go to Ponte Santa Trinita a little further up the river and don’t forget to take your camera.
The Ponte Vecchio spans the River Arno at its narrowest point and it is believed that a bridge was first built here by the Romans. The name translates as ‘new bridge’ given when it was rebuilt in 1345 after flooding damaged the original bridge. It holds the distinction of being the only bridge in Florence to be spared from German bombs in WW2, possibly because Adolf Hitler admired the view so much.
Originally there were four towers, whith each defending a corner of the bridge. Now there is only one remaining, the Mannelli Tower. This tower was threatened in 1565 when the Vasari Corridor was built as it stood in the way of the walkway. But the Mannelli family refused to allow the duke to alter or demolish it, so instead the corridor had to swerve around it.
Things to do nearby
You’ll find lots of shops, cafés, bars, and other landmarks nearby. The Uffizi Gallery is just a couple of minutes’ walk away, where you can see a world-famous collection of Italian Renaissance artwork. From the gallery’s rooftop garden you can also enjoy great views looking onto the bridge.
Alternatively, go to Pitti Palace on the other side of the river, which is also home to a priceless collection of art and treasures.
For unique artisan crafts and local produce, cross the bridge to the Oltrarno side. Or for designer labels and high street favourites, continue walking along the street from the bridge in the opposite direction. Whichever way you turn, you’re sure to find great value takeaway pizza and delicious gelato for a quick bite on the go.
The Ponte Vecchio is located in the historic centre of the city, close to other major landmarks and city centre hotels. It’s just a two-minute walk from the Uffizi Gallery, 15 minutes’ walk from the main train station, and 600m from the cathedral. As a major visitor attraction, you’ll find directions marked on the brown and white tourist signs. You can ask any stall-holder or shop owner and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
How to get there
Because of the central location, it’s easy to find your way to the Ponte Vecchio on foot. If in doubt, just head to the river and from the banks you’ll be able to spot the distinctive bridge. You can also get to the Pitti Palace on the Oltrarno side of the bridge by bus starting at the main train station. It’s then just a short two-minute walk to get to the Ponte Vecchio.