One of Florence's top attractions and most photographed landmarks, the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, is Florence's most famous bridge. The Ponte Vecchio, which spans the Arno River from Via Por Santa Maria to Via Guicciardini, is also Florence's oldest bridge, having been spared from the bombing in Florence during World War II.
Ponte Vecchio History
The medieval Ponte Vecchio was built in 1345 to replace a bridge that had been destroyed in a flood.
In Roman days there was also a bridge in this spot. Initially, the shops on both sides of the bridge were favored by butchers and tanners, who would throw their flotsam into the Arno, a practice which would create a stinking cesspool in the water below. In 1593, Grand Duke Ferdinando I decided that these trades were "vile" and permitted only goldsmiths and jewelers to set up shop on the bridge.
What to See on the Ponte Vecchio
Since that time, the Ponte Vecchio has been known for its gleaming gold shops which overflow with rings, watches, bracelets, and all kinds of other jewels making it one of the top places to shop in Florence. Ostensibly, buyers are able to bargain with the gold sellers on the bridge, and sometimes bargains can be had here. Since this is a high tourist area, however, prices are often inflated. Shop around before giving in to the temptation. There are also a few art shops on the bridge.
As you cross the bridge, stop in one of the view spots to snap a few photos of Florence as seen from the Arno River. When you cross the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio going away from the historic center, you'll be in the less touristy Oltrarno neighborhood (Across the Arno), where there are streets with small artisan shops, cafes, and restaurants.
If you go straight after you cross the bridge, you'll arrive at the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.
Travel tip: Be aware that the popular bridge – which is typically packed with tourists – is also a prime target of pickpockets. Be mindful of your belongings when browsing the baubles. See Italy Travel Tip: How to Safeguard Your Money.
Vassari Corridor: Secret Passageway Above the Ponte Vecchio
If you saw the movie Inferno, based on Dan Brown's book, you may remember that Robert Langdon crossed the river inside a secret passageway, one of the Florence Sites in Inferno. Built in 1564 for the Medici family, the Vassari Corridor is an elevated walkway that links the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, passing through a church along the way and offering good views of the river and city.
A Look at the Ponte Vecchio
One of the best views of the bridge from the outside is on the Santa Trinita Bridge, a 16th century bridge that's just to the west along the river. Some hotels near the river, such as the luxury Portrait Firenze Hotel and the Hotel Lungarno (both part of the Ferragamo collection), have rooftop terraces with good views of the bridge, too.
Take a virtual look at the bridge with these Ponte Vecchio Pictures.
Editor's Note: This article was updated and edited by Martha Bakerjian