Prato is the capital of the province of Prato and the main city in the Tuscany region of central Italy. Throughout the ages, Prato’s main source of income has been based on the textile industry, but it is also home to some famous food products such as Cantucci and Biscoti. Various archaeological finds show that Prato has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period and was then colonized by the Etruscans.
During the Middle Ages, Prato was influenced by Byzantine and Lombard rulers, and the city first really developed in the 10th century. Due to its close relationship with neighbouring Florence, Prato participated in the Holy League Wars in the 1500s and rose to prominence during the 19th century and the unification of Italy. Today, Prato is a charming city, a tourist destination in its own right, not overshadowed by nearby Florence.
Due to its rich history, Prato has many interesting buildings such as the Castle of the Emperor and the Church of San Francisco. In addition, due to its location, Prato is close to various areas of natural beauty, such as the Parco dei Laghi, offering various opportunities for those who love the outdoors and adventure.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Prato:
1. Prato Cathedral
While not as large as some of the other cathedrals in Italy, Prato Cathedral is just as impressive and beautiful.
This 10th-century church is the oldest in the city and was built over hundreds of years.
The front façade is still incomplete, but in striped marble with a large central clock face.
Inside is a real treat, continuing the black and white striped design.
In addition, there are countless exquisite sculptures and colorful frescoes that recreate various religious scenes such as the story of St. John the Baptist.
2. Pretoria Palace Museum
Palazzo Pretorio, located in the Plaza de la Commune, is an ancient building that has been Prato’s town hall for hundreds of years.
The structure resembles a medieval stone castle with a sawtooth and bell tower on top.
Inside the palace is an ever-changing museum dedicated to art, currently featuring exhibits by sculptor Jaques Lipchitz and Renaissance artist Filippo Lippi.
3. Castello dell’Imperatore
The Emperor’s Castle is a medieval building built for the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
Built between 1237 and 1247, the castle offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside and is ideally positioned as a defensive fortress against invaders.
Today, the castle is in remarkable condition for its age, with 6 of its 8 original guard towers in perfect condition.
The entrance to the castle has a striped design similar to that of Prato Cathedral, and the inner courtyard still houses an ancient water well.
For a glimpse into Prato’s past, the castle is an excellent place to visit.
4. Prato Textile Museum
Prato has a long and well-known history, closely associated with the textile industry; in fact, this industry has been the city’s main source of economy and income for hundreds of years.
Today, the Textile Museum is part of the European Industrial Heritage Route and has a wonderful array of interesting exhibitions.
Inside the museum you can find a detailed history of Prato’s textile industry, as well as a large number of handicrafts, machinery and tools used in the industry.
5. Lake Bilancino
While Prato offers a wealth of history and interesting attractions, the surrounding countryside also offers many opportunities.
Thirty minutes north of Prato is Lafo di Bilancino, a wonderful man-made lake that was once used to relieve flood pressure in Florence.
This stunning natural area has several beaches where you can sunbathe, play ball and even take a dip in the water.
Also, the surrounding area is a nature lover’s paradise, where you can see many birds and even turtles! If you’re looking for an escape from the busy city, Lago di Bilancino is the perfect spot!
6. Try the famous Prato Biscotti
Prato is known for its delightful variety of gastronomic wonders, and people flock to the city to sample its selection of traditional cuisine.
Biscotti is a crusty cookie filled with a variety of savory or sweet ingredients—the resulting flavor is nothing short of divine.
The real Biscotti is said to come from Prato, a city famous for its biscuit creations.
Many shops, cafes and restaurants sell authentic homemade biscotti – keep an eye out for the cobalt blue bags that speak to you.
The Mattei shop in particular is known for its traditional recipes passed down from generation to generation.
Consider trying your biscotti with a glass of wine – many people actually dip the cookies in their drinks!
7. Try the equally famous Mortadella Salumi
Another of Prato’s famous creations is Mortadella Salumi – this cured meat is a Tuscan tradition and offers a variety of delicacies.
Mortadella Salumi is made with a range of herbs and spices, including cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves and a pinch of Alchermes Liquer.
This combination of ingredients creates a unique and vibrant flavor, produced by Prato’s many butchers.
Consider visiting one of the local butchers, such as Macelleria & Salumificio Mannori, for a delicious variety of homemade food, including the mouthwatering Mortadella Salumi.
Traditionally served with bread, this cured meat is a great snack.
8. Commercial Plaza
Located on the banks of the Fiumbisenzio River, Plaza Mercatale is a large square and one of the central points of Prato city center.
Historically, this square was a major meeting point for merchants and trade activities and is considered one of the most extensive in Europe.
On the right hand side of the square is a large oval park with manicured lawns and a series of beautiful trees.
In addition, the surrounding buildings have a sense of history and give the square a charming feel with its many arches and colorful shutters.
If you’re looking for a place to eat, there are also many different restaurants and cafes serving fine authentic Italian cuisine.
9. Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci
While most museums showcase historical art from centuries past, the Luigi Pecci Museum focuses solely on contemporary and modern art and is a great place to visit.
Located just south of the historic downtown, the museum is housed in a charming building that looks like a spaceship! The collection within the museum includes works by Sol LeWitt, Jan Fabre, and Paolo Scheggi, but the list goes on and on, and the diversity of art on display here will keep you entertained for hours.
10. Church of San Francisco
The facade of this historic church bears a striking resemblance to the Cathedral of Prato, and features a similar striped design that is striking.
Built between 1281-1331, the church has undergone several restorations throughout its history and is now a fine example of Romanesque and Gothic religious structures.
Of particular interest are the detailed and colorful frescoes above the main entrance, the Renaissance paintings inside, and the ornate altar cover decorated with gold.
11. Parco dei Laghi di Suviana e di Brasimone
Parco dei Laghi di Suviana is one of the best national parks in Italy, bordering Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, about an hour’s drive from Prato.
This protected natural area is centered around two large reservoirs built in the early 20th century and Lake Suviana.
Throughout the park, you can find a variety of trees including oaks and chestnuts, as well as plenty of wildlife including deer and wild boar.
For those who love the outdoors, Parco dei Laghi offers a great opportunity to explore countless hiking and cycling trails.
In addition, Suviana Lake offers opportunities for water sports and swimming.
12. Prato Chinatown
Since 1988, Prato’s Chinese population has exploded, and the area around Via Pistoese is like another world.
Here you will find countless Chinese shops, food stalls, restaurants and bars – a very interesting fusion of Italian architecture and Chinese culture.
13. Pavonier Golf Club
The golf courses in Pavoniere combine a fantastic course with the magnificent scenery of Tuscany to delight.
For those who love the sport, the quality of this course is very high and it is well known throughout Europe.
Designed by Arnold Palmer, each hole is a challenge with countless bunkers, water features and undulating fairways.
In addition to the golf course, there’s a posh country club with fine dining and beverages, and even a hotel with a swimming pool.
14. Tour Prato by bike
Prato is located in a beautiful region of Italy, and the surrounding countryside offers a plethora of different activities.
For those who enjoy the outdoors and cycling, Prato has many well-maintained cycling routes to explore.
More than 53 kilometers of cycling routes pass through the scenic countryside and you can pass through towns and villages such as Poggio a Caiano, Viano and Galceti Park.
In the town centre and along the river, there are various rental companies where you can rent bikes at very reasonable prices.
The Prato Tourist Information Office will have plenty of leaflets and information on cycling routes and national parks, and will offer advice on potential tours you can take.
15. Florence Day Trip
Prato is a beautiful city in itself; Florence is the true jewel of Italy and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
This historic city is about 40 minutes east of Prato by car and can be reached by train and bus.
Florence offers a wealth of cultural attractions and historic buildings – places of interest include the Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, the magnificent Florence Cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile and Michelangelo’s David.
If you live in Prato, it is recommended that you spend at least one day in Florence to experience the birth of the Renaissance.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Prato, Italy
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