Birthplace of the Renaissance, architectural showpiece, artistic treasure … the capital of the Italian region of Tuscany, and key point on the Italian visitor “triangle” that also includes Venice and Rome, is all this and more.
Follow in the footsteps and revel in the works of genius by Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo to name just a few. Galileo discovered planets here, Dante wrote his masterpiece here, the Medici reigned here and delivered a dynasty that changed the face of Europe.
There is so much to see and do in what is essentially a living museum with the added bonus of wonderful Tuscan-inspired food and first-class shopping.
The key attractions are within striking distance of one another in this easy-walking city, but some draw big crowds so it pays to plan (and book) ahead to make the most of your time. Take note, too, that many close on Mondays.
Three must-sees from around 80 galleries and museums are the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery and its stunning collection of Renaissance art, the Galleria dell’Accademia which houses Michelangelo’s David, and the Pitti Palace, former palace of the Medici, now displaying the dynastic treasures.
Other sites to visit include the landmark Duomo, the shop-lined Ponte Vecchio, and Giotto’s bell tower. Hardy souls can climb to the top for amazing city views.
Eat and Drink
You will be spoiled for choice in Florence; the key decision will be whether to settle for food to go, or to sit and linger. As you would expect, you will find prices at a premium in restaurants catering mainly to tourists and will be rewarded for looking a little further afield. Tuscan food is hearty.
Local specialities include ribollita, a vegetable and bread soup, and steak Florentine, T-bone seasoned and drizzled with olive oil. Match them with Tuscan wines including ever-present chianti.
If you are game enough, try the lampredotto (a version of tripe) sold by street vendors. It comes on a roll with sauces. For bars, try the Sant’Ambrogio and Santa Croce districts among others.
Where to Stay
There are literally dozens of hotels in Florence on top of other options such as pensions, apartments, bed and breakfast, and hostels. You can even rent a room inside a convent.
The compact Duomo district, which gives easy access to the cathedral itself, Uffizi, and Ponte Vecchio, alone boasts 40 accommodation options with hotels ranging from two to four star.
Remember, though, that this is one of the most-visited cities in the world and availability will often be at a premium: booking in advance is advised. Many visitors choose to base themselves in the countryside outside Florence to experience the best of both worlds – and a little less damage to the wallet.
Superb leatherwork is just one of the artisan trades that make shopping in Florence special. Others include fine jewellery, hand-made paper, book binding, wood and ironwork. You will find it all in the winding medieval streets on the south bank of the Arno across the Ponte Vecchio, itself a showcase of the goldsmith’s art.
Florence is a shopper’s paradise with everything from the highest of high end on the Via Tornabuoni (Gucci, Prada, Armani, Cartier among others) to high street brands such as Zara and H&M, to independent fashion and shoe boutiques, gift and souvenir shops. For cheap and cheerful, visit the San Lorenzo markets.
Florence Like a Local
If you plan on making the most of the multiple attractions in a short time, the official Florence Firenzecard gives you priority access to major museums, villas, churches and historical gardens. It is valid for 72 hours from time of purchase and costs 72 euros. The card also covers free city public transport and City of Florence Wi-Fi.
For the best free view of Florence, cross the Arno and climb up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. You won’t regret it.