Florence Travel GuideEdit This The best resource for sights, hotels, restaurants, bars, what to do and see
Florence is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, as well as the world. Located in the heart of Tuscany, this is the Italy of stunning views, fields of sunflowers, miles of vineyards, rolling hills, and mountaintop castles. It is famous for flavor rich Florence restaurants and it is the Renaissance capital of the world -- its celebrated sons are Leonardo DaVinci, Dante Alighieri, Machiavelli, Fra Angelico, and Michelangelo. It is a destination filled with fascinating Florence activities that should not be missed. Dominating the Florence skyline is the number one attraction listed in just about every top Florence travel guide in circulation today -- the world famous Duomo (Cathedral Church) with the Brunelleschi cupola, as well as Giotto's Bell Tower and the bronze sculpted doors of the marble-clad Baptistry. The side streets of the historic town centre are often narrow and dark, with bustling sidewalks and intimidating crowds and traffic.
But the place to start touring once you've left your first-rate Florence hotel for the day is the piazza, the square -- that wonderful Mediterranean oasis where you can spend hours sitting down, enjoying an espresso, and just people-watching. You'll likely start at the square in front of the train station and across from the bus station -- the places you arrive by airport bus or by train. Santa Maria Novella Church, run by the Dominicans, faces the square. To enter you'll have to go around the block walking beside the church to another, yes, square! It's Unità d'Italia Square. (Coffee and sweet shops are there.) You'll want to see inside the Church (admission charged). Gothic and Renaissance frescoes as well as Fra Lippi-designed stain glass windows are a feast for the eyes.
If you head back toward the square in front of the train station and bear right along the large street (Via Panzani), you're on your way to the square at the Duomo. Small storefront Florence restaurants beckon. But check the menu to be sure you haven't struck upon a pricey bistro! A short walk, 10 to 15 minutes, will bring you along side the Duomo. The Baptistry is the building in front of the Cathedral. There are no lines -- just walk up and look. Then turn around and look up at the church facade and bell tower. The entrance line forms along the cathedral steps. The square is filled with shops, and further along the side streets are women's fashion stores. If you walk to the left of the Baptistry across the square you'll come to a small mall area along with more Florence restaurants and coffee bars.
Among the other things you can't afford to miss are the Uffizi galleries, one of the best art museums in the world (tickets required), the Santo Spirito church, and the Old Bridge (Ponte Vecchio) with its must see shopping area -- another favorite Florence activity. The Academia with the original David is also not to be missed. To get a great overview of the city, head for Piazza Michelangelo in Oltrarno section of town (other side of River Arno) or farther up to the church of San Miniato.
Lovers of art will want to visit the hillside town of Fiesole, just outside Florence (you can go by bus, 20 minutes from the central bus station mentioned above). Besides the Roman ruins, the Church of St. Dominic features the stunning frescoes of Fra Angelico.
The surrounding areas of Florence have many things to offer to the visitor. You can explore this region for weeks -- even months, without getting bored. For this, Florence is the perfect starting point for day trips. Travel agents can book just about any Florence day trip for you. (Tip: An agency is on the far side of the Duomo Square.) One excellent day trip of note is that to Siena and San Gimignano.
Top Ten Things to Do in Florence
Duomo (Cathedral) – You can’t miss Duomo, even if you tried – the giant dome dominates the Florence skyline. Highlights include: Uccello’s mural to a 14th-century Captain, Brunelleschi’s dome (of course), and the remains of Santa Reparata. Piazza del Duomo, 17, +39 055 215380. http://www.duomofirenze.it
Giardino di Boboli (Bobili Gardens) – Although Boboli is an excellent place to “relax” after a full day of Florence activities, there is still much to see here -- so pace yourself. Highlights include: a sculpture gallery called La Grotta Grande, the Isolotto (island), Limonaia (1785 gardening shed), and Bacchus Fountain. Piazza Pitti, 1, Ph: +39 055 2388786. http://www.firenzemusei.it/00_english/boboli/index.html
Carpe Diem – This fine Italian restaurant serving up innovative cuisine features a spectacular terrace overlooking the city of Florence. It is one of the most popular restaurants in Florence during the hot summer months so get here early for lunch or dinner to avoid long waits. Via Giuseppe Mantellini 2b, Fiesole, +39 055 599595. Closed Monday
Galleria dell’Accademia (Academy Gallery) – Plan to spend at least half of the day at Galleria dell’Accademia, which features sculptures by Michelangelo: the Prisoners, the St. Matthew, and the statue of David. Via Ricasoli 58-60, 50122 Firenze, Ph: +39 055 2388609. http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/accademia
Museo di Storia della Scienza (Institute and Museum of the History of Science) – Located in the 14th-century Palazzo Castellani, Museo di Storia della Scienza features several floors of galleries and the library of the Instituto di Storia della Scienza. Piazza dei Guidici, 1, Ph: +39 055 265311, 24 hour info. +39 055 293493. http://www.imss.fi.it
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) – Built in 1457, Palazzo Pitti consists of four museums and an art collection that is considered one of the best collections in the world. Located in the Galleria Palatina, Renaissance and baroque works of art from the Medici collection can be found including masterpieces by Van Dyck (Henrietta Maria, Charles I), Titian (Portrait of a Gentleman, Mary Magdalene), and Raphael (Madonna of the Chair). Piazza Pitti, +39 055 2388611. http://www.palazzopitti.it
Capella Brancacci (Brancacci Chapel) – This small chapel houses some of the most fascinating frescoes in Florence. Highlights include: Masaccio’s Tribute Money, Filippino Lippi’s St. Paul visits St. Peter in Prison, Masaccio’s Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, and St. Peter Heals the Sick (Masaccio). Capella Brancacci is located at Santa Maria del Carmine, Piazza del Carmine, ph: +39 055 2382195.
San Minato al Monte (St. Minias of the Mountain) – Located in walking distance from Central Florence is San Minato al Monte and an uphill climb you’ll never forget! High on a hill above Florence highlights such as the Cardinal of Portugal Chapel and Cappella del Crocifisso can be explored as well as beautiful architecture and design such as a marble façade, mosaics, an inlaid floor, and a wooden ceiling. San Minato al Monte is located off Viale Galileo Galilei and it’s free! +39 055 2342768.
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) – This unique bridge is like no other. Ponte Vecchio (972 A.D.), the oldest of Florence’s six bridges, is more like a street than a bridge as it “houses” a wide variety of interesting shops that seem to hang right over Arno River. The shops have been a part of this bridge since the 12th century. Sights and highlights include: beautiful views of the Arno River (several panoramic terraces), the Bust of Cellini, an assortment of gold and jewelry shops, and Corridoio Vasariano. Ponte Vecchio is free to explore 24/7/365 and it is in the pedestrian zone.
Campanile (Bell Tower) – The Bell Tower of the Duomo (1334-1359) reaches 279 feet into the sky and it is just under 20 feet lower than the Duomo. The 414 steps leading to the top of Campanile are difficult to climb, but well worth the effort. The views from the top are absolutely amazing. Reliefs by Pisano and della Robbia are an attraction here as well. Piazza del Duomo, +39 055 271071.