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Florence is the archetypal Italian city: stunning, vibrant and a piece of living history. The image of the historical centre has barely changed for the last few hundred years, and at every turn you will be confronted with glorious architecture reminiscent of Florence’s golden era: the Renaissance. Once home to history’s most famous artists including Michelangelo and Botticelli, the city now houses some of the world’s premier art collections, some of which are must-sees. But relaxing time can be just as cultural: beautiful cafes and restaurants line Florence’s lovely piazzas, many of which date back hundreds of years, something to reflect upon as you sip your espresso.
Our top five sights
Florence’s neo-Gothic, incredibly intricate Duomo is breathtaking, and a walk up to the cupola affords amazing views over the city. For a view that includes the cathedral’s dome, climb the adjacent bell tower instead.
If you go to one art gallery in Florence, make it this one. Meander through the galleries until you find yourself in front of Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, but don’t forget to admire the building itself, originally intended for grand government offices.
Standing proud above the River Arno, the medieval Ponte Vecchio houses expensive jewellery and crafts shops, and is a lovely spot to look out over the water and the city by night.
Famous all over the world purely due to its permanent exhibition of Michelangelo’s David, the Accademia is nevertheless also home to much beautiful sculpture for browsing in addition to its star piece.
Giardino di Boboli
Once owned and designed by the famous Medici family, the Boboli gardens are lovely for wandering through tree-lined grassy avenues, picnicking among sculptures and relaxing in grottoes.
Our top five activities
Shopping in the leather markets
Leather has been one of Florence’s most famous products since the Middle Ages, and while not cheap, browsing the leather markets can yield good deals and great quality.
To get a feel for Italian wines from the surrounding Tuscan region, join a wine-tasting tour to nearby vineyards. Try Italy and Wine for a choice of groups and private tours.
Florence is well known for its many excellent outdoor pools, and taking a dip, especially in summer, is very refreshing. Try the Piscina Paolo Costoli.
Italy is world-famous for its excellent cuisine, and Florence is no exception. If you fancy finding out how it’s done, book yourself the Giglio Cooking Day Course.
If you’re looking for something extra, Florence is in easy reach of many other beautiful locations in Italy, such as Pisa, Siena, Fiesole and Cinque Terra, accessible by train, bus or tour.
Our top five events
It wouldn’t be an Italian city without an annual carnival in February, and Florence’s involves a huge procession with an enormous puppet dragon, musicians, and participants in costume and on horseback celebrating diverse world cultures.
April: Scoppio del Carro
Held on Easter Sunday, the “Explosion of the Cart” festival sees the Piazza del Duomo putting on a mighty fireworks display from an ox-drawn cart.
May: Ascension Day
Each May, Ascension Day is celebrated by the Festa del Grillo (festival of the cricket) held in Cascine Park. Here you can buy crickets to set free as part of the celebrations.
June: Feast of St John the Baptist
Every June, a celebration in honour of Florence’s patron saint occurs, with fireworks, a parade and a football match in 16th-century costume held in the Piazza Santa Croce.
September: Festa delle Rificolona
Held annually in early September, this festival of Chinese lanterns sees a procession near and over the Ponte San Niccolo illuminated by a blaze of lights.
Shopping in Florence ranges from top Italian designer stores on the Via dei Tornabuoni to individual crafts shops such as those within the leather markets in San Lorenzo. You’ll also find flea markets within the city such as the daily one in Piazza dei Ciompi or the Tuesday morning affair in Cascine Park, and major outlets on the outskirts around Florence such as Lo Spaccio or The Mall, both of which are popular day trips for Florentines. For something a bit more unique, Florentine mosaic work is excellent, and you’ll find it for sale in Piazza Santa Croce. For jewellery, window-shop on the Ponte Vecchio but head for the surrounding streets for actual purchasing.
Food & Drink
Tuscan food is hearty, filling, lashed with olive oil and always accompanied by bread, which is unsalted and never eaten with butter. Florence is filled with cafés, bars, ristorantes and trattorias, from which you can get everything from a snack to a full-blown five-course meal. Among the more delicious local specialities are prosciutto con fiche (prosciutto with figs) for antipasti or for a main the famous bistecca alla fiorentina (char-grilled T-bone steak, crispy outside and rare inside, and drizzled with olive oil). Don’t forget to wash it down with Chianti. For a luxury dining experience, splash out at Enoteca Pinchiori (Via Ghibellina 87, 055 242 777).
Don’t miss aperitivo, the Italian happy hour in which you buy an above-the-odds drink and then get to help yourself to a buffet. Post dinner, sitting outside in a piazza bar is lovely; try Volume (Piazza Santo Spirito 5, 055 2381 460) or Ambrosia (Piazza Ambrosia). For something a little quieter but still beautiful, you’ll find many cafés and bars to grab a drink at in the hills surrounding the city such as at Piazzale Michelangelo. For live music, Florence’s jazz scene explodes between June and September with free shows at the Piazza della SS Anuncia, and summer alfresco concerts are put on in the Boboli Gardens. Opera season, from December to April, is held at the Teatro Comunale (Corso Italia 16, 055 27791).
Accommodation in Florence
The historical centre is a lovely area to stay in and gives you perfect access to all the main city sights, but can get extremely expensive, especially in high season. If you are looking to splash out, try the beautiful and historic Hotel Brunelleschi (Piazza Santa Elizabetta 3, 055 273 70) which overlooks the Duomo. If you’re happy to get away from the crowds, try the Hotel Relais II Cestello (9 Piazza di Cestello 9, 055 280 632) on the Oltrarno side of the River Arno which is good for those on a more modest budget.
Florence Airport, otherwise known as Peratola Airport, is only 5km northwest of Florence itself, and has excellent transport links with the city. There is a designated airport bus, ‘Vola in Bus’, or a taxi rank available, both means of transport taking only 15 minutes to get into the centre.
Florence Airport Information
CityJet Flight Routes
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