Florence Travel Guide
This little city, tucked amid the Tuscan hills, casts a long shadow through history. The wellspring of the Renaissance, Firenze (or Florence) sheltered the powerful Medici family and inspired artists like Michelangelo (David) and Brunelleschi (the Duomo). If it weren’t for the fashionable Italians and chic shops lining Via Tornabuoni, you might think you had traveled back in time to the 14th century. But Renaissance art is not the only reason to come: You ... continue»
- #1Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore)
- #2Piazzale Michelangelo
- #3Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi)
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The best time to visit Florence is between May and September when warm weather ushers in art festivals, open-air dining and the kind of Italian sunshine that inspired the Renaissance painters. Unfortunately it also brings sweltering weather, tourist swarms and high hotel rates. If you visit in late fall or winter, you'll enjoy lowered room rates and much shorter lines at the Uffizi. But the meteorological conditions won't be as hospitable, with temperatures dropping into the mid 30s Fahrenheit.Best Times to Visit Florence»
The city does not have any official district names besides the Oltrarno, which is located on the southern side of the River Arno. Instead, most Florentines refer to sections of the city by the main church in the area (i.e. Santa Croce, San Lorenzo). Doing this generally splits the city into five main regions, radiating from the Duomo. Unsurprisingly, the part around the Duomo is where you'll find the most tourists.
You'll probably spend a good chunk of time walking the narrow streets between the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, which are also lined with hotels of all price ranges and a host of mediocre restaurants. There, you'll find the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi), which sits by the famed Piazza della Signoria. Since the Uffizi Gallery is one of the most popular attractions in Florence, the lines to get inside are always long. For a small fee, we highly recommend you make a reservation to avoid long waits.
The focal point of the area, the Duomo, is one of the most famous sights in all of Italy. Officially called the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral), the huge basilica features one of the most impressive architectural feats of its time: Filippo Brunelleschi's dome (cupola). You can enter the church for free and for a small fee, you can climb to the top and get an incredible bird's-eye view of the city below.
The Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno River and connects the two sides of Florence. Originally built in 1345, it still follows the very old tradition of containing shops. Since the 1590's, it has been home to goldsmiths and jewelers exclusively.
- The streets north of the Duomo are long and often traffic-ridden, but those to the south make up a wonderful medieval tangle of alleys and tiny squares heading toward Piazza della Signoria." -- Frommer's
Located about a half mile southeast of the Duomo is the Basilica di Santa Croce, the final resting place for some of the Italy's most famous people, including Michelangelo and Galileo. The art inside Santa Croce is one of the most impressive in a Florentine church; with intricately designed wall frescoes by Giotto (look closely, as they've faded with time and poor preservation efforts). More pieces can be seen in the museum, the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce, located right outside the church. One fee will get you into both the church and the museum.
The piazza, also called Santa Croce, is located right outside and offers some of the best-liked restaurants in the city, plus writers say it's much quieter than the piazza around the Duomo.
San Lorenzo and San Marco
The areas of San Lorenzo and San Marco are located directly north of the Duomo. Filippo Brunelleschi, the man responsible for the cupola of the Duomo, also designed the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the burial place for much of the powerful Italian family, the Medicis. The chapel, in which they're buried, is the most lavish part of the church. Inside you'll also find several pieces by Renaissance master, Donatello. Just north of the church is the Mercato Centrale, a giant indoor/outdoor food market, where you can buy meats, cheeses and vegetables. Stop by for a quick and fresh lunch.
Located between San Lorenzo and San Marco is the Galleria dell'Accademia, home to Michelangelo's David. The sculpture is the most interesting part of the museum, which also features Florentine paintings dating back to the 1200s. Like the Uffizi Gallery, you can make a reservation to visit for a nominal fee ahead of time; that way, you'll avoid the winding lines.
The Basilica di San Marco features a crucifix, the oldest piece in the church, which dates back to the 14th century. The nearby convent-turned-museum, the Museum of San Marco (Museo Nazionale di San Marco) is most known for having pieces by the Dominican friar Fra Angelico.
- The streets around the Mercato Centrale and San Lorenzo are filled with proprietors hawking … wallets, purses, jackets, and other leather products galore. All the stall keepers promise 'the lowest prices in Florence.' That so-called lowest price is usually far from it, and the best part of shopping here is using every bargaining trick in the book to drive the 'lowest price' even lower." -- Frommer's
In the northwestern part of the city is the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. The church features "The Holy Trinity," one of Masaccio's best paintings, which is admired for its innovative use of perspective and proportion.
The Palazzo Strozzi is also nearby. Created by the prominent Strozzi family, the palace's exterior is large, looming and impressive and essentially screams wealth. In stark contrast, the interior, which is free to see, is filled with more elegantly understated with columns and arches.
Southeast of the train station is Via de' Tornabuoni, a shopaholic haven known for the high-end boutiques like Ferragamo and Valentino.
Most Florentines live in the quieter Oltrarno area, the general name for the part of the city south of the Arno River. The main church here is called the Basilica di Santo Spirito (Basilica of the Holy Spirit), located in a piazza of the same name. The church was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (who also designed the Duomo's cupola) and was an architecturally innovative, featuring arcades on the inside, surrounded by the walls, rather than the reverse. The surrounding piazza is home to many local craftsmen and their shops and has a calmer charm than places north of the river.
If you choose to get to the Oltrarno by crossing the Ponte Vecchio, you'll most likely run into the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) perched on the top of a hill a few minutes from the famous bridge. Writers say that the gardens, which have been around since 1549, could use a little more care. However, the amazing views of the city from the top are well worth the small admission fee. To the east of the gardens, the famous Piazzale Michelangelo square offers some of the best views of the city and surrounding countryside.
While in Florence, your greatest safety concern will be pickpockets. The Santa Maria Novella train station tends to see a lot of pickpocket action, as do the city's buses. Exercising caution and keeping an eye on your purse or wallet will help keep pickpockets at bay.
Ever heard of Stendhal syndrome? Wikitravel says it's a "dizziness caused by being overwhelmed by Florence's fantastic art. Yes, it's a real syndrome, named after 19th-century French author Stendhal, who suffered from it during his stay in Florence. If you get overwhelmed, rest your eyes and legs, get some food (remember gelato?), and save the rest of Florence for tomorrow."
The best way to get around Florence is by foot. In fact, you can walk from one end of the city to the other in about 30 minutes, passing many recognizable sites along the way. Hopping aboard an ATAF bus is another option. To get into the city, many travelers fly into Galileo Galilei Airport (PSA) in Pisa, making a pit stop at its Leaning Tower before taking the train into the main station, Stazione di Firenze Santa Maria Novella. You can also fly into the small Amerigo Vespucci Airport (FLR) in Florence and take a bus or taxi to the city center. Renting a car is not recommended because 1) skinny, one-way streets make driving a hassle 2) many areas are relegated pedestrians or authorized traffic only.Getting Around Florence»