Florence is Tuscany’s busiest city, once which never ceases to amaze. In the words of Stendhal, it is a city of “subtle charm” that is not depleted by the importance of its most well-known treasures. It is the birthplace of some of modern history’s greatest poets and artists , and continues to attract visitors from all of the world with its beautiful panoramas and its exquisite wines and cuisine.
Florence’s temperate climate makes spring and autumn the best seasons to visit the city.
Ancient Florentia is an outdoor encyclopedia of history, architecture, painting, sculpture and literature. It is here that the “supreme poet,” Dante Alighieri, was born in 1265, to whom the city is indissolubly tied. The basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (better known as the Duomo) dates back to the end of the 13th Century, with renovation taking place during various periods. Located nearby is the church in which Dante first caught sight of Beatrice and, walking down the alleys, one can image the intense life once lead by the city’s busy silk and wool dealers.
The Gothic bell tower is a brilliant creation by Giotto which embellishes the profile of the Duomo, imagined and created by Filippo Brunelleschi, among others, who designed the building’s cupola. In front of the Duomo is the octagonal Baptistery (whose façade is a Carrara white and Prato green, marble intarsia masterpiece) with its famous bronze Renaissance door defined by Michelangelo as “the door to paradise”.
Piazza Duomo is connected by Via dei Calzaiuoli to Piazza della Signoria, the centre of political power and urban life since the period of the medieval city-republics and location of the copy of the majestic figure of David by Michelangelo, the original of which is in the Accademia museum. For centuries, this marvellous statue has been facing the Loggia della Signoria, a true outdoor art gallery, and Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s main monument of urban architecture in addition to being one of Italy’s most important medieval public buildings. This is also the location of the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery, home to a large portion of Italian and foreign artistic heritage, including Botticelli’s Primavera and Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi.
Nearby are the Arno River and, stretching across it, the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge was designed by Vasari to connected the buildings on the right bank with Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river, and was used by the Medici family as a reserved and protected route to reach their residence.
Palazzo Pitti is the city’s most monumental building and is home to the Palatina Gallery (with works of art by Giorgione, Raffaello and Tintoretto). Behind Palazzo Pitti are the Boboli gardens, a classic Italian garden, decorated by statutes and fountains and a true outdoor museum in which it is easy to imagine the magnificence of life at court amid grottos, water jets and rare plant species.
During the years in which Dante “invented” the Italian language, Giotto revolutionised painting by introducing perspective, visible in the famous suspended Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella – a Gothic masterpiece built by Dominican architects and home to the extraordinary fresco by Masaccio.
The Peruzzi and Bardi chapels in the Santa Croce church, one of the most renowned in the city, preserve other important frescoes by this artist. The celebrated David by Donatello and the bust of Bruto by Michelangelo are just a short distance away in the Bargello National Sculpture Museum.
Visitors should put on a romantic “paglia” (straw hat) and go for a stroll down the cobbled lanes of the hills surrounding the city to enjoy a sunset over the Arno, a popular sight with 18th-century English tourists. Florence is also a center of Italian style: a stop in Piazza della Repubblica for an espresso in one of its characteristic cafés, followed by shopping in the elegant stores of Via della Vigna Nuova and Via Vacchereggia, is an absolute must.
In addition, the Ponte Vecchio is exclusive home to goldsmiths and silversmiths, and further along Via Calimaia is the area of the Mercato Nuovo, where all sorts of artisan items can be found, from souvenirs to ethnic products.
Not far away is the Porcellino”fountain, a bronze wild boar fondly referred to by Florentines as the “little pig,” and at whose feet traditionally a coin is thrown and a wish is made. If you are looking for other items typical of Florentine craftsmanship such as silver, dressed stones, straw and inlaid wood, take a stroll down the medieval streets along the Lungarno between the Grazie and Carraia bridges.
Many worthwhile, charming destinations can be easily reached from Florence, such as Fiesole and its sweeping views, Badia and its archaeological site, Castello and the Medici villa (inside the Accademia della Crusca) and Villa della Pietraia. To the left of the Arno River, in the Fiesole hills, is Viale dei Colli, which climbs to the top of the hill and offers visitors a marvellous panorama.
The best spot in the city to enjoy the view is Piazzale Michelangelo, embellished with bronze statues; we recommend going at sunset after the souvenir stands have closed to admire the Arno River changing colours. Or mingle with the Florentines enjoying a stroll along the large boulevards of Cascine Park, or in the Albereta and Villa Favard parks. Here, surrounded by the scent of Linden trees, visitors can follow the guided gym courses and relax in tranquil surroundings.
Useful Information and Advice
Cars are prohibited in Florence’s downtown area. Going for a stroll is enjoyable and all the city’s main attractions can be reached by a short walk. Cars can be left in the area’s numerous car parks located between the Viali della Circonvallazione and the beginning of the Limited Traffic Area.
The auspicious “scoppio del carro” (explosion of the cart) takes place on Easter Sunday in the Piazza Duomo to commemorate the deeds of captain Pazzino dei Pazzi.