The Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance
Returning for a 3rd time in my life to one of the most wonderful cities in the world: Florence. It was year 2001 with my school for a cultural trip through Italy where we would spend 3 days in Florence, then in 2009 as a quick day trip from London where I would return to both Pisa and Florence, and back at night to London; and now, a well deserved return with some more time to revisit this beautiful city. Flying to Pisa does always work well, and this occasion was no exception. It is the perfect base to visit numerous other cities and places around as are Cinque Terre, Siena, San Gimignano, and of course, Florence, barely an hour away by train. For sure it won’t be the last in any case, but for now, it will be good enough for creating a well deserve guide for it.
After Rome, this is the next most visited city in Italy and by far, one of the most emblematic, acclaimed and visited cities in the world; while once upon a time, the most important city in Europe for the course of over 250 years. It Ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and it’s inscribed as you could imagine, in the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its artistic, architectural and cultural heritage.
Florence is the birthplace of Opera, the Renaissance and neoclassical architecture. The cathedral’s Brunelleschi’s dome is the largest built in brick and mortar in the world, and third largest Christian church in the world. With so much rich history and the hundreds of sights it is guaranteed you will have a great time in the city. Plan at least two full days to enjoy the most, never a day trip unless you’ve already been here before. It is the fact that even a 2 full days will still be too short time if you consider on visiting the many museums and galleries, which some of them you cannot simply give a miss to be honest.
Navigating through the streets is easy and straightforward, and if I could make a suggestion here, let yourself go without a set route. It is easy to follow some basic orientation as it is with the Duomo Suquare, the Piazza della Signoria and the Ponte Vecchio, after all, the key masterpieces. Everything else is an open museum: squares full of art and statues, streets with grand mansions and palaces, and some of the finest museums in the world. Basically, too many, but as mentioned before if your plan is sightseeing without museums, then a day will be well enough to enjoy the entire city.
Like elsewhere in the region of Tuscany, well and the entire Italy anyway, food and drinks mean being in heaven. Their wines are worldwide known, but so is the delicious food. It’s never hard to think about pasta or pizza, they of course excel at it. Or great focaccia places. It is not difficult to find a good place either, with decent prices. But of course, it is not the same coming here during the low season months when prices for everything are lower than during high season, and the obvious rule of thumb check some places around to avoid tourist traps and being unnecessarily overcharged.
For more information about Florence check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Florence
- Galleria della Accademia Housing the world famous Michelangelo’s David and the unfinished Slaves. 16 Euros admission fee. Located to the north of the Duomo Square on Via Ricasoli.
- Convent of San Marco Built in 1436 with frescoes by Fra Angelico. Not far from Galleria della Accademia, on the north of the city.
- Cathedral/Duomo Square The key landmark in the city, one of the most visited sites in Italy.
-Santa Maria del Fiore Is the Cathedral, the Duomo di Firenze. The symbol of the city. Designed by Brunelleschi, the dome was an engineering masterpiece of the renaissance, the largest built in brick and mortar in the world. You can climb to the top of the Dome but beware there are 464 steps. Tickets cost 10 Euros for the dome, however the Cathedral is free to enter.
-Statue of Brunelleschi Located in the middle of the square with his figure looking upwards towards his dome.
-Giotto’s Tower On the side of the Duomo is the Bell Tower. For the best 360 degrees views of the city centre you should climb up (414 steps), tickets cost 6 Euros.
-Baptistery Where you can find in its interior the only medieval mosaics works in the city, from the 13th century. Also, the world famous bronze South Doors by Andrea Pisano from the 14th century and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise from the 15th century, the most pictured of them all. Tickets cost 4 Euros to get inside.
- Basilica of San Lorenzo Located few meters to the north west of Duomo Square. Contrasting the plain unfinished façade with a glorious Renaissance neo-classical interiors. Inside you will find the Medici family mausoleum, sacristy designed by Michelangelo sculptures. One of the largest churches in the city.
- Palazzo Medici Just north of Duomo Square on Via dei Martelli. One of the most beautiful Renaissance palaces in the city, built between 1444 and 1484 with its peculiar rusticated stone walls. The Magi Chapel inside is still intact from the 15th century, and the inner court a wonderful piece or architecture. The building reflects the accumulated wealth of the Medici family.
- Piazza della Repubblica Few meters south of Duomo Square halfway to Piazza della Signoria. Occupies the former site of the Roman Forum and then of the city’s old Jewish ghetto. The whole area was regenerated during the period when Florence was the capital of the reunited Italy. The main avenues were also defined as part of the plan.
-Arcone Designed in fine Florentine Renaissance style it marks the entrance to the square over Via degli Strozzi’s. Created in the 19th century as part of the enlargement and embellishment of the square.
-Historic Cafes Including Caffè Gilli, Caffè delle Giubbe Rosse, Cafe Gambrinus.
-Savoy Hotel One of the most luxurious hotels in the city, in eclectic style.
-Palazzo delle Poste The Central Post Office building, from 1917.
-Palazzo Strozzi Although not in this square but very near to the west of it; is an example of civil architecture with rusticated stone inspired by the Palazzo Medici and built in 1489.
- Piazza Santa Maria Novella Located to the west of Duomo Square.
-Santa Maria Novella Church Across the road from the main train station, it is the first great basilica in Florence. Construction started in 1279 and consecrated in 1420.
-Santa Maria Novella Train Station Dating from the 1930s it replaced a much more beautiful but smaller one. Not worth to visit at all, only mentioned here for being the principal transport hub in the city.
- Piazza della Signoria The landmark square of the city with magnificent buildings and art galleries surrounding every side. Many statues and sculptures adorn the space, being the “fake” David of Michelangelo the most famous, which is a copy on the same place the original once stood, now in the Galleria della Accademia.
-Palazzo della Signoria Also knows as Palazzo Vecchio, is the Town Hall with its distinctive Romanesque style and tower. Made even more famous after the remake of Hannibal movie had a set of scenes here. Inside the building there in an excellent collection of paintings and sculptures.
-Loggia dei Lanzi Built between 1376 and 1382 to house the assemblies of the people and hold public ceremonies.
-Fountain of Neptune Created by Bartolomeo Ammanati between 1563 and 1565. The water running to it comes from the underground Roman aqueduct still functioning.
-Galleria degli Uffizi Located at one of the corners of the Square in what is called Piazzale degli Uffizi, is one of the world’s finest art museums with a massive collections of Renaissance paintings and sculptures. Originally created by the Medici family’s artistic collections through the centuries. You can find among the thousands of works, The Birth of Venus and Primavera by Sandro Boticelli and the Venus of Urbino by Titian. 20 Euros admission fee.
- Piazza di Santa Croce Located to the east of Piazza della Signoria. Another of the city squares filled with historical buildings and the famous basilica.
-Santa Croce Basilica Very important to art lovers for containing the monumental tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, and many other artist; it is for this that receives the nickname of Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glories). Construction started in 1295 and completed in 1385. Don’t miss the Pazzi Chapel, great example of Renaissance architecture.
- Palazzo Spini Ferroni Located at piazza Santa Trinita on the north bank of the Arno river and to the west of Piazza della Signoria. Built in 1289, was the grandest private medieval house palace in the city, built for a rich cloth merchant and banker. In the 1930s, it was bought by shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo and since 1995 it houses the museum dedicated to Ferragamo.
- Ponte Vecchio Symbol of the city, is the oldest and most famous bridge over the Arno river. Famous for being lined with shops at each sides, mostly jewelers dating as back as the days of the Medici.
- Palazzo Pitti Located at the south bank of the river Arno across the Ponte Vecchio, it’s the former Medici family home palace, now an art gallery museum. From the gardens behind the palace, the Boboli, you will get a great view of the palace and the south of the city.
- Piazzale Michelangelo Located on a nearby hill on the south side of the city, you will get the best views of the entire city without any doubt. The perfect postcard picture is done from this spot. You can get to the top by using the stairs which start at the front of the National Library.
- Great Synagogue Built between 1874 and 1882 with it’s beautifully decorated dome with Moorish style motifs. Located to the east of the city, perhaps the farthest of the sights.
The city’s Amerigo Vespucci International Airport is not far from the city, merely 15 to 20 minutes travel time to the city centre. The company “Vola in Bus” buses cover the route to the central station for 6 Euros per way with frequencies every 30 minutes. That’s without doubt the cheapest and most convenient way bearing in mind taxis are a fixed price of 20 Euros plus 1 per item of luggage. Still if you are 3 people a taxi would be more convenient since it will drop you off anywhere in the city centre.
Coming overland is the principal choice for the hordes of tourists visiting Florence. Basically, most of them are on a tour coming from other cities in Italy, and considering the many great ones in the nearby, it is easy to do so. Say for example Pisa, Siena, Cinque Terre, Genoa, Milan, Venice, Bologna, San Marino or Rome. Most of these cities have great high-speed railway connection, or conventional rail, plus many buses daily. From Florence it is also possible to reach cities in France as far as Paris, Switzerland and Germany by day and night trains, and buses across the European network.
The train or bus cost between Pisa and Florence is 8.40 Euros per way, with very high frequencies. Just show at the station and buy a ticket for the next train. No seat reservation, so it’s even simpler and straightforward. Just remember that on Sundays and bank holidays the frequencies gets a bit reduced.
Within the city, a tram line connects the train station with the west neighbourhoods of the city but it does not cover anywhere through the city centre. But in any case, you will not really need to take any public transportation at all. The historical centre is very compact with most of it being pedestrian, making it even easier to move around all the sights.
This is the second time I come here from Pisa where I was based, therefore I cannot really recommend any place. However I’m sure you will need to do a longer and deeper research for a reasonable priced hotel. Being one of the most visited cities in Italy you can expect the prices are higher than elsewhere, therefore do not expect to get a nice deal unless you are willing to invest more money on it. Be careful during high season months, it could set you up to staggering prices. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.