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Florence, Italy

Florence (Italian: Firenze) is the capital of the region of Tuscany in Italy, with a population of about 366,500. The city is considered a cultural, artistic and architectural gem.

Climate & Weather

Florence's weather takes a chilly turn in January and February, deterring many visitors. A wave of foreign students doing study abroad hits the city in early January, but they soon get wrapped up in their studies. During this period, the air is brisk but clear, making it a favorite time for photographers to visit. The still winter air actually results in better photographs. In the evening, the city gleams romantically with thousands of strings of lights hung across every street in a festive canopy. Florence's rustic cuisine, with hearty soups and gamey roasts and pasta sauces, tastes most fitting in the chilly winter weather.

Spring comes very early to Florence, which is blessed -- or cursed, depending on the time of year -- by its river valley location. The Arno river valley remains humid throughout the year, trapping warm weather in the city. As early as late February and early March, Florentines are already sunbathing on their rooftop patios. For beautiful, clear-skied, mid-70-degree days, head to Florence in early April, before the heat and humidity start to kick in. Around this time, the city starts waking up from its winter slumber, and cafes and restaurants institute their summer hours.

Florence Museums - Florence, at the heart of the Italian Rennaisance, might seem like an open air museum to most visitors. The piazzas and buildings themselves are a testament of the history of architecture and of past eras. Florence's cathedral, churches and many palaces were designed, built and decorated by many of the most illustrious of artists of the time, from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo, and can be admired freely from the outside.

But in order to see another side of Florence, the side the contains most of its treasures, you need to go indoors and visit at least one or two museums while you are here. There you will find the paintings, sculptures and frescoes imagined and created by the greatest minds of all time.

Monuments, Palaces and Piazzas to see in Florence

Florence is considered by many to be an open-air museum. If you are interested in architecture, for example, you don't need to visit any museums: many of the palaces and squares are masterpieces of their own.
Designed by Michelozzo, Andrea di Cambio and Brunelleschi, among many others, many of the great palaces and piazzas in Florence are spectacular to behold. The main squares often display statues by Giambologna or Michelangelo. Ponte Vecchio, Old Bridge, is a treasure to admire.

Churches in Florence

Florence, like many Italian cities, is filled with churches. But as the cradle of the Renaissance, it was specifically for many of these churches and family chapels that magnificent works of art were commissioned of the greatest artists of all time. Therefore, in order to see many of these masterpieces it is necessary to visit at least a few churches.

We recommend you to:
  • Climb to the top of the cathedral's dome to enjoy an extraordinary view of Florence. Be prepared to climb lots of steps!
  • The Duomo, Florence's Cathedral - The famous cathedral dome dominates the skyline of Florence, with its eight white ribs against a background of terracotta tiles. Close up it is so huge as to be quite overwhelming.
  • Florence Baptistery - In Piazza del Duomo, Florence's religious center, stands the Baptistery of St. John. It is dedicated to Florence's patron and displays great Renaissance masterpieces such as the "Gates of Paradise" by Ghiberti and the "Beheading of St. John" by Vincenzo Danti.
  • The Medici Chapels - Mausoleum of the Medici family, the Medici Chapels are a monument to the family’s artistic patronage and grandeur in Florence.

Must things to do when in Florence

  • Walking along the Arno River is a wonderful way to spend time in Florence–try going down as far as you can in both directions to see the architecture and get away from the crowds.  There is a rowing club (“Canottieri Firenze” from 1888) right next to the Ponte Vecchio, so it’s common to see them rowing peacefully down the Arno.
  • Walk the Ponte Vecchio early in the morning or at dusk - This bridge does get packed with tourists, but it really is a special place that you should experience once. It is believed that it was originally built in Roman times, but the Ponte Vecchio that you see now was built in 1345.
  • It has always housed tiny shops, and now jewelry, especially gold, is sold behind beautiful old shop doors.
  • Climb Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) - You should save time to climb either the bell tower or the dome of the Duomo for views of the city, but the bell tower may be the better option because it’s less crowded, cheaper, and gives you a close-up view of the outside of the dome. However, if you are particularly interested in the way in which the dome was constructed, choose to climb it instead and see Brunelleschi’s method of spreading the weight out with a herringbone pattern of bricks.
  • Go to the Mercato Centrale - If you love food markets like I do, this is something you don’t want to miss. The Mercato Centrale is an excellent place to see beautiful local food, have a snack, buy picnic supplies, or buy gifts.
  • Eat gelato! - I know eating gelato should be automatic when in Italy, but you may find yourself so busy in Florence that you’ll forget to leave time for gelato breaks! Some of the best gelato can be found at Vivoli, Perché No!, Grom, and Festival. This cone with persimmon and chocolate orange was from Perché No!
  • Visit Santa Maria Novella - In my opinion, this is Florence’s prettiest church. The façade is a lovely example of Renaissance shapes (except for the Gothic influence of the very bottom, which was built first). Pay 3 euro and go inside, where painted arches and an airy feeling greet you. The church is full of great art–worth a long look are Masaccio’s Trinity fresco across from the entrance and the Tornabuoni chapel behind the altar, painted by Ghirlandaio’s workshop including teenage Michelangelo.
  • Drink cappuccino - Like gelato, cappuccino in Italy is an obvious choice, but a little reminder doesn’t hurt. When I studied in Florence many years ago, drinking cappuccino was such an important part of my day that I was crowned “Cappuccino Queen”! But the cappuccino in Italy is so good that even if you’re not normally a coffee drinker, you must give it a try. Remember that standing up at a café is cheaper than sitting down, and that Italians frown upon ordering cappuccino after about 11:00 a.m., when they usually switch to espresso.
  • Visit the Bargello National Museum - The Bargello is one of Florence’s best museums but is sometimes missed by tourists who are not aware of its collection or who miss it because it doesn’t exactly look like an important museum. The building dates from 1225 and used to be a prison. Inside you will be treated to a great collection of art, mostly notably sculpture by the best sculptors of the Renaissance, including of course Michelangelo and Donatello. Seeing sculpture in person is powerful, and these are ones not to be missed.
  • Peruse the food shops found on just about every small street
  • We all know about the quality of food in Tuscany, from its cheeses and salami to fresh produce and olive oil. Why not make a little time to visit some of the city’s tiny food shops and pick up some things to try? With shops this inviting, it’s hard not to stop.
  • Check out Florence’s door knockers - Seriously? Yes. The door knockers of Florence are impressive but are easily overlooked with everything else there is to gawk at. Try to find a favorite–you might be surprised how many cool door knockers (and doors) you see!

What and where to eat?

Florence's food can be as much of a treat to the palate as the art is a treat to the eye. There is good food for any price range, from fine restaurants to take out food from window stands. The best price/quality ratio you will find outside the historical center where normal Italians go to eat. The worst ratio is probably in the neighbourhood of Mercato di San Lorenzo where there are a lot of tourist restaurants, while many of the best restaurants in the city are found in the Santa Croce district. In some, requests for pizza may be met with a rebuff. For local pizza look for small shops near the Duomo.

There is also a uniquely Florentine fast food with a 1,000-year history - lampredotto, a kind of tripe (cow stomach, or calf for preference, but a different part than the more familiar white "honeycomb" kind, dark brown in color; the name comes from its wrinkled appearance, which apparently reminds locals of a lamprey fish). The trippaio set their carts in the public squares in the center, dishing out the delicacy straight from the cauldron in which it is being boiled with herbs and tomatoes, chopping it and slapping the portions between halves of a Tuscan roll; the top is dipped in the broth. A mild green parsley- or basil-based sauce or a hot red one goes with it.

There are many gelato (Italian ice cream) stands; some connoisseurs consider the better Florentine gelato the finest in the world. Often gelato is made in the bar where you buy it. Because of this there are many exotic flavors of ice cream like watermelon, spumante or garlic. It's hard to find a gelato place open very late, so after dinner might not be an option. Near the Duomo though, there are a few places open after 10PM.

Tuscany is also the wellspring of cantuccini, also called biscotti di Prato. It's traditional to enjoy them after a meal by dipping them in Vin Santo ("Holy Wine"), a concentrated wine made from late-harvested grapes, but you can also buy bags of them in stores throughout the city and eat them however you like.

What and where to buy?

Souvenirs related to art and Florence's sights can be found everywhere. Shops that are not located in the very centre of the city are significantly cheaper.

Books, leather goods, art handcrafted journals, frames, pencils etc. in that gorgeous Florentine paper with swirls of color and gold.

Better stores in/near the city center offer superb leathers at sometimes decent prices...perhaps after some bickering. Goldsmiths on the Ponte Vecchio display beautiful and quality work, but can be very expensive.

Some of the most uniquely Florentine shops and sights can be found in the Oltrarno, which is Florence's "left bank" and home to countless generations of artisans. This section of town can be found by crossing "Ponte Vecchio" (the old bridge) or Ponte Trinità from the center. This "undiscovered" Florence is a must-see:
  • Enoteca Mondovino. Decent wine and Liquor store with interesting collection of potable bitters in the back (Italian and German).  
  • Beaded Lily Beads & Designer Jewelry. An inspiring array of unique beading supplies, handmade designer jewelry, Italian Tubular Wire Mesh Ribbon, Italian chains, yarns and more. Now offering glass beadmaking and jewellery design courses.  
  • Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. An old pharmacy, which sells high-qualitiy beauty products like soaps, shaving cream, eau de Cologne.  
  • Pitti Vintage - Italian & European Vintage Clothing & Accessories. Fendi, Ferragamo, Gucci, Lancetti, Valentino. Specializes in Italian and European designer and one-of-a-kind vintage pieces.  
  • Cose Del 900 - Italian Glass Connection. Monday - Saturday 10:30AM-7:30PM. Since 1981 - Specializing in sized-to-order, affordable beaded jewelry featuring handmade Murano glass beads.
  • Brandy Melville. Brandy Melville is an original Italian brand, inspired by L.A. lifestyle. The clothes are fashionable, relaxed, and affordable. The fashion boutique has stores all over Europe and a few in the United States. Their clothing represents classic Italian fashion elements, combined with vintage details. Every piece is clothing is tagged with “Made in Italy” to stand for quality. Many young female locals and tourists are seen shopping in the small boutique. The employees also speak very good English.

Nightlife in Florence

Nightlife in Florence is fuelled by the city's well-heeled foreign students who come to study Italian and art history. Old World meets New World, as gangs of silver-tongued Romeos gather to admire leggy American blondes.

The city boasts flexible licensing hours - some pubs stay open until 01:00 or even 03:00. The most bohemian area is the Oltrarno, south of the river, Elsewhere, nightlife is concentrated around Piazza della Signoria, home of more sedate venues.

It seems that Florence could never lose her reputation as a city of culture. Visitors should keep an eye open for one-off recitations played in churches and piazzas around the city. The entertainment publication Firenze Spettacolo (www.firenzespettacolo.it) provides listings on entertainment in the city.

Check out these popular bars in Florence

  • Casa del Vino - This place is situated close to the central market and is a classic old-style enoteca (wine bar), all polished wood and tipples of Chianti.
  • La Dolce Vita - South of the river, long-time favourite La Dolce Vita retains its chic crown and is popular with students, who spill out onto the piazza.
  • Le Volpi and L' Uve - For a glimpse of an authentic Italian watering hole, wend your way to Le Volpi and L' Uve to sample some of the best wines the region has to offer. The owners, Riccardo and Emilio, can advise a plate of salami and cheese to accompany your choice of wine, and there's a pretty terrace.

Popular clubs in Florence

  • Central Park - On the outskirts of Florence in Parco delle Cascine is Florence's superclub, with different floors offering changing vibes, from electronica to disco, and two outdoor dancefloors. It mainly attracts Florence's gilded youth. Transport can be difficult for those without a car.
  • Meccano - This place is self-consciously stylish, and huge, with four indoor and outdoor dancefloors and six bars. The club regularly hosts theme nights too, so don't forget your fancy dress costume.
  • Girasol Latin Bar - Near the Fortezza is the red-hued Girasol Latin Bar, which has everything from Brazilian to Cuban beats.

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Map of Florence »

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Boboli Garden
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Cross the Ponte Vecchio to the Giardino di Boboli, a huge park on a hillside in the middle of Florence behind the Pitti Palace. Here you'll find beautiful gardens and fountains and a great view of Florence from the Forte Belvedere.
Bargello Museum
Bargello Museum
The Bargello, also known as the Bargello Palace or Palazzo del Popolo (Palace of the People) is a former barracks and prison, now an art museum, in Florence, Italy.
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