Florence, capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, is home to many masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture. One of its most iconic sights is the Duomo, a cathedral with a terracotta-tiled dome engineered by Brunelleschi and a bell tower by Giotto. The Galleria dell’Accademia displays Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture. The Uffizi Gallery exhibits Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and da Vinci’s “Annunciation.”
Handsome, historic, full of quirky shops and quality crafts, and close to the vine-covered hills of Chianti, it’s one of Europe’s most civilised long weekend destinations.
With a relatively compact historic centre that’s still big enough to allow tourist crowds to spread out a bit, Florence is a breeze to navigate.
Where to stay?
Hotel Croce Di Malta (Via Della Scala 7, Santa Maria Novella, 50123 Florence; +39 055 261870) is located just around the corner from Santa Maria Novella Church and the train station, Florence’s Hotel Croce di Malta is a former convent featuring a lovely inner garden with swimming pool. The rooftop terrace offers spectacular views over the city’s beautiful domes and bell towers.
The rooms offer air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, and a satellite flat-screen TV. Some rooms have 2 private bathrooms or offer views of the garden. The floors are carpeted or in terracotta tiles.
Where to eat?
Il Teatro del Sale (Via dei Macci, 111 r, Firenze; +39 055 2001492) has to be both the best deal and most original place to eat in Florence. It was created by flamboyant chef Fabio Picchi and his actress wife, Maria Cassi, and you pay €5 to join this artistic club, open from Tuesday to Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a live show at night. A tempting buffet is laid out, then the chef shouts out dishes from the window of his open kitchen and guests line up to be served wonderful creations like pasta with artichokes and red mullet, oven-roasted with herbs and olive oil. The meal spreads over 10 dishes, with wine and coffee included in the price. Dinner costs €10 extra, as the live entertainment is included in the price.
What to see?
Florence’s cathedral (Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze) stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, with the baptistery right across. The cathedral named in honour of Santa Maria del Fiore is a vast Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata, the remains of which can be seen in the crypt.
The exterior is covered in a decorative mix of pink, white and green marble. The interior, by contrast, is pretty stark and plain but quite enjoyable on warm summer days since the temperature inside tends to be cooler. The mosaic pavements are certainly its main attraction within.
The Cathedral entrance is free which is a bonus and a highlight is a trip down into the crypt to experience the ancient ruins.
The Uffizi Gallery (Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze; +39 055 23885) is one of the most important Italian museums, and the most visited, it is also one of the largest and best known in the world, and holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance.
After the ruling house of Medici died out, their art collections were gifted to the city of Florence under the famous Patto di famiglia negotiated by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress. The Uffizi is one of the first modern museums. The gallery had been open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century, and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public, formally becoming a museum in 1865.
The palatial corridors are adorned by beautiful artwork on the ceilings and off these corridors are some stunning rooms with paintings and statues giving a feeling of former opulence.
The Museum of Zoology and Natural History, best known as La Specola (Via Romana, 17, 50125 Firenze; +39 055 275 6444) is an eclectic natural history museum located next to the Pitti Palace. The name Specola means observatory, a reference to the astronomical observatory founded there in 1790. It now forms part of the Museo di Storia Naturale di Firenze. This museum is part of what are now six different collections at four different sites of the museum.
The interior spans 34 rooms and contains not only zoological subjects, such as a stuffed hippopotamus and a collection of anatomical waxes, an art developed in Florence in the 17th century for the purpose of teaching medicine. This collection is very famous worldwide for the incredible accuracy and realism of the details, copied from real corpses. Also in La Specola on display are scientific and medical instruments. Parts of the museum are decorated with frescoes and pietra dura representing some of the principal Italian scientific achievements from the Renaissance to the late 18th century.
Florence by bike, (Via San Zanobi 54R 50129 Firenze; 055480814-055488992) is the number 1 sales representative of Merida, Colnago, Haibike, Olympia, Wilier and other top brands.
Since 1997 Florence by bike has been offering a great selection of bike rentals. Their professional and friendly team are ready to assist you in all your bike needs!
They also provide a excellent repair shop with qualified mechanics, who offer the following services:
- Antropometric measurements
- Help in choosing the right frame size, components, and the right position on your bike
- Repairs, settings and customising on any kind of bike
Florence’s small but busy Amerigo Vespucci airport (00 39 055 306 1300; aeroporto.firenze.it), also known as Peretola, after its location, is only three miles north-west of the centre. With luggage, a taxi into the centre should cost around €25.
Most low-cost carriers use Pisa’s Galileo Galilei airport (00 39 050 849 300; pisa-airport.com), 62 miles west of Florence. It is connected to Florence via a bus service run by Autostradale (autostradale.it) up to 20 times per day (tickets €7.50 single, journey time 75 minutes). Frequent trains also run between Pisa Centrale station and Florence Santa Maria Novella (journey time an hour).
Florence’s main Firenze Santa Maria Novella station is very central: you should be able to walk to most centro storico hotels from here unless you have piles of luggage. For train times and fares, consult the Trenitalia website: trenitalia.com