Florence is the capital of Tuscany and boasts some of the best architecture, art, countryside, food and wine in the whole of Italy. There are many many things to see and do during your visit and here at Florencexplorer we hope to help advise you on what’s worth seeing and so avoid what’s not worth getting out of bed for!
Florence is, to put it simply, mesmerising. It is the cradle of the Renaissance, home to the crucial cultural movement that acted as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. This period involved the development of numerous intellectual pursuits, social and political change and in particular wondrous artistic developments and works of spellbinding art. As a result, Florence now offers much to the inquisitive traveller. A good four or five days is recommended do justice to this fantastic and thoroughly captivating city.
One of the most popular images of the city is not entirely manmade but involved some help from Mother Nature - the Arno River. Weaving through Florence it passes the wholly manmade creations of the Ponte Vecchio and the Santa Trinitá bridge. The river is an integral part of the city’s character and classical image. It provides the ideal route for a leisurely stroll with various interesting sights. Many more old bridges once crossed the Arno but the Ponte Vechio is the only one which survived bombing during the Second World War and so is the oldest in the city. This charming bridge has been decorated with jeweller’s shops since the 14th century one of he best known and most beautiful landmarks of Renaissance Florence.
The Ponte Santa Trinitá is one bridge which didn’t escape Nazi bombing but, thankfully, like many others, it was rebuilt. It is one of the most beautiful bridges in Italy and arguably the most elegant in Europe. The bridge unites Piazza Santa Trinitá and Piazza de’ Frescobaldi displaying two important Florentine palazzos at either end: Palazzo Spini Feroni and Palazzo della Missione.
The best known site in Florence is undoubtedly its cathedral, Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore known as the cathedral - Il Duomo. The majestic dome was built by Brunelleschi and is the largest brick and mortar dome in the world. Work on the cathedral began in 1296 with the dome completed in 1436. Its Gothic style and polychrome exterior of white, green and pink marble is quite unique. The cathedral complex consists of the octagonal Romanesque Baptistry and the graceful free standing Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) which all form part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing the historic centre.
Florence holds claim to one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. The Palazzo degli Uffizi was built during the latter half of the 16th century by Vasari at the request of Cosimo I de’ Medici. The Medici family’s private collection is housed here and has been entrusted to the city of Florence on condition that it never leaves the city! The collection is certainly not the largest in the world but vaunts an extremely high concentration of quality. It consists of the world’s single greatest collection of Italian and, in particular, Florentine art. Work by the following artists can be viewed in the gallery: Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Raphael, Piero de Cosimo, Rembrandt, Dürer and Titian.
The Palazzo degli Uffizi is located by the important Piazza della Signoría which was the central political hub and focal point of Florence and is a large square with various monuments and fascinating buildings. The Palazzo Vecchio is another important building and was built between 1298 and 1314. It was the official seat of Florentine government and became the palace of Cosimo I de’ Medici in the mid-16th century. With its 94m high Torre d’Arnolfo (Arnolfo Tower) it is as much a symbol of Florence as Brunelleschi’s cathedral. At the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio is a copy of Michelangelo’s marble Renaissance masterpiece David. The original is actually kept at the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts. This splendid open-air museum offers other eye-catching statutes in including: “The Fountain of Neptune” by Bartolomeo Ammannati, “Judith and Holofernes” by Donatello, “The Rape of the Sabine Women” by Giambologna and “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” by Cellini.
Piazzale Michelangelo offers fantastic views out over Florence. The square is located in the Oltrarno area of the city, literally ‘Beyond the Arno’. This area includes the part of the city south of the river and offers a priceless panorama view out over the city which has been reproduced in numerous Florentine postcards. This panorama includes the bridges of Florence, the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio.
Also on the south of the Arno and not far from the Ponte Vecchio is the Pitti Palace, a vast Renaissance palace and is somewhat a kind of treasure house with a great collection of paintings, plates, jewellery and various luxurious items.
The captivating city of Florence lies in a beautiful Tuscan valley on the banks of the River Arno among the rolling low-lying hills covered in olive groves and vineyards. This picturesque scenery offers endless delight and serenity. If you plan on staying in Florence for a week you should definitely consider making a trip into the Tuscan heartland and soaking up the awe-inspiring beauty.
The opulent Medici Villas are found between Florence and Sesto Fiorentino just northwest of the city centre. The wealthy Medici family built these exuberant palaces during the 15th and 16th centuries when their power and prosperity grew and when Florence was the capital of Italy Villa La Petraia it became the home to the ruling Savoia royal family. Enclosed just within the city’s suburbs they are easily reached from Stazione di Santa Maria Novella in the centre of Florence. Villa Medicea La Petraia is 3.5km from the city and is a former castle featuring a resplendent garden.
Slightly further out (about 8km) but still close to Florence is the north-eastern town of Fiesole which managed to attract the likes of Marcel Proust, Boccaccio and Carducci. Come see the olive groves and valleys that lured them. It was once an important Etruscan city and Roman remains have been found in the enormous archaeological area. The town has an interesting cathedral and there are some wonderful short walks and sites for a picnic.
If time permits and you find yourself becoming increasingly endeared by the pleasant Tuscan countryside and the traditional villages surrounding Florence you may be interested in visiting the Mugello region touching the Emilia-Romania border in the north-east of Tuscany. The famous Medici family originated from this region and thus the area is sprinkled with family castles, palaces and villas, many of which can be visited with or without a guide. Wine connoisseurs should take the strada del vino (wine road) tour. The wineries tour is interesting for non-wine drinkers and wine enthusiasts alike and takes you through the famous areas producing Chianti Rufino and Colli Fiortentini.
Florence is not unlike most important European cultural capitals in that there are various festivals celebrated throughout the year. The following events are well worth attending if they coincide with your sojourn in Florence.
Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart), Easter Sunday March/April. This colourful procession is one of the biggest festivals in Florence and culminates in a spectacular firework display in front of the cathedral.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (May Music Festival). This is the major music festival in Florence and showcases all types of music but with more emphasis on orchestra, chorus and ballet.
Festa di San Giovanni (St John’s Day), 24th June. The city celebrates its patron saint with a host of events. St John’s Day involves a ceremonial procession from Palazzo Vecchio and a enormous firework display over Piazzale Michelangelo.
The country’s other national obsession, football, is also celebrated on the 24th of June. The lively Calcio Storico (Historical Football) event involves the commemoration of the national sport with medieval football matches in medieval dress played out over Piazzale Michelangelo.
Festa delle Riflicone (Festival of the Paper Laterns), 7th September. This is a torchlight procession involving drummers, flag-throwers (sbandieratori) and musicians that dates back to the days of religious pilgrimage.
Firenze Marathon (Florence Marathon) - fourth Sunday in November. The more active visitors to Florence might be interested in the annual city marathon from Piazzale Michelangelo to Piazza San Croce.
Oleovagando (Olive Oil Festival), November to early December. A month long sequence of event in and around Florence celebrating the new olive season promoting the regions gastronomical wealth with exquisite dinners, stands, shows, tours and tasting events.
Things for Kids
Pop into the local tourist office for information on things to do for kids. They often provide details and promotional material about day-care services and special activities for kids. With so much to see in Florence it really can get overwhelming. With kids it’s important not to overdo the museums and maybe explore the city walls or beautiful gardens. The numerous gelaterias are guaranteed to please the most demanding kids with lots of delicious flavours to choose from. There is a little playground around 7 minutes walk east of the cathedral. A large public park called Parco delle Cascine is 15 minutes west of the main train station, Stazione Santa Maria Novella. The indoor Mercato Centrale (Central Market) is full of intriguing stalls selling fruit, vegetables, cheese, nuts and lots and lots of weird types of pasta! You could even go for a picnic afterwards.