Florence Italy Travel Guide

Discover Renaissance Italy in Everyone's Favorite Tuscan City

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••• Florence, Italy. James Martin, Europe Travel

Florence is in the heart of Italy's Tuscany Region in western Italy along the Arno river. It is 172 miles north of Rome and 185 miles south of Milan. Florence is the capital of the region of Tuscany, and has a population of around 400,000 people, with around 200,000 more in suburban areas.

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When to Go

The narrow lanes of Renaissance Firenze are clogged with sweating tourists in July and August. Spring (April and May) or Autumn (September and October) are much better, although it's still tourist season. Tourists flock to Florence at Easter as well. November can be ok if you bring warm clothes and expect some rain.

Where to Stay in Florence

Most folks would rather stay in the historic center to marvel at Florence's Renaissance architecture. Italy Travel has recommendations for the Top Rated Hotels in the Historic Center of Florence. A stay in the hills outside of Florence is also rewarding. We enjoyed our stay at Villa Le Piazzole, where a short and pleasant downhill walk into Florence takes you right to the Ponte Vecchio.

Florence Top Attractions

  • Florence's Archaeological Museum - housed in a palace with great Egyptian and Etruscan collections. Via della Colonna, Admission less than 5 Euros.
  • Baptistry of John the Baptist - dates from the 11th century, with three sets of amazing bronze doors.
  • Il Duomo (Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore) - The Florentine Gothic duomo was begun in 1296 and consecrated in 1436. Brunelleschi's Dome is a masterpiece of construction and you can climb the 463 stairs for great views of Florence. Here's how to go about it. Piazza del Duomo. Entrance is free, but in summer you may have to wait in line to get in. Fees to see the excavations or go up into the cupola.
  • Uffizi Gallery - housed in a 1560 Medici palazzo, the recent renovations have meant that visitors don't have to wait outside and the galleries have expanded. There's a good view of Florence from the upper floors. Piazzale degli Uffizi 6, 8 Euros to enter. [Special note: If you're planning a trip to Florence between May and October, the Uffizi is the one attraction you should buy a ticket in advance for. Select Italy offers: Skip the Line: Uffizi Gallery Tickets (book direct).]
  • The Palazzo Vecchio or "Old Palace" is Florence's Romanesque town hall. A copy of Michelangelo's David attracts gawkers out front. This is another place where you'll want to book a tour in advance. Select Italy offers three very interesting tours: "the general Guided Tour offers an overview of the palace's most important rooms; the Secret Itineraries Tour opens doors that are usually closed to the public; and the Paint a Fresco Workshop teaches you how to make your very own fresco using techniques from the Middle Ages and Renaissance." See: Palazzo Vecchio Tours, Florence (book direct). A new tour of the Palazzo Vecchio lets you squeeze through narrow stairways and secret doors: Secret Itineraries Tour.
  • The Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. The palace encompasses several museums and holds paintings from some of Italy's most celebrated masters. The Renaissance gardens are a delight. Piazza Pitti, south of the Arno. Various entry fees.
  • Dante's House (Casa di Dante) - ok, it's a little offbeat, but I liked the medieval section of the city and visiting a house of the famous Dante. Via S. Margherita, 1, 3 Euros, closed Tuesday.
  • The Ponte Vecchio - The Old Bridge looks from the outside as if it were still crowded with the crammed blacksmith and butcher shops of the medieval period, but it's all glittery gold and tourist baubles today. Spared from bombing in WWII, it used to be built of wood but a rebuild in the 1300's made it mostly stone. Free, unless you run afoul of a jewelry or porcelain statue salesman.
  • The Church of San Lorenzo - It's not impressive from the outside, but it's probably the oldest religious structure in Florence. They say it was probably founded before year 400 and its art holdings include stuff by Donatello and Bronzino.

For more things to do in Florence, see the Top 10 Things to do in Florence, from Italy for Visitors.

Food and Drink

Tuscan cuisine is world renowned for simple combinations of absolutely fresh ingredients. Try the Florentine T-Bone bistecca alla fiorentina (but beware that it's listed on the menu priced per 100 grams--and this bistecca is usually huge). Tripe is also a specialty, as is the bread soup called ribollita. Tuscan starters include crostini and bruschetta, toasted bread with various toppings.

Best Breakfast:  Cucciolo Bar Pasticceria. Known for its Bombolone, a sort of Tuscan doughnut that here is cooked and immediately send town a chute from the kitchen upstairs so that each one slides down to the front of the bar where you can grab one and chow down. Your breakfast bombolone doesn't get fresher than that.

Lunch in the Market If you can find your way through the jungle of leather coats and handbags in the Piazza di San Lorenzo marketplace, you'll see the old fashioned sign announcing Piero's favorite lunch spot: Trattoria Gozzi. "Simple Tuscan food, always packed," said Piero. He was right. On a late October day at almost 2 in the afternoon, we couldn't get in; there was at least a 45 minute wait. The Gozzi is only open for lunch. Get there early!

Drinks With a View at Biblioteca de le Oblate The Biblioteca de le Oblate is a former convent; the nuns here did the laundry for the adjacent hospital--you can see the wash tubs downstairs. And there really is a historic library here. But the star of the show is the second floor cafe with a view of the dome of the duomo.

Dinner With Wine: Ristorante Enoteca Pane e Vino Brothers Gilberto and Ubaldo Pierazzuoli are passionate about wine. Pane e Vino branched out from their passion, becoming a full-featured restaurant where one eats traditional Tuscan cooking with a few modern twists, the surprises that excite your palate that many traditional restaurants lack. It was the best food I've had in Florence--and a meal here with fine wine comes at a reasonable price. Find the restaurant at Piazza di Cestello 3/r.

Local Buses in Florence

ATAF and LI-NEA together maintain the city's public transportation system. Tickets and bus passes can be purchased at the ATAF ticket booth at Piazza Stazione (you can get a timetable of buses as well). You can buy a bus ticket at any tobacconist (indicated by a large "T" on a black sign on the outside of the shop) displaying an orange A.T.A.F. sticker on the door or window. All tickets must be time stamped using the machines on board the buses. Late night (9.00pm to 6.00am) tickets can usually be purchased from the bus driver.

Florence Taxis

Florence is served by taxi companies: Taxi Radio and Taxi Socota. Socota is the largest. You probably won't be able to hail a cab, you'd be better off finding a taxi stand or calling.

Taxi Radio. Tel: 055 4499 / 4390.

Socota:: 055 4242 or 055 4798, the web site has tariffe (tariffs).

Parking in Florence

Florence has a website devoted to parking in the city. Click on "Parcheggiare" to get a map of parking lots.