The capital city of Toscana (Tuscany), Firenze (Florence) is the mecca of art, history, and culture for not only the region, but also all of Europe. Known as, ‘the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance,’ Florence possesses some of the greatest works of art of all time, from artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, and Dante Alighieri, to name a few.
Flanked by sandstone hills of the south and foothills sprawling out from the Apennine Mountains, Florence has an all-season splendor that adds to any vacation, any time of the year. Though the temperatures fluctuate greatly from summer to winter, each season has something to offer. The best time visit is spring to early summer and autumn, especially November during the grape and olive harvest. December can be also be a surprisingly pleasant time to visit with its crisp air, sunny days, and very few tourists.
Florence is the heart of Renaissance Italy and one of Italy and Europe’s most visited cities.
Everything from interesting museums, beautiful churches like the famed Il Duomo di Firenze, and priceless works of historical artwork can be found in Florence.
ACTIVITIES AND TOURS
Home to some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, Florence is the perfect place to take in the country air, sites, art, and even sports. There are many tours and activities sure to please everyone, including:
Bicycling: Bike through the countryside of Florence, tasting some wine along the way and enjoying the picturesque sunset off the rolling hills.
Golf: There is nothing like playing the back nine on the rolling hills of the Florentine countryside. Enjoy tree-lined courses with the added bonus of an unadulterated view as far as the eye can see. There are two local clubs where you can practice your stroke. The first, Golf Club Montelupo offers a tight course of nine holes right on the banks of the Arno. The second, Golf Club Ugolino is an 18-hole course located in an olive grove.
Football: A source of national pride in Italy, football (soccer) can be watched and enjoyed here. Florence’s national football team, the Serie A. Fiorentina, is among the best in Italy’s premier league. On Florence’s patron saint day (June 24) one can attend a medieval version of the game with participants dressed in medieval costumes.
Rowing: Interested in learning a new activity or reliving your college rowing days? Florence has a wonderful rowing club on the Arno River called Societa Canottieri Firenze.
Tennis: Public tennis courts are situated at the Circolo Carraia, Via Monti alle Croci. Other courts are at Circolo del Tennis, Via Scandicci Alto, and Via dela Robbia Impruneta.
Shopping: Florence has some of the finest shopping in Europe. In Florence you’ll find leather goods, paper goods, jewelry, and plenty of souvenirs and art productions. Florence has a number of open-air markets selling food, clothing, and antiques. The most famous is around Piazza San Lorenzo. Mercato Centrale is the perfect place to find fresh cooking produce and restaurants, or take a leisurely stroll through the streets and window shop.
Music: A musical centre during the middle ages, music and the performing arts remain an important part of Florence culture. Home of the first Opera Daphne (1958), and the first piano, Florence has a rich music scene.
Cooking Class: It is said, the best way to experience a culture is through food. Join a small, intimate group of food lovers in an old palazzo in the city center. Guided by a top cooking school, you will learn to cook a classic four-course Tuscan meal. Once you’ve completed your dishes, it’s time to enjoy them, paired with a good Tuscan wine, of course. This educational, fun, and friendly atmosphere is sure to teach you skills that you can take home to impress your friends and loved ones.
Walking City Tour: Drive along the romantic Viale dei Colli up to Piazzale Michelangelo, and enjoy a view of the city, one of the most beautiful panoramas in the world. The tour will proceed through the old city centre to the outdoor Duomo complex where you can see the Baptistery with its bronze doors including the famous Porta del Paradiso, and the visit of the Cathedral with the magnificent Cupola del Brunelleschi and Giotto’s bell tower. Finally, a short walk through the historic streets of the heart of Florence brings you to the renowned Accademia Gallery where you can admire the famous David by Michelangelo, as well as other works by the great artist.
PLACES TO VISIT
Galleria degli Uffizi: The most visited museum in Florence, the Uffizi palace was designed and begun in 1560 by the architect Giorgio Vasari. Built in the shape of a horseshoe extending from Piazza della Signoria to the Arno River, and linked by a bridge over the street with Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi were intended to house the administrative offices (Uffizi) of the Grand Duchy.
From the beginning, however, the Medici had a few rooms on the third floor where they housed the finest works of their collections. Two centuries later, in 1737, the palace and their collection were left to the city by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heir, and today houses one of the world’s greatest art galleries.
Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio: Florence’s most famous square is Piazza della Signoria, the heart of the historic center and a free open-air sculpture exhibit. The Loggia della Signoria holds some important statues including a copy of Michelangelo’s David. The piazza has been Florence’s political center since the middle ages and Florence’s town hall. The medieval Palazzo Vecchio sits on the piazza filled with elaborately decorated public rooms and private apartments.
Santa Maria Novella: A 13th century church built in the Gothic-Romanesque style, with white and green marble, Santa Maria Novella holds some of the finest works of art in our history— the frescoes by Masaccio portraying the Holy Trinity, the Crucifix by Brunelleschi, and the one by Giotto.
Ponte Vecchio: The oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio’s first construction existed before the 11th century, but was destroyed by a flood of the Arno. The bridge was rebuilt in solid stone in 1345.
Its banks are still full of goldsmiths’, silversmiths’, and jewelers’ laboratories whose art has been passed down from generation to generation.
Palazzo Pitti: A massive palace that would take days to see all there is to see, The Pitti Palace hosts several important collections of paintings and sculptures, porcelain, silver and period costumes. The rooms contain works by Raphael, Rubens, Titian, Caravaggio, Andrea del Sarto, and countless others. Take an adventure around the Pitti Palace to discover the Baroque Boboli Gardens.
Galleria dell’Accademia: If you’re looking to see works of famed artists like Michelangelo, this is the place to visit. Founded in 1784 by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, uniting all the painting schools into one academy, you can explore the hallways of this gallery, which include the famous statue of David.
Bargello: Once a prison in the 13th century, turned national museum, Bargello is filled with some of the best sculptures from the Tuscan Renaissance era. Some of the works of art in the Bargella include: David by Donatello, Mercury by Gianbologna, and the bust of Brutus by Michelangelo.
Archeological Museum: Another collection of works from the Medici family, especially Cosimo il Vecchio, is comprised of objects from the Etruscan period— terracotta ornaments and sculptures in marble and bronze, including the Chimera di Arezzo and l’Arringatore.
Be sure to also see the impressive Egyptian exhibit donated by another historical family, the Lorena.
Casa Buonarroti: This palace was renovated in the 17th century by Michelangelo Buonarroti, also known as ‘il giovane,’ who decorated all the interior area of the building on his own, as a tribute to his ancestor. Explore this palace and see some of the early masterpieces by Michelangelo such as the Madonna della Scala and the Battaglia dei Centauri.
Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore: The church of Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral or duomo of Florence 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 cathedral began construction at the end of the 13th century by Arnolfo di Cambio, and was completed by Brunelleschi in 1436 with the famous Dome, which was painted inside with frescoes by Vasari and Zuccari. The Baptistery of San Giovanni, one of the oldest monuments in Florence (1128), is located opposite the Cathedral and is built in Florentine Romanesque style.
Santa Croce: Santa Croce, in Piazza Santa Croce, is the largest Franciscan church in Italy and holds the tombs of several important Florentines including Michelangelo and Dante.
The vast interior contains some exceptional stained glass windows and frescoes. One of Brunelleschi’s most important works, the Cappella dei Pazzi, is in Santa Croce.
The San Lorenzo Market: Explore this multi-floor market situated in the heart of a 19th century iron and glass building. Entering in on the ground floor there are several flower stalls, fruit and vegetable stalls where all the local seasonal produce is displayed. On the top floor, enjoy delicatessens selling Florentine and Tuscan delicacies, where you can also stop for a bite to eat.
Basilica di San Lorenzo: Home to world famous works of art, including the two pulpits built by Donatello, The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana and the Tombe Medicee, works by Michelangelo, including the Cappella dei Principi Chapel, this still unfinished church is a must see.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina: This flagship Tuscan steak is made from the region’s Chianina breed of cattle which are known for their tenderness and flavor. Typical of Italian cuisine, simplicity rules this dish. Seasoned with salt and pepper, rosemary and then cooked in olive oil, the rich velvety texture of this filling steak is perfect for any meat lover.
Ribollita: With peasant origins, this flavorful bread and vegetable soup that literally translates to re-boiled, is a hearty staple of the region, and a must have while in Florence.
Scoppio del Carro: Waking up on Easter morning in Florence is something to treasure. Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart) is a celebration stemming back 500 years. An elaborate wagon from the 17th century tours through Florence, behind a fleet of decorated white oxen, filled with fireworks. Once at its destination, a dove-shaped rocket, representing the Holy Spirit, shoots from the Church altar into the fireworks. Traditions say that the big bang will ensure a good harvest. Following the fireworks is a parade of people in medieval costume.
Festa di San Lorenzo: A magical night when the heavens open up and shooting stars are most visible marks the celebration of Saint Lorenzo. It’s a night cherished by the Italians. So take a trip to the outskirts of the city and watch the sky light up with the blazing trails of the stelle cadenti (falling stars).
Florence dance festival: Every summer, the Florence Dance Festival takes place at the Teatro Romano in Fiesole, as part of the wider Estate Fiesolana program of music, poetry, and cinema.
It is really a magnificent experience to enjoy a concert in a Roman amphitheatre thinking of the thousands, if not millions, who have shared in the experience over the course of the past centuries.