Florence is the capital city of the Tuscany region of western Italy and is easily accessed both by air or land. It is also one of the most fascinating and culturally rich cities in the world and a visit is extremely highly recommended when you are in Italy!
Not surprisingly tourism is now a very important industry for Florence, which attracts a great deal of visitors from all over the world drawn to the architectural beauty, the arts and the museums of the city, especially between the months of April and October.
Of course, Florence merits an entire site of its own, as do several of the individual monuments and museums (remember that entire books have been written just about the Cathedral dome!).
Here we can do little more than remind visitors of the highlights, give you some ideas about eating out and nightlife, and try to convince you to visit...
The monuments in the city are the highlights of Florentine artistic culture, which had an influence that spread far beyond Florence itself.
The Florence baptistery has its mosaics, the cathedral is adorned with sculptures and the medieval churches overflow with fine frescoes. Among the unmissable highlights of your visit are our 'favourite five places in Florence':
- admiring the cathedral, with its world famous 12th century dome
- strolling across Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge, still with shops along the whole legth of the bridge
- the belltower next to the cathedral, more than 400 stairs but stunning views from the top
- visiting the 11th century marble covered baptistry
- hanging out in the Piazza della Signoria and admiring the Palazzo Vecchio
There are many other public and private places with great artistic merit such as the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Davanzati. Not enough to tempt you yet...?
Many of the monasteries, cloisters, refectories and other buildings are also wonderful works of art - there are too many to list, but the centre of Florence is the greatest exhibition of fine renaissance architecture to be found in the world.
Florence is popularly called the cradle of Renaissance because of the monuments, churches, and buildings found in the city. The most famous site, and considered to be Florence's jewel, is the domed cathedral called the Santa Maria del Fiore (or the Duomo) and in this city filled with magnificent architecture it is true that the Duomo will still strike you as particularly outstanding.
Art in Florence
Florence is known for its artistic heritage, with fine examples of art being found in several locations across the city, and magnificent examples of renaissance architecture throughout the city.
It is sometimes hard to separate 'art' from 'architecture' within the city - are statues that adorn a building the latter art or architecture? or Brunelleschi's Dome? But who cares! It is the overall experience and unforgettable memories that are important after all.
The most important art museums in Florence are the Uffizi Gallery - most certainly an unmissable highlight of your visit - and the Palatina gallery that holds the paintings of the Golden Ages.
There are also many others to visit. The Bargello tower holds sculptures of the Renaisance; Angelicos works can be found at the Museum of San Marco; and Buonarrotis house is home to the works of Michelangelo.
Among the other notable Florentine museums are the Academy, the chapels of Medicis, Bardini, Horne, Romano, Stibbert and Corsini, the Gallery of Modern Art and the museum of the Opera del Duomo, the museum of Silverware, and the Museum of Precious Stones...
Eating out in Florence on a budget
As with everywhere in Italy, food and drink in Florence are also considered a form of art - although pizzas and takeaways are also found in large numbers if that is what you want.
Eating and drinking in Florence is one of the highlights of a visit, so be sure to find restaurants where you can sit and relax over your meal for an hour or two. Finding high quality but expensive restaurants is not a big challenge - the choice of restaurants is extensive - but finding a cheap meal in Florence is not always very easy.
If you are looking for generally low priced food, the pizza and pasta places near the bus station and the Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo are usually a good cheap choice.
San Frediano is the best neighborhood for meeting the needs of a traveler on a budget - it is located out to the east of Florence along the river. Restaurants are also found around Via Pissano that serve tasty yet affordable meals.
Just like traveling to any other tourist destination, the further you get away from the centre of Florence the cheaper the food and accommodation you are going to get. If you find a place that looks as if the locals are comfortable eating at, then you have found a good choice of a restaurant when it comes to taste and cost.
If you are looking for the real flavor of Florence try to go to the vinaio or wine bars, where a glass of wine and a good meal to go with it should not cost too much.
You will also find markets in Florence that offer a wide selection of enticing local produce. Another budget friendly suggestion is to buy cheeses, cold meats, and breads then go to a piazza for a picnic.
Eating and drinking should play a major part in visiting Florence and is one of the best ways to get the feel of the place. To be able to understand Florence and connect to its culture, it is best to explore several different restaurants and neighbourhoods.
When the evening arrives there are two sides of Florence. One is the elegant social gatherings over wine-sipping and fine dining. The other is the students having a good time at clubs playing the latest music, enjoying chic bars and non-stop activity throughout the night.
Even if neither of these activities appeals, be sure to stroll through the streets of Florence at night. This early evening stroll is called the passeggiata. Then you can follow it up with a drink in one of the wine bars to simply appreciate what your eyes see and what your ears hear.
As the night progresses Florence reveals another of its facets. Because Florence is a town with many universities, foreign students and backpackers it can become very lively later on in the evening. Of course, this being Italy appearances are always important.
Fashionistas will be seen more to the west of the city, and Sant'Ambrogio is a favorite where the emphasis is placed on looking your very best. The west part, the Oltrarno, is a more laid-back side of Florence while Piazza di Santo Spirito and Piazza di Carmine have many clubs and several hip music bars that provide more enjoyment for the visitors.
However, discovering the night life in Florence is not all about going to a great club or chic bar. This is one of the most beautiful cities in the world that will cater to your every mood. Look at the city lights at night. Feel the buzz of the people filling the streets. This will lead you to really know and love the Florence experience.
When to visit Florence and other information
The Mediterranean climate of Florence is made up of humid and hot summers with little rainfall. The winters are damp and cool. The city is surrounded by hills in a river valley and can be very hot starting from June until August.
During the summer months there are more tourists at the major attractions so visit during late spring or early autumn if possible.
Be aware that a great deal of the monuments and museums in Florence charge for entry - more so than in most cities in Italy. It is not always easy to have a budget stay in the city.
Lastly, don't try to cram too much in to your visit. There is so much to see, especially if you are an art enthusiast, that several days (at least) are needed just to visit all the major highlights.
Generally, we suggest you try and spend half your time just strolling around or sitting in cafes taking in the atmosphere rather than just rushing from one highlight to the next!
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.