Located in the famous region of Tuscany, in the centre of Italy, the city of Florence is known as the cradle of the Renaissance and a must-see destination on any visitor's list. The birthplace of Dante and Michelangelo, many of the world's most celebrated geniuses lived and worked in the city, including Boccaccio, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, and Brunelleschi. The Italian Renaissance is acknowledged to have begun in the city following the completion of Brunelleschi's dome.
Florence is the capital of Tuscany and athough it is quite a small city of about half a million inhabitants, its numbers are swelled by the many tourists who throng through its captivating streets in search of some of the most important art treasures on the planet. As a matter of interest, UNESCO estimates that 60% of the world's most important artworks are in Italy and half of those in Florence!
Florence is easily accessible as, like Rome, all roads lead there – as well as the railway (Santa Maria Novella is the largest of its stations) and a small international airport (known as Amerigo Vespucci or Peretola). Because parking is difficult even for locals, and the historic centre is relatively contained, it is best viewed on foot or by using its very efficient public transport system. You can buy tickets for the local ATAF buses anywhere there is an ATAF sign displayed, usually in news kiosks, tobaccionists and bars, and don't forget to “validate” them – that is, get them stamped in the little machine on the bus.
As one of the most visited places in Italy, Florence is busy all year round, but if you can avoid going in the high summer season then you will spend less time in the inevitable queues that spring up for all its attractions. It's also worth knowing that some sights can be booked in advance online, for example the Uffizi Museum and the Accademia Gallery.
It's hard to know where to start with a city as rich and varied as Florence, so it is sometimes best just to go for the tried and tested sights, although some people would argue that the whole city is a monument to art and culture. A few of the best known are:
The Uffizi Gallery (located in the Loggiato degli Uffizi, 6) dates back to 1560. It has a vast range of art works including those of the masters da Vinci, Rubens, Botticelli and Titian.
The Accademia Gallery (Via Ricasoli, 60) is probably most famous for housing the original statue of Michelangelo's David, a replica of which is in Piazza della Signoria. The gallery also contains some of the world'smost stunning exhibits including Giovanni di Milano's Pieta and Botticelli's Madonna of the Sea.
The Pitti Palace (Piazza Pitti) contains the Gallery of Modern Art, the Silver Museum and the Costume Gallery, among other things. The world famous Boboli Gardens lie behind it.
The Palazzo Vecchio (Piazza della Signoria) dates back to the 13th century and was once home to the Medici family. The whole building is a work of art, with many sumptuous rooms, including the Salone del Cinquecento and the Apartment of the Elements. Decoration is by many masters including by Vasari, Michelangelo and Bronzino. Exhibitions are regularly put on in the old Armory.
The Duomo (Piazza del Duomo) is probably most famous for its beautiful cupola, often referred to as “Brunellesci's dome” and an engineering masterpiece. For many people the dome is Florence and its characteristic shape features in many calendars, pictures and postcards. The interior of the Duomo contains many important works of art and also has stunning stained glass windows and amazing frescos.
The Ponte Vecchio (literally “old bridge”), which crosses the River Arno, is the oldest of Florence's six bridges and famous for having shops under its porticoes, mainly selling jewelry, art and souvenirs.
As well as being packed to overflowing with museums, churches, art and Renaissance piazzas and palaces, Florence is also a modern cultural centre with many open air festivals and events. There are also many opportunities to indulge in fine Tuscan wining and dining. Be warned that Florence makes the most of its tourist status and everything is expensive, so come armed with plenty of euros if you want to shop there.
As a city renowned for its artisan craftsmanship, there are many opportunities to buy beautiful products for which the place is famous, including leather, designer clothes, gold jewelry and pietre dure (Florence mosaic) as well as antiques, wine and foodstuffs. Take a look at our Florence shopping guide to help you make the most of your stay in this fabulous city.