Florence Travel Summary

Sensational Florence a city with skyline sculpted by cathedrals and palaces

Florence is the cultural centre of Italy, and perhaps the western world.  Florence has a skyline sculpted by cathedrals and palaces, laden with history and famous for its robust cuisine and genteel charm.

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The Florence Travel Summary is segmented into 3 key travel themes to immerse you into everything Florence:

  1. An introduction and brief history to this wonderful city;
  2. Great itineraries;
  3. What to See

Hope you enjoy it!  Carpe Diem!

1. An introduction and brief history to this wonderful city

Spend your days lost in galleries & nights at authentic trattorias in this beautiful birthplace of Renaissance.   Towers and places evoke a thousand tales of its medieval past; designer boutiques and artisan workshops stud its streets; and there’s a buzzing café, restaurant and bar scene.  Centre of the Renaissance Universe and home of Machiavelli, Michelangelo and the Medici, this is a magnetic, romantic and above all a memorable city.

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Laden with grand-slam slights and experiences, Florence offers the perfect introduction to Italy’s famed dolce vita.  It truly does have it all: extraordinary art and architecture, magnificent landscapes, vibrant festivals and a seasonally driven cuisine that is emulated the world over.  There are few places in the world where food, fashion, art and nature intermingle so effortlessly and to such magnificent effect.

Florence’s city centre is relatively compact.  Crammed with galleries, wonderful buildings and world-class art treasures, this unspoilt, late-medieval city clearly demonstrates its importance in the cultural and political development of Europe.  The architectural jewel of Florence has to be the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Fiore, known as the Duomo, a Gothic masterpiece.  The River Arno flows through the town, with the famous Ponte Vecchio crosses the river directly south of the cathedral and not far from the main square.

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At the heart of the city is Piazza della Signoria is the awe-inspiring Fountain of Neptune created by Bartolomeo Ammanati.  This famous marble sculpture lies at the end of a Roman aqueduct, still in working order.  A stroll around the city streets will reveal many Renaissance architectural masterpieces, including Brunellechi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti (foundling hospice), the Pazzi chapel in the Church of Santa Croce, Michelangelo’s work at San Lorenzo, and the Laurentian Library.

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Renaissance Florence was dominated by the Medici, the most powerful in the city from the 15th to the 18th centuries.  They patronized many artists, and the city from the 15th to the 18th centuries.  They and the Pitti Palace, were created for their art collections.  The Uffizi was first opened to visitors in 1591, which makes it one of Europe’s first museums.  Today it houses the greatest collection of Italian and Florentine art in the world.

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2. Itineraries:

Day 1:

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8am – Visit the majestic Duomo:

Visit Florence’s and one of Italy’s most iconic landmark  – the magnificent Duomo. Capped by Filippo Brunelleschi’s red-tiled cupola, it’s a staggering construction whose breathtaking pink, white and green marble facade and graceful campanile dominate the Renaissance cityscape.  After seeing the Duomo from all sides and visiting the inside of the cathedral, all you need to do to complete the experience is climb to the top of the cupola!  To see an extraordinary view of Florence climb its 463 steps: the route takes you by the interior of the dome where you can admire Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgement (1572-9) up close.

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11am – Visit the Gothic Baptistry

Visit the Gothic Baptistry to see copies of the bronze East doors dubbed “the gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo.

Make your way to Florence’s Mercato Centrale to join the lunchtime queue at Da Nerbone, which has been in business since 1872. Go local and order trippa alla fiorentina (tripe and tomato stew) or follow the crowd with a feisty panini con bollito (a hefty boiled-beef bun, dunked in the meat’s juices before serving).

 

Afternoon – A fantastical square of Sculptures:

Then walk down Via dei Calzaiuolti to Piazza della Signoria – the fantasy-land of sculptures.  You will find the Uffizi Gallery here which is Florence’s most popular and important museum, the number of artworks displayed under its roof is basically incalculable.  Check out the Fountain of Neptune is a famous, huge fountain built by Bartolomeo Ammannati and his assistants between 1563 and 1565; also known as “Il Biancone” (The White Giant), it was meant to be an allusion to Florence’s dominion over the sea.

Admire statues such as a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the master copy is kept in the Accademia Gallery), a Marzocco sculpted by Donatello (the original is housed in the Bargello), Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli and a bronze representing Cosimo I on horseback by Giambologna.

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Evening – Visit the magical Ponte Vecchio:

Ponte Vecchio Bridge – “Old Bridge” in Italian – is the most famous bridge in Florence (and Italy) and undoubtedly one of the city’s most illustrious landmarks. It is an incredibly breathtaking sight when seen from afar, and even more so when you walk across it!  It spans the narrowest point of the Arno River, with numerous overhanging shops, whose glittering treasures delight the visitors’ gaze as they pass by. The bridge – entrance point to the city of Florence from the Cassia road – is made of wood and stone and dates back to the Roman era.

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Day 2:

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8am – Wander around the Boboli Gardens:

The magnificent Boboli Gardens were laid out for the Medici in 1550, one year after they bought the Palazzo Pitti.  They represent a perfect example of Renaissance gardens and were opened to the public in 1766.  The more formal parts of the garden, nearest the palazzo, consist of box hedges clipped into symmetrical geometric patterns.   These lead to wild grows of ilex and cypress trees.  Statues of varying styles and periods are dotted around, and the vistas were planned to give views over Florence.

 

11am – Check out San Lorenzo:

Head to the church of San Lorenzo to see the monument tombs by Michelangelo in the Cappelle Medicce and the marvellous staircase he designed for the Biblioteca.  Move on to San Marco and admire Fra Angelico’s exquisite pastel frescoes.  Relax in the Giardino dei Semplici, then look at Spedale degli Innocenti on Piazza della Santissima Annuziata.

 

Afternoon – An afternoon of Michelangelo:

Visit the Galleria dell ’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s renowned David.  Since 1873, Michelangelo’s most important works have been in the Accademia.  The most famous of all dominates the collection: Michelangelo’s David (1504).  This colossal Classical statue (5.2m / 17 ft) depicts the biblical hero who killed the giant Goliath.  It was commissioned by the city of Florence and positioned in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.  This established Michelangelo, then aged 29, as the foremost sculptor of his time.  In 1873, it was moved to the Accademia, to protect it from the weather and pollution.  Michelangelo’s other masterpieces include a statue of St Matthew finished in 1508, and the Quattro Prigionieri (the four prisoners), which were sculpted between 15211523.

 

Evening – A magnificent Sunset:

To end your day head up too to  Michelangelo, a square overlooking the city from the first hill in the Oltrarno where you can enjoy a marvellous view of Florence at Sunset!

Arrive early if it is going to be a good sunset as it can get busy on a sunny day.   To top of your day visit one of the Rooftop terraces for a wonderful drinks with a view.  Some of my favourites are: Three Sixty Rooftop Bar – Hotel Minerva, La Terrazza Lounge Bar – Hotel Continentale, Caffe La Terrazza – La Rinascente and Se-Sto – Westin Excelsior

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Day 3:

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8am – A morning in Pisa:

Visit the magnificent Campo dei Miracoli – the “Square of Miracles,” is an apt name for Pisa’s main square. Also known as the Piazza del Duomo, the area features a large, green open space and hosts a group of marvellous monuments that are famous all over the world.

The four masterpieces located in the piazza are the baptistery, the cathedral, the cemetery, and the world-famous leaning tower. All of these monuments have had considerable influence on the art and architecture that followed, and, because of this, the piazza has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites since 1987.

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11am – Climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

Visit and climb one of Italy’s signature sights, the Leaning Tower lives up to its name, leaning a startling 3.9 degrees off the vertical. The 58m-high tower, officially the Duomo’s campanile (Bell Tower.)  Over time, the tilt, caused by a layer of weak subsoil, steadily worsened until it was finally halted by a major stabilisation project in the 1990s.  Climb the 294 steps for fabulous views of Pisa.

 

Afternoon – Visit wonderful Lucca:

Start you visit by visiting Lucca’s Duomo, San Martino.  Marvel at its elaborate black-and-white striped façade and interior, which hoses a wooden image of Christ, said to have been carved as he hung from the cross.  For those that fancy a fantastic view, you can climb the Torre dei Guinigi to see one of Tuscany’s highest roof gardens.  It also has spectacular views over Lucca and beyond.

Then head down to Piazza del  Mercato, originally built around a Roman amphitheatre and visit some fantastic independent shops and enjoy alfresco dining.

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Evening: Walk on the historic city walls

Surrounding the old centre of Lucca is a virtually complete complex of city walls – this defensive network was constructed during the Renaissance and stands to this day.  At strategic intervals there are 11 bastions such as the bulwark of San Martino and the Porta San Pietro.  A complete footpath connects each bastion – the Via delle Mura Urbane; this footpath is lined with trees and stretches for some 4km total length.

 

Day 4:

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8am – The Medieval town of Monteriggioni:

Visit the beautifully preserved medieval town of Monteriggioni – one of the most impressive walled Medieval towns in Tuscany. It’s the typical fortified village that started its life as a castle, perfectly rounded to suit the hill on which it has stood since the beginning of 1200.

The castle was built by the Sienese between 1213 and 1219. The  intact fortified wall presents 14 towers along which the guards used to walk and patrol the walls and 2 gates, one called the Franca or Romea Gate which faces Rome and the other known as the Florentine Gate since it heads toward Florence.

 

11am – Walk along the Castle Walls:

Take a walk along the castle walls – you can obtain a combined ticket that also includes the interactive Armoury museum.  Grab a great lunch in one of the delightful restaurants – Bar dell’Orso and Antico Travaglio are good picks.

 

Afternoon – Visit beautiful San Gimagnano:

Visit beautiful San Gimagnano and its sensational medieval towers.  With its multitude of towers sticking out against the horizon, San Gimignano is one of the most iconic and recognisable destinations in Tuscany. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, San Gimignano, also called the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages,” owes its fame to the incredible quantity of towers that rose above the rooftops of the small town, as many as 65 during the days of the town’s heyday. Thirteen of those splendid towers make up a distinctly unique skyline today.

The Cathedral is a must-see, which was finished in 1148 and is one of the most illustrious in all of Tuscany.  The Piazza della Cisterna is the most beautiful and famous piazza in all of San Gimignano. It is enclosed by a wall of nobility houses and medieval towers.

 

Evening – Delight your taste buds:

Ask the cheese shops in the town and ask them to cut you a few slices of pecorino which you can savour while walking around.  Leave some space for an ice-cream from Gelateria Dondoli. He won ice-cream world champion in 2006/2007 and 2008/2009.  No visit would not be complete without tasting some of the delightful wine – try Bottega Torciana or Boboli.

 

3.  What to See:

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – Duomo:

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • Florence’s and one of Italy’s most iconic landmarksthe magnificent Duomo. Capped by Filippo Brunelleschi’s red-tiled cupola, it’s a staggering construction whose breathtaking pink, white and green marble facade and graceful campanile dominate the Renaissance cityscape.
  • After seeing the Duomo from all sides and visiting the inside of the cathedral, all you need to do to complete the experience is climb to the top of the cupola!
  • To see an extraordinary view of Florence climb its 463 steps: the route takes you by the interior of the dome where you can admire Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgement (1572-9) up close.

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Piazza della Signoria:

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • Piazza della Signoria is Florence’s the fantasy-land of sculptures.
  • You will find the Uffizi Gallery here which is Florence’s most popular and important museum, the number of artworks displayed under its roof is basically incalculable.
  • Check out the Fountain of Neptune is a famous, huge fountain built by Bartolomeo Ammannati and his assistants between 1563 and 1565; also known as “Il Biancone” (The White Giant), it was meant to be an allusion to Florence’s dominion over the sea.
  • Admire statues such as a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the master copy is kept in the Accademia Gallery), a Marzocco sculpted by Donatello (the original is housed in the Bargello), Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli and a bronze representing Cosimo I on horseback by Giambologna.

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Ponte Vecchio:

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • Ponte Vecchio Bridge – “Old Bridge” in Italian – is the most famous bridge in Florence (and Italy) and undoubtedly one of the city’s most illustrious landmarks. It is an incredibly breathtaking sight when seen from afar, and even more so when you walk across it!
  • It spans the narrowest point of the Arno River, with numerous overhanging shops, whose glittering treasures delight the visitors’ gaze as they pass by. The bridge – entrance point to the city of Florence from the Cassia road – is made of wood and stone and dates back to the Roman era.

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Boboli Gardens:

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • The magnificent Boboli Gardens were laid out for the Medici in 1550, one year after they bought the Palazzo Pitti. They represent a perfect example of Renaissance gardens and were opened to the public in 1766.
  • The more formal parts of the garden, nearest the palazzo, consist of box hedges clipped into symmetrical geometric patterns.
  • These lead to wild grows of ilex and cypress trees. Statues of varying styles and periods are dotted around, and the vistas were planned to give views over Florence.

 

Uffizi Gallery

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • One of the world’s finest art galleries, the Uffizi in Florence houses the world’s finest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings
  • The world-famous collection, displayed in chronological order, spans the gamut of art history from ancient Greek sculpture to 18th-century Venetian paintings. But its core is the Renaissance collection
  • The Gallery hosts works of art by great Italian artists such as Botticelli, Giotto, Cimabue, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello, just to name a few of the most famous. Its large collection has works from all centuries but a large part dates back to the periods between the 12th and 17th centuries

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Galleria dell ’Accademia

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • Visit the Galleria dell ’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s renowned David
  • Since 1873, Michelangelo’s most important works have been in the Accademia. The most famous of all dominates the collection: Michelangelo’s David (1504). This colossal Classical statue (5.2m / 17 ft) depicts the biblical hero who killed the giant Goliath.  It was commissioned by the city of Florence and positioned in front of the Palazzo Vecchio
  • This established Michelangelo, then aged 29, as the foremost sculptor of his time. In 1873, it was moved to the Accademia, to protect it from the weather and pollution
  • Michelangelo’s other masterpieces include a statue of St Matthew finished in 1508, and the Quattro Prigionieri (the four prisoners), which were sculpted between 15211523

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Piazza di Santa Croco

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • Located in central Florence the Piazza di Santa Croce is one of the largest and most impressive piazzas in the city
  • It provides the setting for the stunning Gothic Basilica di Santa Croce – also called the ‘Pantheon of Italian glories’, Santa Croce hosts the graves of myriad famous people such as Ghiberti, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo, Alfieri, Foscolo and Rossini
  • Construction of the Basilica of Santa Croce started in 1294 based on a design by Arnolfo di Cambio. It is the largest Franciscan church in the world. The Basilica was built at the expense of the population of the Florentine Republic, on the foundations of a pre-existing structure
  • The piazza is also home to some interesting palazzi and shops and hosts numerous markets

 

Museo Galileo

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • This museum is a shrine to Pisa-born scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
  • Exhibits include his telescopes and the lens he used to discover the largest of moons of Jupiter
  • The museum also features large-scale reconstructions of his experiments into motion, weight, velocity and acceleration
  • In 1657, in memory of Galileo, Florence founded the world’s first every scientific institution – the Academy for Experimentation
  • Some of the academy’s inventions, such as early thermometers, hygrometers and barometers are also on show here. There are also huge globes made during the 16th and 17th centuries to illustrate the motion of the planets and stars

 

Santo Stefano al Ponte:

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • St Stephen “by the bridge” dating from 969, is so called because of its proximity to the Ponte Vecchio
  • The Romanesque façade, dating from 1233, is its most important architectural feature.
  • Florentines, however, know the church better as a venue for some top-quality orchestral concerts

 

Palazzo Vecchio

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • The Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) still fulfils its original role as Florence’s town hall. It was completed in 1322 when a huge bell, used to call to citizens to meeting or warn of fire, flood or enemy attack, was hauled to top of the imposing bell tower
  • The palazzo has retained its medieval appearance, but much of the interior was remodelled for Duke Cosimo I when he moved into the place in 1540
  • Leonardo and Michelangelo were asked to redecorate the interior, but it was Vasari who finally undertook the work.
  • A monumental staircase leads to the first-floor Salone dei Cinquecento, which its frescoed walls and marble statues.
  • Above this is a suite of decorated rooms once used by the rulers of Florence
  • Make sure you check out the “secret routes” which were reserved for the rulers of the time

 

San Lorenzo

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • This area has he mark of Cosimo il Vecchio, founder of the Medici dynasty, who commissioned San Lorenzo and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
  • A huge market fills the streets, its colourful awnings almost obscuring the various monuments. The market is a reminder that Florence has always been a city of merchants.
  • There are many products on sale, leather goods, silk, wool and cashmere garments – are great value especially if, like the Florentines you are prepared to bargain

 

Mercato Centrale

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • Florence’s busiest food market, the bustling Mercato Centrale, is housed in a vast two-story building made of cast iron and glass, built in 1874 by Gueseppe Mengoni
  • A major renovation of the market in 2014 was a cornerstone in the rejuvenation of the San Lorenzo neighbourhood, which had become a neglected part of the city.
  • There are dozens of stalls selling meat, fish, cheese and Tuscan takeaway foods such as porchetta (roast suckling pig).
  • The first floor has been transformed into a modern light-filled space where visitors can eat their purchases from the ground floor and order a glass of wine.
  • Don’t miss a sandwich at Nerbone!

Santa Maria Novella

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is one of the most significant churches in Florence, with its coloured marble, elegant form and works of art kept inside. The basilica and adjoining cloister were built by the Dominican Order in the 13th century
  • The spectacular white and green marble front was started in 1350, when the lower part was designed in the Romanesque style, while the upper part was only finished in 1470 by Leon Battista Alberti
  • The inside of the church, the first example of Gothic architecture in Florence, is a treasure trove of artwork. Starting with Masaccio’s 1424 Holy Trinity, the fresco in which he experimented with perspective for the first time, thus becoming the pinnacle of Renaissance art, followed by, at the end of the nave, Giotto’s great Crucifix from 1290 stands at a striking height of 4.5 metres and is one of the spectacular pieces from the artist’s earlier works

 

Piazza di Santo Spirito:

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • For those who really want to know the true and picturesque Florence, then a trip to the area Oltrarno is a must moving away from the classic tours and itineraries which take you to Piazza del Duomo – Piazza della Signoria – Ponte Vecchio and Piazza della Repubblica.
  • When the Florentines say ”Oltrarno” (or “Diladdarno”) they intend the whole area on the other side of the Arno River (the side opposite of the river to the Duomo). This area is also known as the historic district of Santo Spirito and San Frediano, and even today it is still inhabited by many native Florentines, even if it is often an area of choice by foreigners for its authentic atmosphere and lively quarters.
  • This part of Florence is best appreciated by wandering around the square and its market, looking at the many furniture restorer’s workshops and medieval palazzi

Palazzo Pitti:

AllThingsTravel Top Pick:

  • A few steps from the Ponte Vecchio, in the popular neighbourhood called the Oltrarno, surrounded by some of the most characteristic streets of Florence, it suddenly appears: the Pitti Palace, the former residence of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, inhabited over the centuries by the Medici, Lorraine and Savoy families. At the time it was built it was the largest residence in Florence and the most opulent. Even today, the Pitti Palace is perhaps the most impressive building in the whole of the city
  • Palazzo Pitti is primarily home to an important museum complex, as well as the beautiful monumental Boboli Gardens
  • The impressive collection of paintings of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany: 28 rooms that respect the original layout, with paintings in multiple rows, arranged following a decorative criteria

 

4.  Photo Gallery:

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