Florence, Italy packs more into just a few city blocks than most cities have in 10 times the space. Florence is where the Renaissance started and today the museums and churches in the city draw in millions of visitors each year. The town is fast paced with vespas (mopeds) flying down the streets and narrow sidewalks for the people to walk on. Cars are limited in the city center to make room for the thousands of daily tourists. The main focus of Florence is the Duomo which dominates the skyline no matter where you are in the city. The majority of sites are easily within walking distance no matter where you stay, so just take your time and enjoy the experience of being in a city this old and historical. The crowds come out early, so for the best picture opportunities of the Arno, Ponte Vecchio, or Piazza del Signoria, wake up early one day and beat the throngs of tourists to all the top attractions. Weather can be warm and sunny even in late winter (February), so dress in layers whenever possible. We can't stress this point enough, buy a good pair of walking shoes so that your feet don't let you down in your travels throughout the city.
Shopping and eating are 2 main activities that Florentines delight in each day, but the city offers much more to vacationers with churches and museums full of artwork. Start by getting a good city map at your hotel or train station. Plan a route throughout the city with the various sites you want to see so that you don't have to backtrack so much. The only really long walk you can encounter is the trek up to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is located only 1 1/2 miles from the Ponte Vecchio bridge. It can be a nice walk near sunset as the view from the Piazzale Michelangelo is second to none with the best vantage point of the Duomo and Arno river. If you cross the Arno one day and head towards Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens you'll enjoy a quiet part of Florence that many never see. The Palazzo Pitti, residence of the famous Medici family, is gorgeous throughout and the gardens behind the palace are stunning. The Boboli Gardens are beautiful and require some uphill climbs to reach the best areas. Be sure to see La Grotta Grande, Bacchus Fountain, Neptune Fountain, Amphitheatre, and L'Isolotto (little island). The gardens open early (8:15AM) and the morning is the best time for pictures and quiet. If you look closely while walking to the Pitti Palace you will see that there is a corridor that extends all the way from the palace across the Ponte Vecchio bridge and all the way to the Palazzo Vecchio. It was a secret passageway for the ruling families in case they needed to leave the palace. Even the Nazi's in World War II never realized the passage existed when they came through town.
Dining out in Florence is a real treat if you like pasta. There are 100's of places to choose from and most will provide great food. In recenty trips to Florence, we discovered some excellent restaurants that tourists as well as locals recommend. The first place that is well worth visiting is Antico Fattore Trattoria
. It's slighly hidden off Via Lambertesca near the Uffizi and offers superb pasta, antipasto, wine, and atmosphere. Their website is located at Anticofattore.com
and they are closed on Sundays. Another excellent restaurant that our private guide recommended is Acqua Al 2
(Acquaal2.it). Located off of Via della Vigna Vecchia, Acqua Al 2 is open every night of the week. They offer a sampler menu which has 5 pastas, 3 meats, and salad choices. The atmosphere is lively and the waitresses and waiters are friendly and speak English if needed. The curry chicken is an excellent choice if you are not in the mood for pasta. Another great dinner restaurant is Trattoria 4 Leoni
that is located on the other side of the Arno (Oltrarno). If you are feeling exceptional hungry, try their huge Florentine Steak that could easily feed 2 or 3. The Bruschetta, gnocchi, and risotto are all tasty and the desserts are something to save room for. You can visit their website online at 4Leoni.com
. Lastly, a great spot for lunch one day is Il Gatto E La Volpe which is off of Via Ghibellina (only a few minutes from the Duomo). You can find them online at Ilgattoelavolpetorino.it
with menus and location/directions.
If you love churches and artwork, then Florence will be one of your favorite places in the world. The most famous church in town is the Duomo which is easy to find with its huge dome designed by Brunelleschi. The Last Judgement frescoe by Vasari is the highlight of the interior of the Duomo, but for a real treat we recommend climbing the 463 steps to the top of the dome with stunning views of the entire city and surrounding countryside. The entrance to the steps to the dome is located on the outside of the church (not accessible from the inside) and does cost money. Take the time to stop along the way and view the ceiling painting by Vasari up close. Once up top, the views are spectacular (don't forget your camera). Santa Croce is a Gothic church that is slightly east and south of the Duomo, only a few minutes walk. The church houses the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo and Machiavelli. San Lorenzo church offers the Medici Tombs, Michelangelos Staircase, and the Cappella dei Principi. In the city centre west you can see the Santa Maria Novella church (Gothic) with famous paintings like Spanish Chapel and The Trinity. One of our favorite finds in all of Florence is Oltrarno (over the Arno) and located within the Santa Maria del Carmine church. The Brancacci Chapel is perhaps one of the finest frescoes you will ever see depicting the Life of St Peter. The work was completed in 1480 and is a must see when in Florence.