Florence is the capital of the region of Tuscany in Italy. The mesmerising city is brimming with important architectural sites and monuments, housing some of the greatest artistic treasures of the world. Lying on the River Arno, Florence is the jewel in the Italian Renaissance scene; exuding great style, with its beautiful architecture, culture and people.
The city was of great importance in the Middle Ages, at the centre of medieval European trade and finance. For many centuries the city was owned by the Medici family and was one of the wealthiest in all of Europe. The Medici’s and other wealthy families supported for many years the local artists and sculptors. Such names as Michelangelo, Botticelli and Donatello, all donated works to the city, which can today be seen in the cities galleries, including the Pitti, Uffizi and Accademia.
It had a short stint as capital of Italy in 1865, which prompted a complete overhaul of the city. Many of the older quarters, the medieval city walls and other zones were torn up and rebuilt.
Still the city is a handsome one, with its alluring plazas (squares), Renaissance palaces, cultural academies, ancient architecture, art galleries and wonderful green spaces. The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. It is also acclaimed as one of the most desirable touristic destinations in the world.
Some of the most popular cultural attractions in Florence include the Gothic- ‘Duomo’ Cathedral, the Uffizi Gallery, which houses Botticelli’s Birth of Venus amongst other treasures, the Accademia Gallery, with examples of Michelangelo, Giambologna and Botticelli works. The San Lorenzo Library and the churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce.
The charming cobbled streets of the old part of Florence lead down to the River Arno; here you can cross over the Ponte Vecchio to the Oltarno neighbourhood where the craftsman and tradesman of Florence have been living and working for many centuries. Here
you can also visit the Palazzo Pitti, one of Florence’s largest architectural monuments, and the relaxing Boboli Garden. Or climb the hill to the San Miniato al Monte church and enjoy some of the best views of the city.
If you are visiting the city, in fact anywhere in Italy, we really do recommend that you eat Italian and regional Tuscan specialities. Typical regional specialities include Bistecca Fiorentina, a very rare cooked steak, Pappa al Pomodoro, Ribollita, truffle pasta and funghi porcini. Just head down any street and take your pick of tiny trattorias, enotecas or restaurants, and you will usually experience a delicious and hearty meal, washed down with a good Tuscan wine.
Florence is also an excellent base for exploring the rest of the stunning Tuscan region and ‘Chianti’ countryside.
We have compiled a list of some of the main attractions in Florence. See our holiday apartments in Florence.
The Ponte (Bridge) Vecchio has been flooded more times than the Florentines wish to remember; the latest flood being in 1966. The ‘Old’ Bridge was, until the 12th century, the only bridge that linked the city and in the Second World War it was the only bridge that the Germans didn’t destroy. The bridge used to hold stores of all kinds, but in the late 15th century, it was decreed that only goldsmiths and jewellers could trade on the bridge. Sitting on top of the walkway and goldsmiths is the Corridoio (Corridor)Vasariano, which was created in 1565 so that the ruling Medici’s could pass through the city without coming into contact with their subjects.
The magnificent gothic monument, the duomo (cathedral), church of Santa Maria del Fiore, towers over the city. The cathedral was constructed at the end of the 13th century, on the site of an old 7th century church. The imposing dome was incorporated in the 15th century. The exterior and interior contradict, or you could say, compliment each other well. The attractive exterior is decorated with marble in hues of pinks, greens and white, whereas the interior is fairly plain and simple.
The vast Palazzo Pitti, or Pitti Palace, is one of Florence’s largest and most ambitious architectural structures. Originally built in the 14th century for the wealthy Pitti family; the property was then sold to the Medici family and became the main residence in the city.
Gradually further wings, courtyards, etc. were added, until the palace came as huge as it is today. Incorporating the beautiful Boboli Gardens, which date back to the 16th century. The Palazzo also houses some of the most important museums and galleries in Florence, including the Gallery of Modern Art, the Palatine Gallery and the Silver Museum.
The Laurentian Library
The Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) is set within the Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze and is famous for containing over 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books. Set within the cloister of the Medicean Basilica, the 15th century library is quite magnificent, not only for its superb collection of books and manuscripts, but also for its architectural beauty.
Galleria degli Uffizi
The Galleria degli Uffizi is home to the private art collection of the Medici Family. The collection was left to Florence in 1743 on the condition that it would never leave the city. The gallery is set within the overwhelmingly large Palazzo degli Uffizi. You
definitely need more than a day if you wan to visit all of its 55 rooms and over 1500 exhibits.
The Galleria dell’Accademia was converted from the old friary of San Matteo and the convent of San Niccolo di Cafaggio. It was created for the students who attended the Accademia delle Belle, so that they could study works of art from the past. The museum is incredible, housing six Michelangelo sculptures, including ‘David’. Also found are Boticelli’s ‘Madonna and Child’ and ‘Madonna of the Sea’, and Giambologna’s ‘Rape of the Sabines’.
Bargello National Museum
The Bargello National Museum houses some of the finest examples of Rennaissance sculpture and art in the world. The museum is set within the Palazzo del Bargello, once an important and strategic fortress in the city. Works by Michelangelo, Donatello and Cellini can be admired.
Piazza della Signoria
The Piazza della Signoria is Florence’s most prized square, Unfortunately it is also the most popular with tourists, who crowd the square admiring the famous monuments and taking snaps of Ammannati’s Mannerist Fountain of Neptune or Cellini’s Perseus. Don’t get trapped into buying over-expensive coffee or lunch. Head away from the main crowd and find a more authentic flavour of Florence.
Casa del Vino
This traditional vinaio (winery) is one of the last genuine establishments in the city. It’s a great place to enjoy a simple, but scrummy lunch of Panini and wine, served in traditional ‘gottinis’ (wine tumblers).
Chianti Wine Tasting Day
Staying with the wine theme, we recommend that you take an organised trip through the magnificent Tuscan countryside to visit some of the region’s best vineyards. Tuscany is home to the Chianti wine region, and you can sample such classics as Chianti Classico, Chianti Reserve and Vin Santo. The wines are accompanied with, or should I say accompany, traditional local snacks.