Florence, the capital of Tuscany and the former capital of the Republic of Italy, is an ancient city founded in 59 BC by Julius Caesar himself. However, Florence reached its peak in the 14th and 16th centuries, when it became a financial and cultural center of Europe. Florence successfully combines the spirit of the great past with the atmosphere of a lively and dynamic modern city, offering excellent food, shopping, and plenty of entertainment opportunities.
Florence is considered the city where the Renaissance began, and for many prominent figures of that period, such as Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio, it was their hometown. Renaissance architecture also came from here, and the great Florentine architects, above all Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Baptista Alberti, laid the foundation of a new architectural style, which for many centuries influenced construction in all major European cities, from Barcelona to St. Petersburg. Since then, Florence has been well preserved in all its Renaissance splendor. Florence city can now be called an "open-air museum".
Visit Santa Maria del Fiore
One of the most ancient and recognizable buildings in Florence is the Gothic cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. This jewel of world architecture has been striking for seven centuries with its elegance and grandeur and is a true jewel of Florence city. The cathedral was built on the site of the Church of Santa Reparata, which was built on the ruins of an ancient Roman temple. The beginning of construction dates back to 1296 when the work was carried out around the still active church, led by Arnolfo di Cambio. In 1375, the old church was torn down and the main work on Santa Maria del Fiore was completed, although not completely (in particular, the facade of the building was created only in the 19th century).
No less impressive is the exterior facade of the building, made of multicolored marble slabs, with a variety of sculptural compositions. It is complemented by a rectangular bell tower, decorated with numerous niches filled with statues and hexagonal medallions; they depict various biblical subjects. The luxurious interior of the cathedral is executed in the best traditions of the so-called Italian Gothic — the naves with lancet arches, numerous arches, galleries, high walls decorated with pilasters, etc. The floor of the cathedral is made of marble; several famous sculptors worked on it in the 16th century. Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the five most grandiose cathedrals in the world, its length exceeds one hundred and fifty meters and a width of about one hundred meters. In addition, the cathedral has a museum, a hall where the remains of an ancient church are preserved, as well as a chic viewing platform.
Explore Piazza Della Signoria
Situated in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza Della Signoria is home to a mass of interesting sculptures — from Michelangelo's David to Donatello's Judith and Holofernes, and Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa. At one time, the fires of the Holy Inquisition and the Republic's leading political figures were staged here to win the attention of the citizens. The latter, of course, refers to the legendary Savonarola, who, urging the fight against luxury, lit such a bonfire of books, clothes, paintings, and musical instruments. A year later, in 1498, the Inquisition frolicked here, burning Savanarola himself at the stake. As you can see, the square has a rich history.
Visit Palazzo Vecchio Palace
The former Palazzo Della Signoria, now called Palazzo Vecchio, is probably the most sumptuous building in Florence city. Built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, the palace is an architectural gem in and of itself, and when combined with the breathtaking interiors, which are packed with masterpieces of painting and sculpture, it is a must-see item on any Florentine sightseeing program. Three courtyards, the central 52-meter Cinquecento hall with 16th-century frescoes, the Cappella Signoria, and the Dressing Room are just a few of the palazzo's breathtaking rooms.
The visit to the Palazzo Vecchio invariably begins at the main entrance. A massive marble frontispiece from the early 16th century immediately catches your eye; between the two lions is a monogram of Jesus Christ and a laudatory inscription in Latin. To the right and left of the entrance are two famous sculptures: Michelangelo's David and Bandinelli's Hercules and Caucus. The Palazzo's three inner courtyards are so magnificent that one wonders whether the interiors could be even more brilliant... There are Verrocchio statues and Vasari frescoes here, and the water pouring from the nose of the dolphin fountain comes from the Boboli Gardens!
Take a walk at Boboli Gardens
The world-famous Boboli Gardens next to the Palazzo Pitti, home of the Medici dukes, are considered a museum of garden sculpture. Why is this park so interesting? First, it is very beautiful. There is a huge number of all kinds of terraces, fountains, grottos, and pavilions. Secondly, in the gardens, there are sculptures created at different times — from antiquity to the 17th century. And finally, the most important argument: Boboli Gardens served as a model, according to which all European royal parks, including Versailles, were created. Another reason to visit this park is the panoramic view of Florence city. The Boboli Gardens are separated by long axial paths and wide gravel paths. It's worth noting that on the main axial walkway you can see the Neptune Fountain. Locals jokingly call it the fountain with a fork. By the way, almost all the sculptures have their historical value. For example, near one of the grottoes are statues of slaves — exact copies of "Slaves" by Michelangelo. Nearby there is a statue of a fat man sitting on a turtle — he was the court jester of Duke Cosimo I.
See the beauty at the Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Florence city, and often there are long lines at the entrance. Nonetheless, it's worth the wait to see the unique architecture of the museum and, more importantly, the works of the world's greatest artists. The gallery is located in a magnificent building designed by Giorgio Vasari, especially for members of the Medici dynasty. Cosimo I de Medici decided to gather all the government offices of Florence city under one roof, with another, no less important goal to perpetuate the greatness and wealth of his famous family in this grand and luxurious palace. Construction work began in 1560 and was not completed until twenty years later, after Cosimo I died. It had to demolish the old quarters because the stone walls of the medieval houses were widely used in the construction of the new palace.
The Uffizi gradually moved all the paintings and sculptures from the other houses of the great dynasty. Here are rare works by Sandro Botticelli, who, incidentally, was a member of the Medici family, including one of the most famous paintings by the artist — The Birth of Venus, which was added to the collection only in the mid-19th century. In addition, there are works by Raphael, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, self-portraits by Aivazovsky, and many others. The collection of unique sculptures, the main of which is the world-famous Venus de Medici, is also impressive.
Listen to the silence at Florence cathedrals
The soul of the Florence city is revealed in its many cathedrals, chapels, baptisteries, and churches. The best is, of course, Santa Maria del Fiore, the Gothic cathedral best viewed from the vantage point of Piazzale Michelangelo. Up close, it is simply impossible to fit the lush machismo of the temple into a camera lens. It is impossible not to fall in love with this architectural masterpiece. Nearby is Giotto's bell tower, for the view of which thousands of tourists pay a lot of money to hotels. And, of course, the tiny (compared to the Duomo) baptistery of San Giovanni. It is the baptistery where all the illustrious infants of the Florentine Republic cried out obscenely during baptism. Two other significant churches in Florence city (besides a dozen amazing churches with masterpieces of varying importance) are the basilicas of San Lorenzo and Santa Croce. The former, if I may say so, is famous for the tombs of members of the Medici clan. The latter contains the famous "Pantheon of Florence" — the tombs of the most famous citizens of Florence, including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini, and Dante.
Visit Florence museums
The Uffizi Gallery in Piazza Signoria is not only one of the oldest museums in Italy but also the most comprehensive and important collection of Italian art in the world. The San Marco Museum is famous for the frescoes and paintings of the great Dominicans, Fra Beato Angelico and Fra Bartolomeo, and the Cell of Savonarola. Of interest is the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, where there is an original of the same David, which makes schoolchildren, ladies, and art historians blush (alas, all for different reasons).
The Pitti Palace, like the Vecchio, has a string of museums, one of the most interesting being the Galleria Pitti in the royal apartments. It is also worth visiting the memorial collections because Florence, like no other city, is famous for its famous citizens. For example, you can visit the Medici Museum in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Or to the house-museum of Michelangelo Buonarotti. It was here that the great sculptor and painter created his earliest creations-the reliefs Madonna Della Scala and the Battle of the Centaurs. Michelangelo's library and a collection of drawings signed personally by the genius hand are a bonus. Another worthwhile exhibit in the House Museum of Dante Alighieri. The building itself is remarkable — it is a kind of tower, where one of the greatest Italian poets was born and where his priceless manuscripts are kept.
Taste the local cuisine in Florence
One can make legends about Florentine cuisine and never embellish it; it's damn tasty. The crowning glory of local culinary creations is the incomparable pound steak of Florence (bistecca fiorentina). The steaks are usually served with blood, but you can also ask for a "medium" roast. The portion is enough for two or three people, seriously. All the other local dishes are "mid-Italian" but with Tuscan spices and delicacies. Pasta is preferred for the first course; artichokes or bruschetta for the appetizer; cheese for dessert. And, of course, first-class ice cream. Florence city, by the way, is seriously challenging the claims of the rest of the world to become the official homeland of this cold sweet. A hefty scoop of homemade ice cream in a cone in tried-and-true gelaterias (ice cream parlors, emphasis on the "i") starts at around 2 EUR.
There is another dish on the Florentine menu worthy of a separate mention. A forgotten dish that has made a triumphant return to the streets of Florence is lampredotto, a fourth cow's stomach stewed with tomatoes. It's served in fine restaurants as well as from trays or small vans to take away as a sandwich. Tuscan Chianti needs no introduction at all; it is drunk everywhere, drunk unabashedly, drunk with pleasure, and one has only to follow the example of the people of Florence city. Grappa or limoncello are also consumed as a digestif, and a Campari or Cinzano can be had before dinner.
Where to taste the local cuisine in Florence
Florence city has plenty of decent restaurants and cafes where you can have a hearty meal or just have a bite to eat. The most ceremonious ones are the ristorante and osteria. It is better to reserve a table for dinner in advance and be ready to pay at least 40 EUR per person. Trattorias are simpler and cheaper, while pizzerias and rosticerias are next on the hierarchical ladder. The latter is a kind of barbecue bar; in short, not the best place for a solid dinner, but for an evening tasting of local wine — why not? Finally, at the end of the list of Florentine establishments is Tavola calda, a real dining room that opens its doors only for lunch and serves great food. It is delicious and inexpensive, but it is better to make a list of tried and tested places in advance.
The best value-for-money restaurants, where the Florentines themselves dine, are a bit away from the historic center, so don't be lazy to walk further-the effort will be rewarded. When it comes to neighborhoods, crowded places like San Lorenzo or around the Duomo, where they almost always offer the best food at triple the price, are better to avoid than others like Santa Croce or Oltrarno. Since Florence city is almost in the center of Tuscany (which, as we know, is famous for its wine), there are many excellent and inexpensive wines on sale here, particularly the excellent Chianti. Many establishments offer so-called homemade Chianti in decanters, costing up to 5–10 EUR.
Spend the time with your kids
Florence is an amazing city for children and parents. The best place to visit is the Museo dei Ragazzi ("Museum for Boys"). Boys and girls can be dressed as knights or told how to conduct experiments with vacuums with equal sagacity. Continuing the chivalrous theme, it's worth checking out the Stibbert Museum, a magnificent collection of Western weapons and Japanese armor. To finish the boyish leitmotif, you can visit the museum of the scooter brand Piaggio, where you can't drag the dads and kids away (in Pontedera, 40 minutes from Florence city).
In the Children's Museum at the Palazzo Vecchio, the kids will be taken care of by the grim "master" of the house, Cosimo de Medici, who will guide them through the secret corridors and rooms of the palace and let them try on the cloaks, dresses, and masks of the 16th century. Curious kids will certainly be interested in ancient compasses, astrolabes, and maps in the Galileo Museum. For a diversion from the museum exhibits, you can visit Pinocchio Park in Collodi (an hour away by car). The main "must-see" in Florence city is Toyland, which has a story that tells the adventures of a scrappy wooden boy, as well as a large playground, a store, and a giant chess board. About 10 kilometers from Collodi, there is an excellent spa resort, Montecatini Terme, where parents should come for some relaxing treatments.
Families with little ones will long remember their vacation in Florence city if you take them to one of the play areas, where everything is thought out for children's recreation: from soft zones to games of Star Wars. One indoor playground, La Carozza di Hans, is on the south bank of the Arno, quite far from the center. La Bottega di Ragazzi is slightly smaller but 300 meters from the Duomo. It has a 0+ time on Mondays and Thursdays from 15:00 to 19:00.
The best time to visit Florence
Florence's climate is a strange mix of Mediterranean and subtropical humid climates. On the one hand, the fields of Tuscany in the off-season always bring a gentle and warm breeze full of scents of blooming herbs. On the other hand, the summer in Florence city is very hot and stuffy, not suitable for long sightseeing walks. But the winter is mild but rainy, and in some years it can bring quite a cold snap. It is June-July to combine two days of excursions with bathing in the sea, which is about 100 km away from Florence city. August is also nice, but it is the month when many Italians take their vacations and fill all the neighborhood beaches with their cheerful and noisy crowds.
The best time to visit Florence is August and September.