Follow in the footsteps of Botticelli and Michelangelo as you discover one of the cultural treasure-houses of Europe. Explore ancient churches and historic galleries, shop for bargains in lively markets, sample tasty delicacies in friendly cafes and bars, treat yourself to the latest Italian designer fashions from chic boutiques, and immerse yourself in the Renaissance splendour of royal palaces and grand piazzas.
One of the iconic outlines on the Florentine skyline is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), so head for the Piazza del Duomo and start your tour with a climb to the top of Brunelleschi’s fabled dome for a bird’s-eye view of the whole city spread out at your feet. You might be able to pick out some of the attractions you’ve yet to visit, such as the distinctive U-shape of the Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi), which houses masterpieces by world-famous artists including Botticelli, da Vinci and Titian, or the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge over the Arno River with its jumble of jewellers shops lining the sides.
Across the river lies the Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti), the former residence of the powerful and wealthy Medici family, where yet more artistic treasures await. Spend time viewing the Medici collection of works by Raphael, Caravaggio and other Renaissance painters before heading outside to admire the sculptures in the Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli), beautifully laid out in finest 16th-century Italianate style.
The Renaissance saw an unprecedented flowering of art and architecture, and no building sums up its unique design philosophy as strongly as the San Lorenzo Church (Basilica di San Lorenzo), which combined the talents of fabled Florentine architects Brunelleschi and Michelangelo in one of the oldest and largest ecclesiastical buildings in Florence.
No visit to the capital of Tuscany would be complete without sampling some of the region’s famous culinary specialities such as smoky prosciutto ham, tasty tomato soup flavoured with basil, fresh pasta or tender Florentine steaks, washed down with a nice bottle of local wine. When it comes to finding a restaurant, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this gourmet paradise.
The mild Mediterranean climate attracts visitors year round, although it can be a little quieter during the winter months. However, it makes sense to book tickets to the galleries, especially the popular Uffizi, in advance to avoid the queues and guarantee entry, particularly at peak times. The city is compact and most attractions are within a short walking distance from the centre. Public transport is excellent, with electric buses connecting all the major sites, but be warned – driving and parking in the congested, narrow streets is not for the faint-hearted!