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Florence Travel Guide - Tips for Visitors

Florence is located in Tuscany, about 150 miles from Rome. Airlines that fly to the Amerigo Vespucci airport in Florence, Italy include Alitalia, Air France, Austrian, and many others. The airport is about 20 minutes by taxi from the center of town. If flying from North America, you will probably have to catch a connecting flight in Rome or Milan.

Alternatively, you can fly to Rome and take a high speed train from Rome which takes about 1.5 hours, or Venice (about 3 hours). Major airlines that fly to Rome's Fiumicino Airport include Alitalia, American Airlines, Air France, Austrian Airlines and Air Canada. After you land, you can take the Leonardo Express train, which departs every 30 minutes (from 5.51 a.m. to 10.51 p.m.), to Roma Termini, the main train station in Rome. From Roma Termini, you can take the high-speed train to the center (about 1.5 hours). The high-speed train requires advanced reservations which can be made at www.fs-on-line.com.

Many travelers may decide to rent a car to explore Tuscany. A car, however, is not very useful since most streets in the historic center can be only used by buses and taxis. Call your hotel to find out ahead of time if parking is available at the hotel or nearby.

Taxis are white with a "Taxi" sign on the roof. There are several taxi ranks in the city, including at the back of the Duomo of Florence, in Piazza della Repubblica and at the Santa Maria Novella train station. You can ask your hotel concierge to call a taxi for you. In Italy, a taxi meter starts running as soon as the taxi is called. If you, however, catch a taxi at one of the taxi ranks, the meter should be started only after you get into the cab.

The city has a fairly compact historic center and most attractions can be reached on foot. For example, Ponte Vecchio is about 10 minutes on foot from the Duomo of Florence. Walking is usually the best way to get to know a city. In the historic center, traffic is limited to taxis, buses and residents, which makes walking quite easy.

The city also has several bus lines - buses are bright orange. Bus stops are marked with orange signs displaying the route of the particular bus line. You can get around the historic center of Florence on bus lines A and B. These are small orange electric buses which can navigate the narrow streets.

Bus tickets have to be bought before you get on the bus and stamped with the stamping machine on the bus. Tickets can be bought from news stands and bars displaying the ATAF sign (the sign of the bus company). After the bus ticket is stamped on the bus, it is usually valid for one hour, depending on the type of the bus ticket.

Where to Stay in Florence

Florence offers an array of accommodation options. If you stay in the historic center around Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio, you will be within walking distance of most major attractions and the best shopping.

Italian Hotels are rated from one to five stars. A three star property is a mid-range level, however, the services you may get vary. A four or a five star hotel is in the luxury category.

You can usually confirm your reservation via internet or by e-mail. You will usually have to provide a credit card number. Cancellation policies vary greatly, anywhere from 24 hours to one week. Before making a reservation, find out whether taxes and breakfast are included in the price.

During low season, between November and March and in July and August, prices in the city are negotiable. You can e-mail that tell them you are interested and find out if is offering special rates. During the low season it is possible to find a better price at a four-star place by inquiring about specials than at a three-star getaway.

Go to Piazza della Signoria to see statues and fountains which you normally read about in text books.

The line for the Uffizi is usually the longest since every visitors wants to see the famous paintings by the likes of Michelangelo and Titian. We also recommend that you visit the beautiful Pitti Palace which houses stunning painting and other art, Galleria dell'Accademia and Palazzo Vecchio, for its grand architecture alone.

Where to Eat: Restaurants and Cafes

Tuscan cuisine is very different than food in the rest of the country and is well worth getting to know. As a starter, try a mixed plate of crostini - pieces of toasted bread covered with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, or other spreads.

In addition to pasta, the first course in Tuscany is usually a thick soup with vegetable ingredients. "Ribollita," a thick soup with beans, vegetables and bread, is one of the local favorites. House wine is usually Chianti grown.

At night, university students gather at bars and clubs for a drink and a snack. Many popular bars are located in the historic center. For the latest hot spots, pick up a copy of the magazine Firenze Spettacolo once you get there. Another resource, Florence Today, is distributed freely twice a month.

Clubs and discotheques usually have an entrance fee of around Euro 10 which comes with a free drink.

What's the Weather Like in Florence?

Florence, Italy has four distinct seasons. Winters are cold and windy, and summers are quite hot. In December, January and February, days are short and cold. Average high temperatures are in the 40s and low temperatures in the 30s. If you go during that period, pack a warm coat and an umbrella. Occasionally it even snows in the winter. The city is much less crowded in the winter than during other seasons. You can tour many of the city's museums and churches, or go shopping.

Spring

In late March average high temperature is in the 60s and days begin to lengthen. By May, average high temperature is in the 70s. If you travel during this period, pack a warm jacket since nights can be quite cold. In the spring, it may also rain. May and early June is a great time to visit since days are longer and warmer.

Summer

July and August are the hottest months - high average temperature is almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors cool off inside museums and churches. Nights are warm and many restaurants have outdoor service. Most Italians leave their cities then. There are, however, many tourists during the summer. Look for deals since summer is low season in Italian cities. If you are planning to visit during July and August and do not want to miss out on seeing the city, combine your trip with a few days on the Italian coast and stay in a romantic hotel on the Amalfi Coast. This way you can take in the sights, but also make sure that you relax. You can also visit the nearby city of Pisa and see the famous Leaning Tower. July and August are hot and humid with many tourists. Since most Italians leave their hot cities in the summer, many restaurants are closed.

Fall

Many people find that early fall is the best time to visit Tuscany. Temperatures begin to drop in late October and November, and there is more rain. The best time to visit is in May, early June, late September and October. Days during those months are usually warm, and quite long.

Famous Attractions and Museums in Florence

For those who only have one or two days to dedicate to touring the sites of Florence, we have put together a list of attractions you will not want to miss. The most famous museum is the Uffizi, featuring works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Rubens and others. The most important thing to know about visiting this attraction is to reserve tickets ahead of time because there is always a line. The main square in the city is Piazza della Signoria which features restaurants, ice cream parlors and bars. Just off the piazza is the entrance to the Uffizi. A reproduction of Michelangelo's David is also located in this square. Nearby, visitors will find designer shops.

Galleria dell'Accademia
Galleria dell'Accademia, founded in 1784, hosts a collection of sculptures and paintings. One of the most important works on display at the museum is David by Michelangelo (completed around 1504), which was moved there in 1873. Galleria dell'Accademia houses other works by Michelangelo Buonarroti, including the Four Prisoners (completed around 1523), San Matteo and Pietà di Palestrina. Paintings on display at the museum include works from 3rd and 4th centuries, as well as 15th and 16th centuries. There are paintings by Fra' Bartolomeo, Andrea del Sarto and Perugino from the first part of the 16th century.

Santa Croce
The Basilica of Santa Croce is a large gothic church which contains Galileo's Tomb, Michelangelo's Tomb, as well as memorials to Dante and Machiavelli. One can also admire Giotto's frescoes from 1317 and Donatello's Crucifix. Opening times vary by season - call +39-055-244-619. The church is closed on Sundays and certain other holidays.

The Medici Chapels
The Medici Chapels is a small museum with two main rooms: the Princes' Chapel and the Medici Tombs. The Princes' Chapel is covered with a huge dome designed by Buontalenti. It contains six tombs of Grand Dukes and elaborate designs in green and red marble. The Medici Tombs house Michelangelo's spectacular statues Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk. The Chapels are attached to the San Lorenzo Basilica, however, the entrance to the museum is from the other side in Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini. The museum is open weekdays from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on weekends from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is closed every second and fourth Sunday of the month, and every first, third and fifth Monday of the month, as well as during certain holidays.

The Bargello
The Bargello, which became a national museum in 1865, is located in an ancient palace built in 1250. The museum has three floors arranged around an inner courtyard, and flanked by a 12th century tower. The first floor features the Michelangelo Room which houses his famous statue Bacchus. The statue portrays the god of wine from ancient Rome and is considered Michelangelo's fist major work. Bacchus is holding a cup with his right hand, and a tiger's skin and grapes with his left hand. Other works by Michelangelo housed in the Bargello include Tondo Pitti, David - Apollo, and Brutus.

The inner courtyard of the museum displays several works which were moved from Palazzo Vecchio and the Boboli gardens. The first floor of the museum includes the Donatello Room featuring Donatello's David, San Giorgio, Marzocco, and other important works by Donatello. The museum is open from 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. It is closed every second and fourth Monday of the month, and every first, third and fifth Sunday of the month. It is also closed during certain holidays. To confirm opening hours or reserve a ticket, call +39-055-294-883. Centrally located hotels include the Savoy, Hotel Lungarno and Gallery Hotel Art.

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