The historic center of Florence is fairly compact which means that most major attractions are within walking distance of each other. Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in town, offers great views over the river, brightly lit jewelery shops, and street performers. Just a few minutes from Ponte Vecchio is the square Piazza della Signoria where you can admire the statue Michelangelo's David or sample delicious Italian ice cream. Continuing along Via dei Calzaiuoli you soon reach the Duomo of Florence a magnificent church with a colorful facade, Brunelleschi's dome and Giotto's bell tower. Both the dome and the bell tower can be accessed by visitors. The dome offers great views of the whole city.

About 5 minutes from the Duomo in the northern direction (along Via de' Ginori) lies the church of San Lorenzo and the San Lorenzo Market where street vendors sell leather goods, t-shirts, and other items. Pack some snacks and take a walk through the beautiful Boboli gardens. Along the way, admire fountains, statues and views of the city.

»The Florence Cathedral (The Duomo)

 

The construction of The Cathedral (the Duomo in Italian) began at the end of the 13th century. The magnificent dome, constructed without use of scaffolding, was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and completed in 1434. For many centuries it has been the symbol of Florence and Renaissance architecture. Today, this is the fourth largest cathedral in the world, after St. Peter's in Rome, St. Paul's in London and the Duomo in Milan. The Duomo is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Florence, Italy. The facade is very colorful with a design in white, red and green marble. The exterior, adorned with statues and windows, was designed in the second part of the 19th century by Emilio de Fabris, following the design of Giotto's bell tower. The inside has high gothic arches, windows and doors. The walls are adorned with frescoes, including those by Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno. Brunelleschi's dome rises high above marble pavement inside the cathedral. Visitors can climb to the top of the dome and enjoy scenic views of the city.

A separate structure located on the entrance side, the Baptistry is famous for its East door panels by Ghiberti which mark the beginnings of Renaissance. The South doors were designed by Andrea Pisano. The Baptistry also features colorful mosaics from the 13th century. < The bell tower (campanile) was designed by Giotto more as a decoration for the square than for practical use. The marble pieces for the tower were brought from different areas of Italy: white marble from Carrara, green from Prato, and red from Siena. The bell tower is about 20 feet shorter than the dome. VacationIdea.com Travel Tip: When visiting churches you have to have your shoulders and legs covered to be let into the church or cathedral. This usually means wearing a shirt with short or long sleeves, and trousers for men. The present site of the Museum of the Opera del Duomo was originally used at the end of the thirteenth century for planning and storage while the Duomo was being built. Today, the palace houses original works that had to be removed from the Duomo and the Baptistery, especially from the exterior to avoid damage. The museum is open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.To confirm opening hours call +39-055-230-2885.

»Piazza della Signoria and Michelangelo's David

 

Piazza della Signoria has been the political center of Florence for centuries. Today, it is a lively spot with many restaurants, bars and ice cream shops. In front of Palazzo Vecchio (The Old Palace) one finds a copy of the famous David by Michelangelo, the Marzocco by Donatello and the Neptune Fountain. The entrance to the Uffizi Gallery is just off the square. In the area covered by the Loggia dei Lanzi there are numerous statues, including Cellini's bronze Perseus. Next to the Neptune Fountain is an equestrian statue of Grand Duke Cosimo I of the Medici. In the warmer months, visitors can go on a romantic carriage ride through town, beginning in Piazza della Signoria. At night, locals and visitors alike follow the promenade along Via dei Calzaiuoli, a lively shopping street that connects the square with he Duomo of Florence.

The original statue of Michelangelo's David is located in the museum Galleria dell'Accademia, along with Michelangelo's other important works such as the Four Prisoners. The statue of David used to stand in front of Palazzo Vecchio, but was later moved indoors. A copy is now displayed in front of the palace. The statue of David portrays the ancient hero who killed the fierce opponent Goliath by using a simple slingshot. Michelangelo sculpted David as he would have looked before the fight, with a slingshot over his left shoulder, standing tall and focused. The statue was completed around 1504 and put on display. The copy is located outdoors and can be seen 24 hours a day. There is another copy in Piazzale Michelangelo. To see the original statue, you can visit Galleria dell'Accademia.

»Palazzo Vecchio

 

Palazzo Vecchio (The Old Palace) is the main complex in Piazza della Signoria. In 1540, Cosimo I of the Medici family converted the palace into the residence of the Dukes of Florence. Major attractions inside Palazzo Vecchio include Room of the Lilies, Elenora di Toledo's Rooms, the inner courtyard with the Putto Fountain, and Michelangelo's statue the Victory. Palazzo Vecchio is open to visitors Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Thursday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The museum is closed on certain holidays. If you do not have time to visit Palazzo Vecchio, step into the inner courtyard and take a look at the Putto Fountain and frescoes of old maps.

»The Uffizi Gallery

 

The Uffizi gallery is home to numerous famous art works such as the Birth of Venus and the Primavera by Botticelli, The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci as well as works by Michelangelo, Titian and Rubens. The gallery is a must-see on your vacation to Florence. The museum was originally designed around 1560 by Giorgio Vasari as special offices for the Duke Cosimo I of the Medici family. The gallery is rectangular in shape, beginning at the Signoria Palace and stretching to the Arno river. Francesco I, the son of Cosimo I, started a private art collection on the second floor. Over the centuries, noble families added more and more precious art to the collection as well as the Pitti Palace

The Botticelli Rooms are must-see rooms for any serious art lover. The Birth of Venus (completed around 1485) is a truly magnificent piece of art depicting the Roman goddess of love born from the sea, as she is being blown towards land to be covered with a cloak. The Botticelli Room also features the Allegory of Spring, Pallas and the Centaur, Madonna of the Pomegranate, the Annunciation, Adoration of the Magi, and other works by Sandro Botticelli.

The Leonardo Room features the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo da Vinci. It also houses works by Perugino, Luca Signorelli and others. The museum also houses Michelangelo's Holy Family, Titian's Venus of Urbino, as well as later paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Because of its popularity and because only small groups are let into the museum at one time, people have to wait in line for several hours to enter. Not many visitors know there is number that you can call in advance and reserve a specific time to visit the museum. You can call 39-055-294-883 (Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and buy your tickets ahead of time. The Uffizi is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. and on Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and on certain holidays.

»The Pitti Palace

 

The Pitti Palace is one of the top spots in Florence for art lovers. The building was constructed in the 15th century by the Florentine Pitti family, and was occupied by the Medici family around 1550 after they came to power. The building of the original palace was probably supervised by Brunelleschi. Over the centuries, the palace was expanded by the Medici and turned into a priceless private museum of paintings, sculptures and other rate collectibles. In the back, the palace opens up to the beautiful Boboli gardens with fountains, sculptures and sweeping views of the city.

The Palatine Gallery is a unique collection of 16th and 17th masterpieces by Fra' Bartolomeo, Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Caravaggio, Rubens, Van Dyck, and others. The gallery has not been rearranged since the 19th century and looks more like a private collection than a museum. The walls are adorned with golden stuccos and completely covered with paintings, from top to bottom. It's a must-see if you are planning a cultural vacation to Italy. The Palatine Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:15 a.m. to 6: 50 p.m. It is closed Mondays and certain holidays. To confirm opening hours and for more information call +39-055-2388-614.

The Silver Museum is a showcase of unique vases, cups, gold and silver pieces, and precious gems. There are also portraits of powerful Florentines, such as Savonarola and Cosimo I of the Medici family, as well as marble busts of ancient emperors. The museum is open from 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. It is closed every second and fourth Sunday of the month. Tickets cost 3 euro and include access to the Boboli gardens. For more information, call +39-055-2388-709.

he Gallery of modern art is located on the second floor. The 30 rooms house paintings from neo-classicism to the 20th century. There are many works by Tuscan painters as well as foreign artists. The Gallery of modern art is open on weekdays from 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. The museum is closed every second and fourth Sunday of the month, and every first, third and fifth Monday of the month, as well as on certain holidays. Tickets cost euro 5 and give you access to both the Gallery of modern art and the Galleria del Costume. The museum does not take advanced reservations. For more information, call +39-055-2388-601.

Galleria del Costume is an exhibit of clothing worn by the Tuscan grand dukes in the 1700s and 1800s. The opening hours and ticket information is the same as for The Gallery of modern art. VacationIdea.com Travel Tip: The palace is a massive complex of rooms, works of art and gardens. Plan a full day around visiting the palace. Instead of buying separate tickets for each museum, ask for the 3-day pass which will give you access to all of the museums and the Boboli Gardens. The famous Ponte Vecchio with its shops is just a short walk away.

»Boboli Gardens

 

The Boboli gardensare among the most beautiful gardens in Italy, complete with fountains, statues, an amphitheater and, if you make it all the way to the top, spectacular views of the city. The gardens were designed and built after the Medici family moved to the Pitti Palace around 1550. They begin with the Amphitheater and an ancient obelisk behind the main building. To the left of the palace is La Grotta Grande (The Large Cave) with Michelangelo's Four Prisoners built into the walls of the cave.

The gardens rise towards the top of the hill, passing an 18th century coffeehouse where you can get refreshments. There are several paths to the top, some passing past the Neptune Fountain. There are benches around the lake-like fountain where you can rest. Towering above is the Forte di Belvedere, a scenic point with views of the city. Visitors continue down a path laid with white pebbles, and flanked by cypress trees and classical statues. The path opens up into a large area with an artificial lake and the Little Island (L'Isolotto). There are numerous statues, running water and flowers. One can rest on one of the benches around the lake and take in the classical beauty of the landscaping. The ticket office and the entrance to the Boboli gardens is through the Pitti Palace. The gardens are closed on first and fourth Monday of the month, and certain holidays. The opening hours vary by season. Opening time is around 9 a.m. and closing about one hour before sunset.

»Ponte Vecchio

 

After the sun sets, Ponte Vecchio transforms into a meeting place for locals and tourists alike, often alive with music and laughter. During the day, browse boutique jewelery stores along the bridge for their perfect gift for your loved one. The best romantic sunset can be enjoyed from Ponte Santa Trinita, one bridge over from Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge). Not as crowded as the Old Bridge, Ponte Santa Trinita offers great views over the river and spectacular views of the Old Bridge itself.

»The San Lorenzo Church

 

San Lorenzo, the oldest church in town, dating back to the 4th century, was rebuilt in the beginning of the 15th century by Brunelleschi in Renaissance style. The church has a bare facade because the original designs by Michelangelo were never completed. San Lorenzo houses several important works, including a set of Donatello's Pulpits, Martyrdom of St. Lawrence by Bronzino and the Wedding of the Virgin by Rosso Fiorentino. Admission fee is 2.5 euro per person. Attached to San Lorenzo is the Canons' Cloister and the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana. The cloister was added to San Lorenzo in the 15th century and designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. Works on the cloister began around 1420. The cloister has an open-air garden with lemon trees and other plants. On the walls, one finds plaques commemorating various events. The Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana holds ancient manuscripts collected by Cosimo the Elder. The staircase to the entrance of the Biblioteca was designed by Michelangelo. Walls of the entrance room are divided into three sections decorated with double columns. The stairs by Michelangelo can be seen by the public from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. free of charge. Sundays, one can join a free guided tour from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

»The History of Science Museum

 

The History of Science Museum houses a collection of about 5,000 original scientific instruments divided into the Medici and the Lorenese collection. Among the items on display are the original Galilean instruments, including telescopes and lenses. There is a hall devoted to showing the origins and historical development of the microscope. Another section shows electrostatic and electromagnetic instruments from the eighteenth century. The museum is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The museum is also open the second Sunday of every month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and closed during certain holidays.

»Dante Alighieri's House

 

Dante's House is a museum dedicated to the famous poet's life. He wrote the Divine Comedy during the medieval times, and may have lived in this house. The museum is located in the historic center. It is closed on Tuesdays. For opening times call +39- 055-283-962.

Other Great Museums in Florence

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.

More Florence Vacation Ideas and Tips for Visitors

The city of Florence began to flourish in the early 1400s under the rule of Cosimo de Medici. Famous buildings designed during that period include the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi Gallery. Today, these buildings house works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Raphael and many others. The Pitti Palace houses several distinct collections, including the Palatine Gallery on the ground floor, the Silver Museum and the Gallery of Modern Art. The Palatine Gallery is unlike any other art collection. It makes you feel like you are visiting an amazing private art gallery. The paintings are not organized in any particular order and hang in lavishly decorated rooms. Among the most important works presented in the Palatine Gallery are paintings by Titian and Raphael. The adjacent Boboli Gardens feature Renaissance-style gardens, statues and fountains.

Other great choices include the Medici Chapels, Bargello National Museum and the Accademia Gallery. The Medici Chapels feature the tombs of the Medici family and several beautiful sculptures by Michelangelo. Bargello houses 14th-century and Renaissance sculptures, including works by Michelangelo, Donatello and Brunelleschi. Accademia Gallery features the original David by Michelangelo and Madonna of the Sea by Botticelli.

Another secret to know if you want to avoid long lines is that there are reservation services you can use to get tickets to most major attractions for an additional fee, such as www.weekendafirenze.com or www.goporta.com. Be sure to specify the exact time of your visit. After you receive your confirmation, make sure you know where to go to bypass the line.

If you want to get off the beaten path, a fascinating museum is the the Ferragamo Museum (39-055-336-0456), located in Palazzo Spini Feroni, Via Tornabuoni, 2, Florence 50100. The museum houses historic sketches, photographs and over 10,000 pairs of shoes designed by Salvatore Ferragamo, including models worn by Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn and Rita Hayworth. The museum can be only be visited by appointment on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A few people are admitted at a time, so you can admire the shoe collection at your own pace. Admission to the museum is free.

If you are looking for great stores, designer shops, including Versace, Gucci, Ferragamo, Prada and Bulgari are located along Via Tornabuoni and Via Vigna Nuova. Shops are usually open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. On Mondays, stores are usually open only in the afternoon. In addition to a great variety of products, leather enthusiasts can even visit a leather school and learn more about the art of working with leather. The Leather School of Santa Croce is located near Santa Croce - one of the entrances is through the church. Visitors can tour several showrooms, observe work in progress, and do some shopping.

Most antique shops are located in the area around Santo Spirito. You can find anything from wooden tables, chairs, vases, chandeliers and frames. Many antique and other small shops are closed during the month of August. If you are looking for unique jewelery on your romantic getaway, take a look in the shops on Ponte Vecchio. If you can, plan a real shopping spree when the sale is on. Sales usually take place in January, and during the month of July.

What's the Weather Like in Florence?

Florence has four distinct seasons. The best time to visit Florence is during late spring or early fall when days are warm and you can spend time outside exploring the city. 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.

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.

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.

Getting There and Getting Around

Florence is located 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.