Easily accessed by train or car. Rome to Florence by car is only about 3 hours on the motorway – but better to take a day or two and explore the hilltop towns on your way North.
You need at least one full day for sightseeing, preferably two or three. If clients are not going to have a car to tour around then Florence is a great base for exploring Tuscany. Florence is an excellent base for people to pick up a car for exploring Tuscany (easier to navigate than Rome).
If driving into Florence: Parking is confusing – and you do pay $40 – $50 per day!! You may find it better to leave the car (empty of valuables) at the town outskirts and train in.
Florence itself – The centre is very compact so you can easily explore it by foot. Expect to queue when seeing the main sights. Key sights are David – the real thing usually involves a long queue but you can see replicas around the city. The exquisite green and white marble Duomo is the focus of the city. Do climb to the top for fabulous views around the city (make sure you take your camera – you will not want to repeat the climb up!). The Baptistery doors are exquisite.
Expect to pay $7 – $10 or so for coffees around this area! If you are on a budget head to the Santa Croce area for lunch, north of here coffees are $1.50 and it is a friendly student area. The Santa Croce area is also home to the Leather School.
Highlights of Florence:
The Ponte Vecchio – the oldestsurviving bridge in the city was built in 1345. Originally the picturesque shops thatlined each side of the bridge were filled with blacksmiths, butchers and tanners but they are now home to jewellers and goldsmiths – so do go shopping.
Across the bridge is the Oltrano area – home to the famous Palazzo Pitti (on via Romana). This vast Palazzo became the main residence of the Medici family and is now open to the public. The richly decorated rooms are filled with treasures including some of the great Renaissance artists including Raphael and Titian. It is usually closed on Mondays.
The Palazzo’s gardens – the Boboli Gardens are beautiful, very stylised Renaissance with quite formal areas leading to wilder groves. There are countless statues, particularly along the Viottolone – an avenue of cypress tress planted in 1637. The gardens provide a great escape from sightseeing – they are open every day except the 1st and 4th Monday of each month.
Uffizi Gallery Accademia bookings – 0830-1850, closed on Mondays, €6.50. Queues can be long, pre-book with Florence Museum Reservations Service, (055) 294 883, 0830-1830 or Sat 0830-1230 (€3 bkg fee applies). Or book at the Information Desk at The New Uffizi or Pitti Palace. Guided Tours and admission tickets can be pre purchased online www.florenceart.it Booking and ticketing fees apply.
Vasari Corridor – private corridor linking Pitti Palace and the Uffizi which was used by the Medici family to avoid assassination attempts or having to walk amongst the ‘ordinary’ folk. Follow in their footsteps and admire the priceless works of art while hearing about the ‘bloody’ history of the Medicis. Can only be seen as a guided tour with The Uffizi. See www.florenceart.it
Giotto’s bell Tower – is the tower attached to The Duomo. 414 steps to some of the best views over Florence. €9 approx.
‘Calcio in Costume’ – Every year in June a traditional football (Calcio) match is held between the neighbourhoods of Florence. Teams dress up in 15th Century costume in the colours of their neighbourhood and matches are played in Piazza Santa Croce. Dates may change but usually 16, 24, 30 June and if you are in Florence on these dates don’t miss it.
Palacio del Bargello – was the Captain of Justice residence and now the National Museum. Great to wander around and worth a visit. They have some wonderful exhibitions; saw a Michelangelo exhibition for €3 and no queues!
Baldovino – Via San Giuseppe by Santa Croce has an Enoteca (wine Bar with light meals) and a Trattoria on opposite sides of Via San Giuseppe. Great wine and great food (the Brushetta is really good) – but expect City prices.
Shopping – You can find some good bargains in Florence especially around Sale time – June-August. Explore the two main shopping streets, Via Dei Tornabuoni and Via Dei Calzaiuoli and the many small streets in between. Leather shoppers will enjoy the open-air Mercato de San Lorenzo for its exquisite array of leather shoes, handbags and jackets.
Coin Department Store on Via Dei Calzaiuoli provides everything from accessories to houseware products and the small streets running off that towards Santa Croce is home to various small shops selling jewellery, shoes and leather.
Galleria dell’Academia (Michelangelo’s David) Tues – Sun 0815-1850 Closed Mon
Uffizi Gallery (Italy’s Premier art gallery) Tues – Sun 0830-1850 Closed Mon
Santa Maria del fiore (Duomo and Baptistry) Free, open from 10am
Santa Croce (Michelangelo’s tomb) €3, Open from 0930
Ponte Vecchio (600yr old covered bridge)
Piazzzale Michelangelo – take No.12 bus from train station or 20min walk from Duomo
San Lorenzo Markets (Leather everything) Mon-Sat 0900-1930
Mercato Nuovo (souvenirs and leather) Daily 0900-1900 Closed Sun & Mon winter
Mercato San Ambrogio (for Foodies, good place for lunch) Mon – Sat 0700-1300
Chris Recommends Reading: If you are travelling around Tuscany and are looking for a good book to read – take along Irving Stones book The Agony and The Ecstasy – It is the life of Michelangelo and you will find yourself immersed in the history of Tuscany as Michelangelo spent a lot of time in many of the small villages – look out for his art throughout the many churches. You do not need to be an art buff to enjoy this book!
Under the Tuscan Sun or Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes are good too (shorter)