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The principal Tuscan city of Florence nestles below the wooded foothills of the Apennines, along the banks of the Arno River. The works of Botticelli, Michelangelo, Bruneschelli, Leonardo, Boccaccio, Alberti, Masaccio, Donatello, Vasari and Fra Angelico imbue the city with the magnificence of their contribution to art and life. The city is home to many stylish citizens, who enhance the cobbled streets and fashionable piazzas with their inimitable Italian flair.
The heart of the city is the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria, where everyone from tourist to tout seems to congregate, The statues dominating the Piazza della Signoria commemorate major historical events of the city's life, and the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio still performs its original role as Florence's town hall.
The adjacent Uffizi is the oldest art gallery in the world, with a collection of the greatest works of the Renaissance, commissioned largely by the Medici family. The man who founded the great long-ruling Medici dynasty was Cosimo il Vecchio, his legacy imprinted in the city's northern area marked by the churches of San Lorenzo, San Marco and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
The western stretches of the city are formed by Florence's railway station at one end and the Ponte Vecchio at the other. The quaint Ponte Vecchio bridge was built in 1345, one of the few areas to emerge unscathed from the wartime bombs. Little workshops that used to belong to butchers, tanners and blacksmiths peer onto the river from their timber supports. The church of Santa Maria Novella also rises from the city's western boundaries in true Gothic splendour, preserving some of the most important works of art in Florence.
The Oltrarno area became the place from which the Medici ruled from the Palazzo Pitti. The magnificent Boboli Gardens were designed and laid out around it. The area surrounding Via Maggio and Piazza di Santo Spirito boasts a collection of other palazzi built during the 16th and 17th-centuries.
Florence has wonders and treasures enough to occupy travellers for many holidays.
The Uffizi is one of the world's greatest art galleries, with a collection of Renaissance paintings that includes the works of Giotto, Masaccio, Paolo Ucello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio. The collection is housed on the top floor of a building designed as the offices of the Medici, commissioned by Duke Cosimo I. From 1581, Cosimo's heirs used the upper storey to display the Medici art treasures. Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures line the inner corridors of the gallery and a series of rooms showcases the chronological development of Florentine art from Gothic to High Renaissance and beyond. The queues can get frustratingly long so it is best to arrive as early as possible.
Florence Cathedral is set in the heart of the city, its most distinctive feature being its enormous dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The Campanile was built according to Giotto's designs in 1334, serving as an elegant prop to Brunelleschi's stout Cathedral. The tower is decorated with two garlands of bas-reliefs, strung around its pink, white and green marble exterior. Above, sculptures by Donatello of the Prophets and Sybils look down upon the city below. The neighbouring Baptistry is one of Florence's oldest buildings, the gilded brass doors marking Florence's deliverance from the plague. It also contains the machines used in the construction of the cathedral's dome. Other noteworthy artefacts found in the museum include Michelangelo's Pieta and Donatello's Magdalene. In the anteroom are Andrea Pisano's panels from the first few levels of the bell tower.
This Gothic Palazzo built in 1255 shelters a treasured national collection of Renaissance sculpture. It's one of the oldest buildings in Florence and has been the setting for some important episodes of history, including sieges, fires and executions: the most famous of these being that of Baroncelli, who was executed for plotting against the Medici and whose execution was witnessed by Leonardo da Vinci. An extensive collection of decorative art is on display, in addition to the magnificent sculptures of Michelangelo, Donatello and Giambologna. The inner courtyard is ornamented with numerous coats of arms and the grand stairwell leading to the second-story loggia overflows with bronze birds created for the Medici's gardens. Other notable displays include an Islamic collection, an assortment of ivories and 16th-century majolica porcelain from Urbino, Faenza and Florence.
Santa Croce, a magnificent Gothic church built in 1294, contains the tombs of many celebrated Florentines, such as Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli, as well as the famous composer Rossini. The interior is graced by the radiant frescoes of Giotto and his pupil Taddeo Gaddi, and integrated into the cloister next to the church is Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel. The large square in front of the church is a great meeting place and there are some lovely restaurants and cafes about for refreshments.
The Ponte Vecchio's status as the oldest bridge in Florence saved it from destruction during the Nazi retreat from Italy in 1944. To one side of the bridge is the majestic bust of the most famous Florentine goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini, while perched above the overhanging shops is a secret passageway named the Vasari Corridor, providing an elevated link to the Palazzo Pitti via the Uffizi. It was the private walkway of the Medicis who wanted to move between the various residences without having to rub shoulders with the commoners. The Ponte Vecchio is charming at night, when it's lit up and the bright shops beckon visitors closer. It's an icon of Florence and an enduringly popular attraction.
Once the property of the iconic Medici family and the one-time residence of the Italian king, the Palazzo is a grand structure boasting no less than seven museums. Among these are the Medici treasures showcased in the Museo degli Argenti, the Museum of Costumes and the Porcelain Museum. The Galleria d'Arte Moderna provides a fascinating display from the Macchiaioli school, as well as a collection of Neoclassical and Romantic art. The collections in the Palazzo Pitti keep visitors captivated for hours. Extending behind the palace are the elaborately landscaped and beautifully maintained Boboli Gardens, well-known for their fountains and grottos. Their most celebrated treasure is the Grotta del Buontalenti, in which rests the sculpture Venus Emerging from her Bath. Another notable structure is the enormous amphitheatre designed on a scale to serve the Medici's tastes.
A popular day trip from Florence, the famous town of Pisa is most well-known for its Leaning Tower. But other equally notable charms include its long maritime legacy, its prized university and its status as the birthplace of Galileo Galilei. The Pisans also created one of the most beautiful squares in the world in the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles). Pisa is home to dozens of other historical churches and buildings such as the Museo delle Sinopie, the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo and the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, with its range of Florentine art from the 12th to the 17th century.
Florence enjoys a humid, subtropical climate, with the city's location in a valley making its climate slightly different to the rest of Tuscany. Summers are hot and muggy with temperatures higher than those found along the coast. In the hottest months, July and August, temperatures range between 88°F (31°C) and 63°F (17°C). Visitors should note that in August many locals take their holiday and a number of restaurants and businesses close down for at least part of the month. In the coldest month, January, the temperatures range between 50°F (10°C) and 34°F (1°C). Rainfall prevails in the winter, with cool to cold temperatures and occasional snow. November is the wettest month but visitors should anticipate rain in October, December, March and April as well.
The peak tourist season in Florence is summer, between June and August, when it is hot but beautiful. However, the sheer amount of visitors during summer can be off-putting for serious art-lovers and sightseers, and the best time to visit Florence is therefore in spring or autumn. Winter is definitely also an option, with the bonus that the galleries and museums are far more peaceful at this time, but come prepared for rain if you holiday in Florence in winter.
Florentine cuisine is, quite simply, good old-fashioned, home-cooked fare that we all know and love. Stemming from a more peasant-type style of eating, there is a strong emphasis on meat, and various kinds of tripe - trippa and lampredotto - in Florentine dishes. Although the meats, cheeses and breads are often incredible, fish is not a feature of Tuscan cuisine and ordering seafood in Florence may lead to disappointment. Expect to see antipasti like sliced rounds of bread topped with chicken-liver pâté or sliced meats, known as crostini toscani, as well as soup served with saltless Tuscan bread in dishes like ribollita and pappa al pomodoro. The various Tuscan varieties of Pecorino cheese are still arguably the region's finest product so be sure to sample some.
Dining out in Florence can be a tiring affair. With so many restaurants, cafés and other eateries abounding on just about every street corner and around every major tourist attraction, travellers wary of tourist-traps might have a hard time deciding where to begin. Head to the Santa Croce and Oltrarno areas, where the highest concentration of authentic and quality restaurants can be found. Although eating out in Florence can be expensive, it is possible to find cheaper restaurants - lookout for places frequented by locals.
Visitors should note that it is customary for a 15 percent service charge to be added to the bill - or, if it isn't, that they should tip this amount.
Widely recognised as Florence's most famous restaurant, the stylish décor and innovative Tuscan cuisine intertwined with subtle notes of French cuisine make dining here an experience to remember. Start with a poached egg with cauliflower, crispy bread and pancetta with black truffle before moving on to a mouth-watering rack of lamb with garlic and herbs served with Jerusalem artichokes and mint. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Bookings recommended.
One of Florence's little treasures, this family-run trattoria has been serving local Florentines for over 30 years. Try the pesto spaghetti or spinach ravioli to start, before diving into the tasty beef stefado with potatoes and Osso Buco (veal crosscut shin) cooked in tomato and served with mashed potato, or the tender stewed rabbit with a side of grilled vegetables. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
A fabulous place in central Florence, Ristorante Celestino serves a mouthwatering array of traditional Tuscan dishes. With candlelit dinners in a picturesque courtyard, this restaurant is a must for any visitor to Florence. Start with the Tuscany Salami and polenta canapés or a tortellini soup before moving on to freshly made pasta or Florence style crepes with buffalo mozzarella. The Risotto with champagne and porcini mushrooms is delectable, and the option of adding a truffle to your meal is not to be missed. Their menu has a wide selection of meat and fish dishes and a whole page dedicated to cheese as well as desserts such as chocolate truffle, green apple sorbet or gelato. Closed on Sundays.
No trip to Italy is complete without pizza. Florence has a wide selection of pizzerias but Da Tito I Peccati di Gola Pizzeria takes the cake. This funky restaurant has a vast selection of pizzas and a piping hot clay oven. Be sure to try the simple Amon with porcini and prosciutto or the Caprese with buffalo mozzarella and rocket leaves.
More than 10,000 athletes take to the streets of Florence in the annual Florence Marathon. The 26-mile (42km) race sets off from the Piazzale Michelangelo and crosses the Ponte alla Vittoria. The course winds through the Parco delle Cascine, Piazza del Duomo, and Piazza della Signoria, before ending at Piazza Santa Croce in the town centre.
A famously beautiful city, the marathon's extremely picturesque route contributes hugely to its popularity. It takes participants past landmarks like the Ponte Vecchio and the Basilica of Santa Croce, among others.
The Florence Marathon was established in 1984 and is now the second largest Italian marathon, the first being the Rome Marathon. Italians make up the majority of competitors but many international runners also compete.
There is a Marathon Party after the event, with Tuscan food and a live music concert. There is also a fun Family Run which kids love to participate in.
Florence's Indian Film Festival is the first festival in the world entirely devoted to films from and about India. River to River features a collection of independent Indian movies, as well as the latest productions focusing on India by directors from all over the world.
The films screen in their original language with English subtitles. Held annually at the Odeon Cinema, the audience votes for winners in the different categories. The winners receive the River to River DigiChannel Audience Award.
First held in 2001, it rode a wave of interest in Indian cinema and Bollywood influence on blockbuster films. Many filmmakers, actors, and producers attend, and its popularity and success has led to a Rome edition over the last few years.
The River to River Florence Indian Film Festival may seem an odd sort of cultural collision but the festival is well-run, well-supported, and entertaining. It's a treat for anybody interested in Indian film or culture.
Each year, the Florence Tango Festival welcomes top dancers from across the globe to Florence's Saschall Theatre, where art exhibitions, shows, workshops, dinners, and tango classes inspire locals and tourists alike. Channel your inner Latin lover with a tango class, impress your date, or simply learn more about the fascinating art of tango.
The tango lessons are divided into six different skill levels accommodating beginners and experienced dancers. Lessons can only be taken in couples. But if you don't have a partner, the organizers make every effort to help find you a partner suitable to your skill level.
There are a number of different festival packages ranging from participation in a single lesson to the full extravaganza with nine lessons and all social events and shows included. Check out the official festival website listed below for information on the events, a workshops programme, and registration details. The Florence Tango Festival is fun and energetic and a great way to meet people and learn some new skills in a friendly and inspiring environment.
More renowned for its classical architecture than for its bargain shopping, Florence was actually the historical home of fashion in Italy. Home to the likes of Giovanni Battista Giorgini, the father of the Italian school of fashion (the country's equivalent of France's haute couture), Giorgini held informal fashion shows and soirées in Florence in the early 1950s.
Florence still manages to pack a powerful punch compared to sister-cities Rome and Milan when it comes to shopping. With everything from luxurious designer boutiques and vast shopping malls to bustling open-air markets and street-side hawkers, visitors to Florence will be able to shop to their hearts' content.
Head to the Via Tornabuoni, Florence's main upmarket shopping street, where luxury fashion houses and jewellery stores abound and high-quality leather goods, shoes and clothing can be found; or head to The Mall, a huge designer outlet selling labels such as Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Burberry. For jewellery, visit the Ponte Vecchio, where tiny shops dot the sides of this medieval bridge over the Arno River; while the place to find great antiques and objets d'art from the 16th century is the Via Maggio.
Those looking for something a little less pricey should visit the local markets like San Lorenzo, a popular spot where souvenirs and leather goods abound. Head for the Mercato Centrale in Via dell'Ariento, the best food market in Florence, or visit the Sant'ambrogio in Piazza Ghiberti, where everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and cheeses, to clothes, flowers, shoes and homeware stalls are plentiful.
Travellers should beware of buying fake designer goods from hawkers as it is illegal and could lead to a hefty fine if caught by the police. Shops generally open from 9am to 1pm, and reopen at 3.30pm until 7pm from Tuesday to Saturday. Most are closed on Sundays and on Monday mornings.
The best way to explore Florence is on foot: the city centre is compact, and traffic is restricted. There is a comprehensive bus network (ATAF) operating from 5.30am until midnight. Tickets are valid for 90 minutes for a single-use ticket, or multiple-ride tickets of two or four 90 minute-uses can be purchased. Tickets must be validated by punching them in a machine when you board the bus. Tickets, and various bus passes, are available from any vendor displaying the ATAF sticker, such as newsagents, automatic dispensers, coffee bars and on-board the bus.
Using taxis in Florence is difficult, as they cannot be hailed on the street. Taxi ranks can be found outside the train station and most tourist sites, or they can be phoned.
The entire Renaissance city of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular cities to visit in Italy, boasting countless churches, cathedrals, art galleries and museums. Deciding where to start your sightseeing tours may prove to be the most tricky part of the whole process, and that's not even taking into consideration the numerous stunning excursions into the Tuscan countryside.
For starters, head to the most popular site, the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore, which began construction in 1296, was consecrated in 1436, holds 20,000 people and offers some breathtaking views over the city. Visit one of Florence's oldest buildings, the Baptistery of John the Baptist, to enjoy views over the Arno River, or stroll across the Ponte Vecchio to the Giardino di Boboli to enjoy the park dotted with fountains behind the Pitti Palace. Navigate the crowds at the Uffizi Gallery, the Bargello and the Florence Accademia, which exhibit some of the best art collections in the world.
Culture-lovers will enjoy a trip to Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in Italy, which holds the tombs of Michelangelo and Dante, among others; as well as the Piazza della Signoria, the heart of the historic centre and an open-air sculpture exhibit, where visitors can sip on a cup of coffee and watch the world go by from one of the surrounding cafes.
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