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Florence and Tuscany: A Guide to the Art, History, and Cuisine of the Renaissance Region


DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Florence




Florence is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich cities in the world. It is the birthplace of the Renaissance, the home of famous artists and writers, and the cradle of Italian cuisine. Whether you are looking for art, history, architecture, or gastronomy, Florence has something for everyone. In this article, we will give you a comprehensive guide on how to plan your trip to Florence, what to see and do, where to stay and eat, and where to shop. Let's get started!




DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Florence



Introduction




Florence is the capital of Tuscany, a region in central Italy that is known for its scenic landscapes, vineyards, and olive groves. The city lies on the banks of the Arno river, surrounded by hills and mountains. Florence has a population of about 380,000 people, but it attracts millions of tourists every year who come to admire its artistic and architectural heritage.


Why visit Florence?




There are many reasons to visit Florence, but here are some of the main ones:



  • Florence is a museum in itself. The city has over 70 museums and galleries that showcase some of the most famous artworks in history, such as Michelangelo's David, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation.



  • Florence is a masterpiece of architecture. The city is full of stunning buildings that reflect different styles and periods, from the Romanesque to the Gothic to the Renaissance. The most iconic landmark is the Duomo, the cathedral with its massive dome designed by Brunelleschi.



  • Florence is a food lover's paradise. The city offers a variety of dishes that are based on fresh and local ingredients, such as pasta, pizza, steak, cheese, and gelato. You can also enjoy the famous Tuscan wines, such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vernaccia di San Gimignano.



When to visit Florence?




The best time to visit Florence depends on your preferences and budget. Here are some pros and cons of each season:



  • Spring (March-May): This is a great time to enjoy the mild weather and the blooming flowers. However, it can also be rainy and crowded with tourists.



  • Summer (June-August): This is the peak season for tourism, which means higher prices and longer lines. However, it also means more events and festivals, such as the Calcio Storico (a historical soccer game) and the Festa di San Giovanni (the patron saint's day).



  • Fall (September-November): This is a good time to avoid the crowds and enjoy the changing colors of the leaves. However, it can also be chilly and foggy.



  • Winter (December-February): This is the low season for tourism, which means lower prices and fewer visitors. However, it can also be cold and dark.



How to get to Florence?




There are several ways to get to Florence, depending on where you are coming from and how you prefer to travel. Here are some of the most common options:



  • By plane: Florence has a small airport called Amerigo Vespucci (FLR), which is located about 5 km from the city center. It has flights to and from several European destinations, such as Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Munich. You can take a taxi, a bus, or a tram to reach the city from the airport.



  • By train: Florence has two main train stations, Santa Maria Novella (SMN) and Campo di Marte (CDM), which are connected to each other and to the city center by buses and trams. Florence is well connected by train to other major Italian cities, such as Rome, Milan, Venice, and Naples, as well as to some international destinations, such as Zurich, Vienna, and Munich.



  • By car: Florence is accessible by car via several highways, such as the A1 (from Milan and Rome), the A11 (from Pisa and Lucca), and the A12 (from Genoa and Livorno). However, driving in Florence can be challenging due to the traffic, the narrow streets, and the limited parking spaces. Moreover, the city center is a restricted traffic zone (ZTL), which means that you need a special permit to enter it.



Top attractions in Florence




Florence has so many attractions that it is impossible to see them all in one trip. However, there are some that you should not miss if you want to experience the essence of the city. Here are some of the top attractions in Florence:


The Duomo




The Duomo is the cathedral of Florence and its most recognizable symbol. It was built between the 13th and the 15th centuries and it is dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower). The Duomo consists of three parts: the basilica, the baptistery, and the campanile (bell tower).


The basilica is the main church, which has a Gothic exterior and a Renaissance interior. The most impressive feature is the dome, which was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and completed in 1436. It is the largest brick dome in the world and it offers a spectacular view of the city from its top.


The baptistery is the oldest part of the Duomo complex, dating back to the 11th century. It is famous for its bronze doors, especially the east one, which was created by Lorenzo Ghiberti and depicts scenes from the Old Testament. The baptistery is also where Dante Alighieri and other notable Florentines were baptized.


The campanile is the bell tower, which was designed by Giotto and completed by Andrea Pisano and Francesco Talenti. It is 85 meters high and it has 414 steps to reach its top. It has a Gothic style and it is decorated with marble panels and statues.


The Uffizi Gallery




The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most famous and visited museums in the world. It was founded in 1581 by Cosimo I de' Medici as a place to display his family's art collection. Today, it houses some of the most important works of art from the Renaissance period, such as Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera, Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi, Michelangelo's Doni Tondo and Holy Family, Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch and Portrait of Pope Leo X, Titian's Venus of Urbino and Flora, Caravaggio's Medusa and Bacchus, and many more.


The Uffizi Gallery is located in a palace that was designed by Giorgio Vasari and that overlooks the Piazza della Signoria, the main square of Florence. The museum has 45 rooms that are arranged chronologically and thematically. The museum also has a rooftop terrace that offers a panoramic view of the city.


The Ponte Vecchio




The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest and most famous bridge in Florence. It was built in 1345 over the Arno river and it has survived floods, wars, and fires. The bridge is unique because it has shops along its sides, mostly selling jewelry, art, and souvenirs. The bridge also has two corridors on its upper level: one that connects the Uffizi Gallery with the Palazzo Pitti (the former residence of the Medici family), and one that connects the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) with the Uffizi Gallery.


The Boboli Gardens




The Boboli Gardens are the largest and most beautiful gardens in Florence. They are located behind the Palazzo Pitti and they were created by the Medici family in the 16th century. The gardens cover an area of 45 hectares and they feature fountains, statues, grottoes, ponds, and a variety of plants and flowers. The gardens also offer a stunning view of the city and the surrounding hills.


The Boboli Gardens are divided into several sections, each with its own style and character. Some of the highlights are the Amphitheatre, which is the oldest part of the gardens and where concerts and events are held; the Neptune Fountain, which is a large basin with a statue of the god of the sea; the Isolotto, which is an oval-shaped island with a fountain of Oceanus; the Kaffeehaus, which is a rococo pavilion that serves as a café; and the Bardini Garden, which is a separate garden that was recently restored and opened to the public.


Best places to stay in Florence




Florence has a wide range of accommodation options to suit different tastes and budgets. You can choose from luxury hotels, boutique hotels, budget hotels, bed and breakfasts, apartments, hostels, and more. Here are some of the best places to stay in Florence:


Luxury hotels




If you want to splurge on your stay in Florence, you can opt for one of the luxury hotels that offer elegant rooms, excellent service, and amazing amenities. Some of the best luxury hotels in Florence are:



  • Four Seasons Hotel Firenze: This hotel is located in a 15th-century palace and a 16th-century convent that are surrounded by a private park. The hotel has 116 rooms and suites that are decorated with frescoes, antiques, and artworks. The hotel also has a spa, a pool, a fitness center, and two restaurants.



  • Hotel Savoy: This hotel is located in the heart of Florence, on the Piazza della Repubblica. The hotel has 80 rooms and suites that are designed by Olga Polizzi and feature contemporary furnishings and artworks. The hotel also has a rooftop terrace, a gym, and a restaurant.



  • Hotel Lungarno: This hotel is located on the banks of the Arno river, near the Ponte Vecchio. The hotel has 65 rooms and suites that are inspired by nautical themes and feature original artworks by Picasso, Cocteau, and other artists. The hotel also has a lounge bar, a library, and a restaurant.



Boutique hotels




If you want to stay in a unique and charming hotel that reflects the local culture and style, you can choose one of the boutique hotels that offer cozy rooms, personalized service, and special features. Some of the best boutique hotels in Florence are:



  • Hotel Brunelleschi: This hotel is located in a medieval tower and a Byzantine church that were restored by architect Edoardo Benvenuti. The hotel has 96 rooms and suites that are furnished with wooden beams, terracotta floors, and marble bathrooms. The hotel also has a museum, a fitness center, and two restaurants.



  • Hotel Continentale: This hotel is located on the Ponte Vecchio bridge and it is part of the Ferragamo fashion empire. The hotel has 43 rooms and suites that are decorated with white fabrics, leather details, and pop art prints. The hotel also has a rooftop bar, a spa, and a library.



and marble bathrooms. The hotel also has a garden, a lounge, and a restaurant.


Budget hotels




If you want to save money on your stay in Florence, you can opt for one of the budget hotels that offer basic rooms, friendly service, and convenient locations. Some of the best budget hotels in Florence are:



  • Hotel Casci: This hotel is located in a 15th-century building that was once the home of the composer Gioacchino Rossini. The hotel has 24 rooms that are simple but comfortable and clean. The hotel also offers a free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and free museum reservations.



  • Hotel Dali: This hotel is located in a 19th-century building that is close to the Santa Maria Novella train station. The hotel has 12 rooms that are colorful and quirky, with paintings and sculptures inspired by Salvador Dali. The hotel also offers a free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and free bike rental.



  • Hotel Lorena: This hotel is located in a 18th-century building that is near the San Lorenzo market. The hotel has 19 rooms that are spacious and bright, with wooden floors and private bathrooms. The hotel also offers a free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and a 24-hour reception.



Best places to eat in Florence




Florence is a gastronomic heaven that offers a variety of dishes that are based on fresh and local ingredients, such as pasta, pizza, steak, cheese, and gelato. You can choose from fine dining restaurants, local trattorias, street food and markets. Here are some of the best places to eat in Florence:


Fine dining restaurants




If you want to treat yourself to a gourmet meal that showcases the creativity and quality of the Tuscan cuisine, you can choose one of the fine dining restaurants that offer exquisite dishes, elegant ambience, and professional service. Some of the best fine dining restaurants in Florence are:



  • Enoteca Pinchiorri: This restaurant is located in a 16th-century palace and it has three Michelin stars. The restaurant offers a seasonal menu that combines traditional and modern flavors, such as foie gras with figs, lobster with caviar, and lamb with artichokes. The restaurant also has an impressive wine cellar with over 100,000 bottles.



  • Ora d'Aria: This restaurant is located in a former bank vault and it has one Michelin star. The restaurant offers a contemporary menu that features innovative and refined dishes, such as scallops with black truffle, ravioli with rabbit and pistachio, and pigeon with cherries. The restaurant also has an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work.



, such as ribollita (a bread and vegetable soup), pappardelle al cinghiale (pasta with wild boar sauce), and bistecca alla fiorentina (a thick-cut steak). The restaurant also has a beautiful garden where you can dine al fresco.


Local trattorias




If you want to enjoy a hearty and authentic meal that reflects the local culture and tradition, you can choose one of the local trattorias that offer generous portions, cozy atmosphere, and reasonable prices. Some of the best local trattorias in Florence are:



  • Trattoria Mario: This trattoria is located near the San Lorenzo market and it has been serving delicious food since 1953. The trattoria offers a daily menu that changes according to the availability of the ingredients, such as tripe, meatballs, lasagna, and roast chicken. The trattoria is very popular and crowded, so be prepared to share a table with strangers.



  • Trattoria Sostanza: This trattoria is located near the Santa Maria Novella train station and it has been serving simple and tasty food since 1869. The trattoria offers a fixed menu that includes some of its signature dishes, such as tortino di carciofi (artichoke pie), pollo al burro (butter chicken), and meringata (meringue cake). The trattoria is small and rustic, so make sure to book in advance.



  • Trattoria da Rocco: This trattoria is located in the Sant'Ambrogio market and it has been serving fresh and seasonal food since 1995. The trattoria offers a self-service buffet that features a variety of dishes, such as pasta, salads, soups, stews, and desserts. The trattoria is casual and lively, so be ready to queue and mingle with locals.



Street food and markets




If you want to experience the street food and markets that are part of the Florentine lifestyle, you can choose from a range of options that offer quick and cheap bites, such as sandwiches, pizza, gelato, and pastries. Some of the best street food and markets in Florence are:



  • All'Antico Vinaio: This place is located near the Uffizi Gallery and it is famous for its sandwiches (called schiacciata) that are made with fresh bread and filled with various ingredients, such as cheese, ham, salami, vegetables, and sauces. The place is always busy and there is often a long line outside.



  • Gusta Pizza: This place is located near the Santo Spirito church and it is famous for its pizza that is made with thin crust and topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and basil. The place is small and cozy and you can order your pizza by the slice or by the whole.



, and tiramisu. The place is popular and affordable and you can choose from different sizes and cones.


  • Mercato Centrale: This place is located in the San Lorenzo area and it is the largest and oldest market in Florence. The place has two floors: the ground floor, where you can find fresh produce, meat, cheese, bread, and wine; and the first floor, where you can find a variety of stalls that offer cooked food, such as pasta, pizza, burgers, sushi, and more. The place is open from morning to night and it is a great place to taste different cuisines and mingle with locals.



Best places to shop in Florence




Florence is a shopper's paradise that offers a variety of products that are unique and high-quality, such as leather goods, accessories, art, antiques, fashion, and design. You can choose from luxury boutiques, artisan workshops, flea markets, and outlet malls. Here are some of the best places to shop in Florence:


Leather goods and accessories




Florence is famous for its leather goods and accessories that are made with fine craftsmanship and materials. You can find bags, wallets, belts, shoes, jackets, gloves, and more. Some of the best places to buy leather goods and accessories in Florence are:



  • Scuola del Cuoio: This place is located in the Santa Croce church and it is the oldest and most prestigious leather school in Florence. The place offers a range of products that are handmade by students and master craftsmen. You can also watch them work and even take a class yourself.



  • San Lorenzo Market: This place is located near the San Lorenzo church and it is the largest and most famous market in Florence. The place has hundreds of stalls that sell leather goods and accessories at bargain prices. You can also haggle and negotiate with the vendors.



, soap, candles, and more. You can also visit the museum and the garden that are part of the place.


Art and antiques




Florence is a treasure trove of art and antiques that reflect its rich and glorious history. You can find paintings, sculptures, furniture, jewelry, books, and more. Some of the best places to buy art and antiques in Florence are:



  • Via Maggio: This street is located near the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge and it is the most prestigious street for art and antiques in Florence. The street has dozens of shops and galleries that sell rare and valuable items from different periods and styles. You can also find some of the most famous auction houses in Italy, such as Pandolfini and Finarte.



  • Mercato delle Pulci: This market is located in the Piazza dei Ciompi and it is the oldest and most popular flea market in Florence. The market has hundreds of stalls that sell art and antiques at affordable prices. You can also find some hidden gems and bargains if you look carefully.



  • Il Bisonte: This place is located near the Santa Maria Novella train station and it is a renowned workshop and gallery that specializes in bronze sculptures. The place offers a range of products that are made by local artists and craftsmen. You can also watch them work and even commission a custom piece.



Fashion and design




Florence is a fashion and design capital that offers a variety of products that are stylish and innovative, such as clothing, shoes, accessories, furniture, and lighting. You can choose from international brands, local designers, vintage shops, and outlet malls. Here are some of the best places to buy fashion and design in Florence:



  • Via de' Tornabuoni: This street is located near the Piazza della Repubblica and it is the most elegant and exclusive street for fashion and design in Florence. The street has some of the most famous luxury boutiques in the world, such as Gucci, Prada, Armani, Ferragamo, Dior, and more.



  • Via dei Neri: This street is located near the Uffizi Gallery and it is one of the most trendy and creative streets for fashion and design in Florence. The street has some of the most original and eclectic shops and studios in the city, such as Alessandro Dari (a jewelry maker), Officine Nora (a collective of jewelers), La Ménagère (a concept store), and more.



and design, such as Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Valentino,


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