Frommer's EasyGuide to Rome, Florence and Venice 2017 - Stephen Keeling, Melanie Renzulli, Donald Strachan (2016)
By Donald Strachan
Botticelli, Michelangelo, and da Vinci all left their mark on Florence, the city that was the cradle of the Renaissance. With Brunelleschi’s iconic dome as a backdrop, travelers follow the River Arno to the Uffizi Gallery (Florence’s foremost art museum) and soak in centuries of great painting. They wander across the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s iconic bridge, taking in the tangle of Oltrarno’s medieval streets, then sample seasonal Tuscan cooking in a Left Bank trattoria. This is how to uncover the art of fine living in this masterpiece of a city.
Michelangelo’s “David” stands tall (literally) behind the doors of the Accademia, and nearby are the delicate paintings of Fra’ Angelico in the convent of San Marco. Works by Donatello, Masaccio, Pontormo, and Ghiberti fill the city’s churches and museums. Once home to the Medici, the Palazzo Pitti is stuffed with Raphaels and Titians backed by the fountains of the Boboli Garden.
But Florence isn’t just about art. Florentines love to shop, too. Italy’s leather capital strains at the seams with handmade gloves, belts, bags, and shoes sold from workshops, family-run boutiques, and high-end stores, as well as at tourist-oriented San Lorenzo Market. You can also splurge on designer wear from fashion houses along Via de’ Tornabuoni—this city is the home of Gucci, Pucci, and Ferragamo.
As for Florentine cuisine, it’s increasingly cosmopolitan, but flavors are often Tuscan at heart. Even in fine restaurants, meals might kick off with country concoctions like ribollita (seasonal vegetable stew) before moving onto the chargrilled delights of a bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine beefsteak on the bone), all washed down with a fine Chianti Classico. At lunchtime, a plate of cold cuts and Pecorino cheese makes a classic light lunch, or for the adventurous, lampredotto alla fiorentina, a sandwich of cow’s stomach stewed in tomatoes and garlic. When you’ve dined to your fill, retire to a wine bar in the Oltrarno, or to one of the edgier joints of Santo Spirito or San Frediano. If you’re a fan of opera, classical, theater, or jazz, you’ll find those here, too.
The Ponte Vecchio, seen from the banks of the River Arno.
BY PLANE Several European airlines service Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport (www.aeroporto.firenze.it; 055-306-15 switchboard, 055-306-1300 for flight info), also called Peretola, 5km (3 miles) northwest of town. There are no direct flights to or from North America, but you can make connections through London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and other major European cities. The half-hourly BusItalia Vola in bus service to and from the central bus station at Via Santa Caterina da Siena 17 (www.fsbusitalia.it; 800-373760), beside the train station, takes 20 to 30 minutes and costs 6€ one-way or 10€ round-trip. Metered taxis line up outside the airport’s arrival terminal and charge a flat rate of 20€ to the city center (22€ on holidays, 24€ after 10pm, additional 1€ per bag).
The closest major international airport with seasonal direct flights to North America is Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport (www.pisa-airport.com; 050-849-300), 97km (60 miles) west of Florence. Until the PisaMover automatic transit service opens (at press time looking like an early 2017 debut), train connections to Florence involve a short bus journey (1.30€) or taxi ride (10€) from Pisa airport to Pisa Centrale, where you can catch a state rail service to Florence (50-80 min.; 8.40€). Alternatively, 18 daily buses operated by Terravision (www.terravision.eu) connect downtown Florence with Pisa Airport in just over 1 hour. One-way tickets are 5€ adults, 4€ children ages 5 to 12; round-trip fares are 10€ and 8€. There are 15 daily Autostradale buses (www.airportbusexpress.it) running an almost identical service.
BY TRAIN Florence is Tuscany’s rail hub, with regular connections to all of Italy’s major cities. To get here from Rome, take the high-speed Frecciarossa or Frecciargento trains (11⁄2 hr.; www.trenitalia.com) or similar high-speed trains operated by Italo (www.italotreno.it). High-speed trains run to Venice (2 hr.) via Bologna and Padua.
Most Florence-bound trains roll into Stazione Santa Maria Novella, Piazza della Stazione, which you’ll see abbreviated as S.M.N. The station is an architectural masterpiece, albeit one dating to Italy’s Fascist period, rather than the Renaissance. It is on the northwestern edge of the city’s compact historic center, a 10-minute walk from the Duomo and a brisk 15-minute walk from Piazza della Signoria and the Uffizi.
BY CAR The A1 autostrada runs north from Rome past Arezzo to Florence and continues to Bologna, and unnumbered superhighways run to and from Siena (the SI-FI raccordo) and Pisa (the so-called FI-PI-LI). To reach Florence from Venice, take the A13 southbound then switch to the A1 at Bologna.
Driving to Florence is easy; the problems begin once you arrive. Almost all cars are banned from the historic center—only residents or merchants with permits are allowed into a camera-patrolled zona a trafico limitato (the “ZTL”), which was extended in 2015. Have the name and address of your hotel ready and the traffic police will wave you through. You can drop off baggage there (the hotel will organize a temporary ZTL permit); then you must relocate to a parking lot. Special rates are available through most hotels.
Your best bet for overnight or longer-term parking is one of the city-run garages. The best deal—better than many hotels’ garage rates—is at the Parterre parking lot under Piazza Libertà at Via Madonna delle Tosse 9 ( 055-5030-2209). It’s open around the clock and costs 2€ per hour, or 10€ for the first 24 hours, 15€ for the second, then 20€ per 24 hours thereafter; it’s 70€ for up to a week’s parking. More info on parking is at www.firenzeparcheggi.it.
Don’t park your car overnight on the streets in Florence without local knowledge; if you’re towed and ticketed, it will set you back substantially—and the headaches to retrieve your car are beyond description. If this happens to you, start by calling the vehicle removal department (the Recupero Veicoli Rimossi) at 055-422-4142.
TOURIST OFFICES The most convenient tourist office is at Via Cavour 1R (www.firenzeturismo.it; 055-290-832), 2 blocks north of the Duomo. The office is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 1pm. Its free map is adequate for navigation purposes; there’s no need to upgrade to a paid version.
The train station’s nearest tourist office ( 055-212-245) is opposite the terminus at Piazza della Stazione 5. With your back to the tracks, take the left exit, cross onto the concrete median, and bear right; it’s across the busy road junction ahead. The office is usually open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 7pm, Sunday 9am to 2pm. This office gets crowded; unless you’re really lost, press onward to the Via Cavour office (see above) on a weekday morning. This office is scheduled for a refit through 2017.
Locating Addresses: The Red & the Black
The address system in Florence has a split personality. Private homes, some offices, and hotels are numbered in black (or blue), but businesses, shops, and restaurants are numbered independently in red. (That’s the theory anyway; in reality, the division between black and red numbers isn’t so clear-cut.) The result is that 1, 2, 3 (black) addresses march up the block numerically oblivious to their 1R, 2R, 3R (red) neighbors. You might find the doorways on one side of a street numbered 1R, 2R, 3R, 1, 4R, 2, 3, 5R. The color codes occur only in the centro storico and other old sections of town; outlying districts didn’t bother with this confusing system.
Another helpful office is under the Loggia del Bigallo on the corner of Piazza San Giovanni and Via dei Calzaiuoli ( 055-288-496); it’s open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 7pm, Sunday 9am to 2pm.
WEBSITES The official Florence tourism website, www.firenzeturismo.it, contains a wealth of fairly up-to-date city information. At the “Tools” section of the site, you can download the latest opening hours for major city sights (tourist offices also supply a printout), as well as official city apps, maps, and a monthly events calendar. The best-informed city blogs are written in Italian by locals: Io Amo Firenze (www.ioamofirenze.it) is handy for reviews of the latest eating, drinking, and events in town. For one-off exhibitions and culture, Art Trav (www.arttrav.com) is an essential bookmark and written in English. For more updated Florence info, go to www.frommers.com/destinations/florence. Listings magazines are covered in the “Entertainment & Nightlife” section, p. 207
Florence is a smallish city, sitting on the Arno River and petering out to olive-planted hills rather quickly to the north and south, but extending farther west and east along the Arno valley with suburbs and light industry. It has a compact center that is best negotiated on foot. No two major sights are more than a 25-minute walk apart, and most of the hotels and restaurants in this chapter are in the relatively small centro storico (historic center), a compact tangle of medieval streets and piazze (squares) where visitors spend most of their time. The bulk of Florence, including most of the tourist sights, lies north of the river, with the Oltrarno, an old working artisans’ neighborhood, hemmed in between the Arno and the hills on the south side.
The Neighborhoods in Brief
The Duomo The area surrounding Florence’s cathedral is as central as you can get. The Duomo itself is halfway between the two monastic churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, as well as at the midpoint between the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio to the south, and San Marco and the Accademia (home of Michelangelo’s “David”) to the north. The streets south of the Duomo make up a medieval tangle of alleys and tiny squares heading toward Piazza della Signoria. This is one of the oldest parts of town, and the streets still vaguely follow a grid laid down when the city was a Roman colony. The site of that city’s forum is today’s Piazza della Repubblica.
The Duomo neighborhood is, understandably, one of the most hotel-heavy parts of town, offering a range from luxury inns to student dives and everything in between. However, several places around here rest on the laurels of a sublime location; you need to be choosy. The same goes—even more so—for dining in the area.
Piazza della Signoria This is the city’s civic heart and perhaps the best base for museum hounds—the Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Vecchio, Bargello sculpture collection, and Ponte Vecchio are all nearby. It’s a well-polished part of the tourist zone but still retains the narrow medieval streets where Dante grew up. The area just north of the Ponte Vecchio have reasonable shopping, but unappealing modern buildings replaced those destroyed during World War II. The entire neighborhood can be stiflingly crowded in peak season—Via Por Santa Maria is one to avoid—but in those moments when you catch it empty of tour groups, it remains the romantic heart of pre-Renaissance Florence. As with the Duomo area, you need to be very choosy when picking a restaurant or even an ice cream around here.
San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale This streets between the train station and the Duomo, centered on the Medici’s old family church of San Lorenzo, is market territory. The vast indoor Mercato Centrale is here, and many streets are filled daily with stalls hawking leather and souvenirs at San Lorenzo Market. It’s a colorful neighborhood, with many budget hotels and a growing range of good, affordable dining spots, but it’s not the quietest part of town.
Leather goods for sale at San Lorenzo Market.
Piazza Santa Trínita This piazza sits just north of the river at the south end of Florence’s shopping mecca, Via de’ Tornabuoni, home to Gucci, Armani, and more. It’s a quaint, well-to-do (and still medieval) neighborhood in which to stay, even if you don’t care about haute couture. If you’re an upscale shopping fiend, there’s no better place to be.
Santa Maria Novella This neighborhood, bounding the western edge of the centro storico, has two characters: an unattractive zone around the train station, and a nicer area south of it between the church of Santa Maria Novella and the river. Many streets are heavily trafficked and noisy, and you’re a little removed from the medieval atmosphere. This area does, however, have more budget options than any other quarter, especially along Via Faenza and its tributaries. Try to avoid staying on traffic-clogged Via Nazionale.
The situation improves dramatically as you move east into the San Lorenzo area (see above), or you pass Santa Maria Novella church and head south toward the river. Piazza Santa Maria Novella and its tributary streets have several stylish hotels.
San Marco & Santissima Annunziata On the northern edge of the centro storico, these two churches are fronted by piazze—Piazza San Marco, a busy transport hub, and Piazza Santissima Annunziata, the most architecturally unified square in the city. The neighborhood is home to Florence’s university, the Accademia, the San Marco paintings of Fra’ Angelico, and quiet streets with some hotel gems. The walk back from the heart of the action isn’t as far as it looks on a map, and you’ll likely welcome the escape from tourist crowds. But it’s not (yet) a great dining or nightlife neighborhood.
Santa Croce The art-filled church at the eastern edge of the centro storico is the focal point of one of the most genuine neighborhoods in the center. Few tourists roam beyond Piazza Santa Croce, so if you want to feel like a local, stay here. The streets around the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio have an appealing, local feel, and they get lively after dark. The Santa Croce neighborhood boasts some of the best restaurants and bars in the city—aperitivo time is vibrant along Via de’ Benci, and Via Panisperna and the northern end of Via de’ Macci are both lively corridors.
The Oltrarno, San Niccolò & San Frediano “Across the Arno” is the artisans’ neighborhood, still dotted with workshops. It began as a working-class neighborhood to catch the overflow from the medieval city on the opposite bank, and later became an area for aristocrats to build palaces on the edge of the countryside. The largest of these, the Pitti Palace, became the home of Tuscany’s grand dukes and today houses a set of paintings second only to the Uffizi in scope.
The Oltrarno’s lively tree-shaded center, Piazza Santo Spirito is lined with bars and close to some great restaurants. West of here, the neighborhood of San Frediano is becoming ever more fashionable, and San Niccolò, at the foot of Florence’s southern hills has some popular bars. The hotel range isn’t great—but when evening draws nigh, cross one of Florence’s bridges to eat and drink better, and at better prices, than you will generally find in the centro storico.
Florence is a walking city. You can stroll between the two top sights, Piazza del Duomo and the Uffizi, in 5 to 7 minutes. The hike from the most northerly major sights, San Marco and the Accademia, to the most southerly, the Pitti Palace across the Arno, should take no more than 30 minutes. From Santa Maria Novella eastward across town to Santa Croce is a flat 20- to 30-minute walk. But beware: Flagstones, some of them uneven, are everywhere. Wear sensible shoes with sufficient padding and foot support.
BY BUS & TRAM You’ll rarely need to use Florence’s efficient ATAF bus system (www.ataf.net; 800-424-500 in Italy) since the city is so compact. Bus tickets cost 1.20€ and are good for 90 minutes, irrespective of how many changes you make. A 24-hour pass costs 5€, a 3-day pass 12€, and a 7-day pass 18€. Tickets are sold at tabacchi (tobacconists), some bars, and most newsstands. If you cannot find a machine or vendor near your stop, and have an Italian cellphone number (p. 305), text the word “ATAF” to 488-0105 to buy a prevalidated ticket for 1.50€ using your prepaid phone credit (you must wait for the return SMS to confirm purchase). Note: Once on board, validate a paper ticket in the box near the rear door to avoid a steep fine. Since traffic is restricted in most of the center, buses make runs on principal streets only, except for four tiny electric bus lines (bussini services C1, C2, C3, and D) that trundle about the centro storico. The most useful lines to outlying areas are no. 7 (for Fiesole) and nos. 12 and 13 (for Piazzale Michelangelo). Buses run from 7am until 9 or 9:30pm daily, with a limited night service on a few key routes. Tram line T1 (www.gestramvia.com) runs until after midnight, connecting Santa Maria Novella station with the Opera di Firenze, Cascine Park, and Florence’s southwestern suburbs. Lines T2 (to the airport) and T3 are under construction.
BY TAXI Taxis aren’t cheap, and with the city so small and the one-way system forcing drivers to take convoluted routes, they aren’t an economical way to get about. They’re most useful to get you and your bags between the train station and a hotel. It’s 3.30€ to start the meter (that rises to 5.30€ on Sun; 6.60€ 10pm-6am), plus 1€ per bag. There are taxi stands outside the train station, on Borgo San Jacopo, and in Piazza Santa Croce; otherwise, call Radio Taxi SOCOTA at 055-4242. For the latest taxi information, see www.4242.it.
BY BICYCLE & SCOOTER Florence is largely flat and increasingly closed to cars, and so is ideal for seeing on 2 wheels. Many of the bike-rental shops in town are located between San Lorenzo and Piazza San Marco, including Alinari, Via San Zanobi 38R (www.alinarirental.com; 055-280-500), which rents vintage-style city bikes (2.50€ per hour; 12€ per day) and mountain bikes (3€ per hour; 18€ per day). It also hires out 100cc scooters (15€ per hour; 55€ per day). Florence by Bike, Via San Zanobi 54R (www.florencebybike.it; 055-488-992) has similar prices. Make sure to carry a lock (one will be provided with your rental): Bike theft is common.
BY CAR Trying to drive in the centro storico is a frustrating, useless exercise, and unauthorized traffic is not allowed past signs marked ZTL. On top of that, there’s a city charge even for residents to drive into the center to park. You need a permit to do anything beyond dropping off and picking up bags at your hotel. Park your vehicle in one of the underground lots on the periphery and pound the pavement. (See “By Car” under “Getting There,” p. 147.)
Business Hours Hours mainly follow the Italian norm (see p. 302). In Florence, however, many of the larger and more central shops stay open through the midday riposo, or nap (note the sign ORARIO NONSTOP).
Doctors Medical Service Firenze is at Via Roma 4, in the center (www.medicalservice.firenze.it; 055-475-411). It’s open for walk-ins Monday to Friday 11am to noon, 1 to 3pm, and 5 to 6pm; Saturday 11am to noon and 1 to 3pm only. English-speaking Dr. Stephen Kerr is a general practitioner with an office at Piazza Mercato Nuovo 1 (www.dr-kerr.com; 335-836-1682 or 055-288-055), with office hours Monday through Friday from 3 to 5pm without an appointment (appointments are available 9am-3pm). The consultation fee is 60€, slightly less if you show student ID.
Hospitals The most central hospital is Santa Maria Nuova, a block northeast of the Duomo on Piazza Santa Maria Nuova ( 055-69-381), with an emergency room (pronto soccorso) open 24 hours. There is a comprehensive guide to medical services, including specialist care, on the official Florence city website: See www.firenzeturismo.it.
Internet Access Every hotel we recommend offers wireless Internet, usually for free but occasionally for a small fee. If you have your own laptop or smartphone, several bars and cafes now offer free Wi-Fi to anyone buying a drink or snack. There’s free Wi-Fi upstairs at the Mercato Centrale (p. 168) and outdoors in Piazza del Duomo.
Mail & Postage Florence’s main post office ( 055-273-6481), at Via Pellicceria 3, off the southwest corner of Piazza della Repubblica, is open Monday through Friday from 8:20am to 7:05pm, Saturday 8:20am to 12:35pm.
Newspapers & Magazines Florence’s national daily paper, “La Nazione” is on sale everywhere. “The Florentine” (www.theflorentine.net) is the city’s monthly English-language publication, widely available at bars cafes, and bookstores. Overseas English-language newspapers are also available: The newsstands at the station are a safe bet, as is the booth under the arcade on the western side of Piazza della Repubblica, where you will find the “Financial Times,” “Wall Street Journal,” and “London “Guardian,” alongside the usual “International New York Times.”
Pharmacies There is a 24-hour pharmacy (also open Sun and state holidays) in Stazione Santa Maria Novella ( 055-216-761; ring the bell opposite the taxi rank between 11pm and 7am). On holidays and at night, look for the sign in any pharmacy window telling you which ones are open locally.
Police To report a crime or a lost passport, call the questura (police headquarters) at 055-49-771. Lost property may find its way to the Ufficio oggetti ritrovati: 055/334802. Note: It is illegal to knowingly buy fake goods anywhere in the city (and yes, a “Louis Vuitton” bag at 10€ counts as knowingly). You may be served a hefty on-the-spot fine if caught.
Safety As in any city, plenty of pickpockets are out to ruin your vacation, and in Florence you’ll find light-fingered youngsters (especially around the train station), but otherwise you’re safe. Steer clear of the Cascine Park after dark, when you run the risk of being mugged—likewise both the area around Piazza Santo Spirito and the backstreets behind Santa Croce after all the nightlife has gone off to bed. See chapter 10 for more safety tips.
WHERE TO STAY
Thanks to a rapidly growing stock of hotel beds, as well as national economic crises, the forces of supply and demand have brought hotel prices down … a little. Few hoteliers have increased rates in recent years, and many don’t expect to anytime soon. Add the recent dollar appreciation against the euro, and you have a hotel market that is as favorable to North American visitors as it has ever been. That said, it is still hard to find a high-season double you’d want to stay in for much less than 100€.
Some of those price drops have been added back in taxes: Florence’s city government levies an extra 1€ to 1.50€ per person per night per government-rated hotel star, for the first 5 nights of any stay. It is payable on arrival, and is not usually included in quoted rates.
Peak hotel season is Easter through early July, September through early November, and Christmas through January 6. May, June, and September are popular; January, February, and sometimes August are the months to grab a bargain—never be shy to haggle if you’re coming then. Booking direct using phone, email, or the hotel’s own website is often the key to unlocking the lowest rates or complimentary extras.
To help you decide in which area you’d like to base yourself, consult “Neighborhoods in Brief,” p. 149.
HOTELS BY PRICE
Brunelleschi , p. 153
Continentale , p. 156
Palazzo Tolomei , p. 156
Residence Hilda , p. 159
Alessandra , p. 158
Antica Dimora Johlea , p. 159
Davanzati , p. 158
Garibaldi Blu , p. 158
Il Guelfo Bianco , p. 157
La Casa di Morfeo , p. 161
La Dimora degli Angeli , p. 156
Loggiato dei Serviti , p. 160
Morandi alla Crocetta , p. 160
Palazzo Galletti , p. 161
Riva Lofts , p. 162
Tourist House Ghiberti , p. 161
Azzi , p. 159
Casci , p. 157
Locanda Orchidea , p. 162
Plus Florence , p. 159
Near the Duomo
Brunelleschi The Brunelleschi manages to pull off a couple of neat tricks. It exceeds the standards of a 21st-century “design hotel” without losing track of its roots: Rooms and public areas are framed with pietra serena, the gray stone used liberally by Florentine architect Brunelleschi. It’s big, but feels small, thanks to an entrance on a quiet little piazza and a labyrinthine layout. Rooms are midsized, with parquet floors and contemporary-classic styling. Although many look onto Via Calzaiuoli, impressive soundproofing means you won’t hear the noise. Apparently the hotel is a favorite of author Dan Brown, since it appears in both “The Da Vinci Code” and “Inferno.”
Piazza Santa Elisabetta 3 (just off Corso). www.hotelbrunelleschi.it. 055-27-370. 96 units. 234€-929€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 35€-39€. Bus: C2. Amenities: 2 restaurants; bar; babysitting; bike rental; concierge; gym; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
A deluxe room with a view at Hotel Brunelleschi.
La Dimora degli Angeli This B&B occupies two levels of a grand apartment building in one of the city’s busiest shopping districts. Rooms on the original floor are for romantics; bright wallpaper contrasts pleasingly with iron-framed beds and classic furniture. (Beatrice is the largest, with a view of Brunelleschi’s dome—just.) The floor below is totally different, with sharp lines and leather or wooden headboards throughout. Breakfast is served at a local cafe—or if you prefer, you can grab a coffee in the B&B and use your token for a light lunch instead.
Via Brunelleschi 4. www.ladimoradegliangeli.com. 055-288-478. 12 units. 88€-210€ double. Rates include breakfast at nearby cafe. Parking 26€. Bus: C2. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Near Piazza della Signoria
Continentale Everything about the Continentale is cool, and the effect is achieved without a hint of frostiness. Rooms are uncompromisingly modern, decorated in bright white and bathed in natural light—even the deluxe units built into a medieval riverside tower, which have mighty walls and medieval-sized windows (read: small). Standard rooms are large (for Florence), and there’s a 1950s feel to the overall styling. Communal areas are a major hit, too: A relaxation room has a glass wall with a front-row view of the Ponte Vecchio. Top-floor La Terrazza (p. 209) mixes Florence’s best rooftop cocktails.
Vicolo dell’Oro 6R. www.lungarnocollection.com. 055-27-262. 44 units. 200€-730€ double. Parking 35€. Bus: C3 or D. Amenities: Bar; concierge; spa; Wi-Fi (free).
Near San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale
Il Guelfo Bianco Decor in this former noble Florentine family home retains its authentic palazzo feel, though carpets have been added for comfort and warmth. No two rooms are the same—stone walls this thick cannot just be knocked through—and several have antiques integrated into their individual schemes. Grand rooms at the front (especially 101, 118, and 228) have spectacular Renaissance coffered ceilings and masses of space. Sleep at the back and you’ll wake to an unusual sound in Florence: birdsong. Under the same ownership, adjacent “farm-to-table” style bistro Il Desco (www.ildescofirenze.it; 055-288-330) serves seasonal dishes made with organic ingredients, and is open to guests and nonguests alike.
Via Cavour 29 (near corner of Via Guelfa). www.ilguelfobianco.it. 055-288-330. 40 units. 90€-280€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 27€-33€. Bus: C1. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; babysitting; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Palazzo Tolomei In its heyday, this palace was right at the heart of Medici power. It even welcomed the painter Raphael as a guest in 1505 (probably in 2 rooms at the front, now Barocco 1 and 2). Guest rooms are large, with Renaissance wooden ceilings and terracotta floors left untouched. Modern fittings—including leather sofas, soft mattresses, and crystal chandeliers—chime perfectly with a baroque redecoration completed in the 1600s, with ceiling frescoes by Alessandro Gherardini. The lower floor houses opulent public rooms, just as it would have been when it was the “piano nobile” of the family palazzo. These days you’ll find a music room, art books, a welcoming host, and probably an open bottle of Tuscan red wine somewhere. Book direct for a free minibar, or for 2-night stays in a Deluxe room or higher, a free airport transfer.
Via de’ Ginori 19. www.palazzotolomei.it. 055-292-887. 8 units. 215€-395€ double. Rates include breakfast in nearby café. Bus: C1. Amenities: Concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Casci The front part of the palace now occupied by the Casci was once composer Gioachino Rossini’s Florence digs. This affordable, central hotel has long been a Frommer’s favorite, and the partial pedestrianization of Via Cavour has made it an even more attractive base. Rooms follow a labyrinthine layout, split between Rossini’s old piano nobile and a former convent to the rear, where the bigger rooms are located, including a couple of spacious family units. Rooms are simply decorated and some can get a little dark, but modernization (completed in 2016) has installed new, light-toned furniture to counteract that. The welcome from some of Florence’s friendliest family hoteliers is an unchanging feature.
Via Cavour 13 (btw. Via dei Ginori and Via Guelfa). www.hotelcasci.com. 055-211-686. 25 units. 80€-150€ double, includes breakfast. Valet parking 22€-27€. Bus: C1. Closed 2 weeks in Dec. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Near Piazza Santa Trínita
Alessandra This typical Florentine pensione transports you back to the age of the gentleman and lady traveler. Decor has grown organically since the place opened as a hotel in 1950; Alessandra is a place for evolution, not revolution. A pleasing mix of styles is the result: Some rooms with carved headboards, gilt frames, and gold damask; others eclectic postwar furniture, like something from a midcentury movie set. A couple rooms have views of the Arno, while front-side rooms overlook Borgo SS. Apostoli, one of the center’s most atmospheric streets.
Borgo SS. Apostoli 17. www.hotelalessandra.com. 055-283-438. 27 units. 150€-180€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 25€. Bus: C3 or D. Closed a few days around Christmas. Amenities: Concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Davanzati Although installed inside a historic building, the Davanzati never rests on its medieval laurels: There is a laptop in every room for guest use, HD movies are streamed to your TV, and lobby newspapers come on an iPad. Rooms are simply decorated in the Tuscan style, with color-washed walls and half-canopies over the beds. Room 100 is probably the best family hotel room in Florence, full of nooks, crannies, and split-levels that give the adults and the kids a sense of private space. A free aperitivo for guests remains part of the Davanzati’s family welcome.
Via Porta Rossa 5 (at Piazza Davanzati). www.hoteldavanzati.it. 055-286-666. 27 units. 122€-211€ double; 152€-243€ superior (sleeping up to 4), includes breakfast. Valet parking 26€. Bus: C2. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Near Santa Maria Novella
Garibaldi Blu The hotels of Piazza Santa Maria Novella are frequented by fashion models, rock stars, and blue-chip businessfolk. You can get a taste of that, for a fraction of the price, at this boutique hotel with attitude. Each of the mostly midsize rooms is immaculate, and also reflects the hotel’s “warm denim” palette, with retro 1970s furniture, parquet floors, and marble bathrooms. It’s well worth paying 30€ extra for a deluxe room at the front: These have much more space and a view over Florence’s prettiest church facade, Santa Maria Novella itself. Occasional corridors with lifesized models of superheroes like Captain America and Batman add a touch of fun surrealism.
Piazza Santa Maria Novella 21. www.hotelgaribaldiblu.com. 055-277-300. 21 units. 130€-350€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 35€-48€. Bus: C2, 6, 11, or 22. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Between Santa Maria Novella & San Lorenzo
Azzi This quirky, bohemian joint is also known as the Locanda degli Artisti. Each of its original 16 rooms is brightly decorated, and most in the more characterful, original area of the hotel feature an antique piece or colorfully painted wall to add ambience. Floorboards are artfully distressed (both by time and by design), and pictures or wall mirrors have wistfully weathered frames. Each is exactly the kind of room you could imagine for a struggling artist to lay his head at night. Eight newer rooms have a different feel, with laminate flooring, white furniture, and shiny marble bathrooms. Frommer’s readers booking direct (mention this book) get 10% to 15% off published rates and 3€ off parking.
Via Faenza 88R. www.hotelazzi.com. 055-213-806. 24 units. 54€-130€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 22€. Bus: 1, 2, 12, 13, 28, 36, 37, or 57. Amenities: Bar; Wi-Fi (free).
Plus Florence There’s simply nowhere in Florence with as many services for your buck—including seasonal indoor and outdoor swimming pools—all in a price bracket where you’re often fortunate to get an en suite bathroom (and Plus has those, too). The best rooms in this large, well-equipped hostel are in the rear wing, which has private rooms only. Units here are dressed in taupe and brown, with subtle uplighting and space (in some) for up to four beds. The only minuses: an un-picturesque building; and the location, between two busy roads. Light sleepers should request a room facing the internal courtyard.
Via Santa Caterina d’Alessandria 15. www.plushostels.com/plusflorence. 055-628-6347. 240 units. 36€-180€ double. Bus: 20. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; concierge; gym; 2 swimming pools; sauna (winter only); Wi-Fi (free).
Near San Marco & Santissima Annunziata
Residence Hilda These luxe mini-apartments are all bright-white decor and designer furnishings, with wood flooring, Wi-Fi, and modern gadgetry to keep everything running. Each is spacious, cool in summer, and soundproofed against Florence’s background noise. Every apartment has a mini-kitchen, equipped for preparing a simple meal—ideal if you have kids in tow. Deluxe units add Nespresso machines, yoga mats, and an exercise bike. Unusual for apartments, they are all bookable by the single night.
Via dei Servi 40 (2 blocks north of the Duomo). www.residencehilda.com. 055-288-021. 12 units. 150€-450€ per night for apartments (sleeping 2-4). Parking 31€. Bus: C1, 6, 19, 31, or 32. Amenities: Airport transfer; babysitting; Wi-Fi (free).
Antica Dimora Johlea There is a real neighborhood feel to the streets around this dimora (traditional Florentine home) guesthouse, which means evenings are lively and Sundays are silent (although it’s under a 10-min. walk to San Lorenzo). Standard-sized rooms are snug; upgrade to a deluxe if you need more space, but there is no difference in the decor, a mix of Florentine and earthy boho styling. Help yourself to coffee, a soft drink, or a glass of wine from the honesty bar and head up to a roof terrace for knockout views over the terracotta rooftops to the center and hills beyond. It is pure magic at dusk. No credit cards.
Via San Gallo 80. www.antichedimorefiorentine.it. 055-463-3292. 6 units. 90€-220€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 20€. Bus: C1, 1, 6, 11, 14, 17, 23. Amenities: Honesty bar; Wi-Fi (free).
Guest room at Loggiato dei Serviti.
Loggiato dei Serviti Stay here to experience Florence as the gentleman and lady visitors of the Grand Tour did. For starters, the building is a genuine Renaissance landmark, built by Sangallo the Elder in the 1520s. There is a sense of faded grandeur and unconventional luxury throughout—no gadgetry or chromotherapy showers, but you will find rooms with writing desks and lots of vintage ambience. No unit is small, but standard rooms lack a view of either Brunelleschi’s dome or the perfect piazza outside. Air conditioning is pretty much the only concession to the 21st century—and you will love it that way. Book direct for the best deals.
Piazza Santissima Annunziata 3. www.loggiatodeiservitihotel.it. 055-289-592. 37 units. 120€-330€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 21€. Bus: C1, 6, 19, 31, or 32. Amenities: Babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Morandi alla Crocetta Like many in Florence, this hotel is built into the shell of a former convent. Morandi alla Crocetta has retained the original convent layout, meaning some rooms are snug. But what you lose in size, you more than gain in character: Every single one oozes tipico fiorentino. Rooms have parquet flooring thrown with rugs and dressed with antique wooden furniture. Original Zocchi prints of Florence, from 1744, are scattered around the place. Superior rooms have more space and either a private courtyard terrace or, in one, original frescoes decorating the entrance to the former convent chapel, though the chapel itself is permanently sealed off. The hotel is located on a quiet street.
Via Laura 50 (1 block east of Piazza Santissima Annunziata). www.hotelmorandi.it. 055-234-4747. 12 units. 90€-177€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 24€. Bus: 6, 19, 31, or 32. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Tourist House Ghiberti There is a pleasing mix of the traditional and the modern at this backstreet guesthouse, named after a famous former resident: The creator of the Baptistery’s “Gates of Paradise” had workshops on the top floor of the palazzo. Rooms have plenty of space, with high ceilings, herringbone terra-cotta floors, whitewashed walls, and painted wood ceilings in a vaguely Renaissance style. There is a sauna and Jacuzzi for communal use, if you need to soak away the aches and pains after a day’s sightseeing; memory-foam mattresses should help with that, too. Email direct if you want to bag the best room rate.
Via M. Bufalini 1. www.touristhouseghiberti.com. 055-284-858. 6 units. 64€-179€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 20€-25€. Bus: C1. Amenities: Jacuzzi; sauna; Wi-Fi (free).
Near Santa Croce
La Casa di Morfeo For a cheery, affordable room in the lively eastern part of the center, look no further than this small hotel on the second floor of a grand, shuttered palace. There is no huge difference in quality among the guest rooms. All are midsized, with modern gadgetry, and painted in bright contemporary colors, each individual scheme corresponding to the flower after which the room is named. Our favorite is Mimosa, painted in light mustard, with a ceiling fresco and a view over Via Ghibellina. Colored lighting brings a bit of fun, too.
Via Ghibellina 51. www.lacasadimorfeo.it. 055-241-193. 9 units. 79€-189€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 25€. Bus: C2 or C3. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
The Cerere suite at Palazzo Galletti.
Palazzo Galletti Not many hotels within a sensible budget give you the chance to live like a Florentine noble. Rooms here have towering ceilings and an uncluttered arrangement of carefully chosen antiques. Most have frescoed or painted wood ceilings. Bathrooms, in contrast, have a sharp, contemporary design, decked out in travertine and marble. Aside from two street-facing suites, every room has a small balcony, ideal for a predinner glass of wine. If you’re here for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, spring for the “Giove” or (especially) “Cerere”; both are large suites, and the latter has walls covered in original frescoes from the 1800s. Wi-Fi is free if you book direct and mention this Frommer’s guide.
Via Sant’Egidio 12. www.palazzogalletti.it. 055-390-5750. 12 units. 100€-170€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 30€. Bus: C1 or C2. Amenities: Wi-Fi (5€/day).
Locanda Orchidea Over several visits to Florence, this has been a go-to inn for trips on a tight budget. Rooms are over two floors of a historic palazzo, the best of them rear-facing on a quiet, leafy courtyard where wisteria flowers each spring. Furniture is a fun mix of mismatched flea-market finds and secondhand pieces; tiled floors and bold print wallpaper and fabrics keep up the charmingly outmoded feel. Bathrooms are shared (they have good water pressure), and there is no A/C or onsite breakfast. But for value, character, and welcome, this place is hard to beat.
Borgo degli Albizi 11 (close to Piazza San Pier Maggiore). www.hotelorchideaflorence.it. 055-248-0346. 7 units. 42€-80€ double. Parking 18€-22€. Bus: C1 or C2. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
West of the Center
Riva Lofts The traditional Florentine alarm call—a morning mix of traffic and tourism—is replaced by birdsong when you awake in one of the stylish rooms here, on the banks of the River Arno. A former stone-built artisan workshop, Riva has had a refit to match its “loft” label: Mellow color schemes, laminate flooring, floating staircases, marble bathrooms with rainfall showers, and clever integration of natural materials in such features as original wooden workshop ceilings. Noon checkouts are standard—a traveler-friendly touch. The center is a 30-minute walk, or jump on one of Riva’s vintage-style bikes and cycle to the Uffizi along the Arno banks. Another standout feature in this price bracket: a shaded garden with outdoor plunge pool.
Via Baccio Bandinelli 98. www.rivalofts.com. 055-713-0272. 10 units. 165€-255€ double, includes breakfast. Parking 20€. Bus: 6/Tram: T1 (3 stops from central station). Amenities: Bar; bike rental (free); honesty bar; outdoor pool; Wi-Fi (free).
Apartment Rentals & Alternative Accommodations
It’s the way of the modern world: Global players in apartment rental have finally overtaken most of the local specialists in Florence. Online agency Cross Pollinate (www.cross-pollinate.com; 800/270-1190 in U.S., 06/9936-9799 in Italy) still has a Florence apartment portfolio worth checking. GoWithOh.com has a user-friendly website that incorporates verified guest feedback into its wide portfolio of high-quality apartments. HomeAway.com, Tripadvisor-owned HolidayLettings.co.uk, and Airbnb are also very well-stocked with central and suburban apartments.
An alternative budget option is to stay in a religious house. A few monasteries and convents in the center receive guests for a modest fee, including the Suore di Santa Elisabetta, Viale Michelangiolo 46 (near Piazza Ferrucci; 055-681-1884), in a colonial villa just south of the Ponte San Niccolò. The Istituto Oblate dell’Assunzione, Borgo Pinti 15 ( 055-2480-582), has simple, peaceful rooms in a Medici-era building ranged around a courtyard garden east of the center. The easiest way to build a monastery and convent itinerary in Florence and beyond is via agent MonasteryStays.com . Remember that most religious houses have a curfew, generally 11pm or midnight.
Tip: For basic grocery shopping in the center, try Conad City, Via dei Servi 56R ( 055-280-110), or any central branch of Carrefour Express. Both the Mercato Centrale and Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio are well stocked with fresh produce (see “Florence’s Best Markets,” p. 206).
WHERE TO EAT
Florence is awash with restaurants, though many in the most touristed areas (around the Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Piazza della Repubblica, and Ponte Vecchio) are of below-average quality or charge high prices. Sometimes both. We point out a few below that are worth a visit. As a rule, avoid restaurants that employ someone to corral you in from the street. The highest concentrations of excellent ristoranti and trattorie are around Santa Croce and across the river in the Oltrarno and San Frediano. There’s also an increasing buzz around San Lorenzo, particularly since the top floor of the Mercato Centrale (see p. 168) opened in 2014. Bear in mind that menus at restaurants in Florence can change weekly or even (at some of the very best places) daily. The city has also become much more gluten-savvy. If you have celiac disease or any sort of food intolerance, don’t be afraid to ask. Vegan food is also widely available.
Reservations are strongly recommended if you have your heart set on eating anywhere, especially at dinner on weekends.
RESTAURANTS BY CUISINE
Caffetteria delle Oblate , p. 209
Ditta Artigianale Oltrarno , p. 210
La Terrazza , p. 209
Procacci , p. 209
Rivoire , p. 209
A Crudo , p. 171
Il Santo Bevitore , p. 172
iO: Osteria Personale , p. 171
Konnubio , p. 168
Ora d’Aria , p. 167
Bondi , p. 169
Da Tito , p. 170
Il Magazzino , p. 171
La Gratella , p. 168
Mario , p. 169
Carapina , p. 173
Gelateria della Passera , p. 173
Gelateria de’ Medici , p. 173
Gelateria de’ Neri , p. 173
Il Gelato Gourmet di Marco Ottaviano , p. 173
La Carraia , p. 173
La Gratella , p. 168
Koto Ramen , p. 170
Bondi , p. 169
I Fratellini , p. 167
Sandwichic , p. 169
Mercato Centrale , p. 168
Vagalume , p. 206
GustaPizza , p. 172
Mercato Centrale , p. 168
A Crudo , p. 171
Pescheria San Pietro , p. 169
Coquinarius , see below
Da Tito , p. 170
Osteria del Porcellino , p. 167
Brac , p. 170
Konnubio , p. 168
Near the Duomo
Coquinarius TUSCAN There is a regular menu here—pasta, mains such as beef cheek in red wine or Chianina tartare, main-sized salads, traditional desserts. But the real pleasure is tucking into a couple of sharing plates and quaffing from the excellent wine list. Go for something from an extensive carpaccio list (beef, boar, octopus, swordfish, and more) or pair a misto di salumi e formaggi (mixed Tuscan salami and cheeses) with a full-bodied red wine, to cut through the strong flavors of the deliciously fatty and salty pork and Tuscan sheep’s milk cheese, Pecorino.
Via delle Oche 11R. www.coquinarius.com. 055-230-2153. Main courses 15€-18€. Daily 12:30-3:30pm and 6:30-10:30pm. Bus: C1 or C2.
A plate of mixed appetizers at Coquinarius.
It’s All Tripe
New York has the hot dog. London has pie and mash. Florence has … cow’s intestine in a sandwich. The city’s traditional street food, lampredotto (the cow’s fourth stomach) stewed with tomatoes, has made a big comeback over the last decade, including on the menus of some fine-dining establishments. The best places to sample it are still the city’s trippai, tripe vendors who sell it from vans around the center, alongside “regular” sandwiches. The most convenient vendors are in Piazza de’ Cimatori and on Via de’ Macci at Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. A hearty, nutritious lunch should come to around 4€. Most are open Monday through Saturday but close in August, when Florentines flee the city.
I Due Fratellini LIGHT FARE This hole-in-the-wall has been serving food to go since 1875. The drill is simple: Choose a filling, pick a drink, then eat your roll on the curb opposite or find a nearby piazza perch. There are around 30 fillings to choose from, including the usual Tuscan meats and cheeses—salami, pecorino, cured ham—and more flamboyant combos such as goat cheese and Calabrian spicy salami or bresaola (air-dried beef) and wild arugula. A glass of wine costs from 1.80€. No credit cards. Lunchtime lines can be long.
Via dei Cimatori 38R (at Via Calzaiuoli). www.iduefratellini.it. 055-239-6096. Sandwiches 3€. Daily 9:30am-7pm (Jul-Aug often closed Sun). Closed 2 weeks in mid-Aug. Bus: C2.
Near Piazza della Signoria
Ora d’Aria CONTEMPORARY TUSCAN If you want to see what the latest generation of Tuscan chefs can do in a kitchen, this place should top your list. The mood is modern and elegant, but never stuffy. Dishes are subtle and creative, and combine traditional ingredients in original ways. The menu changes daily, but expect the likes of papperdelle with mackerel ragù, artichokes, and thyme, or suckling pig with shrimp and celeriac puree. If you can’t stretch the budget for dinner, book a table at lunch to taste simpler, cheaper (14€-20€) dishes such as cold salad of salt cod with Pratese vermouth and sweet potato, served in full-size or half-price “tapas” portions. Reservations are essential.
Via dei Georgofili 11-13R (off Via Lambertesca). www.oradariaristorante.com. 055-200-1699. Main courses 38€-45€ (at dinner); tasting menu 80€-90€. Tues-Sat 12:30-2:30pm; Mon-Sat 7:30-10pm. Closed 3 weeks in Aug. Bus: C3 or D.
Osteria del Porcellino TUSCAN So many characterful restaurants of “old Florence” have dropped standards in the age of mass tourism, but not this place. Traditional Tuscan is what they do best, and pasta dishes such as pappardelle with wild boar sauce are always tasty. Follow that with a tagliata (sliced steak) with arugula and Parmigiano or a mixed grill of four Tuscan meats for a taste of the city’s carnivorous traditions. Lighter options include sublime “flan”: a potato cake with cured ham, Vin Santo wine, and a stracchino cheese sauce. All day dining means you (or the kids) can eat when you like.
Via Val di Lamona 7R. www.osteriadelporcellino.com. 055-264-148. Main courses 15€-26€. Daily 11:30am-midnight. Bus: C2.
Near San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale
Konnubio CONTEMPORARY TUSCAN/VEGAN There’s a warm glow (candles and low-watt lighting) about this place that opened in 2014—it makes you instantly happy, and the cooking keeps you there. Ingredients are largely Tuscan but combined creatively, such as in warm octopus salad with cherry tomatoes and olives or ravioli stuffed with guinea hen and served with truffle cream sauce. There’s an extensive vegan menu, too, including pumpkin with baked tofu, capers, and tomato confit. Under brick vaults and a covered courtyard, it could work for a romantic dinner; but you won’t be out of place in a family group either (there’s a kids’ menu). It feels like refined dining, but at a price that gets you a so-so bowl of pasta in many other places.
Via dei Conti 8R. www.konnubio.it. 055-238-1189. Main courses 12€-28€. Daily noon-3pm and 7-11pm. Bus: C1.
La Gratella FLORENTINE/GRILL It doesn’t look much—a workers’ canteen on a nondescript side street—but looks don’t matter much when you can source and cook meat like they do here. Star of the show is the bistecca alla fiorentina, a large T-bone-like cut grilled on the bone and brought to the table over coals. It is sold by weight and made for sharing; expect to pay about 50€. Pair this or any market-fresh meat on the menu with simple Tuscan sides like fagioli all’uccelletto (stewed beans and tomatoes). They cater to celiacs, too.
Via Guelfa 81R. www.trattorialagratella.com. 055-211-292. Main courses 12€-18€. Daily noon-3pm and 7:30-9pm. Bus: 1, 6, 11, 14, 17, or 23.
Mercato Centrale MODERN ITALIAN In 2014 the upper floor of Florence’s produce market reopened as a bustling shrine to Italian street food. There are counters selling dishes from all over the country, including Sud, one of the city’s best pizzerias. Don’t fancy pizza? There are vendors selling pasta, vegetarian and vegan fare, cold cuts and cheeses, fresh fish dishes, Chianina burgers and meatballs, and lots more. It works perfectly for families who can’t agree on a dinner choice. Or just stop by for a drink and soak up the buzz: There’s a so-so beer bar and a superb enoteca, plus soccer games on the big screen.
Piazza Mercato Centrale. www.mercatocentrale.it. 055-239-9798. Dishes 5€-13€. Daily 10am-midnight. Bus: C1.
Bondi FLORENTINE/LIGHT FARE To label this place opposite the Mercato Centrale a mere sandwich shop is like describing the Super Bowl as “a football game.” Bondi is an institution, and specializes in piadine (flatbread sandwich) in the Florentine style. Choose from a long list of traditional and unusual combinations, then order at the bar and take a seat on rustic wooden benches to await the arrival of your piadine (toasted or cold) filled with any number of combos, including radicchio and mozzarella, salt cod with tomato and pink peppercorns, or eggplant Parmigiana. Wash it down with a glass of Chianti at 2€ a pop. No credit cards.
Via dell’Ariento 85. 055-287-390. Sandwiches 2.50€-4€. Daily 11am-11pm. Bus: C1.
Mario FLORENTINE There is no doubt that this market workers’ trattoria is now firmly on the tourist path. But Mario’s clings to the same traditions and ethos as when it first fired up the burners 60 years ago. Food is simple, hearty, and served at communal tables—check in on arrival and you will be offered seats together wherever they come free. Think zuppa di fagioli (bean soup) followed by Tuscan beef stew, peposo, or vitello arrosto (roast veal). No credit cards.
Via Rosina 2R (north corner of Piazza Mercato Centrale). www.trattoriamario.com. 055-218-550. Main courses 6.50€-14€. Mon-Sat noon-3:30pm. Closed Aug. Bus: C1.
Sandwichic LIGHT FARE It’s perhaps Florence’s best sandwich bar, and succeeds because it keeps things simple, with freshly baked bread and expertly sourced ingredients including Tuscan cured meats and savory preserves. Try the likes of finocchiona (salami spiked with fennel), pecorino cheese, and crema di porri (a creamy leek relish). Sandwiches cost 3.50€ to 5€. Located inside a former haberdashery, it’s a tight squeeze: Go for takeout.
Via San Gallo 3R. www.sandwichic.it. 055-281-157. Sandwiches 3.50€-5€. Daily 11am-9pm. Bus: C1.
Near Santa Maria Novella
Pescheria San Pietro SEAFOOD It takes a big serving of confidence to open a seafood restaurant—on two floors—in one of Florence’s less-fashionable quarters. This place, opened in 2014, has the chops (and the chefs) to pull it off. The fishy focus rarely wavers: A route through the menu might take in Cantabrian anchovies, followed by black squid-ink tagliolini with seafood ragù, then a gran fritto (mixed fry) of seafood and vegetables in tempura batter—though you’d do well to manage all that, because portions are generous. With open kitchens, clanking cutlery, and brisk service, San Pietro is a classic seafood bistro done properly. There’s also a 5-item vegetarian menu (dishes 11€-13€).
Via Alamanni 7R. www.pescheriasanpietro.it. 055-238-2749. Main courses 14€-21€. Daily 11am-11pm. Bus: C2, D, 29, 30, or 35/Tram: T1.
Near San Marco & Santissima Annunziata
San Marco is the place to head for schiacciata, olive-oil flatbread loaded with savory toppings. You will find the best in the city at Pugi, Piazza San Marco 9B (www.focacceria-pugi.it; 055-280-981), open 7:45am to 8pm Monday to Saturday, but closed most of August.
Da Tito TUSCAN/FLORENTINE Sure, they ham it up a little for the tourists, but every night feels like party night at one of central Florence’s rare genuine neighborhood trattorias. (And for that reason, it’s usually packed—reserve ahead.) The welcome and the dishes are authentically Florentine, with a few modern Italian curveballs: Start, perhaps, with a seasonal risotto (fresh peas and cured pork cheek) before going on to a traditional grill such as lombatina di vitella (veal chop steak). The neighborhood location, a 10-minute walk north of San Lorenzo, and mixed clientele, keep the quality consistent.
Via San Gallo 112R. www.trattoriadatito.it. 055-472-475. Main courses 10€-18€. Mon-Sat 12:30-2pm and 7-10:30pm. Bus: C1, 1, 7, 20, or 25.
The Caprese salad at Brac.
Near Santa Croce
Brac VEGETARIAN An artsy cafe-bookshop for most of the day, at lunch and dinner this place turns into one of Florence’s best spots for vegetarian and vegan food. There are seasonal salads and creative pasta dishes, but a piatto unico works out best for hungry diners: one combo plate loaded with three dishes from the menu, perhaps pear carpaccio with Grana Padana cheese and a balsamic reduction; tagliatelle with broccoli, pecorino, and lemon; plus an eggplant and mozzarella pane carasau (Sardinian flatbread). The courtyard atmosphere is intimate and romantic, yet singletons won’t feel out of place eating at the counter out front. Booking at dinner is a must in high season and on weekends.
Via dei Vagellai 18R. www.libreriabrac.net. 055-094-4877. Main courses 10€-14€. Daily noon-3:30pm and 7-10:30pm. Bus: C1, C3, or 23.
Koto Ramen JAPANESE Ramen’s march to world domination continues, in a city whose culinary traditions could hardly be farther from Tokyo. The cooking here is authentic, however, with each item on a short menu based on a deep, rich broth that’s homemade (as are the noodles), particularly the “tantan” ramen, with chopped pork, sesame pesto, and Japanese hot pepper. Sides are also traditional, and include edamame, filled gyoza and kara-age (fried marinated chicken thighs). No reservations: Expect to queue if you arrive late on a weekend.
Via Verdi 42R. www.kotoramen.it. 055-247-9477. Main courses 12€-16€. Wed-Mon 7pm-midnight. Bus: C3.
Vagalume MODERN ITALIAN The style here is “tapas fiorentine”—there are no “courses,” and you compile a dinner from a range of good-size dishes in any order you please. Dishes are all seasonal and change daily, but could include a soufflé of Gorgonzola, hazelnuts, and zucchini; rabbit stewed in Vernaccia wine with olives; a “tarte tatin” of beetroot and burrata cheese; or tagliolini with a clam and fava bean pesto. There’s stripped-back decor, and jazz-funk played on an old vinyl turntable. The wine list is short, but well chosen.
Via Pietrapiana 40R. 055-246-6740. Dishes 8€-14€. Daily 6:30pm-2am. Bus: C2 or C3.
In the Oltrarno, San Niccolò & San Frediano
iO: Osteria Personale CONTEMPORARY TUSCAN There’s a definite hipster atmosphere, with whitewashed brick, banquettes, minimalist décor, and a young waitstaff. The food ethos here is cutting edge, too. Ingredients are usually familiar to Tuscan cooking, but are often combined in a way you may not have seen before. The menu always has a good range of seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes: Perhaps tempura artichoke flowers stuffed with Taleggio cheese and marjoram followed by guinea-hen ravioli, then roasted octopus with garbanzo-bean cream and cumin. Reservations are recommended.
Borgo San Frediano 167R (at Piazza di Verzaia). www.io-osteriapersonale.it. 055-933-1341. Main courses 19€-21€; tasting menus 40€ for 4 dishes, 55€ for 6 dishes. Mon-Sat 7:30-10pm. Closed 10 days in Jan and all Aug. Bus: D or 6.
A Crudo CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN/RAW FOOD The name means “raw,” which provides a clue to the strengths of this 2016 opening. A short carpaccio list includes venison with bitter citrus and pink peppercorn vinaigrette. But the real star is the meat tartare, done in traditional style, as well as in such creative combos as Kathmandù (with lime and avocado) and Marinata (with gin and parsley). There’s also vegetarian raw food tartare, as well as anything on the menu to go. A Crudo is a perfect example of modern Florence doing what it does best: Tapping into food traditions and letting them breathe some 21st-century air.
Via Mazzetta 5R. www.acrudo.com. 055-265-7483. Main courses 10€-16€. Daily 12:30-4pm and 6:30pm-midnight. Bus: C3, D, 11, 36, or 37.
The dining room at iO: Osteria Personale.
Il Magazzino FLORENTINE A traditional osteria that specializes in the flavors of old Florence. It looks the part, too, with its terra-cotta tiled floor and barrel vault, chunky wooden furniture, and hanging lamps. If you dare, this is a place to try tripe or lampredotto (intestines), the traditional food of working Florentines, prepared expertly here in ravioli or meatballs, boiled, or alla fiorentina (stewed with tomatoes and garlic). The rest of the menu is carnivore-friendly, too: Follow tagliatelle al ragù bianco (pasta ribbons with a “white” meat sauce made with milk instead of tomatoes) with guancia di vitello in agrodolce (veal cheek stewed with baby onions in a sticky-sweet sauce).
Piazza della Passera 3. 055-215-969. Main courses 10€-18€. Daily noon-3pm and 7:30-11pm. Bus: C3 or D.
Il Santo Bevitore CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN Sure, this place has lost some of its in-the-know, local buzz. But the commitment to top produce served simply, and the trademark take on Tuscan ingredients, is unwavering: Reservations are still a must. Carefully sourced cold cuts make an ideal sharing antipasto—prosciutto crudo from Umbria, Pecorino cheese from Pienza, southern Tuscany. Mains are eclectic, seasonal, and come in all appetite sizes, from a whole burrata (fresh cheese) served with spinach to confit duck with radicchio and orange to stuffed squid with artichokes. There is a long, expertly compiled wine list, with about 10 offered by the glass, plus craft beers.
Via Santo Spirito 66R (at Piazza N. Sauro). www.ilsantobevitore.com. 055-211-264. Main courses 11€-25€. Mon-Sat 12:30-2:30pm; daily 7:30-11pm. Closed 10 days in mid-Aug. Bus: C3, D, 6, 11, 36, or 37.
GustaPizza PIZZA Florentines aren’t known for their pizza-making skills, so I guess it’s just as well that this place is run by Calabrians. Pizzas are in the Naples style, with fluffy crusts, doughy bases, and just the classic toppings on a menu that you could write on the back of a napkin: Margherita (cheese, tomato, basil) and Napoli (cheese, tomatoes, anchovies, oregano, capers) are joined by a couple of simple specials, such as mozzarella and basil pesto. It is self-service, but there are a few tables if you want to eat with a knife and fork (no reservations). On warm days, eat takeout around the corner on the steps of Santo Spirito.
Via Maggio 46R. 055-285-068. Pizzas 4.50€-8€. Tues-Sun 11:30am-3:30pm and 7-11:30pm. Closed 3 weeks in Aug. Bus: C3, D, 11, 36, or 37.
Florence has a fair claim to being the birthplace of gelato, and has some of the world’s best gelaterie—but many, many poor imitations, too. Steer clear of spots around the major attractions, where air-fluffed mountains of ice cream are so full of artificial colors and flavors they glow in the dark. If you can see the Ponte Vecchio or Piazza della Signoria from the front door of the gelateria, you may want to move on. You might only have to walk a block, or duck down a side street, to find a genuine artisan in the gelato kitchen. Trust us, you’ll taste the difference. Opening hours tend to be discretionary: When it’s warm, many places open until 11pm or beyond.
Carapina Militant seasonality ensures the fruit gelato here is the best in the center. Note: This branch usually closes at 7pm.
Via Lambertesca 18R. www.carapina.it. 055-291-128. Cone from 2.50€. Bus: C3 or D. Also at: Piazza Oberdan 2R ( 055-676-930).
Gelateria della Passera Milk-free fruit ices here are some of the most intensely-flavored in the city, all natural and relatively low in sugary sweetness. Try the likes of pink grapefruit or jasmine tea gelato.
Via Toscanella 15R (at Piazza della Passera). www.gelaterialapassera.wordpress.com. 055-291-882. Cone from 1€. Bus: C3 or D.
Gelateria de’ Medici Ice-cream obsessives should make a pilgrimage to this place just outside the center, considered by many the city’s best. A sublime chocolate orange flavor is liberally studded with candied peel.
Via dello Statuto 5R. www.gelateriademedici.com. 055-475-156. Cone from 1.80€. Bus: 4, 8, 20, or 28. Also at: Piazza Beccaria 7R ( 055-386-0008).
Gelateria de’ Neri There’s a large range of fruit, crema (white cream), and chocolate flavors here, but nothing overelaborate. If the ricotta and fig is available, you’re in luck.
Via dei Neri 9R. 055-210-034. Cone from 1.80€. Bus: C1, C3, or 23.
Il Gelato Gourmet di Marco Ottaviano It’s all about the seasonal, produce-led flavors at this spot. Choices can include Sicilian pistachio or pastiera, based on a Neapolitan cake.
Via Palmieri 34R (at Piazza San Pier Maggiore). 055-234-1036. Cone from 2€. Bus: C1 or C2.
La Carraia Packed with locals late into the evening on summer weekends—for a good reason. The range is vast, the quality high.
Piazza N. Sauro 25R. www.lacarraiagroup.info. 055-280-695. Cone from 1€. Bus: C3, D, 6, 11, 36, or 37. Also at: Via de’ Benci 24R ( 329-363-0069).
Most museums accept cash only at the door. Staff is usually happy to direct you to the nearest ATM (un bancomat). Precise opening times can change without notice, especially at city churches (for example, the Baptistery sometimes remains open until 11pm in summer). The tourist office maintains an up-to-date list of hours. Note, too, that the last admission to the museums and monuments listed is usually between 30 and 45 minutes before the final closing time.
INDEX OF ATTRACTIONS & SITES
Battistero (Baptistery) , p. 175
Duomo , p. 179
Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery) , p. 181
Galleria dell’Accademia , (“David”), p. 194
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) , p. 199
Piazza della Signoria , p. 186
Ponte Vecchio , p. 189
Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels) , p. 191
Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia , p. 194
Chiostro dello Scalzo , p. 194
Gucci Museo , p. 184
Museo Archeologico , p. 195
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Works Museum) , p. 180
Museo Marino Marini & Cappella Rucellai , p. 192
Museo Nazionale del Bargello (Bargello Museum) , p. 184
Museo Novecento , p. 193
Museo Zoologia “La Specola” , p. 199
Palazzo Davanzati , p. 187
Palazzo Pitti , p. 199
San Francesco , p. 203
San Marco , p. 195
Orsanmichele , p. 185
San Francesco , p. 203
San Lorenzo , p. 192
San Miniato al Monte , p. 200
Santa Croce , p. 197
Santa Felicità , p. 201
Santa Maria del Carmine , p. 201
Santa Maria Novella , p. 193
Santa Trínita , p. 190
Santissima Annunziata , p. 196
Santo Spirito , p. 202
Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower) , p. 178
Giardino Bardini (Bardini Garden) , p. 198
Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Garden) , p. 198
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi , p. 192
Palazzo Vecchio , p. 187
Piazzale Michelangiolo , p. 200
Palazzo Strozzi , p. 190
Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) , p. 203
Piazza del Duomo
The cathedral square is always crowded—filled with tourists and caricature artists during the day, strolling crowds in the early evening, and students strumming guitars on the Duomo’s steps at night. The piazza’s vivacity amidst the glittering facades of the cathedral and the Baptistery doors keep it an eternal Florentine sight—and now that it has been closed to traffic for almost a decade, it’s a more welcoming space than ever.
Brunelleschi’s dome, seen from the top of Giotto’s bell tower.
Battistero (Baptistery) CHURCH In choosing a date to mark the beginning of the Renaissance, art historians often seize on 1401, the year Florence’s powerful wool merchants’ guild held a contest to decide who would receive the commission to design the North Doors of the Baptistery to match its Gothic South Doors, cast 65 years earlier by Andrea Pisano. The era’s foremost Tuscan sculptors each cast a bas-relief bronze panel depicting their own vision of the “Sacrifice of Isaac.” Twenty-two-year-old Lorenzo Ghiberti, competing against Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia, and Filippo Brunelleschi, won. He spent the next 21 years casting 28 bronze panels and building his doors. The restored originals are now inside the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (see below).
The result so impressed the merchants’ guild—not to mention the public and Ghiberti’s fellow artists—that they asked him in 1425 to do the East Doors , facing the Duomo, this time giving him the artistic freedom to realize his Renaissance ambitions. Twenty-seven years later, just before his death, Ghiberti finished 10 dramatic Old Testament scenes in gilded bronze, each a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture and some of the finest examples of low-relief perspective in Italian art. Each illustrates episodes in the stories of Noah (second down on left), Moses (second up on left), Solomon (bottom right), and others. The panels mounted here are also copies; the originals are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Years later, Michelangelo was standing before these doors and someone asked his opinion. His response sums up Ghiberti’s accomplishment as no art historian could: “They are so beautiful that they would grace the entrance to Paradise.” They’ve been nicknamed the Gates of Paradise ever since.
DISCOUNT TICKETS FOR THE CITY
It may seem a little odd to label the Firenze Card (www.firenzecard.it) a “discount ticket.” It costs 72€. Is it a good buy? If you are planning a busy, museum-packed break here, the Firenze Card is a good value. If you only expect to see a few highlights, skip it.
For culture vultures out there, the card (valid for 72 hr.) allows one-time entrance to each of 60-plus sites; the list includes a handful that are free anyway, but also the Uffizi, Accademia, Cappella Brancacci, Palazzo Pitti, Brunelleschi’s dome, San Marco, and many more. In fact, everything we recommend in this chapter except the Gucci Museo is included in the price of the card, as well as some sites in Fiesole (p. 202). It gets you into much shorter lines, taking ticket pre-booking hassles out of the equation—and another saving of 3€ to 4€ for busy museums, above all the Uffizi and Accademia. The FirenzeCard+ add-on (5€) includes 3 days’ free bus travel (which you likely won’t use) and free public Wi-Fi (which you might).
Don’t buy a Firenze Card for anyone ages 17 and under: They can always enter via the express queue with you. They gain free admission to civic museums (such as the Palazzo Vecchio). They pay only the “reservation fee” at state-owned museums (it’s 4€ at the Uffizi, for example). Private museums and sights have their own payment rules, but it’s very unlikely to add up to 72€ per child.
The Opera del Duomo has dispensed with single entry tickets to its sites in favor of a value biglietto cumulativo, the Grande Museo del Duomo ticket. It covers Brunelleschi’s dome, the Baptistery, Campanile di Giotto, the revamped Museo dell’Opera, and crypt excavations of Santa Reparata (inside the cathedral) for 15€, 3€ for children ages 6 to 11. It also gets you into the Duomo without queuing (in theory). In Florence, buy it at the ticket office almost opposite the Baptistery, on the north side of Piazza San Giovanni. This is enough to fill a busy half-day, at least. See www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it for more details or to buy online ahead of arrival.
The building itself is ancient. It is first mentioned in city records in the 9th century and was probably already 300 years old by then. Its interior is ringed with columns pilfered from ancient Roman buildings and is a riot of mosaic-work above and below. The floor was inlaid in 1209, and the ceiling was covered between 1225 and the early 1300s with glittering mosaics . Most were crafted by Venetian or Byzantine-style workshops, which worked off designs drawn by the era’s best artists. Coppo di Marcovaldo drew sketches for the over 7.8m-high (26-ft.) “Christ in Judgment” and the “Last Judgment” that fills over a third of the ceiling. Bring binoculars if you want a closer look.
Piazza San Giovanni. www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it. 055-230-2885. 15€ Grande Museo del Duomo ticket; see box above. Mon-Wed and Fri-Sat 8:15-10:15am and 11:15am-6:30pm; Thurs 8:15-10:15am and 11:15am-5pm; Sun 8:15am-1:30pm. Bus: C2.
Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower) ARCHITECTURE In 1334, Giotto started the cathedral bell tower but completed only the first two levels before his death in 1337. He was out of his league with the engineering aspects of architecture, and the tower was saved from falling by Andrea Pisano, who doubled the thickness of the walls. Pisano also changed the design to add statue niches—he even carved a few of the statues himself—before quitting the project in 1348. Francesco Talenti finished the job between 1350 and 1359. The reliefs and statues in the lower levels—by Andrea Pisano, Donatello, Luca della Robbia, and others—are all copies; the weatherworn originals are housed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. We recommend climbing the 414 steps to the top; the view is memorable as you ascend, and offers the best close-up in the entire city of Brunelleschi’s dome.
Piazza del Duomo. www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it. 055-230-2885. 15€ Grande Museo del Duomo ticket; see above. Daily 8:15am-6:50pm. Bus: C2, 14, or 23.
Interior of the Duomo.
Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) CATHEDRAL By the late 13th century, Florence was feeling peevish: Its archrivals Siena and Pisa sported flamboyant new cathedrals while it was saddled with the tiny 5th- or 6th-century cathedral of Santa Reparata. So in 1296, the city hired Arnolfo di Cambio to design a new Duomo, and he raised the facade and the first few bays before his death (around 1310). Work continued under the auspices of the Wool Guild and architects Giotto di Bondone (who concentrated on the bell tower) and Francesco Talenti (who expanded the planned size and finished up to the drum of the dome). The facade we see today is a neo-Gothic composite designed by Emilio de Fabris and built from 1871 to 1887.
The Duomo’s most distinctive feature, however, is its enormous dome (or cupola), which dominates the skyline and is a symbol of Florence itself. The raising of this dome, the largest in the world in its time, was no mean architectural feat, tackled by Filippo Brunelleschi between 1420 and 1436 (see “A Man & His Dome,” below). You can climb up between its two shells for one of the classic panoramas across the city—something that is not recommended for claustrophobes or anyone with no head for heights. Get there early: Queues can be extremely long.
The cathedral is rather Spartan inside, though check out the optical illusion equestrian “statue” of English mercenary soldier Sir John Hawkwood on the north wall, painted in 1436 by Paolo Uccello.
Piazza del Duomo. www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it. 055-230-2885. Church free; Santa Reparata and cupola with 15€ Grande Museo del Duomo ticket. Church Mon-Wed and Fri 10am-5pm; Thurs 10am-4:30pm; Sat 10am-4:45pm; Sun 1:30-4:45pm. Cupola Mon-Fri 8:30am-6:20pm; Sat 8:30am-5pm; Sun 1-4pm. Bus: C1 or C2.
A MAN & HIS DOME
Filippo Brunelleschi, a diminutive man whose ego was as big as his talent, managed in his arrogant, quixotic, and brilliant way to invent Renaissance architecture. Having been beaten by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the contest to cast the Baptistery doors (see p. 161), Brunelleschi resolved that he would rather be the top architect than the second-best sculptor and took off for Rome to study the buildings of the ancients. On returning to Florence, he combined subdued gray pietra serena stone with smooth white plaster to create airy arches, vaults, and arcades of perfect classical proportions, in his own variant on the ancient Roman orders of architecture. He designed Santo Spirito, the elegant Ospedale degli Innocenti, and a new sacristy for San Lorenzo, but his greatest achievement was erecting the dome over Florence’s cathedral.
The Duomo—at that time the world’s largest church—had already been built, but nobody had been able to figure out how to cover the daunting space over its center without spending a fortune. No one was even sure whether they could create a dome that would hold up under its own weight. Brunelleschi insisted he knew how, and once granted the commission, revealed his ingenious plan, which may have been inspired by close study of Rome’s Pantheon (p. 107).
He built the dome in two shells, the inner one thicker than the outer, both shells thinning as they neared the top, thus leaving the center hollow and removing a good deal of the weight. He also planned to construct the dome of giant vaults with ribs crossing them, and dovetailed the stones making up the actual fabric of the dome. In this way, the walls of the dome would support themselves as they were erected. In the process of building, Brunelleschi found himself as much an engineer as architect, constantly designing winches and hoists to carry the materials (plus food and drink) faster and more efficiently up to the level of the workmen.
His finished work speaks for itself, 45m (148 ft.) wide at the base and 90m (295 ft.) high from drum to lantern. For his achievement, Brunelleschi was accorded the honor of a burial inside Florence’s cathedral.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Works Museum) ART MUSEUM Florence’s Cathedral Museum reopened in 2015 after a major overhaul, now with double the space to show off what is Italy’s second-largest collection of devotional art after the Vatican Museums (p. 89). The site itself is significant: It once housed the workshop where Michelangelo sculpted his statue of “David.” The museum’s prize exhibit is the centerpiece: The original Gates of Paradise cast by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the early 1400s (see “Baptistery,” p. 161). You can see them in a re-creation of their original space on the piazza, and read from interpretation panels that explain the Old Testament scenes. Ghiberti’s Baptistery North Doors have also been moved inside (and will be joined in the future by Pisano’s South Doors).
Also here is a Michelangelo “Pietà” that nearly wasn’t. Early on in the process he had told students that he wanted this “Pietà” to stand at his tomb, but when he found an imperfection in the marble, he began attacking it with a hammer (look at Christ’s left arm). The master never returned to the work, but his students later repaired the damage. The figure of Nicodemus was untouched—legend has it, because it was a self-portrait of the artist—a Michelangelo myth that, for once, is probably true. Elsewhere are works by Donatello—including his restored “Magdalen” —Andrea del Verrocchio, Luca della Robbia, and others.
Piazza del Duomo 9 (behind cathedral). www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it. 055-230-2885. 15€ Grande Museo del Duomo ticket. Tues-Thurs and Sun 9am-7pm; Fri-Sat and Mon 9am-9pm. Closed 1st Tues of month. Bus: C1.
Around Piazza della Signoria & Santa Trínita
Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery) ART MUSEUM There is no collection of Renaissance art on the planet that can match the Uffizi. Period. For all its crowds and other inconveniences, the Uffizi remains a must-see. And what will you see? Some 60-plus rooms and marble corridors—built in the 16th century as the Medici’s private offices, or uffici—all packed with famous paintings, among them Giotto’s “Ognissanti Madonna,” Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” Leonardo da Vinci’s “Annunciation,” Michelangelo’s “Holy Family,” and many, many more.
Start with Room 2 for a look at the pre-Renaissance, Gothic style of painting. Compare teacher and student with Cimabue’s “Santa Trínita Maestà,” painted around 1280, and Giotto’s “Ognissanti Madonna” done in 1310. The similar subject and setting for both paintings shows how Giotto transformed Cimabue’s iconlike Byzantine style into something more human. Giotto’s Madonna looks like she’s sitting on a throne, her clothes emphasizing the curves of her body, whereas Cimabue’s Madonna and angels float in space, like portraits on coins, with stiff positioning. Also worth a look-see: Duccio’s “Rucellai Madonna” (1285), a founding work of the ethereal Sienese School of painting.
Interior, Galleria degli Uffizi.
Room 3 showcases the Sienese School at its peak, with Simone Martini’s dazzling “Annunciation” (1333) and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s “Presentation at the Temple” (1342). The Black Death of 1348 wiped out this entire generation of Sienese painters, and most of that city’s population along with them. Room 7 shows Florentine painting at its most decorative, in a style known as “International Gothic.” The iconic work is Gentile da Fabriano’s “Procession of the Magi” (1423). The line to see the newborn Jesus is full of decorative and comic elements, and is even longer than the one waiting outside the Uffizi.
Room 8 contains the unflattering profiles of the Duke Federico da Montefeltro of Urbino and his duchess, done by Piero della Francesca around 1465. The subjects are portrayed in a starkly realistic way—the duke exposes his warts and his crooked nose, which was broken in a tournament. This focus on earthly, rather than Christian, elements recalls the secular teachings of Greek and Roman times, and is made all the more vivid by depiction (on the back) of the couple riding chariots driven by the humanistic virtues of faith, charity, hope, and modesty (for her) and prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice (for him).
Also here are works by Filippo Lippi from the mid-15th century. His most celebrated, “Madonna and Child with Two Angels” , dates from around 1465. The background, with distant mountains on one side and water on the other, framing the portrait of a woman’s face, was shamelessly stolen by Leonardo da Vinci 40 years later for his “Mona Lisa.” Lippi’s work was also a celebrity scandal. The woman who modeled for Mary was said to be Filippo’s lover—a would-be nun called Lucrezia Buti whom he had spirited away from a convent before she took vows—and the child looking toward the viewer the product of their union. That son, Filippino Lippi, became a painter in his own right, and some of his works hang in the same room. However, it was Filippo’s student (who would, in turn, become Filippino’s teacher) who would go on to become one of the most famous artists of the 15th century. His name was Botticelli.
Rooms 10 to 14—still collectively numbered as such, even though the partition walls were knocked down in 1978—are devoted to the works of Sandro Filipepi, better known by his nickname “Little Barrels,” or Botticelli. Botticelli’s 1485 “Birth of Venus” hangs like a billboard you have seen a thousand times. Venus’s pose is taken from classical statues, while the winds Zephyr and Aura blowing her to shore, and the muse welcoming her are from Ovid’s “Metamorphosis.” Botticelli’s 1478 “Primavera” , its dark, bold colors a stark contrast to filmy, pastel “Venus,” defies definitive interpretation. But again it features Venus (center), alongside Mercury, with the winged boots, the Three Graces, and the goddess Flora. Next to it Botticelli’s “Adoration of the Magi” contains a self-portrait of the artist. He’s the one in yellow on the far right.
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Annunciation” anchors Room 15. In this painting, though completed in the early 1470s while Leonardo was still a student in Verrocchio’s workshop, da Vinci’s ability to orchestrate the viewer’s focus is already masterful: The line down the middle of the brick corner of the house draws your glance to Mary’s delicate fingers, which themselves point along the top of a stone wall to the angel’s two raised fingers. Those, in turn, draw attention to the mountain in the center of the two parallel trees dividing Mary from the angel, representing the gulf between the worldly and the spiritual. Its unusual perspective was painted to be viewed from the lower right.
As soon as you cross to the Uffizi’s west wing—past picture windows with views of the Arno River to one side and the perfect, Renaissance perspective of the Uffizi piazza to the other—you’re walloped with another line of masterpieces. Among the highlights of this “second half” is Michelangelo’s 1505-08 “Holy Family” . The twisting shapes of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus recall those in the Sistine Chapel in Rome for their sculpted nature and the bright colors. The torsion and tensions of the painting (and other Michelangelo works) inspired the next generation of Florentine painters, known as the Mannerists. Andrea Del Sarto, Rosso Fiorentino, and Pontormo are all represented in the revamped Sale Rosse (Red Rooms) downstairs. Here too, the Uffizi has a number of Raphaels, including his often-copied “Madonna of the Goldfinch” (Room 66), with a background landscape lifted from Leonardo and Botticelli.
Titian’s reclining nude “Venus of Urbino” (Room 83) is another highlight of the later works. It’s no coincidence that the edge of the curtain, the angle of her hand and leg, and the line splitting floor and bed all intersect at the forbidden part of her body. The Sale Gialle (Yellow Rooms) feature paintings by Caravaggio, notably an enigmatic “Bacchus” , and many by the 17th- to 18th-century caravaggieschi artists who aped his chiaroscuro (bright light and dark shadows) style. Greatest among them was Artemisia Gentileschi, a rare female painter from this period. Her “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (ca. 1612), is one of the bloodiest paintings in the gallery, and shares Room 90 with Caravaggio.
Rooms 46 to 55 showcase the works of foreign painters in the Uffizi. The best among the so-called Sale Blu (Blue Rooms) is the Spanish gallery, with works by Goya, El Greco’s “Sts. John the Evangelist and Francis” (1600), and Velázquez’s “Self-Portrait” . Room 49 displays some of Rembrandt’s most familiar portraits and self-portraits.
If you find yourself flagging at any point (it happens to us all), there is a coffee shop at the far end of the west wing. Prices are in line with the piazza below, plus you get a great close-up of the Palazzo Vecchio’s facade from the terrace. Fully refreshed, you can return to discover works by the many great artists we didn’t have space to cover here: Cranach and Dürer; Giorgione, Bellini, and Mantegna; and Uccello, Masaccio, Bronzino, and Veronese. There are original Roman statues and friezes, too, notably in a room dedicated to the Medici garden at San Marco. In short, there is nowhere like the Uffizi anywhere in Italy, or the world.
Piazzale degli Uffizi 6 (off Piazza della Signoria). 055-23885. (Reserve tickets at www.firenzemusei.it or 055-294-883.) 8€ (12€ during a temporary exhibition). Tues-Sun 8:15am-6:50pm. Bus: C1 or C2.
Advance Reservations for the Uffizi, Accademia & More
If you’re not buying a cumulative ticket (see “Discount Tickets for the City,” p. 178), you should bypass the hours-long line at the Uffizi by reserving a ticket and an entry time in advance. The easiest way is with Firenze Musei ( 055-294-883; Mon-Fri 8:30am-6:30pm, Sat until 12:30pm) via www.firenzemusei.it. You should also reserve for the Accademia (another interminable line, to see “David”). It’s also possible, but not usually necessary, for the Galleria Palatina in the Pitti Palace, the Bargello, and several others. There’s a 3€ fee (4€ for the Uffizi or Accademia, where a |reservation is very strongly advised); you can pay by credit card. You can also reserve in person, in Florence, at a kiosk in the facade of Orsanmichele, on Via dei Calzaiuoli (closed Sun), or at a desk inside the bookshop Libreria My Accademia, Via Ricasoli 105R (closed Mon; www.myaccademia.com; 055-288-310), almost opposite the Accademia. You can also reserve, for the Uffizi only, at the Uffizi itself; do so at the teller window inside entrance number 2. Ticket collection point at the Uffizi is across the piazza, at entrance number 3.
Gucci Museo MUSEUM This private museum tells the story of the Gucci empire, from humble beginnings to worldwide megabrand. Guccio Gucci got his flash of inspiration while working as a “lift boy” at London’s Savoy Hotel: His first product designs were for travel luggage to suit the lifestyles of the kinds of people he would meet in the elevator every day.
Of course, as well as the history, the museum’s three floors are packed with swag that carries the famous “double-G” logo, including a limited edition 1979 Gucci Cadillac Seville (only 200 were ever made). As well as day bags and duffle bags—and photos of Audrey Hepburn, David Niven, Sophia Loren, and Princess Grace in Gucci gear—there is a room devoted to revering the dresses that have graced the reddest of red carpets. The museum places Gucci right at the heart of Florence’s artisan tradition—which of course, is where it belongs.
Piazza della Signoria. www.guccimuseo.com. 055-7592-3302. 7€ (5€ Thurs 8-11pm). Fri-Wed 10am-8pm, Thurs 10am-11pm. Bus: C1 or C2.
Museo Nazionale del Bargello (Bargello Museum) MUSEUM This is the most important museum anywhere for Renaissance sculpture—and often inexplicably quieter than other museums in the city. In a far cry from its original use as the city’s prison, torture chamber, and execution site, the Bargello now stands as a three-story art museum containing some of the best works of Michelangelo, Donatello, and Ghiberti, as well as of their most successful Mannerist successor, Giambologna.
In the ground-level Michelangelo room, you’ll witness the variety of his craft, from a whimsical 1497 “Bacchus” to a severe, unfinished “Brutus” of 1539. “Bacchus,” created when Michelangelo was just 22, really looks drunk, leaning back a little too far, his head off kilter, with a cupid about to bump him over. Nearby is Giambologna’s twisting “Mercury” , about to take off, propelled by the breath of Zephyr.
Upstairs an enormous vaulted hall is filled with some of Donatello’s most accomplished sculptures, including his original “Marzocco” (from outside the Palazzo Vecchio; p. 187), and “St. George” from a niche on the outside of Orsanmichele. Notable among them is his bronze “David” (which some think might correctly be named “Mercury”), done in 1440, the first freestanding nude sculpture since Roman times. The classical detail of these sculptures, as well as their naturalistic poses and reflective mood, is the essence of the Renaissance style.
Side by side on the back wall are the contest entries submitted by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi for the commission to do the Baptistery doors in 1401. With the “Sacrifice of Isaac” as their biblical theme, both displayed innovative use of perspective. Ghiberti won the contest, perhaps because his scene is more thematically unified. Brunelleschi could have ended up a footnote in the art history books, but instead he turned his attentions to architecture instead, which turned out to be a wise move (see “A Man & His Dome,” p. 180).
Via del Proconsolo 4. 055-238-8606. 4€ (7€ during temporary exhibitions; free 1st Sun of month). Daily 8:15am-1:50pm (until 5pm during exhibition). Closed 1st, 3rd, and 5th Mon, and 2nd and 4th Sun of each month. Bus: C1 or C2.
Orsanmichele CHURCH/ARCHITECTURE This bulky structure halfway down Via dei Calzaiuoli looks more like a Gothic warehouse than a church—which is exactly what it was, built as a granary and grain market in 1337. After a miraculous image of the Madonna appeared on a column inside, the lower level was turned into a shrine and chapel. The city’s merchant guilds each undertook the task of decorating one of the outside Gothic tabernacles around the lower level with a statue of their guild’s patron saint. Masters such as Ghiberti, Donatello, Verrocchio, and Giambologna all cast or carved masterpieces to set here (those remaining are mostly copies, including Donatello’s “St. George”).
In the dark interior, an elaborate Gothic stone Tabernacle (1349-59) by Andrea Orcagna protects a luminous 1348 “Madonna and Child” painted by Giotto’s student Bernardo Daddi, to which miracles were ascribed during the Black Death of 1348-50.
Tip: Most Mondays (9am-5pm) you can access the upper floors, which house many of the original sculptures that once adorned Orsanmichele’s exterior niches. Among the treasures of this so-called Museo di Orsanmichele are a trio of bronzes: Ghiberti’s “St. John the Baptist” (1412-16), the first life-size bronze of the Renaissance; Verrocchio’s “Incredulity of St. Thomas” (1483); and Giambologna’s “St. Luke” (1602). Climb up one floor further, to the top, for an unforgettable 360° panorama of the city.
Via Arte della Lana 1. 055-210-305. Free, donations accepted. Daily 10am-5pm. Bus: C2.
PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA
When the medieval Guelph party finally came out on top after a political struggle with the Ghibellines, they razed part of the old city center to build a new palace for civic government. It’s said the Guelphs ordered architect Arnolfo di Cambio to build what we now call the Palazzo Vecchio (see p. 187) in the corner of this space, but to be careful that not 1 inch of the building sat on the cursed former Ghibelline land. This odd legend was probably fabricated to explain Arnolfo’s quirky off-center architecture.
The space around the palazzo became the new civic center of town, L-shaped Piazza della Signoria , named after the oligarchic ruling body of the medieval city (the “Signoria”). Today, it’s an outdoor sculpture gallery, teeming with tourists, postcard stands, horses and buggies, and expensive outdoor cafes. If you want to catch the square at its serene best, come around 8am.
The statuary on the piazza is particularly beautiful, starting on the far left (as you’re facing the Palazzo Vecchio) with Giambologna’s equestrian statue of “Grand Duke Cosimo I” (1594). To its right is one of Florence’s favorite sculptures to hate, the “Fontana del Nettuno” (“Neptune Fountain”; 1560-75), created by Bartolomeo Ammannati as a tribute to Cosimo I’s naval ambitions but nicknamed by the Florentines “Il Biancone,” or “Big Whitey.” The porphyry plaque set in the ground in front of the fountain marks the site where puritanical monk Savonarola held the Bonfire of the Vanities: With his fiery apocalyptic preaching, he whipped the Florentines into a frenzy, and hundreds filed into this piazza, arms loaded with paintings, clothing, and other effects that represented their “decadence.” They threw it all onto the flames.
To the right of Neptune is a long, raised platform fronting the Palazzo Vecchio known as the arringheria, from which soapbox speakers would lecture to crowds before them (we get our word “harangue” from this). On its far left corner is a copy (original in the Bargello) of Donatello’s “Marzocco,” symbol of the city, with a Florentine lion resting his raised paw on a shield emblazoned with the city’s emblem, the giglio (lily). To its right is another Donatello replica, “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” Farther down is a man who needs little introduction, Michelangelo’s “David,” a 19th-century copy of the original now in the Accademia. Near enough to David to look truly ugly in comparison is Baccio Bandinelli’s “Hercules and Cacus” (1534). Poor Bandinelli was trying to copy Michelangelo’s muscular male form but ended up making his Hercules merely lumpy.
At the piazza’s south end is one of the square’s earliest and prettiest embellishments, the Loggia dei Lanzi (1376-82), named after the Swiss guard of lancers (lanzi) whom Cosimo de’ Medici stationed here. The airy loggia was probably built on a design by Andrea Orcagna, spawning another of its many names, the Loggia di Orcagna (yet another is the Loggia della Signoria). At the front left stands Benvenuto Cellini’s masterpiece in bronze, “Perseus” (1545), holding out the severed head of Medusa. On the far right is Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabines” , one of the most successful Mannerist sculptures in existence, and a piece you must walk all the way around to appreciate, catching the action and artistry of its spiral design from different angles. Talk about moving it indoors, safe from the elements, continues … but for now, it’s still here.
Palazzo Davanzati PALACE/MUSEUM One of the best preserved 14th-century palaces in the city offers a glimpse into domestic life during the medieval and Renaissance period. It was originally built for the Davizzi family in the mid-1300s, then bought by the Davanzati clan; check out the latter’s family tree, dating back to the 1100s, on the wall of the ground-floor courtyard. The palace’s painted wooden ceilings and murals have aged well (even surviving World War II damage), but the emphasis remains not on the décor, but on providing visitors with insights into medieval life for a noble Florentine family: feasts and festivities in the Sala Madornale; a private, internal well to secure water supply when things in Florence got sticky; and magnificent bedchamber frescoes from the 1350s, which recount, comic-strip style, “The Chatelaine of Vergy,” a 13th-century morality tale. An interesting footnote: In 1916, a New York auction of furnishings from this very same palace launched a “Florentine style” trend in U.S. interior design circles.
Via Porta Rossa 13. 055-238-8610. 2€. Daily 8:15am-1:50pm. Closed 2nd and 4th Sun, and 1st, 3rd, and 5th Mon of each month. Bus: C2.
Palazzo Vecchio PALACE The core of Florence’s fortresslike town hall was built from 1299 to 1302 to the designs of Arnolfo di Cambio, Gothic master builder. The palace was home to the various Florentine governments (and is today to the city government). When Duke Cosimo I and his Medici family moved to the palazzo in 1540, they redecorated: Michelozzo’s 1453 courtyard was left architecturally intact but frescoed by Vasari with scenes of Austrian cities, to celebrate the 1565 marriage of Francesco de’ Medici and Joanna of Austria.
A grand staircase leads up to the Sala dei Cinquecento , named for the 500-man assembly that met here in the pre-Medici days of the Florentine Republic. It’s also the site of the greatest fresco cycle that ever wasn’t. Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned in 1503-05 to paint one long wall with a battle scene celebrating Florence’s victory at the 1440 Battle of Anghiari. Always trying new methods and materials, he decided to mix wax into his pigments. Leonardo had finished painting part of the wall, but it wasn’t drying fast enough, so he brought in braziers stoked with hot coals to try to hurry the process. As onlookers watched in horror, the wax in the fresco melted under the heat and colors ran down the walls to puddle on the floor. The search for what remains of his work continues; some hope was provided in 2012 with the discovery of pigments used by Leonardo in a cavity behind the current wall. Michelangelo was supposed to paint a fresco on the opposite wall, but he never got past the preparatory drawings before Pope Julius II called him to Rome to paint the Sistine Chapel. Vasari and his assistants covered the bare walls from 1563 to 1565, with subservient frescoes exalting Cosimo I and the military victories of his regime, against Pisa (on the near wall) and Siena (far wall). Opposite the door you enter is Michelangelo’s statue of “Victory” , carved from 1533 to 1534 for Pope Julius II’s tomb but later donated to the Medici.
The Piazza della Signoria at night.
The enclosed passageway that runs along the top of Ponte Vecchio is part of the Corridoio Vasariano (Vasari Corridor) , a private elevated link between the Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti, and now hung with the world’s best collection of artists’ self-portraits. Duke Cosimo I found the idea of mixing with the hoi polloi on the way to work rather distressing—and there was a credible threat of assassination—and so commissioned Vasari to design his VIP route in 1565. It’s often possible to walk the corridor, although closures for restoration work are common. Inquire at the tourist office. Among others, CAF Tours (p. 204) offers a short walk along the corridor for 65€. Booking in advance for any corridor tour is essential.
The first series of rooms on the upper floor is the Quartiere degli Elementi, frescoed with allegories and mythological characters again by Vasari. Crossing the balcony overlooking the Sala dei Cinquecento, you enter the Apartments of Eleonora di Toledo , decorated for Cosimo’s Spanish wife. Her private chapel is a masterpiece of mid-16th-century fresco painting by Bronzino. Under the coffered ceiling of the Sala dei Gigli, you’ll see Ghirlandaio’s fresco of “St. Zenobius Enthroned,” with figures from Republican and Imperial Rome, and Donatello’s original “Judith and Holofernes” bronze (1455), one of his last works. The palace’s basement houses the Scavi del Teatro Romano , the remnants of Roman Florentia’s theater, upon which the medieval palace was built, with remains of the walls and an intact paved street.
Visitors can also climb the Torre di Arnolfo , the palace’s crenellated tower. If you can bear small spaces and 418 steps, the views from the top of this medieval skyscraper are sublime. The 95m (312-ft.) Torre is closed during bad weather; the minimum age to climb it is 6, and children ages 17 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
Piazza della Signoria. www.museicivicifiorentini.comune.fi.it. 055-276-8325. Palazzo or Torre 10€; admission to both, or to Palazzo plus Scavi 14€; admission to all 18€. Palazzo/Scavi: Fri-Wed 9am-7pm (Apr-Sept until 11pm); Thurs 9am-2pm. Torre: Fri-Wed 10am-5pm (Apr-Sept 9am-9pm); Thurs 9am-2pm. Bus: C1 or C2.
Ponte Vecchio ARCHITECTURE The oldest and most famous bridge across the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio was built in 1345 by Taddeo Gaddi to replace an earlier version. Overhanging shops have lined the bridge since at least the 12th century. In the 16th century, it was home to butchers, until Duke Ferdinand I moved into the Palazzo Pitti across the river. He couldn’t stand the stench, so he evicted the meat cutters and moved in gold- and silversmiths, and jewelers, who occupy it to this day.
Catch an Exhibition at the Strozzi
The Renaissance Palazzo Strozzi , Piazza Strozzi (www.palazzostrozzi.org; 055-264-5155) and basement Strozzina, are Florence’s major spaces for temporary and contemporary art shows, and have been experiencing a 21st-century renaissance of their own. Hits of recent years have included 2012’s “Americans in Florence: Sargent and the New World Impressionists” and “From Kandinsky to Pollock” in 2016. There’s always plenty going on including talks, late-night events, late-night openings (usually Thurs), and discovery trails aimed at 5- to 9-year-olds. Check the website for the latest exhibition news.
The Ponte Vecchio’s fame saved it in 1944 from the Nazis, who had orders to blow up all the bridges before retreating out of Florence as Allied forces advanced. They couldn’t bring themselves to reduce this span to rubble, so they blew up the ancient buildings on either end to block it off. The Great Arno Flood of 1966 wasn’t so discriminating, and severely damaged the shops. A private night watchman saw waters rising alarmingly and called many of the goldsmiths at home. They rushed to remove their valuable stock before it was washed away.
Via Por Santa Maria/Via Guicciardini. Bus: C3 or D.
Santa Trínita CHURCH Beyond Bernardo Buontalenti’s late-16th-century facade lies a dark church, rebuilt in the 14th century but founded by the Vallombrosans sometime before 1177. The third chapel on the right has what remains of the detached frescoes by Spinello Aretino, which were found under Lorenzo Monaco’s 1424 “Scenes from the Life of the Virgin” frescoes covering the next chapel along. In the right transept, Ghirlandaio frescoed the Cappella Sassetti in 1483 with a cycle on the “Life of St. Francis,” but he set all the scenes against Florentine backdrops and peopled them with portraits of contemporary notables. His “Francis Receiving the Order from Pope Honorius” (in the lunette) takes place under an arcade on the north side of Piazza della Signoria. You’ll recognize the Loggia dei Lanzi in the middle, and on the left, the Palazzo Vecchio (the Uffizi now between them hadn’t been built yet).
Piazza Santa Trínita.
The south end of the piazza leads to the Ponte Santa Trínita , Florence’s most graceful bridge. In 1567, Ammannati built a span here that was set with four 16th-century statues of the seasons, in honor of the marriage of Cosimo II. After the Nazis blew up the bridge in 1944, it was rebuilt, and all was set into place—save the head on the statue of Spring, which remained lost until a team dredging the river in 1961 found it by accident. If you want to photograph the Ponte Vecchio, head here at dusk.
Piazza Santa Trínita. 055-216-912. Free. Mon-Sat 8am-noon and 4-6pm; Sun 8-10:45am and 4-6pm. Bus: C3, D, 6, or 11.
Around San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale
Until a controversial—and perhaps temporary—move in 2014, the church of San Lorenzo was practically lost behind the leather stalls and souvenir carts of Florence’s vast San Lorenzo street market (see “Shopping,” p. 206). In fact, the bustle of commerce characterizes this whole neighborhood, centered on both the tourist market and the nearby Mercato Centrale, whose upper floor became a popular foodie destination when it opened in 2014 (see p. 168).
Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels) MUSEUM When Michelangelo built the New Sacristy between 1520 and 1533 (finished by Vasari in 1556), it was to be a tasteful monument to Lorenzo the Magnificent and his generation of relatively pleasant Medici. When work got underway on the adjacent Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes) in 1604, it was to become one of Italy’s most god-awful and arrogant memorials, dedicated to the grand dukes, some of Florence’s most decrepit tyrants. The Cappella dei Principi is an exercise in bad taste, a mountain of cut marbles and semiprecious stones—jasper, alabaster, mother-of-pearl, agate, and the like—slathered onto the walls and ceiling with no regard for composition and still less for chromatic unity. The pouring of ducal funds into this monstrosity lasted until the rarely conscious Gian Gastone de’ Medici drank himself to death in 1737, without an heir. Teams kept doggedly at the thing, and they were still finishing the floor in 1962. Judge for yourself.
Michelangelo’s Sagrestia Nuova (New Sacristy) , built to jibe with Brunelleschi’s Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo proper (see below), is much calmer. (An architectural tidbit: The windows in the dome taper as they get near the top to fool you into thinking the dome is higher.) Michelangelo was supposed to produce three tombs here (perhaps four) but ironically got only the two less important ones done. So Lorenzo de’ Medici (“the Magnificent”)—wise ruler of his city, poet of note, grand patron of the arts, and moneybags behind much of the Renaissance—ended up with a mere inscription of his name next to his brother Giuliano’s on a plain marble slab against the entrance wall. They did get one genuine Michelangelo sculpture to decorate their slab, an unfinished “Madonna and Child” .
On the left wall of the sacristy is Michelangelo’s “Tomb of Lorenzo” , duke of Urbino (and Lorenzo the Magnificent’s grandson), whose seated statue symbolizes the contemplative life. Below him on the curves of the tomb stretch “Dawn” (female) and “Dusk” (male), a pair of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures. This pair mirrors “Day” (male) and “Night” (female) across the way. Observing “Dawn” and “Night” suggests that Michelangelo perhaps hadn’t seen too many naked women.
Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini (behind San Lorenzo, where Via Faenza and Via del Giglio meet). 055-238-8602. 6€ (9€ during temporary exhibitions; free 1st Sun of month). Daily 8:15am-1:50pm. Closed 1st, 3rd, and 5th Mon, and 2nd and 4th Sun of each month. Bus: C1, C2, or 22.
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi PALACE Built by Michelozzo in 1444 for the Medici “godfather” Cosimo il Vecchio, this is the prototypical Florentine palazzo, on which the more overbearing Strozzi and Pitti palaces were modeled. It remained the Medici’s private home until Cosimo I officially declared his power as duke by moving to the city’s civic nerve center, the Palazzo Vecchio. A door off the courtyard leads up a staircase to the Cappella dei Magi, the oldest chapel to survive from a private Florentine palace; its walls are covered with colorful Benozzo Gozzoli frescoes (1459-63), classics of the International Gothic style. Rich as tapestries, the walls depict an extended “Journey of the Magi” to see the Christ child, who’s being adored by Mary in the altarpiece.
Via Cavour 3. www.palazzo-medici.it. 055-276-0340. 7€ adults, 4€ ages 6 to 12. Thurs-Tues 8:30am-7pm. Bus: C1.
San Lorenzo CHURCH A rough brick anti-facade fronts what is most likely the oldest church in Florence, founded in A.D. 393. It was later the Medici family’s parish church, and Cosimo il Vecchio, whose wise behind-the-scenes rule made him popular with the Florentines, is buried in front of the high altar. The plaque marking the spot is inscribed PATER PATRIAE, “Father of the Homeland.” Off the left transept, the Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy) is one of Brunelleschi’s purest pieces of early Renaissance architecture. The focal sarcophagus contains Cosimo il Vecchio’s parents, Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici and his wife, Piccarda Bueri. A side chapel is decorated with a star map showing the night sky above the city in the 1440s—a scene that also features, precisely, in Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel in Santa Croce; see p. 197. On the wall of the left aisle is Bronzino’s huge fresco of the “Martyrdom of San Lorenzo” . The poor soul was roasted on a grill in Rome.
Piazza San Lorenzo. www.operamedicealaurenziana.org. 055-214-042. Church 5€; to church and library 8€. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Mar-Oct also Sun 1:30-5:30pm. Bus: C1.
Near Piazza Santa Maria Novella
The two squat obelisks in Piazza Santa Maria Novella , resting on Giambologna tortoises, once served as the turning posts for chariot races held here from the 16th to the mid-19th century. Once a down-at-the-heels part of the center, the area now is home to some of Florence’s priciest lodgings.
Museo Marino Marini & Cappella Rucellai MUSEUM One of Florence’s most unusual museums showcases the work of sculptor Marino Marini (1901-80). A native of nearby Pistoia, Marini worked mostly in bronze, with “horse and rider” a recurring theme in his semi-abstract work. The wide open spaces, thin crowds, monumental sculptures, and fun themes in Marini’s work make this museum a good bet if any kids are becoming weary of the Renaissance.
But they won’t escape it entirely … because tagged onto the side of the museum is the Cappella Rucellai, a Renaissance chapel housing the Tempietto . This polychrome marble tomb was completed by L. B. Alberti for Giovanni de’ Rucellai in 1467. Decorated with symbols of both the Rucellai and Medici families, and frescoed on the inside, the tomb was supposedly based on drawings of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Piazza San Pancrazio. www.museomarinomarini.it. 055-219-432. 6€. Mon and Wed-Sat 10am-5pm. Bus: C3, 6, or 11.
Museo Novecento MUSEUM Inaugurated in 2014, this museum covers 20th-century Italian art in a multitude of media. Crowds are often sparse—let’s face it, you’re in Florence for the 1400s, not the 1900s. But that’s no reflection on the quality of the collection, which spans 100 years of visual arts. Exhibits include works by major names such as De Chirico and Futurist Gino Severini, and closer examinations of Florence’s role in fashion and Italy’s relationship with European avant-garde art. Our favorite spot, though, is the top-floor screening room where a 20-minute movie clip shows Florence as represented by a century of movie-makers from Arnaldo Ginna’s 1916 “Vita Futurista” to recent films such as “Room with a View” and “Tea with Mussolini.”
Piazza Santa Maria Novella 10. www.museonovecento.it/en. 055-286-132. 9€. Apr-Sept Sat-Wed 9am-7pm, Thurs 9am-2pm, Fri 9am-11pm; Oct-Mar Fri-Wed 9am-6pm, Thurs 9am-2pm. Bus: 6 or 11.
Santa Maria Novella CHURCH Of all Florence’s major churches, the home of the Dominicans is the only one with an original facade that matches the era of the church’s greatest importance. The lower Romanesque half was started in the 1300s by architect Fra’ Jacopo Talenti. Renaissance architect and theorist Leon Battista Alberti finished the facade, adding a classically inspired top that not only went seamlessly with the lower half but also created a Cartesian plane of perfect geometry. Inside, Masaccio’s “Trinità” (ca. 1425) is the first painting ever to use linear mathematical perspective. Florentine citizens and artists flooded in to see the fresco when it was unveiled, many remarking in awe that it seemed to punch a hole back into space, creating a chapel out of a flat wall. Frescoed chapels by Filippino Lippi and others fill the transept.
The Sanctuary behind the main altar was frescoed after 1485 by Ghirlandaio with the help of his assistants and apprentices, probably including a young Michelangelo. The left wall is covered with a cycle on the “Life of the Virgin” and the right with a “Life of St. John the Baptist.” The works are also snapshots of the era’s fashions and personages, full of portraits of the Tornabuoni family who commissioned them.
For many years the church’s frescoed cloisters were treated as a separate site; they have now been reunited, all now accessible on one admission ticket. (Although, confusingly, there are two separate entrances, through the church’s garden and via the tourist office at the rear, on Piazza della Stazione.) The Chiostro Verde (Green Cloister) was partly frescoed between 1431 and 1446 by Paolo Uccello, a Florentine painter who became increasingly obsessed with the mathematics behind perspective. His Old Testament scenes include a “Universal Deluge,” which ironically was badly damaged by the Great Arno Flood of 1966. Off the cloister, the Spanish Chapel is a complex piece of Dominican propaganda, frescoed in the 1360s by Andrea di Bonaiuto. The Chiostro dei Morti (Cloister of the Dead) is one of the oldest parts of the convent, and was another area badly damaged in 1966. Its low-slung vaults were decorated by Andrea Orcagna and others.
Piazza Santa Maria Novella/Piazza della Stazione 4. www.chiesasantamarianovella.it. 055-219-257. 5€. Mon-Thurs 9am-5:30pm (Apr-Sept until 7pm); Fri 11am-5:30pm (Apr-Sept until 7pm); Sat 9am-5:30pm (July-Aug until 6:30pm); Sun 1-5:30pm (July-Aug noon-6:30pm). Bus: C2, 6, 11, or 22.
Near San Marco & Santissima Annunziata
Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia ART MUSEUM Painter Andrea del Castagno (1421-57) learned his trade painting the portraits of condemned men in the city’s prisons, and it’s easy to see this influence in the faces of the Disciples in his version of “The Last Supper,” the first of many painted in Florence during the Renaissance. The giant fresco, completed around 1447, covers an entire wall at one end of this former convent refectory. Judas is banished to the other side of the communal table. Above Castagno’s “Last Supper,” his “Crucifixion,” “Deposition,” and “Entombment” complete the sequence.
Via XXVII Aprile 1. 055-238-8608. Free. Daily 8:15am-1:50pm. Closed 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sun and 2nd and 4th Mon of each month. Bus: 1, 6, 11, 14, 17, or 23.
Chiostro dello Scalzo ART MUSEUM/ARCHITECTURE You’ll need luck to catch this place open, but it is well worth the short detour from San Marco if you do. Between 1509 and 1526 Mannerist painter Andrea del Sarto frescoed a cloister belonging to a religious fraternity dedicated to St. John the Baptist, who is the theme of the unusual monochrome (grisaille) fresco cycle. This place is usually blissfully empty, too.
Via Cavour 69. 055/238-8604. Free. Mon, Thurs, 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sat, and 2nd and 4th Sun of each month 8:15am-1:50pm. Bus: 1 or 17.
Galleria dell’Accademia ART MUSEUM “David” —“Il Gigante”—is much larger than most people imagine, looming 4.8m (16 ft.) on top of a 1.8m (6-ft.) pedestal. He hasn’t faded with time, either; the marble still gleams as if it were the original unveiling day in 1504. Viewing the statue is a pleasure in the bright and spacious room custom-designed for him after his move to the Accademia in 1873, following 300 years of pigeons perching on his head in Piazza della Signoria. Replicas now take the abuse there, and at Piazzale Michelangiolo. The spot high on the northern flank of the Duomo, for which he was originally commissioned, stands empty.
Seeing “David” Without a Reservation
The wait to get in to see “David” can be an hour or more if you didn’t reserve ahead or buy a Firenze Card (p. 178). Try getting there before the museum opens in the morning or an hour or two before closing time.
But the Accademia is not only about “David”; you will be delighted to discover he is surrounded by an entire museum stuffed with other notable Renaissance works. Michelangelo’s unfinished “Prisoners” statues are a contrast to “David,” with their rough forms struggling to free themselves from the raw stone. Michelangelo famously said that he tried to free the sculpture within from the block, and you can see this clearly here. Rooms showcase paintings by Perugino, Filippino Lippi, Giotto, Giovanna da Milano, Andrea Orcagna, and others.
Via Ricasoli 60. 055-238-8609. (Prebook tickets at www.firenzemusei.it or 055-294-883.) 13€ (17€ during a temporary exhibition). Tues-Sun 8:15am-6:50pm. Bus: C1, 1, 6, 14, 19, 23, 31, or 32.
Museo Archeologico (Archaeological Museum) MUSEUM If you can force yourselves away from the Renaissance, rewind a millennium or two at one of the most important archaeological collections in central Italy, which has a particular emphasis on the Etruscan period. You will need a little patience, however: The collection is not easy to navigate, and exhibits have a habit of moving around, but you will easily find the “Arezzo Chimera” , a bronze figure of a mythical lion-goat-serpent dating to the 4th century B.C. It is perhaps the most important bronze sculpture to survive from the Etruscan era, and at time of writing, it was displayed alongside the “Arringatore,” a life-size bronze of an orator dating to the 1st century, just as Etruscan culture was being subsumed by Ancient Rome. On the top floor is the “Idolino” , an exquisite and slightly mysterious, lithe bronze. The collection is also strong on Etruscan-era bucchero pottery and funerary urns, and Egyptian relics that include several sarcophagi displayed in a series of eerie galleries. With other visitors so focused on medieval and Renaissance sights in the city, you may have the place almost to yourself.
Piazza Santissma Annunziata 9b. 055-23-575. 4€ (free 1st Sun of month). Tues-Fri 8:30am-7pm; Sat-Mon 8:30am-2pm (Aug closed Sun). Bus: 6, 19, 31, or 32.
San Marco ART MUSEUM We have never understood why this place is not constantly mobbed; perhaps because it showcases the work of Fra’ Angelico, Dominican monk and Florentine painter in a style known as “International Gothic.” This is the most important collection in the world of his altarpieces and painted panels, residing in the former 13th-century convent the artist-monk once called home. Seeing it all in one place allows you to appreciate how his decorative impulses and the sinuous lines of his figures place his work right on the cusp of the Renaissance. The most moving and unusual is his “Annunciation” , but a close second are the intimate frescoes of the life of Jesus—painted not on one giant wall, but scene by scene on the individual walls of small monks’ cells that honeycomb the upper floor. The idea was that these scenes, painted by both Fra’ Angelico and his assistants, would aid in the monks’ prayer and contemplation. The final cell on the left corridor belonged to the firebrand preacher Savonarola, who briefly incited the populace of the most art-filled city in the world to burn their “decadent” paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and anything else he felt was a worldly betrayal of Jesus’ ideals. (Ultimately, he ran afoul of the pope.) You’ll see his notebooks, rosary, and what’s left of the clothes he wore that day in his cell, as well as an anonymous panel painted to show the day in 1498 when he was burned at the stake in Piazza della Signoria. There is much more Fra’ Angelico secreted around the cloisters, including a “Crucifixion” in the Chapter House. The former Hospice is now a gallery dedicated to Fra’ Angelico and his contemporaries; look out especially for his “Tabernacolo dei Linaioli” , and a seemingly weightless “Deposition” .
Piazza San Marco 3. 055-238-8608. 4€. Mon-Fri 8:15am-1:50pm; Sat-Sun 8:15am-4:50pm. Closed 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sun and 2nd and 4th Mon of each month. Bus: C1, 1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25, 31, or 32.
Santissima Annunziata CHURCH In 1233, seven Florentine nobles had a spiritual crisis, gave away all their possessions, and retired to the forest to contemplate divinity. In 1250, they returned to what were then fields outside the city walls and founded a small oratory, proclaiming they were Servants of Mary, the Servite Order. The oratory was enlarged by Michelozzo (1444-81) and later redesigned in the baroque style. The main art interest is the Chiostro dei Voti (Votive Cloister), designed by Michelozzo with Corinthian-style columns and decorated with some of the city’s finest Mannerist frescoes (1465-1515). Rosso Fiorentino provided an “Assumption” (1513) and Pontormo a “Visitation” (1515) just to the right of the door. Their master, Andrea del Sarto, contributed a “Birth of the Virgin” (1513), in the far right corner, one of his finest works. To the right of the door into the church is a damaged but still fascinating “Coming of the Magi” (1514) by del Sarto, who included a self-portrait at the far right, looking out at us from under his blue hat.
In an excessively baroque interior is a huge tabernacle hidden under a mountain of ex votos (votive offerings). It was designed by Michelozzo to house a small painting of the “Annunciation.” Legend holds that this painting was started by a friar who, vexed that he couldn’t paint the Madonna’s face as beautifully as it should be, gave up and took a nap. When he awoke, he found an angel had filled in the face for him.
On Piazza Santissima Annunziata outside, flanked by elegant Brunelleschi porticos, is an equestrian statue of Grand Duke Ferdinand I by Giambologna. It was his last work, cast in 1608 after his death by his student Pietro Tacca, who also did the two fountains of fantastical mermonkey-monsters. You can stay right on this spectacular piazza, at one of our favorite Florence hotels, the Loggiato dei Serviti (p. 160).
Piazza Santissima Annunziata. 055-266-181. Free. Cloister: daily 7:30am-12:30pm and 4-6:30pm. Church: daily 4-5:15pm. Bus: 6, 19, 31, or 32.
Around Piazza Santa Croce
Piazza Santa Croce is pretty much like any grand Florentine square—an open space ringed with souvenir and leather shops and thronged with tourists. Once a year during late June, it’s covered with dirt and violent, Renaissance-style soccer is played on it in the tournament known as Calcio Storico Fiorentino.
Santa Croce CHURCH The center of Florence’s Franciscan universe was begun in 1294 by Gothic master Arnolfo di Cambio in order to rival the church of Santa Maria Novella being raised by the Dominicans across the city. The church wasn’t consecrated until 1442, and even then it remained faceless until the neo-Gothic facade was added in 1857. This art-stuffed complex demands 2 hours of your time to see properly.
The Gothic interior is vast, and populated with the tombs of famous Florentines. Starting from the main door, immediately on the right is the tomb of the most venerated Renaissance master, Michelangelo Buonarroti, who died in Rome in 1564 at the ripe age of 89. The pope wanted him buried in the Eternal City, but Florentines managed to sneak his body back to Florence. Two berths along from Michelangelo’s monument is a pompous 19th-century cenotaph to Dante Alighieri, one of history’s great poets, whose “Divine Comedy” codified the Italian language. (Exiled from Florence, Dante is buried in Ravenna—see p. 28.) Elsewhere, seek out monuments to philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), composer of “The Barber of Seville,” sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, and scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
The right transept is richly decorated with frescoes. The Cappella Castellani was frescoed with stories of saints’ lives by Agnolo Gaddi. Agnolo’s father, Taddeo Gaddi—one of Giotto’s closest followers—painted the Cappella Baroncelli (1328-38) at the transept’s end. The frescoes depict scenes from the “Life of the Virgin,” and include an “Annunciation to the Shepherds,” the first night scene in Italian fresco. Giotto himself frescoed the two chapels to the right of the high altar. (Whitewashed over in the 17th century, they were uncovered in the 1800s and inexpertly restored.) The Cappella Peruzzi is a late work with many references to antiquity, reflecting Giotto’s trip to Rome’s ruins. The more famous Cappella Bardi appeared in movie “A Room with a View”; key panels, featuring episodes in the life of St. Francis, include the “Trial by Fire Before the Sultan of Egypt” on the right wall; and, one of Giotto’s best-known works, the “Death of St. Francis,” in which monks weep and wail with convincing pathos.
Outside in the cloister is the Cappella Pazzi , one of Filippo Brunelleschi’s architectural masterpieces (faithfully finished after his death in 1446). Giuliano da Maiano probably designed the porch that now fronts the chapel, set with glazed terracottas by Luca della Robbia. The chapel is one of Brunelleschi’s signature pieces, decorated with his trademark pietra serena gray stone. It is the defining example of and model for early Renaissance architecture. Curiously, the ceiling of the smaller dome depicts the same night sky as the Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo (p. 192). In the church Sacristy is a Cimabue “Crucifix” that was almost destroyed by the Arno Flood of 1966, and which became an international symbol of the ruination wreaked by the river that November day.
Piazza Santa Croce. www.santacroceopera.it. 055-246-6105. 6€ adults, 4€ ages 11-17. Mon-Sat 9:30am-5pm; Sun 2-5pm. Bus: C1, C2, or C3.
The Oltrarno, San Niccolò & San Frediano
Giardino Bardini (Bardini Garden) PARK/GARDEN Hemmed in to the north by the city’s medieval wall, the handsome Bardini Garden is less famous—and so less hectic—than its neighbor down the hill, the Boboli (see below). From its loftier perch over the Oltrarno, it beats the Boboli hands down for views and new angles on the city. Check out the side view of Santa Croce, with the copper dome of the synagogue in the background; see how the church’s 19th-century facade was bolted onto a building dating to the 1200s.
Costa San Giorgio 2. www.bardinipeyron.it. 055-263-8599. Combined ticket with Boboli; see below. Same hours as Boboli; see below. Bus: C3 or D.
Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Garden) PARK/GARDEN The statue-filled park behind the Pitti Palace is one of the earliest and finest Renaissance gardens, laid out mostly between 1549 and 1656 with box hedges in geometric patterns, groves of ilex (holm oak), dozens of statues, and rows of cypress. Just above the entrance through the courtyard of the Palazzo Pitti is an oblong amphitheater modeled on Roman circuses, with a granite basin from Rome’s Baths of Caracalla and an Egyptian obelisk of Ramses II. In 1589 this was the setting for the wedding reception of Ferdinand de’ Medici and Christine of Lorraine. For the occasion, the family commissioned entertainment from Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini, who decided to set a classical story entirely to music and called it “Dafne”—the world’s first opera. (Later, they wrote a follow-up hit “Erudice,” performed here in 1600; it’s the first opera whose score has survived.) At the south end of the park, the Isolotto is a dreamy island in a pond full of huge goldfish, with Giambologna’s “L’Oceano” sculptural composition at its center. At the north end, down around the end of the Pitti Palace, are fake caverns filled with statuary, attempting to invoke a classical sacred grotto. The most famous, the Grotta Grande, was designed by Giorgio Vasari, Bartolomeo Ammannati, and Bernardo Buontalenti between 1557 and 1593; dripping with phony stalactites, it’s set with replicas of Michelangelo’s unfinished “Prisoners” statues. You can usually get inside on the hour (but not every hour) for 15 minutes.
Entrance via Palazzo Pitti. 055-238-8791. 10€, includes Giardino Bardini, Museo degli Argenti, and Museo del Costume (13€ during temporary exhibitions). Nov-Feb daily 8:15am-4:30pm; Mar daily 8:15am-5:30pm; Apr-May and Sept-Oct daily to 6:30pm; June-Aug to 7:30pm. Closed 1st and last Mon of month. Cumulative ticket for Palazzo Pitti and Giardino di Boboli, valid 3 days, 17€. Bus: C3, D, 11, 36, or 37.
Museo Zoologia “La Specola” MUSEUM The wax anatomical models are one reason this museum may be the only one in Florence where kids eagerly drag their parents from room to room. Creepy collections of threadbare stuffed-animal specimens transition into rooms filled with lifelike human bodies suffering from dismemberments, flayings, and eviscerations. These wax models served as anatomical illustrations for medical students studying at this scientific institute from the 1770s. Grisly plague dioramas in the final room were created from wax in the early 1700s to satisfy the lurid tastes of Cosimo III.
Via Romana 17. www.msn.unifi.it. 055-275-6444. 6€ adults, 3€ children 6-14 and seniors 65 and over. June-Sept daily 10:30am-5:30pm; Oct-May Tues-Sun 9:30am-4:30pm. Bus: 11, 36, or 37.
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) MUSEUM/PALACE Although built by and named after a rival of the Medici—the merchant Luca Pitti—in the 1450s, this gigantic palazzo soon came into Medici hands. It was the Medici family’s principal home from the 1540s, and continued to house Florence’s rulers until 1919. The Pitti contains five museums, including one of the world’s best collections of canvases by Raphael. Out back are elegant Renaissance gardens, the Boboli (see below).
In the art-crammed rooms of the Pitti’s Galleria Palatina , paintings are displayed like cars in a parking garage, stacked on walls above each other in the “Enlightenment” method of exhibition. Rooms are alternately dimly lit, or garishly bright; this is how many of the world’s great art treasures were seen and enjoyed by their original commissioners. You will find important historical treasures amid the Palatina’s vast and haphazard collection; some of the best efforts of Titian, Raphael, and Rubens line the walls. Botticelli and Filippo Lippi’s “Madonna and Child” (1452) provide the key works in the Sala di Prometeo (Prometheus Room). Two giant versions of the “Assumption of the Virgin,” both by Mannerist painter Andrea del Sarto, dominate the Sala dell’Iliade (Iliad Room). Here you will also find another Biblical woman painted by Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith.” The Sala di Saturno (Saturn Room) is stuffed with Raphaels; in the Sala di Giove (Jupiter Room) you’ll find his sublime, naturalistic portrait of “La Velata” , as well as “The Ages of Man” . The current attribution of the painting is awarded to Venetian Giorgione, though that has been disputed.
At the Appartamenti Reali (Royal Apartments) you get a feeling for the conspicuous consumption of the Medici Grand Dukes, and their Austrian and Belgian Lorraine successors—and see some notable paintings in their original, ostentatious setting. Italy’s first king lived here for several years during Italy’s 19th-century unification process—when Florence was Italy’s second capital, after Turin—until Rome was finally conquered and the court moved there. Much of the stucco, fabrics, furnishings, and general decoration is in thunderously poor taste, but you should look out for Caravaggio’s subtle canvas “Knight of Malta” .
The Pitti’s “modern” gallery, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna , has a good collection, this time of 19th-century Italian paintings with a focus on Romanticism, Neoclassical works, and the Macchiaioli, a school of Italian painters who worked in an “impressionistic style” before the French Impressionists. If you have limited time, make right for the major works of the latter, in Sala 18 through 20, which displays the Maremma landscapes of Giovanni Fattori (1825-1908).
The Pitti’s pair of lesser museums—the Galleria del Costume (Costume Gallery) and Museo degli Argenti (Museum of Silverware)—combine to show that wealth and taste do not always go hand in hand. One thing you will notice in the Costume Gallery is how much smaller locals were just a few centuries ago.
Piazza de’ Pitti. Galleria Palatina, Apartamenti Reali, and Galleria d’Arte Moderna: 055-238-8614; reserve tickets at www.firenzemusei.it or 055-294-883. 13€ (16€ during temporary exhibitions). Tues-Sun 8:15am-6:50pm. Museo degli Argenti and Galleria del Costume: 055-238-8709. 10€ (includes Giardino di Boboli and Giardino Bardini) (13€ during a temporary exhibition). Same hours as Giardino di Boboli; see below. Cumulative ticket for all, including Giardino di Boboli valid 3 days, 17€ (not available during temporary exhibition). Bus: C3, D, 11, 36, or 37.
Piazzale Michelangelo SQUARE This panoramic piazza is on the itinerary of every tour bus. The balustraded terrace was laid out in 1869 to give a sweeping vista of the entire city, spread out in the valley below and backed by the green hills of Fiesole beyond. The bronze replica of “David” here points directly at his original home, outside the Palazzo Vecchio.
Viale Michelangelo. Bus: 12 or 13.
San Miniato al Monte CHURCH High atop a hill, its gleaming white-and-green marble facade visible from the city below, San Miniato is one of the few ancient churches of Florence to survive the centuries virtually intact. The current building began to take shape in 1013, under the auspices of the powerful Arte di Calimala guild, whose symbol, a bronze eagle clutching a bale of wool, perches on the facade . Above the central window is a 13th-century mosaic of “Christ Between the Madonna and St. Miniato” (a theme repeated in the apse). The interior has a few Renaissance additions, but they blend in well with the overall medieval aspect—an airy, stony space with a raised choir at one end, painted wooden trusses on the ceiling, and tombs interspersed with inlaid marble symbols of the zodiac paving the floor. Below the choir is an 11th-century crypt with remains of frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi. Off to the right of the raised choir is the sacristy, which Spinello Aretino covered in 1387 with elaborate frescoes depicting the “Life of St. Bene- dict” . Off the left aisle of the nave is the 15th-century Cappella del Cardinale del Portogallo , a collaborative effort by Renaissance artists to honor the Portuguese humanist Cardinal Jacopo di Lusitania. It’s worth timing your visit to come here when the Benedictine monks are celebrating mass in Gregorian chant (usually 5:30pm).
Around the back of the church is San Miniato’s monumental cemetery , one enormous “city of the dead,” whose streets are lined with tombs and mausoleums built in elaborate pastiches of every generation of Florentine architecture. It’s a peaceful spot, soundtracked only by birdsong and the occasional tolling of the church bells.
Via Monte alle Croci/Viale Galileo Galilei (behind Piazzale Michelangiolo). 055-234-2731. Free. Daily 9:30am-1pm and 3pm until dusk (closed some Sun afternoons and often open through riposo in summer). Bus: 12 or 13.
Santa Felicita CHURCH Greek sailors who lived in this neighborhood in the 2nd century brought Christianity to Florence, and this little church was probably the second to be established in the city, the first version of it rising in the late 4th century. The current nave and transept were built in the 1730s. The star works predate this, and are in the first chapel on the right: the Brunelleschi-designed Cappella Barbadori-Capponi, with paintings by Mannerist master Pontormo (1525-27). His “Deposition” and frescoed “Annunciation” are rife with his garish color palette of oranges, pinks, golds, lime greens, and sky blues, and exhibit his trademark surreal sense of figure.
Piazza Santa Felicita (on left off Via Guicciardini across Ponte Vecchio). 055-213-018. Free (take 1€ to illuminate chapel lights). Daily 9:30am-12:30pm and 3:30-5:30pm. Bus: C3 or D.
Santa Maria del Carmine CHURCH Following a 1771 fire that destroyed everything but the transept chapels and sacristy, this Carmelite church was almost entirely reconstructed in high baroque style. To see the Cappella Brancacci in the right transept, you have to enter through the cloisters and pay admission. The frescoes here were commissioned by an enemy of the Medici, Felice Brancacci, who in 1424 hired Masolino and his student Masaccio to decorate it with a cycle on the “Life of St. Peter.” Masolino probably worked out the cycle’s scheme and painted a few scenes along with his pupil before taking off for 3 years to serve as court painter in Budapest, while Masaccio kept painting, quietly creating the early Renaissance’s greatest frescoes. Masaccio eventually left for Rome in 1428, where he died at age 27; the cycle was completed between 1480 and 1485 by Filippino Lippi.
Masolino painted “St. Peter Preaching,” the upper panel to the left of the altar, and the two top scenes on the right wall, which shows his fastidious, decorative style in a long panel of “St. Peter Healing the Cripple” and “Raising Tabitha,” and his “Adam and Eve.” Contrast this first man and woman, about to take the bait offered by the snake, with the “Expulsion from the Garden” , opposite it, painted by Masaccio. Masolino’s figures are highly posed, expressionless models, while Masaccio’s Adam and Eve burst with intense emotion. The top scene on the left wall, the “Tribute Money” , is also by Masaccio, and it showcases his use of linear perspective. The scenes to the right of the altar are Masaccio’s as well—the “Baptism of the Neophytes” is among his masterpieces.
Piazza del Carmine. www.museicivicifiorentini.comune.fi.it. 055-276-8224. Church free; Cappella Brancacci 6€. Mon and Wed-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 1-5pm. Bus: D.
Santo Spirito CHURCH One of Filippo Brunelleschi’s masterpieces of architecture, this 15th-century church doesn’t look like much from the outside (no proper facade was ever built). But the interior is a marvelous High Renaissance space—an expansive landscape of proportion and mathematics in classic Brunelleschi style, with coffered ceiling, lean columns with Corinthian capitals, and the stacked perspective of arched arcading. Good late-Renaissance and baroque paintings are scattered throughout, but the best stuff lies in the transepts, especially the Cappella Nerli , with a panel by Filippino Lippi (right transept). The church’s extravagant baroque altar has a ciborium inlaid in pietre dure around 1607—and frankly, looks a bit silly against the restrained elegance of Brunelleschi’s architecture. The sacristy displays a wooden “Crucifix” that has, controversially, been attributed to Michelangelo.
Tree-shaded Piazza Santo Spirito is one of the focal points of the Oltrarno, lined with cafes that see action late into the evening. There are often a few farmers selling their fruit and vegetables on the piazza.
Piazza Santo Spirito. 055-210-030. Free. Mon-Tues and Thurs-Sat 10am-12:30pm and 4-5:30pm; Sun 4-5:30pm. Bus: C3, D, 11, 36, or 37.
Although it’s only a short distance from Florence, Fiesole is very proud of its status as an independent municipality. In fact, this hilltop village high above Florence predates its big neighbor in the valley below by centuries.
Etruscans from Arezzo probably founded a town here in the 6th century B.C., on the site of a Bronze Age settlement. Faesulae became the most important Etruscan center in the region, and although it eventually became a Roman town—conquered in 90 B.C., inhabitants built a theater and adopted Roman customs—it always retained a bit of otherness. Following the barbarian invasions, it became part of Florence’s administrative district in the 9th century, yet continued to struggle for self-government. Medieval Florence settled things in 1125 by attacking and razing the entire settlement, save the cathedral and bishop’s palace.
An oasis of cultivated greenery still separates Florence from Fiesole. Even with the big city so close by, Fiesole endures as a Tuscan small town, mostly removed from Florence at its feet, and hence a perfect escape from summertime crowds. It stays relatively cool in summer, and while you sit at a cafe on Piazza Mino, sipping an iced cappuccino, the lines at the Uffizi and pedestrian traffic around the Duomo seem very distant indeed.
To get to Fiesole, take bus no. 7 from Florence. It departs from Via La Pira, to the right of San Marco. A scenic 25-minute ride through the greenery above Florence takes you to Fiesole’s main square, Piazza Mino. The tourist office is at Via Portigiani 3 (www.fiesoleforyou.it; 055-596-1311). From March through October it’s open daily (Apr-Sept 10am-7pm, Mar and Oct 10am-6pm); from November through February, it’s open Wednesday to Monday from 10am to 2pm.
Fiesole’s sights offer a single admission ticket, costing 12€ adults, 8€ students age 7 to 25 and seniors 65 and over; a family ticket costs 24€. Prices are 2€ per person lower from Monday to Thursday, when the missable Museo Bandini is closed. All sites are open the same hours as the tourist office, which doubles as the ticket office. For more information, visit www.museidifiesole.it or call 055-596-1293.
San Francesco MONASTERY/MUSEUM The ancient high-point of the Etruscan and Roman town is now occupied by a tiny church and monastery. The 14th-century church has been largely overhauled, but at the end of a small nave hung with devotional works—Piero di Cosimo and Cenni di Francesco are both represented—is a fine “Crucifixion and Saints” altarpiece by Neri di Bicci. Off the cloisters is a quirky little Ethnographic Museum, stuffed with objects picked up by Franciscan missionaries, including an Egyptian mummy and Chinese jade and ceramics. Entrance to the church’s painted, vaulted crypt is through the museum. To reach San Francesco, you will climb a sharp hill—pause close to the top, where a little balcony provides perhaps the best view of Florence, and the wine hills of the Chianti beyond.
Via San Francesco (off Piazza Mino). 055-59-175. Free. Daily 9am-noon and 3-5pm (7pm in summer); closed Fri morning. Bus: 7.
Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) RUINS Fiesole’s archaeological area is romantically overgrown and scattered with sections of column, broken friezes, and other remnants of the ancient world. It is also dramatically sited, terraced into a hill with views over the olive groves and forests north of Florence. Beyond the Roman Theater , three rebuilt arches mark the remains of 1st-century A.D. baths. Near the arches, a cement balcony over the far edge of the archaeological park gives a good view of the best remaining stretch of the 4th-century B.C. Etruscan town walls. At the other end of the park from the baths, the floor and steps of a 1st-century B.C. Roman Temple were built on top of a 4th-century B.C. Etruscan one dedicated to Minerva. To the left are oblong Lombard tombs from the 7th century A.D., when this part of Fiesole was a necropolis.
Via Portigiani 1. 055-596-1293. For admission and hours, see “Fiesole Essentials,” above. Bus: 7.
To really get under the surface of the city, book an insightful culture tour with Context Travel (www.contexttravel.com; 800/691-6036 in the U.S. or 06-96727371 in Italy). Led by academics and other experts in their field on a variety of themes, from the gastronomic to the archaeological and artistic, these tours are limited to six people and cost around 80€ per person. The quality of Context’s walks are unmatched, and well worth the above-average cost.
Offerings from CAF Tours (www.caftours.com; 055-283-200) include several themed walks and cooking classes costing from 28€ to over 100€. ArtViva (www.italy.artviva.com; 055-264-5033) has a huge array of walking and museum tours starting at 29€, including the distinctly dark “Sex, Drugs, and the Renaissance” walking tour (21⁄4 hr.; 39€). I Just Drive (www.ijustdrive.us; 055-093-5928) offers fully equipped cars (Wi-Fi, complimentary bottle of Prosecco) plus an English-speaking driver for various themed visits; for example, you can book a private ride in a Bentley limousine up to San Miniato al Monte at dusk (11⁄2 hr.; 119€). They also operate full-day and half-day private and group wine tours into the Chianti hills. Viator.com also has a range of locally organized tours and activities, reviewed by travelers.
ESPECIALLY FOR KIDS
You have to put in a bit of work to reach some of Florence’s best views—and the climbs, up claustrophobic, medieval staircases, are a favorite with many kids. The cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore (p. 179), the Palazzo Vecchio’s (p. 187) Torre di Arnolfo, and the Campanile di Giotto (p. 178) are perfect for any youngster with a head for heights.
The best activities with an educational component are run by Mus.e (www.musefirenze.it; 055-276-8224), a program that offers child’s-eye tours in English around the Palazzo Vecchio, led by guides in period costumes. Lively, affordable activities focus on life at the ducal court—pitched at children ages 5-10 (“The Turtle and the Snail”, 4€ per person) or 10-plus (“At Court with Donna Isabella” and “Secret Passages”, both 4€)—or take kids into the workshop to learn fresco painting (also 4€ each). Book online or at the desk next to the Palazzo Vecchio ticket booth.
When your youngsters simply need a crowd-free timeout space, head for the Biblioteca delle Oblate, Via dell’Oriuolo 26 (www.biblioteche.comune.fi.it; 055-261-6512), where you’ll find a library with books for little ones (including in English), as well as space to spread out, color, or draw. It’s free and open 9am to 6:45pm, except for Monday morning and all day Sunday (closed 1 week mid-Aug). The Oblate’s cafe (p. 209) is an excellent place to kick back.
There’s only one game in town when it comes to spectator sports: calcio. To Italians, soccer/football is akin to a second religion, and an afternoon at the stadium can offer you more insight into local culture than a lifetime in the Uffizi. Florence’s team, Fiorentina (nicknamed i viola, “the purples”) is often among the best in Italy’s top league, Serie A. You can usually catch them alternate Sundays from September through May at the Stadio Comunale Artemio Franchi, Via Manfredo Fanti 4 (www.violachannel.tv). Book tickets online or head for an official ticket office on arrival (take photo I.D.): There is a sales desk on the Mercato Centrale’s upper floor (p. 168) and at Via dei Sette Santi 28R, open from 9:30am on matchdays. With kids, get seats in a Tribuna (stand) rather than a Curva, where the fanatical fans sit. To reach the stadium, take bus no. 10 or 20 from San Marco (10-15 min.). You can get kitted out in home colors at Alè Viola, Via del Corso 58R ( 055-295-306).
You can skip the subtitles at an original 1920s cinema right in the center, with movies in their original language (usually English): Odeon Firenze , Piazza Strozzi (www.odeonfirenze.com; 055-214-068).
Cycling is a pleasure in the riverside Parco delle Cascine: See p. 151 for bike rental advice. And remember: You are in the gelato capital of the world. At least one multiscoop gelato per day is the minimum recommended dose; see p. 173.
After Milan, Florence is Italy’s top shopping city—beating even the capital, Rome. Here’s what to buy: leather, fashion, shoes, marbleized paper, hand-embroidered linens, artisan and craft items including ceramics, Tuscan wines, handmade jewelry, pietre dure (known also as “Florentine mosaic,” inlaid semiprecious stones), and antiques.
Standard Florentine shopping hours are Monday through Saturday from 9:30am to noon or 1pm and 3 or 3:30 to 7:30pm, although increasingly, many shops are staying open on Sunday and through that midafternoon riposo or “nap.” Larger stores and those around tourist sights have pretty much all gone that way already. Some small or family-run places close Monday mornings instead of Sundays.
The Top Shopping Streets & Areas
AROUND SANTA TRÍNITA The cream of the crop of Florentine shopping lines both sides of elegant Via de’ Tornabuoni, with an extension along Via della Vigna Nuova and other surrounding streets. Here you’ll find big Florentine fashion names like Gucci (at no. 73R; www.gucci.com; 055-264-011), Pucci (at no. 22R; www.emiliopucci.com; 055-265-8082), and Ferragamo (at no. 4R; www.ferragamo.com; 055-292-123) ensconced in old palaces or minimalist boutiques. Stricter traffic controls have made shopping Via de’ Tornabuoni a more sedate experience, though somewhat at the expense of surrounding streets.
AROUND VIA ROMA & VIA DEI CALZAIUOLI These are some of Florence’s busiest streets, packed with storefronts offering mainstream shopping. It is here you will find the city’s major department stores, Coin, Via dei Calzaiuoli 56R (www.coin.it; 055-280-531), and La Rinascente, Piazza della Repubblica (www.rinascente.it; 055-219-113) alongside quality clothing chains such as Geox and Zara. La Feltrinelli RED, Piazza delle Repubblica 26 (www.lafeltrinelli.it; 199-151-173), is the center’s best bookstore and carries a selection of English titles. A 3-floor branch of upscale food-market minichain Eataly, Via de’ Martelli 22 (www.eataly.net; 055-015-3601), is just north of the Baptistery.
AROUND SANTA CROCE The eastern part of the center has seen a flourishing of one-off stores, with an emphasis on young, independent fashions. Borgo degli Albizi and its tributary streets are worth roaming.
The Best Markets
Mercato Centrale The center’s main food market stocks the usual fresh produce, but you can also browse for (and taste) cheeses, salamis and cured hams, Tuscan wines, takeout food, and more. It is picnic-packing heaven. It runs Monday to Saturday 7am until 2pm (until 5pm Sat for most of the year). Upstairs is street-food nirvana, all day, every day: See p. 168. Btw. Piazza del Mercato Centrale and Via dell’Ariento. No phone. Bus: C1.
Mercato di San Lorenzo The city’s tourist street market is a fun place to pick up T-shirts, marbleized paper, notebooks, or a city souvenir. Leather wallets, purses, bags, and jackets are another popular purchase—be sure to assess the workmanship, and haggle shamelessly. The market runs daily. Watch out for pickpockets. In 2014, it was controversially ejected from part of its traditional home, in Piazza San Lorenzo, and now spreads around Piazza del Mercato Centrale; whether it will move back is as yet undecided. Via dell’Ariento and Via Rosina. No phone. Bus: C1.
Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio A proper slice of Florentine life, six mornings a week (closed on Sun). The piazza outside has fruit, vegetables, costume jewelry, preserves, and end-of-line clothing. Go inside the market building for meat, olive oil, or a budget lunch at “Da Rocco.” Piazza Ghiberti. No phone. Bus: C2 or C3.
Crafts & Artisanal Goods
Florence has a longstanding reputation for its craftsmanship. Although storefront display windows along heavily touristed streets are often stuffed with cheap foreign imports and mass-produced goods, you can still find genuine handmade, top-quality items if you search around. To get a better understanding of Florence’s artisans, including a visit to a workshop, Context Travel (p. 204) runs a guided walk around the Oltrarno, traditionally Florence’s craft area. This “Made in Florence” walk costs 80€ and lasts 3 hours.
Madova For almost a century, this has been the best city retailer for handmade leather gloves lined with silk, cashmere, or lambs’ wool. Expect to pay between 40€ and 70€ for a pair. You may not expect it this close to the Ponte Vecchio, but Madova is the real deal. Closed Sunday. Via Guicciardini 1R. www.madova.com. 055-239-6526. Bus: C3 or D.
Masks of Agostino Dessi This little shop is stuffed floor to ceiling with handmade Venetian Carnevale and commedia dell’arte masks, made from papier-mâché, leather, and ceramics, and then hand-finished expertly. Via Faenza 72R. 055-287-370. Bus: C1 or 4.
Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella A shrine to scents and skincare, and also Florence’s most historic herbal pharmacy with roots in the 17th century, when it was founded by Dominicans based in the adjacent convent of Santa Maria Novella. It’s not inexpensive, but the perfumes, cosmetics, moisturizers, and other products are made from the finest natural ingredients and packaged exquisitely. Via della Scala 16. www.smnovella.it. 055-216-276. Bus: C2.
Parione This traditional Florentine stationer close to the Duomo stocks notebooks, marbleized paper, fine pens, and handmade wooden music boxes. Via dello Studio 11R. www.parione.it. 055-215-030. Bus: C1 or C2.
Richard Ginori Opened in 2014, this is the city-center home for a reborn icon of quality painted porcelain. Nothing is cheap, but Ginori is a piece of Florence history. Via dei Rondinelli 17R. 055-265-4573.
Scuola del Cuoio Florence’s leading leather school is also open house for visitors. You can watch trainee artisans at work (Mon-Fri) then visit the small shop to buy the best soft leather. Portable items like wallets and bags are a good purchase. Closed Sundays in off-season. Via San Giuseppe 5R (or enter through Santa Croce, via right transept). www.scuoladelcuoio.com. 055-244-534. Bus: C3.
ENTERTAINMENT & NIGHTLIFE
Florence has excellent, mostly free, listings publications. At the tourist offices, pick up the free monthly “Informacittà” (www.informacitta.net), which is strong on theater, concerts, and other arts events, as well as one-off markets. Younger and hipper “Zero” (www.zero.eu/firenze) is hot on the latest eating, drinking, and edgy nightlife. It is available free from trendy cafe-bars and shops, and updated online. “Firenze Spettacolo,” a 2€ Italian-language monthly sold at newsstands, is the most detailed and up-to-date listing of nightlife, arts, and entertainment. English-language magazine “The Florentine” publishes a weekly events and listings download, at www.theflr.net/weekly.
If you just want to wander and see what grabs you, you will find plenty of tourist-oriented action in bars around the city’s main squares. For something a little livelier—with a more local focus—check out Borgo San Frediano,Piazza Santo Spirito, or the northern end of Via de’ Macci, close to where it meets Via Pietrapiana. Via de’ Benci is usually buzzing around aperitivo time, and is popular with an expat crowd. Via de’ Renai and the bars of San Niccolò around the Porta San Miniato are often lively too, with a mixed crowd of tourists and locals.
Performing Arts & Live Music
Florence does not have the musical cachet or grand opera houses of Milan, Venice, Naples, or Rome, but there are two symphony orchestras and a fine music school in Fiesole, as well as great expectations for its new opera house (see below). The city’s theaters are respectable, and most major touring companies stop in town. Get tickets to all cultural and musical events online; they will e-mail collection instructions, or buy in person at Box Office, Via Vecchie Carceri 1 (www.boxofficetoscana.it; 055-210-804).
Many orchestral and chamber music performances are sponsored by the Amici della Musica (www.amicimusica.fi.it; 055-607-440), so check their website to see what is scheduled while you are in town. The venue is often the historic Teatro della Pergola.
Libreria-Café La Cité A relaxed cafe/bookshop by day, after dark this place becomes a bar and small-scale live music venue. The lineup is eclectic, often offbeat or world music, one night forrò or swing, the next Italian folk or chanteuse. Borgo San Frediano 20. www.lacitelibreria.info. 055-210-387. Bus: C3, D, 6, 11, 36, or 37.
Opera di Firenze This vast new concert hall and arts complex seats up to 1,800 in daring modernist surroundings. The venue also hosts the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, one of Italy’s most prestigious music festivals. Piazzale Vittorio Gui. www.operadifirenze.it. 055-277-9350. Tickets 10€-100€. Tram: T1.
St. Mark’s Operatic duets and full-scale operas in costume are the lure here. The program sticks to crowd pleasers like “Carmen,” “La Traviata,” and “La Bohème,” and runs most nights of the week all year. Via Maggio 18. www.concertoclassico.info. 340-811-9192. Tickets 20€-35€ (students 10€-15€). Bus: D, 11, 36, or 37.
Teatro Verdi Touring shows, “serious” popular music, one-off revues, classical and dance, and the Orchestra della Toscana occupy the stage at Florence’s leading theater. Via Ghibellina 97. www.teatroverdionline.it. 055-212-320. Closed 2nd half of July and all Aug. Bus: C1, C2, or C3.
Volume By day, it’s a laid-back cafe and arts space selling coffee, books, and crepes. By night, a cocktail bar with regular acoustic sets. Piazza Santo Spirito 5R. www.volumefirenze.com. 055-238-1460. Bus: D, 11, 36, or 37.
Florence no longer has a glitterati or intellectuals’ cafe scene, and when it did—from the late-19th-century Risorgimento era through 1950s la dolce vita—it was basically copying the idea from Paris. Although they’re often overpriced tourist spots—especially around Piazza della Repubblica—Florence’s high-toned cafes are fine if you want pastries served to you while you sit and people-watch.
Caffetteria delle Oblate A relaxing terrace popular with local families and students, and well away from the tourist crush (and prices) on the streets outside. As a bonus, it has unique view of Brunelleschi’s dome. Also serves light lunch and aperitivo. Closed Monday morning. Top floor of Biblioteca delle Oblate, Via del Oriuolo 26. www.caffetteriadelleoblate.it. 055-263-9685. Bus: C1 or C2.
La Terrazza The prices, like the perch, are a little elevated (3€-5€ for a coffee). But you get to enjoy your drink on a hidden terrace in the sky, with just the rooftops, towers, and Brunelleschi’s dome for company. Top floor of La Rinascente, Piazza della Repubblica. www.larinascente.it. 055-219-113. Bus: C3 or D.
Procacci This historic café and wine bar, with royal patronage, has an elegant mahogany and gilded interior. Truffled panini are the classic snack; Antinori wines by the glass. Via Tornabuoni 64R. www.procacci1885.it. 055-211-656. Bus: C2, 6 or 11.
Rivoire If you are going to choose one overpriced pavement cafe in Florence, make it this one. The steep prices (6€ a cappuccino, 10€ for a small bowl of ice-cream) help pay for the rent of one of the prettiest slices of real estate on the planet. Piazza della Signoria (at Via Vacchereccia). www.rivoire.it. 055-214-412. Bus: C2.
Wine Bars, Cocktail Bars & Craft Beer Bars
If you want to keep going into the small hours, you will likely find Italian nightclubs to be rather cliquey. People usually go in groups to hang out and dance only with one another. There’s plenty of flesh showing, but no meat market. Out in the northwestern ’burbs, Tenax, Via Pratese 46 (www.tenax.org; 335-523-5922), attracts big-name DJs on Friday and Saturday nights.
Beer House Club The best artisan beers from Tuscany, Italy, and farther afield. Their own line, brewed for the bar in nearby Prato, includes IPA, Imperial Stout, and Saison styles. Between 5 and 8pm, house beers are 5€ a pint instead of 6€. They also show major sports. Corso Tintori 34R. 055-247-6763. Bus: C1, C3, or 23.
Caffè Giacosa Though now renamed, this bar is where the quintessential Florentine aperitif cocktail, the Negroni, was (probably) invented. It’s a heady mix of Campari, sweet red vermouth, and gin; take a seat on the small pavement terrace to savor it. Via della Spada 10. www.caffegiacosa.it. 055-277-6328. Bus: 6 or 11.
Cantinetta dei Verrazzano One of the coziest little wine and food bars in the center is decked out with antique wooden wine cabinets, in genuine enoteca style. The wines come from the first-rate Verrazzano estate, in Chianti. Closes at 9pm, 4:30pm on Sundays. Via dei Tavolini 18R. www.verrazzano.com. 055-268-590. Bus: C2.
Diorama This tiny bar has a small terrace, Formica tables, Italian and European craft beers (5€-6€), and friendly, knowledgeable staff. Closed Mondays. Via Pisana 78R. www.dioramafirenze.com. 055-228-6682. Bus: 6.
Ditta Artigianale Oltrarno Opened in 2016, this modernist spot with a Scandinavian design offers a bit of everything. Highlights are the evening gin cocktails (10€) and a fantastic flat white made with their own small-batch coffee. There’s also daily brunch, wines by the glass, artisan beers and more. Via dello Sprone 5R. www.dittaartigianale.it. Bus: C3 or D.
Fuori Porta Friendly San Niccolò wine bar with a terrace at the foot of the climb to Piazzale Michelangiolo. There are cold cuts to accompany the wine, plus the kitchen knocks out excellent pasta and larger dishes. You can order wines by the glass from 3.50€, and a handful of Tuscan craft beers in bottle. It is often open all day in high season (Apr-Oct), without an afternoon closure; otherwise, every lunchtime and evening. Via Monte alle Croci 10R. www.fuoriporta.it. 055-234-2483. Bus: D or 23.
Mostodolce Burgers, pizza, Wi-Fi, and sports on the screen: so far, so good. And Mostodolce also has its own artisan beer on tap, brewed just outside Florence at Prato (some are very strong). Happy hour is 3:30 to 7:30pm, when all house tap beers are 4€ for a half-liter. Via Nazionale 114R. www.mostodolce.it/firenze. 055-230-2928. Bus: C1.
O’ Cafe An elegant, minimalist aperitivo spot. Pay 10€ to 15€ for a cocktail or glass of bubbly and help yourself to the buffet between 6:30 and 9:30pm every night. There is live jazz 3 nights a week from 9:15pm. Via dei Bardi 58R. www.goldenviewopenbar.com. 055-214-502. Bus: C3 or D.
Sant’Ambrogio This wine and cocktail bar is in a lively part of the center, northeast of Santa Croce. It is popular with locals without being too achingly hip. In summer, the action spills out onto the little piazza and church steps outside. Piazza Sant’Ambrogio 7R. No phone. Bus: C2 or C3.
Il Santino Tiny wine bar that stocks niche labels from across Italy, and serves exquisite “Florentine tapas” and cold cuts plates (5€-11€) to munch while you sip. Via Santo Spirito 60R. 055-230-2820. Bus: D, 11, 36, or 37.
La Terrazza Lounge at the Continentale There are few surprises on the list here—a well-made Negroni, Moscow Mule, Bellini, and the like—and prices are a little steep at around 15€ to 18€ a cocktail. But the setting, on a rooftop right by the Ponte Vecchio, makes them cheap at the price. The atmosphere is fashionable but casual (wear what you like) and staff is supremely welcoming. Arrive at sundown to see the city below start to twinkle. Closed during bad weather. Inside the Continentale Hotel, Vicolo dell’Oro 6R. 055-27-262. Bus: C3 or D.