Frommer's Italy (2015)
A copy of Michelangelo’s famed “David” fronts the Palazzo Vecchio.
Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci all left their mark on Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance. With Brunelleschi’s dome as a backdrop, follow the River Arno to the Uffizi Gallery (Florence’s foremost museum) and soak in centuries of great painting. 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. You’ve discovered 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, and Ghiberti fill the city’s churches and museums. Once home to the Medici, the Palazzo Pitti is stuffed with Raphaels and Titians, and backed by the fountains of the regal Boboli Garden.
But it’s not just about the art. Florentines love to shop, too, and Italy’s leather capital strains at the seams with handmade gloves, belts, bags, and shoes sold from workshops, family-run boutiques, and high-toned stores, as well as at tourist-oriented San Lorenzo Market. Splurge on designer wear from fashion houses along Via de’ Tornabuoni—this is the home of Gucci, Pucci, and Ferragamo.
As for Florentine cuisine, it’s increasingly cosmopolitan, but flavors are often still Tuscan at heart. Even in the best restaurants, meals might kick off with peasant concoctions like ribollita (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 order a plate of cold cuts, or if you’re feeling 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 and San Frediano. If you’re keen on opera, classical, theater, or jazz, you’ll find it here, too.
BY PLANE Several European airlines service Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport (www.aeroporto.firenze.it; 055-306-1300 switchboard, 055-306-1700 or 055-306-1702 flight info), also called Peretola, just 5km (3 miles) northwest of town. There are no direct flights to or from the United States, but you can make connections through London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and other major European cities. The half-hourly SITA-ATAF “Vola in bus” to and from downtown’s bus station at Via Santa Caterina 15R ( 800-424-500), beside the train station, 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).
The closest major international airport with direct flights to North America is Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport (www.pisa-airport.com; 050-849-300), 97km (60 miles) west of Florence. Two to three train services per hour leave the airport for Florence. However, until the PisaMover airport transit service opens (at press time scheduled for Dec 2015 debut), all involve a short bus journey then a change to a rail service at Pisa Centrale (70–90 min.; 9.20€). For early-morning flights or anyone with lots of bags, one simpler solution is the regular train from Florence into Pisa Centrale (50–70 min.; 8€), followed by a 10-minute taxi ride (around 10€) from the train station to Pisa Airport. Alternatively, 17 daily buses operated by Terravision (www.terravision.eu; 06-9761-0632) connect downtown Florence directly with Pisa Airport in 1 hour. One-way tickets are 6€ adults, 4€ children ages 5 to 12; round-trip fares are 10€ and 8€.
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 rival high-speed trains operated by private company Italo (www.italotreno.it; p. 547). High-speed and IC trains run to Venice (2 hr.) via Bologna and Padua. Daily night-train sleeper service from Paris Gare de Lyon, is operated by Thello (www.thello.com).
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 lies on the northwestern edge of the city’s compact historic center, a brisk 10-minute walk from the Duomo and a 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 special permits are allowed into this camera-patrolled zona a trafico limitato (the “ZTL”). Have the name and address of you hotel ready and the traffic police wave you through. You can drop off baggage there (the hotel will give you 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 round the clock, costs 2€ per hour, or 20€ for 24 hours; it’s 65€ for up to a week’s parking. More info on parking 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 Saturday from 8:30am to 6:30pm. Its free map is quite adequate for navigation purposes—no need to upgrade to a paid-for version.
Florence’s “City Code”
What was once Florence’s city code—055—is now an integral part of every phone number. Always dial it (including the initial zero, even from overseas), even when calling to another number from within Florence itself.
The train station’s nearest tourist office ( 055-212-245) is opposite the terminus at Piazza della Stazione 4. 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 about 30m (100 ft.) ahead. The office is usually open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 7pm (sometimes only to 2pm in winter) and Sunday 9am to 2pm. This office gets crowded; unless you’re really lost, press on to the Via Cavour office.
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 (often 5pm mid-Nov through Feb) and Sunday 9am to 2pm.
WEBSITES The official Florence information website, www.firenzeturismo.it, contains a wealth of reasonably up-to-date information on Florence and its province. At www.firenzeturismo.it/arte-musei-firenze.html you’ll find downloadable PDFs with the latest opening hours for all the major city sights, linked in the sidebar. 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 cultural events, Art Trav (www.arttrav.com) is an essential bookmark. For regularly updated Florence info, go to www.frommers.com/destinations/florence.
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 gargantuan cathedral is as central as you can get. The Duomo 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 with 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 the grid laid down when the city was a Roman colony. The site of the Roman 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 their sublime location; you need to be choosy. The same goes 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, Bargello sculpture collection, and Ponte Vecchio leading toward the Pitti Palace 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 few blocks just north of the Ponte Vecchio have reasonable shopping, but unappealing modern buildings were planted here to replace those destroyed during World War II. The entire neighborhood can be stiflingly crowded in summer—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 neighborhood, you need to be very choosy when picking a restaurant or even an ice cream around here.
SAN LORENZO & THE MERCATO CENTRALE This wedge of streets between the train station and the Duomo, centered on the Medici’s old family church of San Lorenzo and its Michelangelo-designed tombs, is market territory. The vast indoor food market is here, and many of the streets are filled daily with stalls hawking leather and other tourist wares. It’s a colorful neighborhood, blessed with a range of budget hotels and affordable restaurants, but not the quietest.
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 pleasant, well-to-do (but still medieval) neighborhood in which to stay, even if you don’t care about haute couture. But 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 unpleasant zone around the train station, and a nicer area south of it between the church of Santa Maria Novella and the river. In general, the train-station area is the least attractive part of town in which to base yourself. The streets are mostly heavily trafficked and noisy, and you’re a little removed from the medieval atmosphere. This area does, however, have more good budget options than any other quarter, especially along Via Faenza and its tributaries. Try to avoid staying on busy Via Nazionale.
The situation improves dramatically as you move east into the San Lorenzo area (see above), or pass Santa Maria Novella church and head south toward the river. Piazza Santa Maria Novella and its tributary streets have seen a few top-priced, stylish boutique hotels open in recent years.
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 always 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.
SAN MARCO & SANTISSIMA ANNUNZIATA 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—that together define the northern limits of the centro storico. 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.
A street musician.
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 left in the center. Few tourists roam too far east of Piazza Santa Croce, so if you want to feel like a local, stay here. The streets around the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio and Piazza de’ Ciompi have an especially 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 hour is vibrant along Via de’ Benci, and there is always something going on along Via Panisperna and Via de’ Macci.
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 expanding medieval city on the opposite bank, but became a chic area for aristocrats to build palaces on the edge of the countryside. The largest of these, the Pitti Palace, later became the home of the 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 (and lively nightlife, too). West of here, the neighborhood of San Frediano, around the Porta Pisana, is becoming ever more fashionable, and San Niccolò at the foot of Florence’s southern hills is a buzzing nightlife spot. You may not choose to stay around here—the hotel range isn’t great—but when evening draws nigh, cross one of the bridges to drink and eat better food, at better prices, than you will generally find in the centro storico.
Florence is a walking city. You can leisurely stroll between the two top sights, Piazza del Duomo and the Uffizi, in 5 minutes. The hike from the most northerly major sights, San Marco with its Fra’ Angelico frescoes and the Accademia with Michelangelo’s “David,” 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 some padding and foot support.
BY BUS 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, pay 2€ to buy a ticket onboard, or if you have an Italian cellphone number (p. 553), text the word “ATAF” to 488-0105 to buy a validated ticket using your prepaid phone credit. Note: Once on board, validate your ticket in the box near the rear door to avoid a steep fine. Since traffic is limited in most of the historic center, buses make runs on principal streets only, except for four tiny electric buses (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 Michelangiolo). Buses run from 7am until 8:30 or 9pm daily, with a limited night service on a few key routes (mostly local-focused).
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 your hotel. The standard rate is .91€ per kilometer, with a whopping minimum fare of 3.30€ to start the meter (that rises to 5.30€ on Sun; 6.60€ 10pm–6am), plus 1€ per bag. There’s a taxi stand outside the train station; otherwise, call Radio Taxi at 055-4242 or 055-4798. For the latest taxi information, see www.socota.it.
BY BICYCLE & SCOOTER Many of the bike-rental shops in town are located just north of Piazza San Marco, such as Alinari, Via San Zanobi 38R (www.alinarirental.com; 055-280-500), which rents 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). Another renter with similar prices is Florence by Bike, Via San Zanobi 54R (www.florencebybike.it; 055-488-992).
BY CAR Trying to drive in the centro storico is a frustrating, useless exercise, and moreover, unauthorized traffic is not allowed past signs marked ZTL. On top of that, 2013 saw the introduction of a city charge even for residents to drive into the center to park. Florence is a maze of one-way streets and pedestrian zones, and it takes an old hand to know which laws to break in order to get where you need to go—plus you need a permit to do anything beyond dropping off and picking up bags at your hotel. Park your vehicle in one of the huge underground lots on the center’s periphery and pound the pavement. (See “By Car” under “Getting There,” p. 148.)
Business Hours Hours mainly follow the Italian norm (see p. 550). 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 A walk-in Tourist Medical Service is at Via Lorenzo il Magnifico 59, north of the city center between the Fortezza del Basso and Piazza della Libertà ( 055-475-411). It’s open Monday to Friday 11am to noon and 5 to 6pm, Saturday 11am to noon only; take bus no. 8 or 20 to Viale Lavagnini. English-speaking Dr. Stephen Kerr runs a surgery 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 50€ to 60€; it’s slightly cheaper if you show a student ID card.
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. For a free translator to help you describe your symptoms, explain the doctor’s instructions, and aid in medical issues in general, call the volunteers at the Associazione Volontari Ospedalieri (AVO; www.federavo.it; 055-234-4567) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4 to 6pm and Tuesday and Thursday from 10am to noon.
Internet Access Every hotel we recommend now offers wireless Internet, usually for free but occasionally for a small fee. Otherwise, head to the chain Internet Train (www.internettrain.it; 055-747-6540), with six locations in Florence, including Via dell’Oriuolo 40R, a few blocks from the Duomo; Via Guelfa 54R, near the train station; Borgo San Jacopo 30R, in the Oltrarno; and Via de’ Benci 36R, close to Santa Croce. Printing, scanning, and other services (bike rental, international shipping, etc.) offered at some offices. Open hours vary, but usually run daily 9am to 8:30pm, often later. Alternatively, if you have your own laptop or smartphone, several bars and cafes now offer free Wi-Fi to anyone buying a drink or snack.
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 biweekly English-language publication, widely available at bars, cafes, and hotels. 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 btw. 1 and 4am). On holidays and at night, look for the sign in any pharmacy window telling you which ones are open locally.
Police To report lost property or passport problems, call the questura (police headquarters) at 055-49-771. 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. Do steer clear of the Cascine Park after dark, when it becomes somewhat seedy and you may run the risk of being mugged; likewise the area around Piazza Santo Spirito and in the backstreets behind Santa Croce after all the buzzing nightlife has gone off to bed. And you probably won’t want to hang out with the late-night heroin addicts shooting up on the Arno mud flats below the Lungarno embankments on the edges of town. See chapter 13 for more safety tips.
WHERE TO STAY
In the past few years, thanks to growing competition, recent global and local economic crises, and unfavorable euro–dollar and euro–pound exchange rates, the forces of supply and demand have brought hotel prices in Florence down . . . a little. Few hoteliers expect major changes to their rates in coming years. But it is still difficult to find a high-season double you’d want to stay in for much less than 100€. In addition, some of the price drops have been added back in taxes: Since 2012, Florence’s city government has levied an extra 1€ per person per night per government-rated hotel star, for the first 5 nights of any stay. The tax is payable on arrival, and is not usually included in quoted rates.
Peak hotel season is mid-March through early July, September through early November, and December 23 through January 6. May, June, and September are particularly popular; January, February, and August are the months to grab a bargain—never be shy to haggle if you’re coming in these months.
To help you decide which area you’d like to base yourself in, consult “The Neighborhoods in Brief,” p. 149. Note that we have included parking information only for those places that offer it. As indicated below, many hotels offer babysitting services; note, however, these are generally “on request.” At least a couple of days’ notice is advisable.
Near the Duomo
Brunelleschi The Brunelleschi manages to pull off a couple of neat tricks. It exceeds the usual 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 its labyrinthine layout, arranged around the oldest standing building in Florence. 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 a favorite of author Dan Brown, the hotel appears in both “The Da Vinci Code” and “Inferno.”
Piazza Santa Elisabetta 3 (just off Corso). www.hotelbrunelleschi.it. 055-27-370. 96 units. 159€–800€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 35€–39€. Bus: C2. Amenities: 2 restaurants; bar; concierge; gym; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
La Dimora degli Angeli In 2012, this B&B added a whole new floor, and now occupies two levels of a grand apartment building in one of the city’s busiest shopping areas. Rooms on the original floor are for romantics; bright, modern wallpaper clashes pleasingly with iron-framed beds and traditional furniture. (Corner room Beatrice is the largest, with a view of Brunelleschi’s dome—but only just.) The new floor, below, is totally different, with sharp lines and bespoke leather or wooden headboards throughout. Breakfast is served at a local cafe—though if you prefer, you can grab a morning 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€–190€ 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 (that is, small). Standard rooms are large (for Florence), and there’s a 1950s feel to the overall styling. Communal areas are a major hit, too: The second-floor relaxation room has a glass wall with a front-row view of the Ponte Vecchio. The top-floor La Terrazza (p. 202) has Florence’s best rooftop cocktails.
Vicolo dell’Oro 6R. www.lungarnocollection.com. 055-27-262. 43 units. 220€–730€ double. Parking 35€–37€. Bus: C3 or D. Amenities: Bar; concierge; gym; 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. Bathrooms are plainer by comparison. Sleep at the back and you’ll wake to an unusual sound in Florence: birdsong.
The adjacent bistro, Il Desco (www.ildescofirenze.it; 055-288-330), under the same ownership, serves seasonal Mediterranean 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. 99€–250€ double. Rates include breakfast. Valet parking 27€–33€. Bus: C1, 14, or 23. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Casci The front part of the palace now occupied by the Casci was once composer Rossini’s Florence digs. This affordable, central hotel has long been a Frommer’s favorite, and the recent partial pedestrianization of Via Cavour makes it an even more attractive city base. Rooms follow a labyrinthine layout, split between Rossini’s old piano nobile and a now-joined 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, though a rolling program of modernization is installing new, light-toned furniture to counteract that. The welcome from some of Florence’s friendliest family hoteliers is a permanent fixture.
Via Cavour 13 (btw. Via dei Ginori and Via Guelfa). www.hotelcasci.com. 055-211-686. 25 units. 80€–150€ double; 100€–190€ triple; 120€–230€ quad. Rates include breakfast. Valet parking 21€–25€. Bus: C1, 14, or 23. Closed 2 weeks in Dec. Amenities: Bar; babysitting (10€ per hour); concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Near Piazza Santa Trínita
Alessandra This typical Florentine pensione immediately 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 end result: Some rooms with hefty armoires, carved headboards, gilt frames, and gold damask around the place, others with eclectic postwar furniture, like something from a period movie set. A couple rooms have views of the Arno . . . but then again, Borgo SS. Apostoli, on the front side, is one of the center’s most atmospheric streets.
Borgo SS. Apostoli 17. www.hotelalessandra.com. 055-283-438. 27 units. 150€–180€ double. Rates include breakfast. Garage parking 25€. Bus: C3, D, 6, 11, 36, or 37. Closed Christmas and a few days around Aug 15. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Davanzati Although installed inside a historic building, the Davanzati never rests on its medieval laurels: There is still a laptop in every room for guest use and HD movies streamed to your TV, and lobby newspapers now come on an iPad. Rooms are simply decorated in the Tuscan style, with color-washed walls; half-canopies over the beds add a little flourish. 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 complimentary evening drink for all guests remains part of the Davanzati’s family welcome.
Via Porta Rossa 5 (on Piazza Davanzati). www.hoteldavanzati.it. 055-286-666. 25 units. 122€–199€ double; 152€–229€ superior (sleeps up to 4). Rates include breakfast. Valet parking 26€. Bus: C2. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Between Santa Maria Novella & the Mercato Centrale
Azzi This quirky, bohemian joint is also known as the Locanda degli Artisti. Each of its 16 rooms is brightly decorated, and most 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. In short, each is exactly the kind of room you could imagine for a struggling artist to lay his head at night. Communal areas, too, are well used: Grab a book from the library and sink down into a sofa for a break from city sightseeing.
Via Faenza 88R. www.hotelazzi.com. 055-213-806. 16 units. 54€–130€ double; 95€–140€ triple. Rates include breakfast. Garage parking 22€. Bus: 2, 12, 13, 22, 28, 36, 37, or 57. Amenities: Bar; Wi-Fi (free).
Plus Florence There’s quite 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 are usually fortunate to get an en suite bathroom (and Plus has those, too). The best rooms in this large, well-equipped hostel are in the new wing, added in summer 2013 and housing private rooms only. Units here are dressed in taupe and brown, with subtle uplighting and enough space (in some) for up to four beds. Room 657 is the only one with a terrace—it looks right at the center’s spires and domes. The only minuses: an un-picturesque building; and the location, between two busy roads (request a room facing the internal courtyard if you are a light sleeper).
Via Santa Caterina d’Alessandria 15. www.plusflorence.com. 055-462-8934. 187 units. 40€–100€ double; 50€–130€ triple. Bus: 8, 20, or 70. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; concierge; gym; 2 swimming pools; sauna; Wi-Fi (free).
Near San Marco & Santissima Annunziata
Residence Hilda There’s not a hint of the Renaissance here: These luxurious mini-apartments are all bright-white decor and designer soft furnishings, with stripped-wood flooring and modern gadgetry to keep everything working. Each is spacious, cool in summer, and totally soundproofed against Florence’s permanent background noise. Each apartment also has a mini-kitchen, kitted out just fine for preparing a simple meal—ideal if you have kids in tow. Unusually for apartments, they are bookable by the single night and upward.
Via dei Servi 40 (2 blocks north of the Duomo). www.residencehilda.it. 055-288-021. 12 units. 150€–450€ per night for apartments sleeping 2–4. Valet garage parking 31€. Bus: C1. Amenities: Airport transfer; babysitting; concierge; room service; 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 dead (although it’s under a 10-min. walk from San Lorenzo). Standard-sized rooms are snug; upgrade to a Deluxe if you need more space, but there is no difference in the standard of the decor, a mix of Florentine and earthy, boho styling. Help yourself to coffee, soft drink, or a glass of wine from the honesty bar and head up to a knockout roof terrace for 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.johanna.it. 055-463-3292. 6 units. 90€–180€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 12€. Bus: C1, 1, 7, 20, or 25. Amenities: Bar; Wi-Fi (free).
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 here, but you will find rooms with writing desks and 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.
Piazza Santissima Annunziata 3. www.loggiatodeiservitihotel.it. 055-289-592. 38 units. 130€–330€ double. Rates include breakfast. Valet parking 21€. Bus: C1, 6, 14, 19, 23, 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 gain in character: Every single one oozes tipico fiorentino. Rooms have parquet flooring thrown with rugs and dressed with antique wooden furniture. It’s definitely worth upgrading to a Superior if you can: These 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 is now 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. 10 units. 100€–167€ double. Rates include breakfast. Garage parking 24€. Bus: C1, 6, 14, 19, 23, 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 terracotta 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. Email direct if you want to bag the best room rate.
Via M. Bufalini 1. www.touristhouseghiberti.com. 055-284-858. 5 units. 69€–179€ double. Rates include breakfast. Garage parking 20€. Bus: C1, 14, or 23. Amenities: Jacuzzi; sauna; Wi-Fi (free).
Near Santa Croce
La Casa di Morfeo For a cheery, affordable room in the increasingly lively eastern part of the center, look no further than this small hotel that opened in 2012 on the second floor of a grand, shuttered palace. There is no huge difference in quality among the guest rooms. Each is midsized, bright, and modern, with a thoughtful, individual, holistic color scheme and decor.
Via Ghibellina 51. www.lacasadimorfeo.it. 055-241-193. 9 units. 75€–240€ double. Rates include breakfast. Bus: C2, C3, or 14. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Locanda Orchidea Over several visits to Florence, this has been a go-to inn for stays on a tight budget. Rooms range over two floors of a historic palazzo—the best of them facing a quiet, leafy rear courtyard. 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 outdated feel. Note that bathrooms are shared (although they have good water pressure), and there is no A/C or onsite breakfast. But the price, value, character, and welcome are hard to beat in this price bracket.
Borgo degli Albizi 11 (close to Piazza San Pier Maggiore). www.hotelorchideaflorence.it. 055-248-0346. 7 units. 45€–75€ double. Garage parking 18€–22€. Bus: C1, C2, 14, or 23. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
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 and most have frescoed or painted wood showpiece ceilings. Bathrooms, in contrast, have sharp, contemporary lines, and are decked out in travertine and marble. Aside from two street-facing suites, every room has a small balcony, ideal for a pre-dinner 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.
Via Sant’Egidio 12. www.palazzogalletti.it. 055-390-5750. 11 units. 100€–160€ double; 160€–240€ suite. Rates include breakfast. Garage parking 30€. Bus: C1, C2, 14, or 23. Amenities: Wi-Fi (5€ per day).
Apartment Rentals & Alternative Accommodations
One of the best city specialists is Florence and Abroad (www.florenceandabroad.com; 055-487-004), a company that matches different tastes and budgets to a wide range of apartments. Another reputable agency for top-end, short-term rentals is Windows on Tuscany (www.windowsontuscany.com; 055-268-510). Online agencies Cross Pollinate (www.cross-pollinate.com; 06-99369799) and RentXpress (www.rentxpress.com; 02-8734-4500 in Italy) also have good apartment portfolios covering Florence. GoWithOh.com has a user-friendly website that incorporates verified guest feedback into its portfolio of city apartments.
An alternative budget option is to stay in a religious house. A few monasteries and convents in the center are happy to receive guests for a modest fee, including the Suore di Santa Elisabetta, Viale Michelangiolo 46 (near Piazza Ferrucci; www.csse-roma.eu; 055-681-1884), in a colonial villa just south of the Ponte San Niccolò. 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 Supermercato il Centro: There’s a map at www.ilcentro.biz.
WHERE TO EAT
Florence is awash with restaurants, though many in the most touristy areas (around the Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Piazza della Repubblica, and Ponte Vecchio) are of low quality, charge high prices, or both. We point out a few below that are worth a visit. The highest concentrations of excellent ristoranti and trattorie are around Santa Croce and across the river in the Oltrarno and San Frediano. Bear in mind that menus at restaurants in Tuscany can change weekly or even (at some of the very best places) daily.
Reservations are strongly recommended if you have your heart set on eating anywhere, especially at dinner on weekends.
Near the Duomo
Coquinarius TUSCAN There is a regular menu here—pasta; mains such as pork filet with peaches, rosemary, and balsamic vinegar; 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, salmon, 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 14€–20€. Daily 12:30–3:30pm and 6:30–10:30pm. Bus: C1 or C2.
I Fratellini LIGHT FARE This hole-in-the-wall has been serving food to go since 1875. The drill is simple: Choose your sandwich filling, pick a drink, then eat your fast-filled roll on the curb opposite or find a perch in a nearby piazza. There are around 30 fillings to choose from, including the usual Tuscan meats and cheeses—salami, pecorino cheese, cured ham—and more flamboyant combos such as goat cheese and Calabrian spicy salami or bresaola (air-dried beef) and wild rocket salad. A glass of wine to wash it down costs from 1.80€. No credit cards accepted.
Via dei Cimatori 38R (at corner of Via Calzaiuoli). 055-239-6096. Sandwiches 2.50€–3€. Daily 9am–7pm (July–Aug closed Sun). 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, and never stuffy. Dishes are subtle and creative, and use traditional Tuscan ingredients in an original way. The menu changes daily, but expect the likes of spaghetti with extract of peppers, capers, and smoked ricotta or beef tartare marinated in beer with black truffle and roasted melon. If you can’t stretch the budget for a dinner here, book a table at lunch to taste simpler, cheaper (12€–18€) dishes such as cold salad of salt cod with Pratese vermouth and sweet potato, served in full-size or half-price “tapas” portions. Reservations required.
Via dei Georgofili 11–13R (off Via Lambertesca). www.oradariaristorante.com. 055-200-1699. Reservations essential. Main courses 30€–34€ (at dinner); tasting menu 70€–75€. Tues–Sat 12:30–2:30pm; Mon–Sat 7:30–10pm. Closed 3 weeks in Aug. Bus: C3 or D.
Near San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale
Cipolla Rossa TUSCAN/GRILL Carnivores, stop here. This modern trattoria near the Medici Chapels is tricked out in a half-butcher shop, half-enoteca way for a reason: This is a place for enjoying ciccia e vino (meat and wine). The setting, under a high ceiling vault on the ground floor of a palazzo, is ideal for devouring the likes of a lombatina di vitella (veal steak) expertly cooked on the grill. Cuts of maiale (pork) are equally good, as is the bistecca alla fiorentina—a large T-bone-like cut grilled on the bone and sold by weight (find out the price before ordering one).
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. However, the best places to sample it are still the city’s trippai, tripe vendors who sell it from takeaway vans around the center, alongside other “regular” sandwiches. The most convenient vendors are in Piazza de’ Cimatori and on Via de’ Macci at the corner of 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.
Via dei Conti 53R. www.osteriacipollarossa.com. 055-214-210. Main courses 16€–28€. Daily noon–3pm and 6–11pm. Bus: C1, C2, 4, 6, 11, or 22.
Dining in Florence.
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. Order at the bar and take a seat on rustic wooden benches to wait the arrival of your piadine (toasted or cold) filled with radicchio and mozzarella, herrings and baby tomatoes, or spicy salami and cheese. 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 9am–midnight. Bus: C1.
Mario TRADITIONAL FLORENTINE There is no doubt that this traditional market workers’ trattoria is now firmly on the tourist trail. But Mario’s clings to the traditions and ethos it adopted when it first fired up the burners in its kitchen 60 years ago. Food is simple, hearty, and served at communal benches—“check in” on arrival and you will be offered seats together wherever they come free. Think zuppa di fagioli (bean soup) followed by traditional Tuscan piquant beef stew, peposo. No credit cards.
Via Rosina 2R (north corner of Piazza Mercato Centrale). www.trattoriamario.com. 055-218-550. Main courses 8€–13€. Mon–Sat noon–3:30pm. Closed Aug. Bus: C1.
Near Piazza Santa Trínita
Il Latini TUSCAN If you want the experience of digging into a hearty, gut-busting meal at a typical Tuscan countryside osteria, this is the closest you’ll get in downtown Florence. Everyone jams together under a canopy of hanging hams and makes like they’re dining at a tavern on some saint’s feast day. It sounds hokey, but it’s a chaotic, spirited experience that truly does feel Italian—even if all the diners are tourists. But the food is first rate. Meats are all tasty, so if you are having trouble deciding between them, go for the arrosto misto (mixed roast meats).
Via dei Palchetti 6R (off Via della Vigna Nuova). 055-210-916. Main courses 14€–22€. Tues–Sun 12:30–2:30pm and 7:30–10:30pm. Closed 2 weeks in Aug and Dec 24–Jan 6. Bus: C3, 6, 11, 36, or 37.
Near San Marco & Santissima Annunziata
San Marco is the place to head for schiacciata alla fiorentina, sweetish olive-oil flatbread loaded with savory toppings. You will find some of the best in the city at Pugi, Piazza San Marco 9B (www.focacceria-pugi.it; 055-280-981), open 7:45am (8:30am Sat) to 8pm Monday to Saturday, but closed most of August.
Da Tito TUSCAN/FLORENTINE Every night feels like party night at one of central Florence’s rare genuine neighborhood trattorias. (And for that reason, it’s usually packed—book ahead.) The welcome and the dishes are authentically Florentine, with a few modern Italian curveballs: Start, perhaps, with the risotto con piselli e guanciale (rice with 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 help keep the quality consistent.
Via San Gallo 112R. www.trattoriadatito.it. 055-472-475. Main courses 10€–18€. Mon–Sat 12:30–2pm and 7:30–10:30pm. Bus: C1, 1, 7, or 25.
Near Santa Croce
La Brasserie FRENCH/ITALIAN This peculiar, and successful, fusion of Paris and Florence is in the increasingly buzzy streets around the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. There’s a Parisian feel to the decor, with whitewashed walls, olive-green banquettes, French dressers, and wooden bistro furniture. The menu marries France and Tuscany, too: Begin, say, with a seasonal risotto, and follow up with kidneys in a mustard sauce. The drinks list takes its beers as seriously as its wines; ask for advice on pairing Tuscan microbrew labels like Monte Amiata and Piccolo Birrificio Clandestino with your primo and secondo.
Via de’ Macci 77. www.labrasseriefirenze.it. 055-247-8326. Main courses 10€–18€. Tues–Sun 7:30–10:30pm. Bus: C2 or C3
Ruth’s KOSHER/VEGETARIAN Ruth’s bills itself as a “kosher vegetarian” joint, but you will also find fish on the menu. It’s small (around 12 tables), so book ahead if you want to be certain of a table. The interior is cafe-like and informal, the menu likewise. Skip the Italian primi and go right for Eastern Mediterranean secondi such as vegetarian couscous with harissa or fish moussaka, a layered bake of eggplant, tomato, salmon, and spiced rice served with salad and caponata (a cold vegetable preserve). A rabbi from the adjacent synagogue oversees the kosher credentials.
Via Farini 2a. www.kosheruth.com. 055-248-0888. Main courses 10€–20€. Sun–Fri 12:30–2:30pm; Sat–Thurs 7:30–10pm. Bus: C2 or C3.
Vagalume MODERN ITALIAN The style is “tapas fiorentine”—there are no “courses” and no pasta, and you compile a dinner from a range of good-sized dishes in any order you please. Dishes are all seasonal and change daily, but could include the likes of a soufflé of Gorgonzola, hazelnuts, and zucchini; rabbit stewed in Vernaccia wine with olives; or a marinated mackerel salad with fennel and orange. To go with the modern menu, there’s modern, stripped-back decor, jazz and funk played in the background on an old vinyl record player, and an emphasis on beers—three on tap, plus a bottle list that is strong on European styles. The wine list is short, but expertly chosen.
Via Pietrapiana 40R. www.facebook.com/vagalume.firenze. 055-246-6740. Dishes 7€–13€. Daily 6:30–11pm. Closed 2 weeks in Feb. Bus: C1, C2, or C3.
In the Oltrarno, San Niccolò & San Frediano
iO: Osteria Personale CONTEMPORARY TUSCAN There’s a definite hipster atmosphere, with the stripped brick walls and young staff, but the food ethos here is unshakable. Ingredients are staunchly Tuscan and traditional, but combined in a way you may not have seen before, on a menu that rejects pasta. The menu is modular, and diners are free to combine seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes in any order they choose. Perhaps tempura zucchini flowers stuffed with tomato sorbet followed by guinea-hen “Caesar salad” carbonara. Reservations are always advisable.
Borgo San Frediano 167R. www.io-osteriapersonale.it. 055-933-1341. Main courses 13€–22€; tasting menus 40€ 4 dishes, 55€ 6 dishes. Mon–Sat 8–10:30pm. Closed 10 days in Jan and all of Aug. Bus: D or 6.
Olio e Convivium CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN You can assemble a gourmet picnic at this deli-diner, from a range of wines and counter ingredients, but the refined restaurant in the back is the star turn. Soft jazz provides the background as you navigate a menu that gives familiar ingredients a creative twist. Main courses might include pork filet cooked at low temperature and served in an orange sauce with beans wrapped in guanciale (cured pork cheek) or a flan di stracchino con salsiccia croccante (cheese soufflé with crisp-fried salami sausage). There’s a short, well-chosen range of red and white wines by the glass, plus a long list of dessert wines.
Via Santo Spirito 6. www.conviviumfirenze.it. 055-265-8198. Main courses 14€–24€. Mon–Sat noon–2:30pm; Tues–Sat 7–10:30pm. Closed 3 weeks in Aug. Bus: C3, D, 6, 11, 36, or 37.
Il Magazzino FLORENTINE A traditional osteria that specializes in the flavors of old Florence. It looks the part, too, with its terracotta 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 polpettine (little meatballs), boiled, or alla fiorentina (stewed with tomatoes and garlic). The rest of the menu is fairly carnivore-friendly too: Follow tagliatelle al ragù bianco (pasta ribbons with a “white” meat sauce made with a little milk instead of tomatoes) with guancia di vitello in agrodolce (veal tongue stewed with baby onions in a sticky-sweet sauce).
Piazza della Passera 3. 055-215-969. Main courses 8€–13€. Daily noon–3pm and 7:30–11pm. Bus: C3 or D.
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, take the pizza out to the steps of Santo Spirito, round the corner.
Via Maggio 46R. 055-285-068. Pizzas 4.50€–8€. Tues–Sun 11:30am–3pm and 7–11pm. Closed 3 weeks in Aug. Bus: 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 with air-fluffed mountains of ice cream and flavors so full of artificial colors 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. The following are worth seeking out.
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 2.30€. Bus: C3 or D. Also at: Piazza Oberdan 2R ( 055-676-930).
Gelateria de’ Neri There’s a large range of fruit, white, and chocolate flavors here, but nothing overelaborate. If the ricotta and fig flavor is on, you are in luck.
Via dei Neri 20–22R. 055-210-034. Cone from 1.80€. Bus: C1, C3, or 23.
Il Procopio Come here for rich, elaborate concoctions, including signature flavor “La Follia,” a crema (cream) gelato with toasted almonds and caramelized figs, and Sachertorte, based on the spiced Austrian cake.
Via Pietrapiana 60R. 055-234-6014. Cone from 2.20€. Bus: C1.
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 2.30€. 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). Note, too, that the last admission to the museums and monuments listed is usually between 30 and 45 minutes before the final closing time.
Piazza del Duomo
The cathedral square is filled with tourists and caricature artists during the day, strolling crowds in the early evening, and knots of students strumming guitars on the Duomo’s steps at night. It’s always crowded, and the piazza’s vivacity and the glittering facades of the cathedral and the Baptistery doors keep it an eternal Florentine sight. The square’s closure to traffic in 2009 has made it a more welcoming space than ever.
The Duomo of Florence.
Battistero (Baptistery) RELIGIOUS SITE 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 the Gothic South Doors, cast 65 years earlier by Andrea Pisano. The era’s foremost Tuscan sculptors each cast a bas-relief bronze panel depicting his own vision of the “Sacrifice of Isaac.” Twenty-two-year-old Lorenzo Ghiberti, competing against the likes of Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia, and Filippo Brunelleschi, won. He spent the next 21 years casting 28 bronze panels and building his doors.
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 lifelike 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 and the Queen of Sheba (bottom right), and others. The panels mounted here are excellent copies; the originals are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (see p. 174). 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.
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 spectacle of mosaics 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 (and a good neck masseuse) if you want a closer look.
Piazza San Giovanni. www.operaduomo.firenze.it. 055-230-2885. Admission included with 10€ Grande Museo del Duomo ticket; see facing page. Mon–Sat 11:15am–7pm (Thurs–Sat until 11pm June–Sept); Sun and 1st Sat of month 8:30am–2pm. Bus: C2, 14, or 23.
The Baptistery, with its glittering bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower) HISTORIC SITE 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. Andrea, a master sculptor of the Pisan Gothic school, 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 (see p. 174). We recommend climbing the 414 steps to the top; the view is memorable as you ascend, and offers the best close-up shot in the entire city of Brunelleschi’s dome.
Piazza del Duomo. www.operaduomo.firenze.it. 055-230-2885. Admission included with 10€ Grande Museo del Duomo ticket; see facing page. Daily 8:30am–7:30pm. Bus: C2, 14, or 23.
Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) CATHEDRAL By the late 13th century, Florence was feeling peevish: Its archrivals Siena and Pisa sported huge, 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 (probably 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.
DISCOUNT TICKETS FOR THE CITY
Visitors to Florence in mid-2013 got a shock when they went to purchase the discount Firenze Card (www.firenzecard.it). Launched in 2011 at 50€ per person, the card was suddenly priced at 72€, a hefty rise. So is it still a good buy? If you are planning a busy, culture-packed break here, the Firenze Card works out to good value. If you only expect to see a few museums, skip it.
But for the culture vultures out there, the “new” card (still valid for 72 hr.) now allows entrance to around 60 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 San Lorenzo is included in the price of the card, even sites in Fiesole (p. 195). It also gets you into much shorter lines, taking ticket pre-booking hassles out of the equation—another saving of 3€ to 4€ for busy museums, above all the Uffizi and Accademia. It also includes 3 days’ free bus travel (which you probably won’t use) and free public Wi-Fi (which you might).
Amici degli Uffizi membership (www.amicidegliuffizi.it) is the ticket to choose if you want to delve deeper into a smaller range of Florence museums, especially if you want to make multiple visits to the vast collections at the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti, or if you plan on visiting Florence more than once in a calendar year. It costs 60€ for adults, 40€ anyone 26 and under, 100€ for a family, and is valid for a calendar year (Jan 1–Dec 31). It secures admission (without queuing) into 15 or so state museums, including the Uffizi, Accademia, San Marco, Bargello, Cappelle Medicee, and everything at the Palazzo Pitti. Two children go free with a family ticket, and membership permits multiple visits. Join Tuesday through Saturday inside Uffizi entrance no. 2; take photo ID.
The Opera del Duomo has also 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, Museo dell’Opera, and archaeological excavations of Santa Reparata (inside the cathedral) for 10€, free for accompanied children up to age 14. It also gets you into the Duomo without queuing. Buy it at the ticket office almost opposite the Baptistery, on the north side of Piazza San Giovanni. It includes enough to fill a busy half-day, at least. See www.ilgrandemuseodelduomo.it for more details.
The Duomo’s most distinctive feature 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,” p. 175). 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.
The cathedral is rather Spartan inside, though check out the fake equestrian “statue” of English mercenary soldier Sir John Hawkwood painted on the north wall in 1436, by Paolo Uccello.
Piazza del Duomo. www.operaduomo.firenze.it. 055-230-2885. Admission to church free; Santa Reparata excavations and cupola included with 10€ Grande Museo del Duomo ticket (see above). Church Mon–Wed and Fri 10am–5pm; Thurs 10am–4:30pm (July–Sept until 5pm, May and Oct until 4pm); Sat 10am–4:45pm; Sun 1:30–4:45pm. Cupola Mon–Fri 8:30am–7pm; Sat 8:30am–5:40pm. Bus: C1, C2, 14, or 23.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Works Museum) ART MUSEUM For now, the excellent Cathedral Museum displays a somewhat emasculated version of its collection. The site (where Michelangelo worked on “David”) is undergoing major redevelopment, in time to reopen with twice as much floor space during 2015. However, the museum’s prize exhibit has returned, after a restoration completed in 2012: the original Gates of Paradise cast by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the early 1400s (see “Baptistery,” p. 169). These doors will form the centerpiece of a reconstruction of the part of the piazza they were designed to adorn when the new museum is complete. You can stand and gaze, and read from interpretation panels that explain the Old Testament scenes.
Today, the only other major work on display, halfway up the staircase, is a (mostly) Michelangelo “Pietà” that nearly wasn’t—the artist’s final work. 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 this was a self-portrait of the artist—a Michelangelo legend that, for once, is probably true.
Piazza del Duomo 9 (behind the back of the cathedral). www.operaduomo.firenze.it. 055-230-2885. Admission included with 10€ Grande Museo del Duomo ticket; see above. Mon–Sat 9am–7:30pm; Sun 9am–1:45pm. Bus: C1, C2, 14, or 23.
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 office complex, or uffici—all jam-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. First, compare teacher and student as you examine Cimabue’s “Santa Trínita Maestà” painted around 1280, and Giotto’s “Ognissanti Madonna” done in 1310. The similar subject and setting for both paintings allows the viewer to see how Giotto transformed Cimabue’s iconlike Byzantine style into something more real and human. Giotto’s Madonna actually 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, looking like portraits on coins, with flattened positioning and stiff angles. Also worth a look-see: Duccio’s “Rucellai Madonna” (1285) one of the founding works of the ethereal Sienese School of painting.
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 6 shows Florentine painting at its most decorative, in the 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 outside the Uffizi.
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.169), 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, then 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—plus no one was 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. 116).
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, with each of the stones making up the actual fabric of the dome being dovetailed. 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, cranes, 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 a singular honor: He is the only person ever buried in Florence’s cathedral.
Room 8 contains the unflattering profiles of the Duke Federica da Montefeltro of Urbino and his duchess, done by Piero della Francesca in 1465. The subjects are portrayed in an unflinchingly realistic way. The duke, in particular, exposes his warts and his crooked nose, broken in a tournament. This focus on the earthly, rather than on the Christian, elements harkens back to the teachings of classical 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; prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice for him.
Also here are works by Filippo Lippi from the mid–15th century. His most celebrated panel, “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 her convent before she could take 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 walls were knocked down in 1978 to make one large room—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 highway 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 the filmy, pastel “Venus,” defies definitive interpretation (many have tried). 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 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 perspective was painted to be viewed from the lower right.
Reopened after restoration in 2012, the Tribuna is an octagonal room added to the Uffizi floor plan by Francesco I in the 1580s. Although visitors can no longer walk through it, you can view the mother-of-pearl ceiling and the “Medici Venus” , a Roman statue dating from the 1st century B.C., from outside.
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. However, it is impossible to be certain of the precise layout: The museum is undergoing a major facelift, to create the “New Uffizi.” 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 recently restored and often-copied “Madonna of the Goldfinch” , with a background landscape lifted from Leonardo and Botticelli.
Advance Reservations for the Uffizi, Accademia & More
If you’re not buying a cumulative ticket (see “Discount Tickets for the City,” p. 173), you should bypass the hours-long line at the Uffizi by reserving a ticket and an entry time in advance by calling Firenze Musei at 055-294-883 (Mon–Fri 8:30am–6:30pm; Sat until 12:30pm) or visiting www.firenzemusei.it (you may need to have patience with their website, however). You can also reserve for the Accademia Gallery (another interminable line, to see “David”), as well as 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 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, or a desk inside bookshop Libreria My Accademia, Via Ricasoli 105R (www.myaccademia.com; 055-288-310), almost opposite the Accademia.
Titian’s reclining nude “Venus of Urbino” is another highlight of the Uffizi’s 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 in the forbidden part of her body. The Uffizi also owns a trio of paintings by Caravaggio, notably his enigmatic “Bacchus” , and many by the 17th- to 18th-century caravaggieschi artists who copied his chiaroscuro (bright light and dark shadows) style of painting. Greatest among them was Artemisia Gentileschi, a rare female baroque painter. Her brilliant “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (ca. 1612), is one of the more brutal, bloody paintings in the gallery.
Rooms 46 to 55 also opened in 2012 to showcase the works of foreign painters in the Uffizi—the museum owns a vast and varied collection, much of which lay in storage until the opening of these new galleries. The best among these so-called Sale Blu, or “Blue Rooms,” is the Spanish gallery, with works by Goya, El Greco’s “St. John the Evangelist” (1600), and Velázquez’s “Self-Portrait” . Room 49 displays two of Rembrandt’s most familiar self-portraits. In 2013, six Sale Gialle, or “Yellow Rooms,” opened to showcase works of Florentine painters of the 17th century, including Empoli.
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; Uccello, Masaccio, Bronzino, and Veronese. The collection goes on and on (there are countless original Roman statues, too). There is nowhere like it in Italy, or the world.
Piazzale degli Uffizi 6 (off Piazza della Signoria). www.uffizi.firenze.it. 055-238-8651. (Reserve tickets at www.firenzemusei.it or 055-294-883.) Admission 6.50€ (11€ during compulsory temporary exhibition). Tues–Sun 8:15am–6:50pm. 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.
PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA
When the medieval Guelph party finally came out on top after their 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. 180) 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.
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 reformist 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; see p. 177) 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 “Heracles” (1534). Poor Bandinelli was trying to copy Michelangelo’s muscular male form but ended up making his Heracles 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, away from the elements, continues . . . but for now, it’s still here.
In the ground-floor Michelangelo room, you’ll witness the variety of his craft, from the whimsical 1497 “Bacchus” to the severe, unfinished “Brutus” of 1540. “Bacchus,” created when Michelangelo was just 22, really looks like he’s 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” , who looks like he’s about to take off from the ground, 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. 180), and “St. George” from a niche on the outside of Orsanmichele. Notable among them is his “David” (which 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.
On the back wall are the contest entries submitted by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi for the commission to do the Baptistery doors in 1401. Both had the “Sacrifice of Isaac” as their biblical theme, and both displayed an innovative use of perspective. Ghiberti won the contest, perhaps because his scene was more thematically unified. Brunelleschi could have ended up a footnote in the art history books, but instead he gave up the chisel and turned his attentions to architecture instead, which turned out to be a wise move (see “A Man & His Dome,” p. 175).
Via del Proconsolo 4. www.polomuseale.firenze.it. 055-238-8606. Admission 4€ (6€ during compulsory temporary exhibition). Daily 8:15am–1:50pm (until 5pm during exhibition). Closed 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sun, and 2nd and 4th Mon of each month. Bus: C1 or C2.
Orsanmichele RELIGIOUS SITE/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, however, 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, the elaborate Gothic “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.
Every Monday (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 the 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. The Museo is staffed by volunteers, so donate if you are able.
Via Arte della Lana 1. 055-210-305. Free admission. Daily 10am–5pm. Bus: C2.
Palazzo Vecchio PALACE Florence’s fortresslike town hall was built from 1299 to 1302 on the designs of Arnolfo di Cambio, Gothic master builder of the city. The palace was home to the various Florentine republican governments (and is today to the municipal government). Cosimo I and his ducal Medici family moved to the palazzo in 1540 and engaged in massive redecoration. 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.
The 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 and 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 a Florentine victory at the 1440 Battle of Anghiari. He was always trying new methods and materials and 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 others watched in horror, the wax in the fresco melted under the intense heat and the colors ran down the walls to puddle on the floor. The search for whatever remains of his work continues, and some hope was provided in 2012 with the discovery of pigments used by Leonardo in a cavity behind the current wall.
Michelangelo never even got past making the preparatory drawings for the fresco he was supposed to paint on the opposite wall—Pope Julius II called him to Rome to paint the Sistine Chapel. Eventually, the bare walls were covered by Vasari and assistants 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 Julius II’s tomb but later donated to the Medici.
The first series of rooms on the second 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 small private chapel is a masterpiece of mid-16th-century painting by Bronzino. Farther on, under the coffered ceiling of the Sala dei Gigli, are Domenico 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.
A statue of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
The Palazzo Vecchio.
Since 2012 visitors have been admitted to the Torre di Arnolfo , the palace’s crenellated tower. If you can bear the small spaces and 418 steps, the views are grand. 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.it. 055-276-8325. Admission to Palazzo or Torre 10€; admisson to both 14€. Palazzo: Fri–Wed 9am–7pm (Apr–Sept until midnight); Thurs 9am–2pm. Torre: Fri–Wed 9am–5pm (Apr–Sept until 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. The characteristic overhanging shops have lined the bridge since at least the 12th century. In the 16th century, it was home to butchers until Cosimo I moved into the Palazzo Pitti across the river. He couldn’t stand the stench, so he evicted the meat cutters and moved in the classier gold- and silversmiths, and jewelers who occupy it to this day.
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 instead to block it off. The Great Arno Flood of 1966 wasn’t so discriminating, however, and severely damaged the shops. A private night watchman saw the waters rising alarmingly and called many of the goldsmiths at home, who rushed to remove their valuable stock before it was washed away.
Via Por Santa Maria/Via Guicciardini. Bus: C3 or D.
The Ponte Vecchio spans the River Arno.
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 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, Domenico Ghirlandaio frescoed the Cappella Sassetti in 1483 with a cycle on the “Life of St. Francis,” but true to form 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—the Loggia dei Lanzi is featured in the middle, and on the left is the Palazzo Vecchio. (The Uffizi between them hadn’t been built yet.)
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 admission. Mon–Sat 8am–noon and 4–5:45pm; Sun 8–10:45am and 4–5:45pm. Bus: C3, D, 6, 11, 36, or 37.
Around San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale
The church of San Lorenzo is practically lost behind the leather stalls and souvenir carts of Florence’s vast San Lorenzo street market (see “Shopping,” later in this chapter). In fact, the hawking of wares and bustle of commerce characterize all the streets of this neighborhood, centered on both the church and the nearby Mercato Centrale food hall. It’s a colorful scene, but one of the most pickpocket-happy in the city, so be wary.
Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels) MONUMENT/MEMORIAL 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 the world’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 began in 1604 and lasted until the rarely conscious Gian Gastone de’ Medici drank himself to death in 1737, without an heir—but teams kept doggedly at the thing, and they were still finishing the floor in 1962. It is now undergoing restoration.
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. Admittedly, they did get one genuine Michelangelo sculpture to decorate their slab, a not quite finished “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 elongated curves of the tomb stretch “Dawn” (female) and “Dusk” (male), a pair of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures. This pair mirrors the similarly fashioned “Day” (male) and “Night” (female) across the way. One additional point “Dawn” and “Night” brings out is 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. Admission 6€ (9€ during compulsory temporary exhibition). Daily 8:15am–1:50pm (until 4:50pm during exhibition). Closed 1st, 3rd, and 5th Mon, and 2nd and 4th Sun of each month. Bus: C1, C2, 4, 6, 11, or 22.
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 so commissioned Vasari to design his V.I.P. route in 1565. It’s often possible to walk the corridor, although closures for restoration work are common. Inquire at the tourist office. Context Travel (p. 196) operates an excellent guided walk through the corridor, costing 100€ per person (pricey, but well worth it), plus the admission price of the Uffizi.
The Medici Chapels.
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi PALACE Built by Michelozzo in 1444 for Cosimo de’ Medici il Vecchio, this is the prototype Florentine palazzo, on which the more overbearing Strozzi and Pitti palaces were later modeled. It remained the Medicis’ private home until Cosimo I officially declared his power as duke by moving to the city’s traditional civic brain 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 dense and colorful Benozzo Gozzoli frescoes (1459–63) in 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. Admission 7€ adults, 4€ ages 6 to 12. Thurs–Tues 9am–6pm. Bus: C1, 14, or 23.
San Lorenzo CHURCH A rough brick anti-facade and the undistinguished stony bulk of a building surrounded by market stalls hide 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 patrie—“Father of His Homeland.”
Off the left transept is the Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy) , 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, and a side chapel is decorated with an early star map that shows the night sky above the city in the 1440s (a scene that also features, curiously, in Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel, in Santa Croce; see p. 189).
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. 055-214-042. Admission to church 4.50€; admission to library 3€; combined admission 7€. Church: Mon–Sat 10am–5:30pm; Mar–Oct also Sun 1:30–5:30pm. Laurentian Library: Mon–Sat 9:30am–1:30pm. Bus: C1, 14, or 23.
Near Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Piazza Santa Maria Novella has patches of grass and a central fountain, but no shade. The two squat obelisks, resting on the backs of Giambologna tortoises, once served as the turning posts for the “chariot” races held here from the 16th to the mid–19th century. Once a depressed and down-at-heel part of the center, the area now hosts some of Florence’s priciest hotels.
Museo Marino Marini & Cappella Rucellai MUSEUM/RELIGIOUS SITE One of Florence’s most unusual museums features 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 with any kids who 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 . Returned to public view in 2013 after an exquisite restoration, 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. Admission 6€. Mon and Wed–Sat 10am–5pm. Bus: C3.
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 under energetic directorship. Hits of recent years have included 2012’s “Americans in Florence: Sargent and the New World Impressionists” and “The Russian Avant-garde” in 2014. There’s always plenty going on including talks, late-night events and openings (usually Thurs), discounted admission (again, usually Thurs), and even discovery trails aimed at 5- to 9-year-olds. Check the website for the latest exhibition news.
Santa Maria Novella CHURCH The Santa Maria Novella complex is reunited again, with the church and frescoed cloisters all now accessible with 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.)
Of all Florence’s major churches, the home of the Dominicans is the only one with an original facade that matches its era of greatest importance. The lower Romanesque half was started in the 14th century by architect Fra’ Jacopo Talenti, who had just finished building the church itself (begun in 1246). Renaissance architect and theorist Leon Battista Alberti finished the facade, adding a classically inspired Renaissance top that not only went seamlessly with the lower half but also created a Cartesian plane of perfect geometry.
Inside, on the left wall, is Masaccio’s “Trinità” (ca. 1425), the first painting ever to use perfect 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. The transept is filled with frescoed chapels by Filippino Lippi and others. The Sanctuary behind the main altar was frescoed after 1485 by Domenico 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 wall with a “Life of St. John the Baptist.” (Read from the bottom upward; there are boards that explain the scenes.) The works are not just biblical stories but also snapshots of the era’s fashions and personages, full of portraits of the Tornabuoni family who commissioned them.
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 an “Inundation,” 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 reopened 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. Admission 5€. Mon–Thurs 9am–5:30pm; Fri 11am–5:30pm; Sat 9am–5pm; Sun 1–5pm (July–Sept opens noon). Bus: C2, D, 1, 6, 11, 14, 17, 22, or 23.
Santa Maria Novella.
Near San Marco & Santissima Annunziata
Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia ART MUSEUM/CONVENT 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 the influence of his apprenticeship on the faces of the Disciples in his version of “The Last Supper,” the first painted in Florence during the Renaissance. The giant fresco, completed around 1447, covers an entire wall at one end of this former convent refectory. It is easy to spot Judas, banished to the other side of the communal table and painted as a satyr with a faux-marble panel in turmoil above his head.
Above Castagno’s “Last Supper,” his “Crucifixion,” “Deposition,” and “Entombment” complete the story of the final days of the Christian story.
Via XXVII Aprile 1. 055-238-8607. Free admission. 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.
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, and a 2004 cleaning makes the marble gleam as if it were unveiling day, 1504. Viewing the statue is a pleasure in the bright and spacious room custom-designed for him after the icon was moved to the Accademia in 1873, following 300 years of pigeons perched on his head in Piazza della Signoria. Replicas now take the abuse there, and at Piazzale Michelangiolo. The spot high on one 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. 173). 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 the rough forms struggling to free themselves from the raw stone. They also provide a unique glimpse into how Michelangelo worked a piece of stone; he famously said that he tried to free the sculpture within from the block, and you can see this quite clearly here. Rooms showcase paintings by Perugino, Filippino Lippi, Giotto, Giovanna da Milano, Andrea Orcagna, and others.
Via Ricasoli 60. www.polomuseale.firenze.it. 055-238-8609. (Reserve tickets at www.firenzemusei.it or 055-294-883; booking fee 4€.) Admission 6.50€ (11€ with compulsory temporary exhibition). Tues–Sun 8:15am–6:50pm. Bus: C1, 1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25, 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 displays are somewhat user-unfriendly. Exhibits also 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. The top floor is not always open, but if it is hunt down 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.
One bonus: Such is the dominance of medieval and Renaissance sights in the city that you may have the place to yourself.
Piazza Santissma Annunziata 9b. 055-23-575. Admission 4€. Tues–Fri 8:30am–7pm; Sat–Mon 8:30am–2pm (Aug closed Sun). Bus: C1, 7, 10, 25, 31, or 32.
San Marco ART MUSEUM We have never understood why this place is not mobbed; perhaps because it showcases, almost exclusively, the work of Fra’ Angelico, Dominican monk and Florentine painter in the style known as “International Gothic.” His decorative impulses and the sinuous lines of his figures mark his work as standing right on the cusp of the Renaissance. This is the most important collection in the world of his altarpieces and painted panels, residing in this former 13th-century convent the artist-monk once called home.
The most moving and unusual work is his “Annunciation” and frescoed scenes from 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 Fra’ Angelico and his assistants, would aid in the monks’ prayer and contemplation; and the paintings are intimate and entrancing. The final cell on the left corridor belonged to the fundamentalist firebrand preacher Savonarola, who briefly incited the populace of the most art-filled city in the world to burn their paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and anything else he felt was a worldly betrayal of Jesus’ ideals. Ultimately, he ran afoul of the pope and was burned at the stake. 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 cloistered complex, 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” , glowing after a 2011 restoration, and a seemingly weightless “Deposition” .
Piazza San Marco 1. www.polomuseale.firenze.it. 055-238-8608. Admission 4€. Mon–Fri 8:30am–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 forests 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, or the Servite Order. The oratory was enlarged by Michelozzo (1444–81) and later redesigned in the baroque style. The main art interest is in the Chiostro dei Voti (Votive Cloister), designed by Michelozzo with Corinthian-capitaled 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. The first and last of those mentioned are covered for restoration until 2015.
The interior is excessively baroque. Just to the left as you enter 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 Ferdinando I,” Giambologna’s last work; it was cast in 1608 after his death by his student Pietro Tacca, who also did the two fountains of fantastic mermonkey-monsters. You can stay right on this spectacular piazza, at one of our favorite Florence hotels, the Loggiato dei Serviti (p. 159).
Piazza Santissima Annunziata. 055-266-181. Free admission. Cloister: daily 7:30am–12:30pm and 4–6:30pm. Church: daily 4–5:15pm. Bus: C1, 7, 10, 25, 31, or 32.
Around Piazza Santa Croce
Piazza Santa Croce is pretty much like any grand Florentine square—a nice bit of open space ringed with souvenir and leather shops and thronged with tourists. But 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 the Florentine 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. It’s an art-stuffed complex that demands 2 hours of your time to see properly.
The Gothic interior is vast, and populated with the tombs of rich and famous Florentines. Starting from the main door, immediately on the right is the first tomb of note containing the bones 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. 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, with a tabernacle by Mino da Fiesole and a “Crucifix” by Niccolò Gerini. Agnolo’s father, Taddeo Gaddi, was one of Giotto’s closest followers, and the senior Gaddi is the one who undertook painting 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. The frescoes were whitewashed over during the 17th century but uncovered from 1841 to 1852 and inexpertly restored. The Cappella Peruzzi , on the right, is a late work and not in the best shape. The many references to antiquity in the styling and architecture of the frescoes reflect Giotto’s trip to Rome and its ruins. Even more famous, including as the setting for a scene in “A Room with a View,” is the Cappella Bardi . Key panels here include the “Trial by Fire Before the Sultan of Egypt” on the right wall, full of telling subtlety in the expressions and poses of the figures. In one of Giotto’s most well-known works, the “Death of St. Francis,” 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 precedes the chapel, set with glazed terracottas by Luca della Robbia. The rectangular 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 night sky at the same moment as the Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo (p. 183).
From the cloister enter the Museo dell’Opera. Displayed here is the Cimabue “Crucifix” that was almost destroyed by the Arno Flood of 1966, and became an international symbol of the ruination wreaked by the river that November day.
Piazza Santa Croce. www.santacroceopera.it. 055-246-6105. Admission 6€ adults, 4€ ages 11–17. Mon–Sat 9:30am–5:30pm; Sun 2–5:30pm. Bus: C1, C2, or C3.
The Oltrarno, San Niccolò & San Frediano
Museo Zoologia “La Specola” MUSEUM The wax anatomical models are one reason this museum might be the only one in Florence where kids eagerly pull their parents from room to room. Creepy collections of threadbare stuffed-animal specimens transition into rooms filled with lifelike human bodies suffering from horrible dismemberments, flayings, and eviscerations—all in the name of science. These wax models served as anatomical illustrations for medical students studying at this scientific institute from the 1770s. The grisly wax plague dioramas in the final room were created in the early 1700s to satisfy the lurid tastes of Cosimo III.
Via Romana 17. www.msn.unifi.it. 055-234-6760. Admission 6€ adults, 3€ children 6–14 and seniors 65 and over. June–Sept Tues–Sun 10:30am–5:30pm; Oct–May Tues–Sun 9:30am–4:30pm. Bus: D, 11, 36, or 37.
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) MUSEUM/PALACE Although built by and named after a rival of the Medici—merchant Luca Pitti—in the 1450s, this gigantic palazzo soon fell 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).
The streets of Oltrarno.
No gallery comes closer to Mark Twain’s description of “weary miles” in “Innocents Abroad” than 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; next door 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 an excellent 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. The rooms earned their “Royal” label because 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 “Knight of Malta” canvas.
The Pitti’s “modern” gallery, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna , has a fairly 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. Unless you’re a scholar or true aficionado of such things, they are in no way worth the admission price, but if you already have the cumulative ticket, pop in to spend some time among the Medici’s over-the-top gold and jewel-encrusted household items. One thing you will notice in the Costume Gallery is how much smaller the 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. Admission 8.50€ (13€ during compulsory temporary exhibition). Tues–Sun 8:15am–6:50pm. Museo degli Argenti and Galleria del Costume: 055-238-8709. Admission (includes Giardino di Boboli and Giardino Bardini) 7€ (10€ during compulsory temporary exhibition). Same hours as Giardino di Boboli; see below. Cumulative ticket for everything, including Giardino di Boboli (see below), valid 3 days, 12€ (18€ during compulsory temporary exhibition). Visitors ages 17 and under or 65 and over enter free. Bus: C3, D, 11, 36, or 37.
The opulence of the Galleria Palatina at the Pitti Palace.
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 Ferdinando de’ Medici’s marriage to Christine of Lorraine. For the occasion, the Medici 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.)
Around the park, don’t miss the Giardino del Cavaliere , the Boboli’s prettiest hidden corner—a tiny walled garden of box hedges with private views over the hills of Florence’s outskirts. Toward the south end of the park is the Isolotto , a dreamy island marooned 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 some 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 and 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, Piazza de’ Pitti. www.firenzemusei.it. 055-238-8791. Admission (includes Giardino Bardini, Museo degli Argenti, and Museo del Costume) 7€ (10€ during compulsory temporary exhibition). Nov–Feb daily 8:15am–4:30pm; Mar daily 8:15am–5:30pm; Apr–May and Sept–Oct daily 8:15am–6:30pm; June–Aug daily 8:15am–7:30pm. Closed 1st and last Mon of month. Cumulative ticket for everything in Palazzo Pitti and Giardino di Boboli, valid 3 days, 12€ (18€ during compulsory temporary exhibition). Visitors ages 18 and under or 65 and over enter free. Bus: C3, D, 11, 36, or 37.
Piazzale Michelangiolo (Michelangelo) SQUARE This panoramic piazza is a required stop for 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 right 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 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 . This Romanesque facade is a particularly gorgeous bit of white Carrara and green Prato marble inlay. 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 cartoonish yet elaborate frescoes depicting the “Life of St. Benedict” . Off the left aisle of the nave is 15th-century Cappella del Cardinale del Portogallo , a collaborative effort by Renaissance artists built to honor young Portuguese humanist Cardinal Jacopo di Lusitania, who was sent to study in Perugia but died an untimely death at age 25 in Florence.
The Benedictine monks usually celebrate mass in Gregorian Chant at 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 (with a marked preference for the Gothic and the Romanesque). It’s a peaceful spot, sound-tracked 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 admission. Daily 8am–1pm and 3:30–7pm (closed some Sun afternoons and often open through riposo in summer). Bus: 12 or 13.
Santa Felicità CHURCH The 2nd-century Greek sailors who lived in this neighborhood brought Christianity to Florence with them, and this little church was probably the second to be established in the city, the first edition of it rising in the late 4th century. The current version was built in the 1730s. The star works are in the first chapel on the right, the Brunelleschi-designed Cappella Barbadori–Capponi—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 Felicità (2nd left off Via Guicciardini across the Ponte Vecchio). 055-213-018. Free admission (1€ to operate chapel lights). Mon–Sat 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 (doorway to the right of the church facade) 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, Hungary, during which time Masaccio kept painting, quietly creating the early Renaissance’s greatest frescoes. Masaccio left for Rome in 1428, where he died at age 27. The cycle was completed between 1480 and 1485 by Filippino Lippi.
Masolino was responsible for the “St. Peter Preaching,” the upper panel to the left of the altar, and the two top scenes on the right wall, which shows his fastidiously 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. Masaccio’s Adam and Eve, on the other hand, burst with intense emotion. The top scene on the left wall, the “Tribute Money” , is also by Masaccio, and it showcases another of his innovations, linear perspective. The two scenes to the right of the altar are Masaccio’s as well, with the “Baptism of the Neophytes” taking its place among his masterpieces.
Piazza del Carmine. www.museicivicifiorentini.it. 055-276-8224. Free admission to church; Cappella Brancacci 6€. Wed–Sat and Mon 10am–5pm; Sun 1–5pm. Bus: D or 6.
Santo Spirito CHURCH One of Filippo Brunelleschi’s masterpieces of architecture, this 15th-century church doesn’t look like much from the outside (no true facade was ever built). But the interior is a marvelous High Renaissance space—an expansive landscape of proportion and mathematics worked out in classic Brunelleschi style, with coffered ceiling, tall columns, 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. 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. A room off the left aisle displays a wooden “Crucifix” that has, somewhat controversially, been attributed to Michelangelo. See (and judge) for yourself.
Piazza Santo Spirito outside is one of the focal points of the Oltrarno, shaded by trees and lined with trendy cafes that see some bar action in the evenings. There are often a few farmers selling their fruit and vegetables on the piazza.
Piazza Santo Spirito. 055-210-030. Free admission. 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 city bus ride away from Florence, Fiesole is very proud of its status as an independent municipality. In fact, this hilltop village high in the wash of green above Florence predates that city in the valley by centuries.
An Etruscan colony 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. Although it eventually became a Roman town—it was first conquered in 90 B.C.—building a theater and adopting Roman customs, it always retained a bit of the Etruscan 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 put an end to it all in 1125 when it attacked and razed the entire settlement, save the cathedral and bishop’s palace.
An oasis of cultivated greenery separating Florence from Fiesole has remained. Even with the big city so close by, Fiesole endures as a Tuscan small town to this day, mostly removed from Florence at its feet and hence a perfect escape from summertime crowds. It stays relatively cool all summer long, and while you sit at a cafe on Piazza Mino, sipping an iced cappuccino, it might seem as though the lines at the Uffizi and pedestrian traffic around the Duomo are very distant indeed.
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 need to climb a sharp hill. Pause close to the top where there is a little balcony with perhaps the best view of Florence, and the wine hills of the Chianti beyond.
Via San Francesco (off Piazza Mino). 055-59-175. Free admission. Daily 9am–noon and 3–5pm (7pm in summer). Bus: 7.
To get to Fiesole, take bus no. 7 from Florence. It departs from Via La Pira, down the right flank 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; 055-596-1293). From March through October it’s open daily (Apr–Sept 10am–7pm, May and Oct 10am–6pm); from November through February, it’s open Wednesday to Monday from 10am to 2pm.
Fiesole’s sights all keep the same hours and use a single admission ticket, costing 10€ adults, 6€ students age 7 to 25 and seniors 65 and over. A family ticket costs 20€. Prices are 2€ per person lower from Monday to Thursday, when the missable Museo Bandini is closed. When there is an “exhibition” in the archaeological area, they jack prices up by 2€ per person. All sites are open the same hours as the tourist office, which also doubles as the ticket office. For more information, visit www.museidifiesole.it or call 055-596-1293.
Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) RUINS Fiesole’s archaeological area is romantically overgrown with grasses, amid which sit 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 (which seated 1,500 in its day) to the right, recognizable by its three rebuilt arches, are the remains of the 1st-century A.D. baths. In Roman times, the baths were a place where all social classes mixed, but the sexes were kept strictly apart. Near the arches is a little cement balcony over the far edge of the archaeological park. From it, you get a good look at the best stretch that remains of the 4th-century B.C. Etruscan city walls. At the other end of the park from the baths are the floor and steps of a 1st-century B.C. Roman Temple 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.
If you want to get under the surface of the city, Context Travel (www.contexttravel.com; 800/691-6036 in the U.S. or 06-96727371 in Italy) offers insightful culture tours led by academics and other experts in their field in a variety of specialties, from the gastronomic to the archaeological and artistic. Tours are limited to six people and cost around 75€ per person. Context also conducts a guided walk through the Vasari Corridor (subject to availability; see p. 183). The quality of Context’s walks are unmatched, and well worth the outlay.
CAF Tours (www.caftours.com; 055-283-200), offers two half-day bus tours of town (48€), including visits to the Uffizi, Accademia, and Piazzale Michelangiolo, as well as several walking tours and cooking classes costing from 25€ to over 100€. ArtViva (www.italy.artviva.com; 055-264-5033) has a huge array of walking tours and museum guides for every budget, starting at 29€, and including the unique, distinctly dark “Sex, Drugs, and the Renaissance” walking tour launched in 2013 (21⁄2 hr.; 39€).
Websites such as Viator.com and GetYourGuide.com have a vast range of locally organized tours and activities, reviewed and rated by users.
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 massive ochre Cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore (p. 172), the Palazzo Vecchio’s (p. 180) Torre di Arnolfo, and the Campanile di Giotto (p. 172) are perfect for any youngster with a head for heights.
You can also help them to dig a little deeper into the city’s history: Probably the best kids’ activities with an educational component are run by the Museo dei Ragazzi (www.museoragazzi.it; 055-276-8224), not a stand-alone museum but a program that offers daily child’s-eye tours around the Palazzo Vecchio’s Quartieri Monumentali, led by guides in period costumes and offered in English. Check the program online, email to enquire on firstname.lastname@example.org, or make for the desk next to the Palazzo Vecchio ticket booth.
A couple of museums not listed in the sections above have a particular interest for younger visitors. For all their faults, the later Medici and Lorraine grand dukes did take an avid interest in science, and the Museo Galileo , Piazza dei Giudici 1 (www.museogalileo.it; 055-265-311) showcases scientific instruments from their collections. There is an emphasis on astronomy and telescopes—Galileo worked under Medici patronage, and the museum preserves the middle finger of his right hand in a jar. Admission costs 9€, 5.50€ for children ages 6 to 18 and seniors 65 and over. The museum is open daily 9:30am to 6pm, but closes at 1pm on Tuesdays.
You’ll need a bus (no. 4) or a taxi to get to the site, but any swords, sorcery, or Harry Potter fans will thank you for a visit to Museo Stibbert , Via Stibbert 26 (www.museostibbert.it; 055-475-520). It’s essentially the giant toy box of an eccentric Scottish–Italian arms-and-armor collector, which was made into a private museum in 1906. Among the medieval mayhem, with every variety of historic weapon, armor, and shield from Europe and the Islamic world, the museum boasts the biggest collection of Japanese armor outside of Tokyo. The museum is open Monday to Wednesday 10am to 2pm, Friday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. Admission costs 8€, 6€ for children ages 4 to 12.
If you have very young ones who just need a crowd-free timeout space, head for the top floor of the Biblioteca delle Oblate, Via dell’Oriuolo 26 (http://bibliotecadelleoblate.comune.fi.it; 055-261-6526 for children’s section). There’s a library with books for little ones, as well as space to spread out, color, draw, and generally goof around. It’s free and open all day, except for Monday morning and all day Sunday. The Oblate’s cafe (p. 201) is an excellent place to kick back anyway. The complex is closed for 2 weeks in mid-August.
And remember: You are in the gelato capital of the world. At least one gelato per day is the minimum recommended dose; see p. 168.
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, Tuscan wines, handmade jewelry, pietre dure (known also as “Florentine mosaic,” inlaid semiprecious stones), and antiques.
General 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 (especially the larger stores and those around tourist sights).
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 the 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. 5R; www.ferragamo.com; 055-292-123) ensconced in old palaces or modern minimalist boutiques. Stricter traffic controls have made shopping Via de’ Tornabuoni a more sedate experience, though somewhat at the expense of its 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) and quality chains such as Geox and Zara.
VIA DEI SERVI Leading from the Duomo to Piazza Santissima Annunziata, this street is a genuine oddity in the old center. While others around it cater to the tourist dollar, here you will find small indie booksellers, shops selling work uniforms, and traditional picture framers. Check out the displays at stamp collector’s store Filatelia Brioschi (at no. 31R; 055-214-082) or buy a hand-bound journal at Scriptorium (at no. 7R; www.scriptoriumfirenze.com; 055-211-804).
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 repay a roam. This is also where you will find the daily flea market, the Mercato delle Pulci (see below). Farther east, Via Gioberti is where Florentines do their shopping, away from the visitors.
Florence’s Best Markets
Mercato Centrale The center’s main food market stocks the usual items, 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 until 2pm (until 5pm Sat for most of the year). Btw. Piazza del Mercato Centrale and Via dell’Ariento. No phone. Bus: C1.
Mercato delle Pulci The little piazza behind the Loggia del Pesce—originally built under Cosimo I for the city’s fishmongers—hosts a daily flea market. Rifle through the stalls and little shops in search of costume jewelry, Tiffany lamps, secondhand dolls, vintage postcards, weird objects, and other one-off ephemera. The market runs daily, although not every unit is open every day. Piazza de’ Ciompi. No phone. Bus: C1, C2, or C3.
Mercato di San Lorenzo The city’s busiest tourist street market is a fun place to pick up T-shirts, marbleized paper, or a city souvenir. Leather wallets, purses, bags, and jackets are another popular purchase—but be sure to assess the quality of the workmanship, and haggle for your life. The market runs daily; watch out for pickpockets. Piazza San Lorenzo and surrounding streets. No phone. Bus: C1, 14, or 23.
Crafts & Artisans
Florence has a longstanding reputation for its craftsmanship. And although the 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. 196) runs a guided walk around the Oltrarno, Florence’s traditional craft area. The “Made in Florence” walk costs 75€ 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 60€ for a pair. You perhaps wouldn’t expect it in sight of the Ponte Vecchio, but this place is the real deal. Closed Sundays. 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 masks, made from papier-mâché, leather, and ceramics, and then hand-finished expertly. Items cover both Venetian Carnevale and commedia dell’arte styles. Via Faenza 72R. www.alicemasks.com. 055-287-370. Bus: 1, 6, 11, 14, 17, or 23.
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. Nothing is cheap, 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.
Scuola del Cuoio Florence’s leading leather school is also open house for visitors. You can watch trainee artisans at work (Mon–Fri only) then visit the small shop to buy items made from the best soft leather. Portable items like wallets and bags are a good buy. 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 bundles of excellent, mostly free listings publications. At the tourist offices, pick up the free monthly “Informacittà” (www.informacitta.net), which is strong on theater and other arts events, as well as markets. Younger and hipper, pocket-size “Zero” (http://firenze.zero.eu) is hot on the latest eating, drinking, and nightlife. It is available free from trendy cafe-bars, shops, and sometimes the tourist office, too. “Firenze Spettacolo,” a 2€ Italian-language monthly sold at most newsstands, is the most detailed and up-to-date listing of nightlife, arts, and entertainment. Free monthly “iOVO” (www.iovo.it) is good on contemporary arts and cultural goings-on in the city.
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 slightly younger and 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, or Rome, but there are two symphony orchestras and a fine music school in Fiesole. The city’s public theaters are respectable, and most major touring companies stop in town on their way through Italy. Get tickets to all cultural and musical events online; they will send an e-mail with collection instructions—or buy in person at Box Office, Via delle Vecchie Carceri 1 (www.boxofficetoscana.it; 055-210-804).
Many performances staged in private halls and other spaces are sponsored by the Amici della Musica (www.amicimusica.fi.it; 055-607-440), so check their website to see what “hidden” concert might be on while you are here.
St. Mark’s Operatic duets and full-scale operas in costume are the lure here. The program sticks to the classics 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 15€–35€. Bus: D, 11, 36, or 37.
Teatro Comunale/Teatro del Maggio Fiorentino Until the Nuovo Teatro dell’Opera finally opens (it was scheduled to open near press time), this remains Florence’s main opera, ballet, and orchestral music venue. It also hosts the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, one of Italy’s major classical music festivals, staged each May. Corso Italia. www.maggiofiorentino.it. 055-277-9350. Tickets 15€–80€. Bus: C2 or C3. Tram: 11.
Teatro Verdi Touring shows, “serious” popular music, one-off revues, classical music and dance, and the Orchestra della Toscana, occupy the stage at Florence’s leading theater. Via Ghibellina 97. www.teatroverdifirenze.it. 055-212-320. Closed 2nd half of July and all Aug. Bus: C1, C2, C3, 14, or 23.
Volume By day, it’s a laid-back cafe selling coffee, books, and crepes. By night, a buzzing bar with acoustic sets most nights of the week. 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 Italian Risorgimento era through la dolce vita of the 1950s—it was basically copying the idea from Paris. Although they’re often overpriced tourist spots today—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 below. As a bonus, it has unique perspective on Brunelleschi’s dome. Also serves light lunch and aperitivo. Top floor of Biblioteca dell’Oblate, Via del Oriuolo 26. www.lospaziochesperavi.it. 055-263-9685. Bus: C1 or C2.
Le Terrazze The prices, like the perch, are a little elevated (3€–5€ for a coffee). But you get to enjoy your coffee 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: C2.
Rivoire If you are going to choose one overpriced pavement cafe in Florence, make it this one. The steep prices (6€ a cappuccino, 4.50€ for a small mineral water) help pay for the rent of one of the prettiest slices of real estate on the planet. Piazza della Signoria (corner of Via Vacchereccia). www.rivoire.it. 055-214-412. Bus: C1 or C2.
Wine Bars, Cocktail Bars & Craft Beer Bars
If you want to keep it 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. Singles hoping to find random dance partners will often be disappointed.
Caffè Sant’Ambrogio This fine 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. www.caffesantambrogio.it. No phone. Bus: C2 or C3.
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. Via dei Tavolini 18R. www.verrazzano.com. 055-268-590. Bus: C2.
Fuori Porta Friendly San Niccolò wine bar with a terrace at the foot of the climb to Piazzale Michelangiolo. There are plenty of 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 open all day, without an afternoon closure, from mid-March through October; otherwise, it’s open daily for lunch and in the evening. Via Monte alle Croci 10R. www.fuoriporta.it. 055-234-2483. Bus: D.
Golden View Open Bar One of the city’s most elegant aperitivo spots. Pay 10€ to 12€ for a cocktail or glass of wine and help yourself to the buffet between 7 and 9:30pm every night. There is also live jazz 4 nights a week from 9:15pm. Via dei Bardi 58R. www.goldenviewopenbar.com. 055-214-502. Bus: C3 or D.
La Terrazza at the Continentale There are few surprises on the list here—a well-made Negroni, Cosmopolitan, and the like—and prices are a little steep at 15€ 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. La Terrazza opens from 4pm; arrive at sundown to see the city below start to twinkle. Inside the Continentale Hotel, Vicolo dell’Oro 6R. 055-27-262. Bus: C3 or D.
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 it is .50€ off a beer. Via Nazionale 114R. www.mostodolce.it/firenze. 055-230-2928. Bus: 1, 6, 11, 14, 17, or 23.
Volpi e L’Uva The wines by the glass list is 30-strong, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the terrace on a little piazza beside Santa Felicità is a delight. It’s the kind of place you just sink into. Glasses from 4€. Closed Sundays. Piazza dei Rossi 1. www.levolpieluva.com. 055-239-8132. Bus: C3 or D.
YAG Bar A gay, lesbian, bi, and trans crowd gathers for lively, relaxed drinks before a night on the town. Via de’ Macci 8R. www.yagbar.com. 055-246-9022. Bus: C2 or C3.