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If you miss seeing Brunelleschi’s Duomo while in Florence, you have missed the city’s showpiece. The iconic and revolutionary dome atop the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is not the only stunner in town. Nearby, on the Florence Baptistery are the supposed gates to heaven, Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates to Paradise.
While Florence is an outdoor museum of Renaissance glory, many of the world’s prized art collections lurk behind the doors of galleries and museums in the city. The most famous art institution is the Uffizi Gallery, home to works like the Birth of Venus. The Uffizi prides itself on its unparalleled Renaissance and Baroque art collections. Next, you must see the ruling man of Florence, Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria d’Accademia. Less visited but nonetheless impressive, Il Bargello warrants a walk through to see works by Giambologna, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo.
Florence’s many markets and shopping neighborhoods tempt budgets and bank accounts. For perhaps the most local experience, head to the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, where you can purchase fresh and exotic foods. Stalls set up surrounding the large indoor market, selling leather goods, clothing and other souvenirs. However, you will want to purchase your high quality leather goods around Piazza Santa Croce, where many of the best dealers set up. The piazza also hosts specialty markets throughout the year.
Those looking for high fashion shops like Cavalli, Prada and Gucci will want to roam the streets Via Della Vigna Nuova and Via Tornabuoni. If you have more of a shopping heart of gold, stroll the Ponte Vecchio, the city’s oldest medieval bridge, littered with goldsmith shops.
Florence doesn’t disappoint in the eating department. A day in Florence begins at any of its corner cafes with a shot of espresso, a newspaper and a cornetto.
When a more intense hunger strikes, you can grab a sandwich at Due Fratelli, an insignificant sandwich stand near the Duomo. You can spot it by the crowds that convene in the street, waiting for their tasty sandwich, usually only a couple euros. For dinner, Trattoria Quattro Leoni has been satisfying the appetites of the rich, famous and ordinary in the city since 1550. If pizza is the order of the day, Baldovino makes good pies, surprisingly right in the tourist center near the Santa Croce church.
Round out a day of eating in Florence with dessert. The city is supposedly where gelato was born. Some of the best gelato cools at Grom and Vivoli. For more dessert such as crepes, milkshakes and cocktails, Hemingway provides a quiet location for conversation and chocolate.
Florence has a large study abroad scene, covering the city not just with students but also bars. If you are in the mood from the study abroad scene, mostly with students and a few hopeful Italian men, places like Dolce Vita, the Red Garter and The Friends’ Pub provide a more energetic scene. For classy drinks, Slowly invites you to sip on a cocktail ever so slowly. Salamanca near Santa Croce packs with not just students and tourists, but also locals in this Spanish inspired drinking hole.
As Florence has so many places to stay, it can be difficult to discern a good hotel from a bad one. From five star accommodations to bare bones hostels, the city accommodates all price points. Generally, you will want to avoid certain areas in terms of accommodations. Staying near the train station can be convenient but it is also somewhat rough at night. A good mid range option with that Renaissance ambiance is the Hotel La Residenza. For those looking for a more authentic experience, home stay accommodations provide a local feel in a city that can be incredibly touristy.
Florence is a walker’s dream with a compact historic center you can easily explore on foot, from end to end. Those feeling extra ambitious can begin the day climbing to the top of Florence. The Duomo of Florence permits visitors, for a small fee of course, to climb well over 400 steps to the top of its point. Those who make the climb are awarded with 360-degree views of the city.
After seeing Florence from above, head to the Ponte Vecchio, where you can take your walk to heavens yet again. The Vasari Corridor, also a Medici creation, links the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi, around one kilometer in length. Next patrol the neighboring Boboli Gardens, the epitome of an idealized Renaissance garden. Belonging to the Medici family, the gardens invite those to roam through flowerbeds and statue clusters. After smelling the roses, head on up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the city’s favorite spot for a sunset. On top of a hill, the piazza offers views of the River Arno along with the rest of Florence when the sky becomes pretty in pink.
Florence sits in an ideal location for exploring the Tuscany region. Head to Lucca and rent a bike to traverse the city’s famous walls. Hike through the five towns on the Cinque Terre. If you want to stick closer to Florence, you can explore Fiesole, a little village within minutes from the city. Or why not take to the sea and explore the Tuscan island of Elba.
The music scene in Florence is much more diverse than you might think. From classical music and opera put on at little churches to rocking and rolling bands at clubs like Be Bop, ears always fill with some sort of sound in the city. In Piazza Santa Croce, Florence hosts some of the biggest names in Italy’s music scene. The likes of Roberto Bernini have performed on a stage constructed solely for the piazza. Visitors should check their travel dates to see if a concert is taking place during their stay. Popular performances are not just limited to outdoor piazzas. The Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Teatro Verdi are among the biggest in the city.
English menus are everywhere in Florence. While some restaurants with English menus aren’t terrible, the best places to eat in Florence don’t come with English translations. The main piazzas are covered in tourist menus at tourist prices. Avoid them and their costs.