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A guide to Florence

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Florence is a destination that seems attract travellers from all corners of the globe - the appeal of the Tuscan capital is universal.

Steeped in architectural excellence, a track record for world-class artists, and centuries of trade, Florence is truly a city of culture.

Known far and wide as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is the ultimate destination for those seeking grand architecture, art galleries that will take days to explore, and vibrant history on every street corner. 

For those in pursuit of beauty, the Tuscan capital has plenty of it. Florence is home to stunning attractions like the Ponte Vecchio and the Boboli Gardens, which will have you feeling as if you have taken up residence in a postcard.

Florence is also famous for its culinary scene, swelling with local street markets - full of Tuscany's finest produce - and internationally-renowned Michelin-star restaurants. As the capital of Tuscany, Florence is the ideal base from which to explore the historic wine-producing region of Chianti, the striking Apuan Alps in the north, and the paradise beaches of Elba Island, which is but a scenic boat ride away. 

We have put together an expert travel guide to Florence, including all the best places to explore during your Tuscan adventure. Here’s where to begin with your Florentine journey:

Florence at a glance

From ancient Etruscan stronghold in the 1st century BC to pioneering centre of the Italian Renaissance in the 1400s, Florence has a backstory you will want to sit down for. During the 1800s, the city was even temporarily appointed as the capital of Italy. Stroll the city streets and you will find that the genius architecture of the piazzas and the very structure of the buildings speak of stories and treasures of eras gone by. In fact, many of Florence's cathedrals were designed and decorated by history's most acclaimed artists, including Michelangelo and Brunelleschi.

Historically, Florence's wealth hinged on the production and trade of wool and silk. Today, tourism is the most significant of all the city's industries. The bulk of the Florentine economy relies on the funds generated by international arrivals and visiting students, attracting more than five million tourists each year.

Despite these high visitor numbers, Florence has a small-town feel when you contrast it with other favourites, like Venice and Rome. There is less of the urban chaos you might experience in these other cities. In fact, the Tuscan capital is a tenth of the size of Rome, making it ideal for those who want to feel like they are experiencing a lot in a shorter period of time.

 

Why holiday in Florence

From the birth of the greatest Italian poet, Dante, in 1265, to the birth of Michelangelo in 1475, the city has been a training ground for once-in-a-lifetime artistic talent. According to UNESCO, 60% of the world's most significant artworks can be found in Italy, and around half of these lie in Florence, making art the biggest reason to holiday here.

You can’t visit this Italian city without checking out at least one or two museums during your visit. Florence is famous for its art scene. So be sure to experience true Florentine artistry, via the paintings, sculptures, and frescoes in the Uffizi Gallery.

 

How to travel to Florence

If you are wondering where Florence is, it is located in central Northern Italy, 49 miles east of the Mediterranean coast. To reach Florence, you can take a convenient train journey from Rome - just 169 miles south of Florence - which will take you just under 90 minutes. Why not see both cities while you are at it?

If you are travelling from further north, perhaps from the dreamy canal city of Venice, it’s just over a two-hour train journey to Florence. To fly, you have a few options. Most international tourists head to the city via plane, using either Florence Airport or Pisa's Galileo Galilei Airport, which is just 60 miles west of Florence. Quite a range of budget airlines fly into Pisa from other European cities, so if you book in advance you can usually find competitive prices.

 

Places to visit in Florence

From the masterpiece-packed Uffizi to the flourishing Boboli, we will help you get to where you need to be in Florence. Here are our top three picks:

 

  • The Ponte Vecchio

 

Florence’s “Old Bridge”, or the Ponte Vecchio in Italian, is a medieval, pedestrianised bridge at the southern edge of the city’s historical hub. It is one of Florence’s most photographed sites, and perhaps one of its sturdiest. Ponte Vecchio was the only Florentine bridge to survive the bombings of World War II. For an alternative yet strangely special view of the bridge, consider taking a short boat trip along the River Arno to catch a glimpse of Ponte Vecchio from afar (and from beneath it). We would recommend venturing out on a sunset trip - this is certainly one for the romantics.

 

  • The Boboli Gardens

 

Florence’s name derives from a Roman family name which in turn comes from the Latin florentius, meaning "I blossom / I flower / I flourish". So, it is poetic to pay a visit to one of the city’s extraordinary gardens. The Boboli Gardens is one of Florence’s most beloved parks, for locals and visitors alike. 

Consider it an open-air museum, featuring Roman statues from the likes of Bandinelli and Giambologna and a dramatic amphitheatre. The Italian bourgeois family that ruled over Florence, the Medicis, commissioned Mannerist artist Niccolò Pericoli (known as Tribolo) to design the gardens. His design went on to be the foundation for many of Europe’s royal gardens, including the timeless Versailles.

 

  • Mercato Centrale

 

Constructed in 1874, Mercato Centrale is a time-honoured place to shop for the region’s freshest produce. The open-air market has a delightful energy to it, with locals and business owners milling about the stalls, delicatessens, shops, and restaurants.

 

Things to do in Florence

The beautiful city of Florence truly attracts adventurous souls from around the globe, people looking for delicious Italian cuisine, world-class art, and even love! As such, there are infinite things on offer here. Here are the top things to do in Florence: 

 

  • Hit the galleries

 

If you are wondering exactly what to do in Florence, visit Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus in halls 10 and 14 of the Uffizi, Titian's Venus of Urbino in hall 83, and Filippo Lippi's Madonna and Child with Two Angels in hall 8. Set aside plenty of time for this colossal home of art - you will need it!

For something a bit more immersive, check out Palazzo Davanzati. The museum lies inside a furnished, mid-14th century nobleman's home, allowing you to explore domestic life during the middle ages. Make your way through the fascinating medieval tower-house and the central courtyard, visiting meeting rooms decorated with antique furnishings, bedrooms adorned with its original frescoes, and the bathrooms, which house copper buckets, pitchers, and even bathtubs.

 

  • Explore wider Tuscany

 

Even if you have not been to Tuscany, chances are you have an idea of what it looks like. Thanks to it being the setting for many popular films, from Under the Tuscan Sun to A Room with a View, you might think of cypress trees, gently undulating hills, and verdant vineyards when you envision Tuscany.

From Florence, you can easily go beyond the city to explore the glorious countryside via road trips or even a morning cycle. Be sure to sample the region’s best wines at Castello di Nipozzano and Badia Passignano, immerse yourself in history at one of its hilltop towns (San Gimignano is our pick!), or even take a traditional Italian cooking class in a Tuscan villa. 

 

Solo travel in Florence

Florence is a popular Italian destination for solo travel and can be considered a safe place to travel alone. As it is a small city, many people tend to travel around on foot - day and night. The only thing to be mindful of is pickpockets at the larger train stations - so just like in other cities.

Solo female travellers will also feel safe during a visit to Florence. It also might help to note that dining out alone is also a very common practice in the city, so you can eat as much as you like without worrying about taking up a table for two.

 

Over 50s travel in Florence

With plenty of architectural splendour, artistic excellence and centuries upon centuries of rich history, Florence is an ideal place for over 50s travellers - or those looking to enrich their travel experience with more than just the usual delights like food, wine, and sun. Older travellers love the slower pace of the city, compared to the more fast-paced cities of Rome and Milan. Yet Florence has so much life to it - so travellers will never find themselves short of sights and activities during their stay.

 

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