To speak of Florence is to speak of more than 4000 years of history. Through the centuries, Florence has built layer upon layer of art, culture, science, and technology, contributing to the world an incomparable collection of masterpieces. Other nations and cities looked to Florence as an exemplary city, and it continues to be a center of creation, creativity, and love. There is something for everyone in Florence and its environs, and because the city center is so compact, one cannot take two steps without marveling. With its elegant, individual stores, artisan shops, traditional trattorias and sophisticated restaurants, a thriving café culture, endless art and architecture, and exquisite wine and olive oil, Florence has it all.
Situated at the foot of Tuscany’s verdant hills, Florence boasts breathless views from all corners of its city center. A favorite spot for both visitors and Florentines alike is at the foot of the San Miniato church overlooking the entire expanse of the city: the magnificent Duomo, the ochre buildings and orange rooftops, the Arno flowing through, and the green treetops wrapping the city like a soft hug. It is here, among other spectacular viewpoints, one feels a unique state of presence.
The natural harmony between nature and Firenze’s perfectly maintained city center makes one appreciate both worlds: the land that provides so much, from its produce to its inspiring beauty, and the culture of a city whose people are so well-versed with its history, so inherently humble and proud of the place that they call home.
Let us leave behind the tourist guides and the major ‘highlights’ of the city for a moment in favor of an authentic Florence amongst the statues, seen through the quotidian actions of the Florentines. Take, for example, the neighborhoods of San Frediano and Santo Spirito, where small craftsmen maintain the tradition of their ancestors before them, creating by hand, one by one. Small tailor shops are scattered throughout the center and still stitch each piece by hand. Every Florentine has his or her trusted tailor who fits them for bespoke suits and wardrobes each season. In the narrow, cobble stoned streets of Borgo San Frediano, carpenters have been building furniture for centuries that withstand the test of time.
Traditions are passed from generation to generation in the kitchen as well. Families return to the same vendors at their local market, and many still have a greengrocer who descends on the city from nearby areas like Casentino or dell’Abetone to deliver fresh, Tuscan produce. A few of our favorite markets are the nearby Sant’Ambrogio, frequented mostly by Florentines, and the recently revamped Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo district, where a modern second floor has been added with tempting offerings such as fresh mozzarella, homemade pastas, lampredotto. Rest your feet with the market’s ample seating, and soak in the sounds and scents of the mercato while you enjoy your panino.
Although it is compact, central Florence has a few splendid residential neighborhoods. The roads built by Poggi, the great architect of the city, today houses the most beautiful residences. Another handsome neighborhood is found around the green trees of Piazzale Michelangelo and the avenues that climb the hills above the city center. Both of these residential areas are perfect for jogging and long walks, and you will certainly find a chic Florentine or two doing the same.
Florence is of course a treasure chest of spectacular sights, but there is so much to discover and experience in its people and traditions. The Florentines are happy to share with you their cultural heritage, and by chatting with the local Florentines, you will learn a completely different perspective than that found in guidebooks.
After just a few moments in Florence, you will understand why the historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage area. The city boasts numerous museums, and it can be a welcomed challenge to decide which are your priorities and which will wait for your next trip.
The Uffizi Gallery is home to some of the greatest masterpieces by humankind with works spanning from the 12th to the 18th century. The Accademia Gallery was the first school in Europe to organize instruction for drawing, painting, and sculpture. Today it is the home of Michelangelo’s David, and it also hosts many exhibitions of great interest throughout the year. In addition to the world’s most famous museums, there are historic buildings, notable collections, and splendid architectural gems worth visiting.
The cultural heritage of Florence is equally represented in lesser-known museums that feature impressive artistic talents. Step inside the perfectly maintained Renaissance ‘palazzino’ (small townhouse) at Museo Horne on Via de’Benci, where you will be transported to the 15th century. As you pass through its grand apartments and its top floor kitchen complete with the final owners’ collection of Renaissance pots and cooking utensils, you can envision scenes of everyday life at the height of the Renaissance.
A few steps away is the Bargello Museum on Via del Proconsolo. Built in 1255 as the Town Hall, it is one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Now it houses a superlative collection of Renaissance sculpture by some of the most renowned artists of the period, from Michelangelo to Ammannati. If you are fond of contemporary art, you can visit the museum of 900’ in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, where you will find many exhibitions in rotation.
When you find yourself needing a break from the center and seek a bit of fresh, Tuscan air, take a walk towards Villa Bardini on Via Costa San Giorgio. Set on a hill overlooking the Arno, a 17th century villa comprised of 4 floors houses 2 exceptional museums. Stefano Bardini was a famous art collector with exquisite taste; the building is in itself a marvel, with pieces of its moldings reclaimed from old churches and villas. At Villa Bardini, you will see sculptures, paintings, ceramics and more. After you pass through this exceptional piece of Florentine history, take the time to enjoy the Bardini gardens, often overlooked in favor of Boboli, but equally special and beloved by the Florentines.
In medieval times, it was ordered that no house or tower was to supersede the Palazzo Vecchio. As it remains today, the skyline is full of color and poetry.
Some say that the roofs of Jerusalem inspired the orange/red roofs of Florence; their harmonic composition inspires meditation and contemplation.
Florence is the most desirable and beloved destination for travelers from all nations. It is no wonder that some of the world’s most renowned writers, philosophers, and culture shapers spent long periods of time in Florence; it is impossible to pass through her streets and not come away with an unforgettable feeling of enrichment, inspiration, and appreciation.
Visiting Florence is about more than discovering its history. Families, young couples, solo travelers, and children all have limitless discoveries to make in the cobble stoned streets of the center. Italians from all over the country recognize Florence as a wonderful place to raise children, so it will be no surprise that there are plenty of stores and activities for little ones. From the never-ending musical events and contemporary art exhibitions to the vast array of restaurants and scenic walks, each person’s interests will be more than satisfied in Firenze.
With its picturesque bridges and starry-eyed sunsets over the Arno, Florence is a romantic’s dream landscape. Before the sunset, take a stroll through one of the serene green parks, where you will feel as if you escaped the city in favor of lush nature in the heart of Tuscany.
At night, retreat to the famous hills of Fiesole, where you can dine outside while enjoying a milky night sky filled with stars and a vibrant moon.
Florence, the capital of Tuscany, offers endless culinary offerings. World-class restaurants and small, traditional trattorias will each show you a different approach to the flavors of Florentine cuisine.
After dinner, take a stroll through the narrow, cobble-stoned streets and pop into one of the city’s best gelaterias for homemade dessert. End the evening the same way that you started the day: at one of the ancient café’s that populate the squares for one last espresso before you say ‘buona notte.