When you see Florence for the first time you cannot believe your eyes or luck. It packs in so much fantastic beauty, art, vibrancy and culture that your eyes will water. It is no wonder that Florence is ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Here you will find architectural and artistic remnants from every historical era. However, it is first and foremost a Renaissance city – a cradle of that fabulous and glorious period.
Yet it is not a city stuck in the past or frozen in an architectural time warp. It is a very lively, cosmopolitan place with both feet very firmly planted in the present and eyes on the coming years. Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region.
If you are a first time visitor it would be well to keep several important facts in mind to make your Florence sightseeing hassle free. Here are some tips on Florence.
From a weather perspective, the best time to take a Florence vacation is from spring to early summer and end of summer to end of autumn. In summer, Florence could roast you with temperatures around the 40oC mark. The winter can be really cold with the mercury dipping below zero and very rainy too.
If you are arriving by air then it is most likely that you will land at the Galileo Galilei airport in Pisa. This is because the smaller Peretola airport in Florence cannot handle most international long haul and bigger aircraft.
The train or bus ride into Florence from Pisa takes just over an hour. It is advisable to take the train as there are often traffic jams and if you have a flight to catch you could possibly be late and miss it.
Florence is a very popular destination. It can get extremely crowded between the months of March and September when tourists and school trips fill the place. As a result accommodation can be very expensive and often hard to find. It also means that you could spend hours in queues to enter a monument, church or museum.
As a first time Florence tourist arranging accommodation in can be a bit like navigating a maze. The various types of hospitality options are Hotels, Historic Residences, Pensions, Rooms for Rent, Hostels and Bed & Breakfast establishments. Figuring out what you get at each is not easy so check and confirm at the time of booking. Many Bed & Breakfast places don’t serve breakfast.
A Florentine peculiarity is the address numbering! It is dual system involving red, black and blue, which quite independent of each other. Red street numbers are for businesses, commercial establishments and shops. Blue or black numbers (on a white plate) are for hotels and houses. So don’t be surprised if you find a red 27 right next to a blue 8.
One essential and crucial fact to keep in mind is that museums and public monuments are closed on Mondays! Also visiting hours are different for each so you need to check before going.
During the peak tourist season (March to September) large crowds throng the various museums and other hot spots. It is possible to book tickets in advance to avoid the long queues (especially in the summer time). Unfortunately, there is no single ticket you could use for all museums.
However, there is the Firenze Card (firenzecard.it), which is a pretty good one. It gives you 72 hours of public transport and queue-skipping admission to all the city’s main museums and historical attractions, including the Uffizi and Accademia galleries. It is quite expensive, though.
Besides its many architectural and historical marvels Florence is also wonderful in another way. It is a very compact and fairly small city. Most of the monuments, museums, churches and shopping areas are all within walking distance of one another.
Here is a list of some of the most famous and not-to-be-missed things you should see on your maiden visit to Florence.
The Basilica Santa Maria Novella near the main railway station; San Lorenzo; the various Medici Chapels; the open air museum of Piazza of the Signoria which is also the location of the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery with its numerous priceless treasures.
The Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s statue of David, is a must. The Duomo (Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore) from where you can get incredible views of Florence is another. The Santa Croce church is another not to be missed site because it contains the remains of Michelangelo, Enrico Germic, Galileo and also a memorial of Dante Alighieri.
Most of Florence’s churches charge an entrance free, except the Duomo.
Art and history aside, Florence is a great place to shop for leather bags, unusual and innovatively designed jewellery and other fashion accessories. Check out the flea market of San Lorenzo, delle Pulci and the Mercato Nuovo.
Eating or dining costs in Florence swing to the extremes – from the cheap to the very expensive. The reasonably priced restaurants are around the railway station while the up-market ones are located around Santa Croce.
Before you leave lovely Florence walk under the Mercato Nuovo, rub the nose of the Il Porcellino and drop a coin into his mouth. These acts will bring you good fortune.