Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. It is considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and is incredibly beautiful. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982 and is one of the most desirable places to visit in the world. The city also makes a major European impact on music, architecture, education, cuisine, fashion, philosophy, science and religion. The historic centre of Florence contains numerous elegant squares (piazzas), Renaissance palaces (palazzos), academies, parks, gardens, churches, monasteries, museums and art galleries.
Staying in Florence
We recommend that you stay at the Villa Camerata hostel which is 4km from downtown Florence. The hostel is an old country house built in the seventeenth century located in the middle of a park with large trees and a beautiful garden with rare botanic species; this is an excellent place to relax. There are beds in shared rooms, internet access, TV room, laundry service and meals. Sheets and breakfast are included in the price.
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Things to see and do in Florence
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a few minutes’ walk from the train station. It was built in the year 1296 and took nearly two centuries to finish. Brunelleschi's dome is an extraordinary example of his technical and mathematical genius. You can go up and see the whole city as it is the tallest building in Florence. Open from 9am to 6pm.
Opposite the cathedral stands the Baptistery, admired for its bronze doors. Designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti the doors on the east side were named by Michelangelo as the ‘Gates of Paradise’. You can enter the Baptistery from 1pm to 6pm.
Uffizi Gallery is one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world and a vast legacy of the Medici family. It features works ranging from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century including the artists Giotto, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Goya and Raphael among others. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 8.30am to 6.50pm, and Sunday from 8.30am to 13.50pm but is closed Mondays.
Palazzo della Signoria was built between 1299 and 1314 and was known as the headquarters of the Duchy of the Medici. It is open daily from 9am to 7pm, except Thursdays when it is closed. Up until a few years ago it overlooked the sculpture David by Michelangelo, which is now a copy. The original is on display in the Accademia Gallery (see below). The Loggia della Signoria, an outdoor sculpture gallery, is located in the right corner of the palace. Facing it is a huge fountain with a sculpture of Neptune.
Accademia Gallery features the sculpture David by Michelangelo. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday but closed on Mondays (please check opening times). It is advisable to go early morning.
Ponte Vecchio is one of the most recognized views of Florence. The bridge over the Arno River was the only one that withstood the blitz of World War II.
The Medici Chapels in the Basilica of San Lorenzo comprises two structures added to Brunelleschi's original design, each intended to celebrate the power of the Medici as Grand Dukes of Tuscany. One is the Sagrestia Nuov, designed by Michelangelo. The other is the Cappella dei Principi, the sixteenth and seventeenth century ‘Chapel of the Princes’.
Museo Nazionale lies between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Podesta (Bargello). It now has a large collection of sculptures, including Donatello's David. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 2pm, Sunday until 1pm and closed Monday.
After travelling all day museums and places, there is nothing better than to move towards the Piazza Michelangelo. The sunset from this point is spectacular; the view of the city is unbeatable. Just at that moment you’ll get an idea of the true dimension of the Duomo as it dominates the skyline.
Getting around in Florence
All trains arrive at Santa Maria Novella station, located near the tourist area. A bus service operates in the city. Tickets must be purchased before boarding and then will be validated on board. Most attractions are located in the centre, making them accessible on foot.
Siena is located just one hour from Florence. In the Middle Ages the town was an independent republic which was to rival its neighbour. It is divided into 17 districts and elected each year an extraordinary horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo as part of a regional party. At the bottom of the square is the Palazzo Comunale, which is considered one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Italy. Open from March to November from 9.30am to 7.45pm, every Sunday and the rest of the year to 1.45pm.
You can visit Pisa and the Piazza del Duomo (more commonly known as Campo dei Miracoli), where the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower are located. Galileo was able to raise its 294 steps for experiments on gravity, but unfortunately today is not possible to access the interior of the tower. It is estimated that it still creeps 1mm or 2mm a year. After watching the Campo Dei Miracoli, you can take a stroll down Via Santa Maria and explore the old town.
Top tip for Florence
If your stay will be short, take into account the opening hours of the attractions and that most are closed on Mondays so you don’t lose any of the delights offered by Florence and its surroundings.