From world-leading art galleries such as the Uffizi to some of Italy’s finest food, Florence is an unbeatable destination.
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Birthplace of the Renaissance, one-time home to Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, and an Aladdin’s cave of artistic masterpieces, Florence is a cultural powerhouse. From world-leading art galleries such as the Uffizi to timeless masterpieces including Michelangelo’s David, via some of Italy’s finest food, Florence is an unbeatable destination.
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Make for the Centro Storico, the UNESCO-listed historic centre. A good place to start is Florence’s greatest landmark, the Duomo, still the city’s main church after almost 600 years. The cathedral’s famous cupola is impressive enough from the outside, but wait until you see the ceiling, decorated with masterpieces such as Vasari’s fresco The Last Judgement.
From there, make the short walk up Via Ricasoli to the Galleria dell’Accademia, a treasure trove of Renaissance masterpieces. These include many sculptures by Michelangelo, the most famous of which is David. Not only a masterpiece of sculpture, this colossal statue was important to Florentines as a symbol of their city-state’s underdog status, which was shared by David, hence his eyes gazing warningly towards the Goliath of Rome.
Cross the road to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum to explore the remarkable life and work of one of history’s greatest minds. Not content with being a world-class painter, Leonardo turned to architecture, biology and engineering to name just a few, and some of his blueprints – which included those for a rudimentary helicopter and tank – have been faithfully constructed, to scale, at the museum.
Finish your half-day exploration by making your way down to the Arno River to the iconic Ponte Vecchio. On the way, stop in at the Uffizi Gallery, a world-class collection of Renaissance masterpieces.
Begin with some sightseeing in the city’s historic centre, beginning at the Arno River and the stunning Ponte Vecchio, famously lined with artisan workshops. Just down the road is the Uffizi, one of the world’s finest art galleries, known for its Renaissance collections. Here you can see some of the masterpieces of Florence’s artistic golden age, with works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.
Continuing north through the Old Town, stop off at the Palazzo Vecchio, a fortified palace from the 14th century. This has been the seat of power in Florence for centuries, through the rise and fall of the House of Medici and beyond; it is still the town hall today. Keep going north to reach the Duomo, the most recognisable feature of Florence’s skyline with its red-roofed dome. Entry is free; go inside to admire the wonderful frescoes that adorn the walls. Finish with a trip to the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s masterpiece David.
The next morning, get another view of Florence with an urban rafting session down the Arno. Paddling an inflatable raft down the river while a knowledgeable guide fills you in on Florence’s incredible history is an unforgettable experience – especially when it’s topped off with a limoncello beneath the iconic arches of the Ponte Vecchio. For lunch, head to the San Lorenzo Central food market to sample some of Tuscany’s finest produce.
In the afternoon, make an excursion to the Tuscan countryside to go hunting for the most prized ingredient in Italian cooking, the truffle. An expert guide will lead you on a scenic walk through the woods, teaching you the secrets of finding truffles and their use in local cuisine. You’ll put that newfound knowledge to use in a cookery workshop, putting together a traditional meal then tucking in. Heading back to Florence, round off your weekend with a wine-tasting evening at Piazza del Vino.
Days one and two
A full week in Florence allows you to take your time and really explore the history, world-class art and fantastic food for which the city is famous. Kick things off with a walking or bicycle tour through the historic centre, beginning in the north with the Galleria dell’Accademia. This museum is home to works of sculpture from Michelangelo and many others, including the most famous statue of all, David. This depiction of the Biblical king stands over 16ft (5m) in height and served as a symbol of Florence’s underdog status compared to the might of Rome.
Other must-see sights in the Centro Storico include the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral, with its iconic red-tiled dome. The main church for the people of Florence for the past 600 years, this is also a treasure trove of Renaissance art, with gorgeous frescoes adorning the inside of the dome. Also make time to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, another of the city’s famous churches, with countless priceless artworks.
Days three and four
Having explored the historical monuments of Florence’s old centre, spend at least one day in the Tuscan countryside learning some of the secrets of Italian cuisine. A truffle-hunting tour will take you walking through lovely woods in search of the elusive delicacy, in the company of an expert hunter and his dog. Afterwards, you’ll enjoy a three-course meal made using the truffles.
Wine-tastings are a popular add-on to these truffle-hunting tours but really warrant a day in themselves if you are lucky enough to be spending a week in Florence. The wine region of Chianti in central Tuscany produces some of Italy’s most famous wines, and there are countless opportunities for wine tours through the rolling vineyards.
Back in Florence, begin with something a little different: an urban-rafting trip down the Arno. This is a great way to experience Florence from a different angle, as you learn from your guide about the importance the river has had in shaping Florence’s history. Then spend the afternoon browsing the collections of the Uffizi Gallery, home to works by the likes of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.
Days six and seven
After your gastronomic adventures in the Tuscan countryside, explore the food scene of Florence itself. Begin with the stalls of the San Lorenzo Central Market, where you’ll find fine local producers and sample dishes from Tuscany and beyond. Then head to Badiani for some traditional gelato, before spending the evening engaging in yet more wine-tasting at the Piazza del Vino.
The next day, spend your remaining time in Florence visiting the historical and artistic attractions you missed the first time around. Visit the grand Palazzo Vecchio, or stroll through the artisans’ quarter of Oltrarno to experience Florence as it has been for centuries.