Florence, Italy is all about beauty, a cluster of red roofs, church spires and medieval domes enclosed by ancient walls. Set at the foot of the Appennine Mountains, it’s a veritable treasure chest of art and architecture, with more museums and great architecture packed into a relatively small area than any other city in the world. That makes it fairly simple to explore.
Some of its most famous sights are within a few blocks of each other. There is its famed cathedral or Il Duomo (its official name is Santa Maria del Fiore), with a facade of white, green and red marble. The Uffizi Museum, in what was originally the Palace of the Medici family, is probably Florence's most visited tourist attraction and features works by all the great Renaissance artists of Florence, as well as masterpieces by other world-renowned artists.
The main square, Piazza della Signoria, is the political and civic center of Florence. It’s near the Uffizzi and Ponte Vecchio, one of the most beautiful of the bridges that cross the river Arno. The bridge, which dates back to Roman times, is lined with tiny shops. Time your touring so that after browsing the shops on the bridge, you can cool down with a gelato in the Piazza. Or, cross the bridge into Florence’s left bank and visit the Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace art museum.
For an excellent view of the city, visit the 14th-century Bell Tower, designed by Giotto, in Piazza San Giovanni. Past and present form an interesting mix in Florence. In the lively San Marco district, you can visit the Galleria dell'Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s “David,” and then shop for beautiful leather purses or high fashion.
Just east of central Florence is the Santa Croce quarter, whose streets hold hidden architectural gems. There are craft shops and bohemian restaurants and cafes in the Piazza Santa Croce. And while Florence has many fine restaurants, your best bet is to wander a few steps off the beaten track to find some small trattoria or osteria that offers great food and good value.
Fashion is art in Florence, whose designers include Ferragamo, Cavalli, Gucci, Prada and Emilio Pucci. Visiting their boutiques is as much a part of touring Florence as visiting its museums and galleries. Near the Arno River is Florence's finest shopping street, Via Tornabuoni, in the Santa Maria Novella neighborhood.
You can fly into Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci airport or into neighboring Bologna or Pisa. But the train might be your best bet (the somewhat seedy train station is near the city center). Florence is a relatively car-free city, so plan on getting around with its excellent bus system. The best time to visit Florence is from March through June and from September until November, when it’s sunny but not too hot. If you can, avoid July and August, when Florence can be hot and stifling and crowded. Winter is mild, making it a good season to visit as well. Hotel rates are low and crowds thin.