If one city could be said to encapsulate the essence of Italy it might well be Florence (Firenze in Italian), the first capital of the united country. The modern Italian language evolved from Tuscan dialect, and Dante’s Divina Commedia was the first great work of Italian literature to be written in the vernacular.
But what makes this city pivotal to the culture, not just of Italy, but of all Europe is, of course, the Renaissance. Every eminent artistic figure from Giotto onwards – Masaccio, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo – is represented here, in an unrivalled concentration of churches, galleries and museums. Use this day-by-day guide to planning the perfect weekend in Florence.
1. The Uffizi
The Galleria degli Uffizi is the obvious first stop: a mind-blowing parade of masterpieces, and it now has a whole new floor of galleries. If you’re going in high season, make sure you book your ticket in advance or you face interminable queues.
2. Santa Croce
Next make your way to the vast church of Santa Croce, one of the most compelling sights in Florence. The Church, founded in the thirteenth century, has amazing frescoes by Giotto and other masters, and the Pazzi Chapel is one of the finest pieces of Renaissance architecture in Italy.
Head to the food market in Sant’Ambrogio. Grab a bargain lunch in the market – perhaps some salami, cheeses and biscotti – or drop in on Florence’s best pizzeria, Il Pizzaiuolo, and choose from their huge range of Neapolitan pizzas.
4. Ponte Vecchio
Cross the oldest and most famous bridge in the city over the river into the Oltrarno district. Wander into the numerous jewellers’ shops which have lined the bridge for hundreds of years, admiring the work of some of the best jewellers in Florence.
5. Palazzo Pitti
You could spend all day in the Pitti, which has several museums under its roofs – the Palatina galleries are the absolute highlight, with wonderful paintings by Raphael, Titian and many others. The palace’s garden, the Giardino di Boboli, is wonderful too.
6. Cappella Brancacci
The chapel, barricaded off from the rest of the carmine, contains Masaccio’s frescoes, epoch-defining creations comparable to the Sistine Chapel.
Aperitivo at Slowly, a trendy bar frequented by Florence’s style-conscious young professionals, and follow with a spot of dinner at Oliviero, a welcoming, old-fashioned restaurant serving traditional Tuscan food.
1. The Bargello
Start the day off with a crash-course in Renaissance sculpture at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello: Michelangelo, Cellini, Donatello, Verrocchio – they are all here.
2. The Duomo
The dome of the Duomo has become the city’s trademark, dominating the cityscape with an authority unmatched by any architectural creation in any other Italian city. Climb the 463 steps to the summit for an unforgettable panorama.
3. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Continue on to the recently expanded Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, which contains more than 750 items, including Michelangelo’s harrowing Pietà, a roomful of amazing Donatellos, the Doors of Paradise, and much more.
Stop for lunch at the popular eatery, Yellow Bar. It may not look enticing, but it’s one of the best places in the city for an unpretentious, and excellent, meal.
5. San Lorenzo and Medici tombs
The cool rationality of Brunelleschi’s design for the San Lorenzo Church is striking, and there’s yet more from Michelangelo and Donatello at the mausoleum of Florence’s quasi-royal family. Don’t miss the amazing library, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, next door.
6. Santa Maria Novella and its museum
Alberti’s facade makes Santa Maria Novella perhaps the city’s most handsome church, and a cornucopia of memorable art is to be found inside, including an exquisite fresco cycle by Ghirlandaio. The attached museum houses remarkable paintings within its cloisters.
Aperitivo at Art Bar, a fine little bar with an interior resembling an antique shop, then cross the water for an evening meal at the modern and innovative Io, one of the most interesting restaurants to have opened in the city for years, serving an inventive range of seafood and meat dishes.