The city of Dante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci, Florence is one of the world's great historical and cultural destinations.
It's one of the few places where you can feel the presence of greatness, from the artworks of the Uffizi to the soaring sight of the Duomo, and it's an utterly spellbinding place to spend time.
You can shop all week at the markets, boutiques, and artisan stores of the city, tour Tuscan wineries, take boat trips along the Arno or gaze in awe at frescoes, sculptures, and paintings in the city's churches and galleries. Whatever you do, Florence draws you in, leaving memories that will never fade.
Art and Florence will always go together. The city was one of the cradles of the Italian Renaissance in the 14th and 15th centuries, and works like Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" (in the Uffizi Gallery) or Michelangelo's "David" (in the Accademia Gallery) are as stunning as ever. If you love art, you must visit Florence. Period.
The Renaissance also left a legacy of beautiful buildings. The dome of the Cathedral (the Duomo) is the most famous landmark, but the elegant Boboli Gardens, the views from Giotto's bell tower and other churches like Santa Croce (last resting place of Michelangelo and Machiavelli) or San Lorenzo are also highlights.
If you stay in Florence, you can also explore Tuscany, and it's well worth venturing out. The best way to do so is via a Tuscan wine tour, which takes in the area's finest vintages, picturesque villages, local cheeses, and historical sights.
Florence is one of the best dining cities in one of the world's most famous gastronomic destinations, so the restaurants are pretty special. Don't miss gourmet eateries like Enoteca Pinchiorri, Il Latini and its ribollita (bean stew), or the Florentine Steak at Le Fonticine.
But before you sit down to dine, be sure to head out shopping. Florence is a fashion nexus, with labels like Gucci and Versace lining the Via de' Tornabuoni, independent artisan stores in Oltrarno, and markets like San Lorenzo selling traditional leather bags and shoes.
In an unprecedented example of artistic teamwork, everything in, on, or around this building is a masterpiece. Walk the 463 steps of Brunelleschi's dome to get a closer look at Vasari's Last Judgement fresco, or climb Giotto's spectacular Campanile for views of the medieval city. Down below, the Baptistery of St. John boasts the most impressive bronze doors in the history of art.
Giotto, da Vinci, Raffaello... The Uffizi promises an incomparable density of masterpieces. Stroll along its charming galleries before reaching the roof for a caffè, looking over the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria. Just here, all of Italy's Rennaissance unravels before your eyes, with only Michelangelo's David hiding further north, at the Galleria dell'Accademia.
These 16th-century gardens expand gloriously behind the Palazzo Pitti. Once accessible only to the Medici family, the Boboli grounds are now a green urban space for all to enjoy, and they should not be missed. Vast open alleys are offset by quiet corners, and remarkable sculptures by Florence's masters are dotted throughout, each impressing more than the next.
Marketplaces have been a staple of Florentine culture since the establishment of the city as a trading hotspot, and this one has revamped that tradition once and for all. Italian food needs no introduction, and this is the place to get it. Authenticity is the mantra at each and every stall in this reclaimed covered market building, and the result is a delectable marriage of traditional flavors and contemporary design.
Summer in Florence brings the best weather, but also draws massive crowds (and battling through hundreds of people to see Botticelli's Venus isn't the best way to enjoy its artistry). Instead, try March and April, when Florence warms up, or late September and October.
Most travelers from the USA will touch down at Florence Airport (FLR), which is just three miles from the city center. Getting to your hotel should be simple. The Fly by Bus leaves every 30 minutes, costs EUR6 and takes just 15 minutes to get to the Piazza Duomo. Alternatively, expect taxis to cost around EUR20.
Florence's main station is Santa Maria Novella, and it has excellent links to other European cities. Italo and Trenitalia run services from Venice, Milan, and Rome, while you can take a combination of TGV and high-speed Italo trains from Paris. When you get there, the station is extremely central. Just follow signposts to the Duomo to reach downtown Florence.
If you are approaching Florence by car, E35 is the key route, which runs from Rome and Naples in the south, as well as Milan and Turin in the north. Take the A13 from Venice or the E76 from Pisa. Remember that access to the city center by car is heavily restricted and fines are often levied on drivers, so if you do rent a car, try to book a suburban hotel.
Florence is easily accessible by bus, with major companies like Bus Center, Baltour, and Flixbus all providing daily services. Most buses get into the Autostazione Busitalia-Sita Nord, right next to Santa Maria Novella station.
There are hundreds of wonderful hostels, guesthouses and hotels to choose from in Florence. If you want a beautiful, luxurious city center hotel, the 4-star Hotel degli Orafi is ideal, while the Galileo Hotel is a more affordable alternative. Further out, Hotel Mirage is near the airport and perfect for anyone renting a car. Duomo View B&B Florence is a family-run, welcoming place within sight of the Duomo, while Hostel Archi Rossi is a budget option very close to the station.
Centro Storico - Florence's historic city center has played host to some of history's greatest artists and poets, such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Dante. It's where you'll find the stunning Duomo, the incredible Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Vecchio across the river Arno.
Oltrarno - located "over the Arno" from the city center, Oltrarno is a good place to base yourself (and you can park your car there too). It has attractions of its own, like the frescoes in the church of Santa Felicita and it's also the place to shop for artisan leather goods at stores like Monaco Metropolitano.
Santa Croce - just to the east of the historic center you'll come across Santa Croce. Focused around the gorgeous church of the same name, Santa Croce is the place to find lively bars and the best Tuscan trattorias in town.
Florence's major public transportation service is the bus system, which is operated by ATAF and provides good coverage of the major attractions. A good way to get around is to buy a Firenze Card, which lasts for 72 hours and provides discounted access to attractions and free public transportation (at a cost of EUR72).
If you want to get to out-of-the-way churches or find your way home in the evening, calling a taxi or heading to the taxi rank at Santa Maria Novella is sometimes essential. Expect to pay a meter drop of EUR3.30, then just under a Euro per mile.
Having your own set of wheels is a fantastic option in the Tuscan capital. Although you can't park in the city center (or even drive through it), there are parking lots just outside the Centro Storico. But the real appeal of having your own car is being able to drive to Tuscan cities like Siena or Pisa, or touring the region's many wineries. You can rent a car from the airport or suburban branches of companies like Hertz or Europcar, and the price can be as little as EUR13 per day.
Florence is a fantastic place to shop for clothes, food, jewelry, leather accessories, and shoes. In fact, there are few better spots for fashion fans to explore. Some of the best places to look are in Oltrarno, where artisan stores like Anita Russo Ceramics and recycled clothing boutiques like Giulia Materia rub shoulders. For really high-end fashion, head to the Via de' Tornabuoni, home to world-famous labels like Gucci, Hermes, and Versace, as well as many smaller apparel boutiques.
Supermarkets in Florence include Billa, Conad, and il Centro - all of which provide essentials like bread, cheese, milk, and fresh fruit. Florence isn't always the cheapest place to shop for groceries though. Expect to spend EUR6 on a gallon of milk or EUR2.70 for 12 eggs.
Food is one of Florence's greatest attractions, and you'll find almost as many masterpieces at restaurants in Santa Croce as you will in the Uffizi. Some of the leading city center restaurants include Enoteca Pinchiorri (which has a stellar wine list), Il Cibreo, the best place to go for authentic Tuscan dishes, and Filipepe, a wonderful seafood restaurant. Expect to pay more than EUR50 for a really good meal, but around the Mercato Centrale you can find excellent pizzas and pasta meals for around EUR15-20.