Florence is the capital of Tuscany, located on the Arno River, and has been known as the centre of art in Italy since the Middle Ages. The city was founded by the Romans and displays the artistic heritage of two thousand years of Italian and European culture. The city’s rich history makes it one of the top tourist attractions in Italy, with some of the best art museums in the world and a variety of distinctive and beautiful architecture. Florence is also located in a very scenic area of Italy, right in the middle of the Italian Peninsula. The charm of the city is complemented by the beauty of the surrounding countryside, which is also a famous area for wine production. The city is delightful year round, though becomes very crowded during the height of the tourist season, with tourists far outnumbering the native population.
Florence has a Mediterranean climate, which makes for dry, very hot summers and surprisingly cold and damp winters. The most pleasant seasons to visit are in spring and fall. There is little rainfall in the summer, and most rain comes in spring and fall. Average temperatures for the summer months are 17-31º C (63-87º F) and winter temperatures are usually between 2-12º C (35-54º F). Snow falls very rarely.
The language spoken in Florence is Italian. There is also a Tuscan dialect spoken in the area around Florence known as “Fiorentino.”
Most of the people in Italy are Roman Catholic. In Florence there are some Jewish, Muslim and Protestant minorities as well.
The currency used in Italy is the Euro. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, € 0.50, € 0.20, € 0.10, € 0.05, € 0.02 and € 0.01.
It is common practice to tip both waiters in restaurants and taxi drivers between 5-10% of the bill. In restaurants a service charge of around 15% is usually already added to the bill, but this additional tip is still expected. Tipping is widely practised in Italy for other services as well, so small tips to hotel staff, ushers, restroom attendants, etc. are sure to be appreciated. For hotel service, a tip of € .50 – 1.50 per day is typical, though more in very expensive hotels.
Tax is included in the price of all goods in Italy. For items purchased over € 155, tourists from outside of the EU can get the tax reimbursed. This can be done by filling in a form in the shop and then presenting it to the customs officials at major airports or border crossings.
Florence has many public telephones available. Now they only accept phone cards, which can be purchased from newsstands, vending machines and tobacco shops. The country code of Italy is 39 and the local area code for Florence is 55. To dial Florence from abroad, dial 00 39 55, followed by the local number.
There are several internet cafés in Florence, most of which are located in the city centre. The most well-known shop is a chain called Internet Train, with locations near the Duomo, the train station and thirteen other places within the city. The cards they issue are good at all Internet Train cafés. Rates are expensive, €4 per hour and €1 for 10 minutes. Many hotels in Florence also have an internet connection, which can usually be used by the guests free of charge.
For police call 113 and for an ambulance call 118. For the fire department call 115. For medical service during the night call +39 (0)55 477891, and during the day you can call +39 (0)55 475411. The number for customs is +39 (0)55 214316, and for civil protection you can call +39 (0)55 27831.
Most shops in Florence are open from 9.30 am - 1 pm and from 4 pm - 8 pm. It is common for some shops to only open for the afternoon on Mondays, while some of the bigger shops skip the lunch break and are open all day, indicating this by the sign “Orario No-Stop.” On Saturday many stores close earlier.
The post office is open Mon - Fri from 8.15 am - 7 pm and Sat 8.15 am - 12.30 pm.
Banks are generally open weekdays from 8.30 am - 1.30 pm and 2.45 pm - 3.45 pm
The following holidays in Italy are days when most businesses are closed and transportation may be more limited.
1st January, New Years Day
6th January, Epiphany
Good Friday/Easter Sunday and Monday, late March or early April
25th April, Liberation Day
1st May, Labour Day
15th August, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
1st November, All Souls Day
8th December, Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
25th December, Christmas
This area of Italy is generally extremely safe, and violent crime rates are unusually low. There are pickpockets to watch out for of course, some of them children, which is mostly a problem around the train station and very touristy locations. A couple places that become rather seedy after dark and are better avoided are Cascine park and the Lungarno embankment area. These places tend to be hang outs for junkies, and are places where people are occasionally mugged.
Florence has a variety of delightful sights to visit, the most famous of which are usually Renaissance-related. This is the home of some of Michaelangelo’s most well-known works, as well as many by Botticelli, Raphael, and Fra’ Angelico. The Arno river that flows through the city gives it a distinctive character and divides it in two parts. Walking along the river is a great way to see some of the beautiful architecture of Florence. The city is home to a number of beautiful churches, most of which were built in the Renaissance or earlier. The most famous of which is the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, known simply as “The Duomo,” and is a favourite spot from which to view the city. The centre of Florence, within the city walls, is closed to traffic, though taxis and some special buses are allowed to drive through. The best way to explore this area, however, is on foot.
Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duo
This is Florence’s most famous cathedral and was designed in the late 13th century by Arnolfo di Cambio. The work began around 1302 and was completed and expanded upon by Francesco Talenti. The façade was further altered in the 19th century, and is today a combination of Gothic and Victorian elements. The enormous dome is the most striking feature of the cathedral, and is a very visible landmark on the skyline of Florence. The building of the dome was an amazing feat of architecture, carried out by Filippo Brunelleschi between 1420 and 1436. It is possible to climb up the dome, and from the top one can see a breathtaking panorama of the city. The balcony along part of the dome has always remained unfinished, ever since Michelangelo criticized it and said it looked like a “cricket cage.” The church boasts fabulous works of stained glass as well as some frescoes. The vibrant fresoces on the inside of the dome were designed by Giorgio Vasari, though mostly painted by his student Federico Zuccari.
Opening times: Mon - Wed and Fri 10 am - 5 pm, Thurs 10 am - 3.30 pm
1st Sat of the month, 10 am - 3.30 pm, other Saturdays 10 am - 4.45 pm, Sun 1.30 pm - 4.30 pm
Free tours are given every forty minutes between 10.30 am - noon and 3 pm - 4.20 pm
Entrance prices: Admission to the church is free, to climb the dome is € 7.80
Basilica di San Lorenzo
This cathedral is probably the oldest church in Florence, completed in 393 AD. It later became the Medici family’s parish church and remained such until the 18th century. The interior was decorated by Brunelleschi in 1426, and he adapted and rebuilt some of the original architecture. There are also two pulpits of sculpted bronze which were among Donatello’s last works. Several of the Medicis are buried here, including Cosimo il Vecchio, and to visit the tombs there is a separate entrance in the back of the church. San Lorenzo also includes the Laurentian Library, to which admission is free. This library was designed by Michelangelo in 1524, as a place to keep the numerous Medici manuscripts.
Opening times: Mon - Sat 10 am - 5 pm, Laurentian Library Mon - Sat 9 am - 1 pm
Entrance price: € 2.50
Santa Maria Novella
This church was built during the 13th century in the Gothic-Romanesque style and houses a variety of important artworks. It includes a series of frescoes by Masaccio, and crucifixes by Brunelleschi and Giotto. The most famous fresco is the Trinita of 1428, which was the first painting in the world to use perfectly linear mathematical perspective, causing quite a stir when it was unveiled. The church has a distinctive and ornate façade of white and green marble, begun in the 14th century by Fra’ Jacopo Talenti and finished by Leon Battista Alberti.
Opening times: Mon – Thurs and Sat 9.30 am - 5 pm, Fri and Sun 1 pm - 5 pm
Entrance prices: € 2.50 for adults, € 1.50 for children ages 12 – 18, younger children are free
Giardino di Boboli
The Boboli gardens are spread out along the scenic Palazzo Pitti, and were created at the request of the Medici family in 1500. The gardens still retain a Renaissance lay-out and atmosphere, and include an amphitheatre, the Grotta del Buontalenti and several statues. The Grotta del Buontalenti is a grotto built between 1583 - 1593 and is covered with scenes from Greek and Roman mythology. The gardens were expanded in the 17th century, and the pond and the decorative fountain were added during this period.
Opening times: Daily 9 am - sunset, closed the first and last Mon of every month
Entrance price: € 2.50
Villa Medicea La Petraia
This is a 16th century castle that originally belonged to the Brunelleschi family. Ferdinando I de Medici commissioned some additions later on, and a series of frescoes by Volterrano were added in 1648. These frescoes line the beautiful inner courtyard and depict various scenes from the lives of the Medici family. The castle contains an interesting collection of old royal furniture and other furnishings in their original rooms, and there are some delightful gardens. The gardens were cultivated in the 16th century and further developed in the 19th century, which is much how they appear today. Guided tours are available.
Opening times: April 9 am - 5.30 pm, May and Sept 9 am - 6.30 pm, Nov-Feb 9 am - 4.30 pm, Jun-Aug 9 am - 7.30 pm, closed on the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month
Campanile di Giotto (Giotto''s
This bell tower, built of the same marble as the Duomo cathedral, was begun by Giotto in 1334. It was not completed when he died in 1337, but was continued and improved by the master sculptor Andrea Pisano. He added more decorative Gothic elements, such as the statue niches, and designed some of the impressive statues. The tower was finally completed in 1359 under the guidance of a third architect, Francesco Talenti. The tower is 84 metres tall and offers a stunning view, different from the one you get from the cathedral dome. The statues which are currently in the tower are all copies, while the originals have been removed to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Opening times: Daily 8.30 am - 6.50 pm, closed on Jan 1, Easter, Sept 8 and Dec 25
Entrance price: € 6
Cenacolo di Sant''Apollonia
This former convent is a little-known attraction housing a magnificent Renaissance mural by Andrea del Castagno. The mural is a vivid and breathtaking depiction of the Last Supper, covering an entire wall. It was completed around 1450 and is filled with trompe l’oeil effects, which make the marble panels and architectural elements particularly realistic. To enter, ring the bell. Admission is free.
Opening times: Daily 8.30 am - 1.50 pm, Closed 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of every month and the 2nd and 4th Monday of every month
This palace was built by Michelozzo in 1444 at the request of Cosimo de’ Medici il Vecchio, and was home to the Medici family for several years. This building is a typical is example of a Florence palazzo, and is the model on which many later palaces were built. It includes a chapel, the Capella dei Magi, which is the oldest surviving private chapel in Florence and is covered with unique frescoes from the 15th century. The frescoes were painted by Benozzo Gozzoli between 1459 -1463, and depict the journey of the Magi in intense detail. The number of visitors to the palace at one time is limited, so plan to arrive early.
Opening times: Thurs - Tues 9 am - 7 pm
Entrance price: 4 €
This was Florence’s town hall during the time of the Medicis, and was built between 1299 and 1302 as a fortress. Today it houses the municipal government. Solid yet elegant, it is an impressive work of Gothic architecture, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. Many changes and developments were done during the 16th century when Cosimo I moved his family here. Several of the frescoes depict scenes from the lives of the Medicis, and were painted by Vasari and his pupils between 1563 and 1565. The palace contains many other paintings and statues commissioned by the Medicis, and many of the rooms can be visited, containing some of their original furniture.
Opening times: Fri - Wed 9 am - 7 pm, Thurs 9 am - 2 pm
Entrance price: 6 €
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)
This bridge was built across the Arno by Taddeo Gaddi in 1345 and is Florence’s oldest and most famous bridge. It is lined with old, classic shops, the buildings of which go back to the 12th century. The bust near the centre of the bridge is of Benvenuto Cellini, one of the most famous sculptors and goldsmiths of Florence. This bridge’s fame and beauty caused it to be spared during the Nazi destruction of the city, even though the buildings on either end were blown up.
Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chape
These chapels for the Medici family were designed and built by famous Renaissance scultors such as Michelangelo and Vasari between 1520 and 1556. First completed was a beautiful monument to Lorenzo the Magnificent, by Michelangelo. He also built the Sagrestia Nuova or new sacristy, which is home to two of his most famous tomb sculptures, Dawn and Dusk. The later Capella dei Principi is rather over-the-top, a testiment to the extravagance of the Medicis with numerous marble sculptures and semiprecious stones scattered everywhere. Changes to the Capella have been made continually, and the floor as it is today was completed as late as 1962.
Opening times: Daily 8.15 am - 5 pm, Closed the 1st, 3rd and 5th Mon of each month and the 4th Sun of each month
Entrance price: € 6
These fascinating historic botanic gardens contain more than 6,000 kinds of plants from all over the world. The gardens were originally created in the 16th century under the direction of Cosimo I de’ Medici, and designed by Niccolo Tribolo. They were extremely innovative for the time, and one of the first botanic gardens in the world. Since the 16th century, many famous botanists have made their own contributions, the result of which is a truly unique and beautiful combination of plants.
Opening times: Mon, Wed and Fri 9 am - 12 pm
Parco delle Cascine
This is the largest park in Florence, stretching over 118 hectacres. It is a popular hang out for families on the weekends and is always full of joggers and the occasional horse back riders. On market days (Tuesday and Sunday) the park becomes particulary busy and festive, as everyone saunters through. The east side of the park includes a swimming pool that is open during the summer and there is also an amphitheatre on the west side, where many concerts and dance performances are held.