Nestled in the gently rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, Florence exudes a unique elegance and offers endless possibilities for those who love art, history, wine, food, and artisan traditions. In essence, Florence has it all!
Considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence has an artistic heritage that is difficult to beat, bursting with artworks created by some of the most famous and influential artists in history, from Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, to breathtaking paintings by Botticelli, Leonardo, and Raphael. The patronage of the wealthy and powerful Medici family, who controlled Florence throughout much of the Renaissance period, paved the way for the city’s cultural geniuses to create such masterpieces and in turn, give birth to the Renaissance movement.
Amid such a rich cultural and historical landscape, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Having consulted our local experts, we are ready to share Florence’s best-kept secrets, so you can go beyond the famous sights and museums and delve into a full and authentic experience of this magical city.
Artistic hidden gems
As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is adorned with masterpieces from some of history’s greatest creators. The Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery are the most renowned art galleries in Florence, housing some of the world’s masterpieces, from works such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi, and Michelangelo’s original statue of ‘David’.
For those who want to venture off the beaten path and dig a little deeper, Florence has many more magnificent galleries and museums filled with equally exquisite pieces and hidden gems. While many travelers climb up to Brunelleschi’s red-tiled duomo, few visit the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, nestled just behind the cathedral. The museum houses all the original artworks that were once displayed within the Duomo itself but have since been moved here for safekeeping and preservation, such as Michelangelo’s haunting ‘Pietà’.
The National Museum of Bargello is set in one of the oldest buildings in Florence, a former city jail. Touring this quiet and crowd-free gallery with a local curator allows you to admire the exhibits at your own pace, away from the haste of the city’s more popular museums. Here you can discover an impressive assortment of Donatello and Michelangelo classics. For Renaissance enthusiasts, the Bargello is to sculpture what the Uffizi is to painting.
Gardens and parks: where nature meets history
Despite being a rather compact city of architectural beauty, Florence has numerous public and private gardens that offer refuge from the fast-paced centro storico, or historical center.
Walk along the tranquil River Arno to Palazzo Poggi and then continue up to reach Piazzale Michelangelo to witness the beauty of Florence in all its splendor. A rather recent addition to the list of monuments in Florence, this piazza was created in 1869 by architect Giuseppe Poggi, as part of a major restructuring of the city walls. Admiring the bronze replica of the statue of David (placed in honor of Michelangelo), before taking a seat on the steps of the square and admiring stunning panoramic views of the entire city. Watch the sunset over the terracotta rooftops and surrounding countryside dotted with villas, vineyards, and orchards as Florence’s cathedral, the Duomo, dominates the landscape with its architectural uniqueness. From these heights, you can get an almost birds-eye view of the city’s impressive monuments, churches, and varying neighbourhoods.
If you are travelling to Florence in May or June, visit the immaculate Rose Garden to witness its beauty in full bloom. Found just below Piazzale Michelangelo, this beautiful garden is home to over 350 different varieties of rose species, alongside numerous other plants, such as lemon trees and irises. Lose yourself in the sweet aromas of this botanical haven and admire the twelve bronze statues of the famous Belgian artist, Jean-Michel Folon.
Lying just south of the Arno River, the grandiose Pitti Palace is one of Florence’s largest architectural monuments. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, it belonged to the Pitti family and was later sold to the Medicis to become the primary residence of the grand ducal family. From Costume to Silver, the Pitti Palace has seven fascinating historical and cultural museums ready to be explored with your expert local guide. However, it is the rolling hills behind the edifice, the Boboli Gardens that are truly breathtaking. The vast green expanse is a beautiful example of ‘green architecture’ within the city center, filled with ancient and Renaissance statues, and adorned with grottos and large fountains. After losing yourself in history, spend the rest of the afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, strolling through these picturesque gardens.
Flavors of Florence
Italy is famous for many things, but in particular for its cuisine, and in Florence, restaurants abound at every level. Beyond the wonderful carb-fueled creations of pizza and pasta, Florence is heaven for meat lovers. The signature bistecca alla fiorentina is a large T-bone steak seasoned with olive oil and sea salt, and is often enjoyed with a bottle of Tuscan red wine. This popular dish was invented during the reign of the Medici family, when cuts of meat were grilled on bonfires during large celebrations across the city. Today, Florence is filled with both traditional and artisanal steak restaurants, alongside many new and more modern takes on this Florentine speciality.
While in Florence, be sure to experience Aperitivo, a unique Italian ritual of enjoying a pre-dinner bite and aperitif cocktail. This vibrant custom has become very popular in Florence, with many new, trendy bars opening up to offer a more contemporary style, steering away from typical Italian cold cuts and moving towards vegetarian and vegan options.
After a tour of the Uffizi Gallery or a stroll around the nearby Piazza della Signoria, visit All’antico Vinaio. Once a single shop, the family-run business has opened three more shops on the same street and is now world-famous for its traditional and delicious paninis.
Florence’s bustling central market, the Mercato Centrale, is both a cultural adventure and food heaven. Wander through the colorful stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables, and the typical vendors selling fish, meats and cheeses alongside specialty shops boasting local delicacies. Immerse yourself in local life as you watch the pasta machines at work and witness the animated interaction between buyers and vendors in the many little ‘botteghe’. The upstairs level has been revitalized as an ‘indoor piazza’ lined with food stalls that call upon old Italian cultural traditions. Tour the market and discover the secrets behind the culinary traditions of Italy.
Artisans in Florence
Florence has always been a hub for creation, innovation, and brilliant minds. And though the city’s crafts have transformed since its glory days, many of these age-old techniques are still alive today. Artisanal trades such as leather, gold, bookbinding, and marbled paper all date back through the centuries and the excellence of the work is there to appreciate.
Take a tour with a local guide and wander through Florence’s narrow streets, from the Oltrarno neighborhood all the way to the main cathedral, and discover a blend of traditional artisans and innovators reinventing old crafts with a modern twist. Whilst witnessing these gifted craftsmen at work is mesmerizing in itself, learning about the artisanal history with a guide allows you to discover the real character of the city through its expert craftsmen, who have been passing on their knowledge down through the generations.
Whilst Milan might be one of the world’s four fashion capitals, Florence too is a fashion center. The city is the birthplace of Guccio Gucci, who founded the world-famous fashion house in 1921. The high-quality leather goods crafted by skilled craftsmen quickly took over the world and built a reputation that remains synonymous with luxury, 100 years later. For fashion lovers, Florence offers shopping options ranging from high-end, along the city’s most fashionable via Tornabuoni, to funky and unique in the side streets and artisan workshops.
Anna Mascaro is Founder of Terracotta Travel. Terracotta Travel is a boutique travel agency that caters for luxury travellers who want to go beyond the guidebook and behind the scenes in every corner of the world.
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