Why go to Florence?
It’s got a bit of everything
Florence is one of Europe’s great art destinations. Within its walls, the concentration of museums, churches and monuments is second to none, drawing millions of visitors each year. However, the story doesn’t stop there, and in many ways, this small city is a perfect weekend destination. There’s a wonderful variety of characterful hotels, restaurants and wine bars, a choice of shopping that covers everything from designer stores to artisan workshops and enough ‘off the beaten track’ opportunities to satisfy the most independently-minded traveller. Add to this the fact that you are on the doorstep of one of the most beautiful regions in Italy, and it’s hard to go wrong. I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years and still feel that there is more to see.
Art, art and more art
Florence is home to the greatest collection of Renaissance art anywhere on the planet and it’s virtually impossible to avoid. Even the most hardened museum-phobes will find it difficult to resist at least a quick visit to the Accademia to ogle David; you really can’t say that you’ve ‘done’ Florence if you don’t ‘do’ the art, at least some of it. My advice to arty types is sure, go to the main Florence attractions, but do mix these in with some of the lesser-known gems.
Renaissance City is supplied with a sufficiently wide choice of restaurants and wine bars to keep even the most demanding foodies and wine-lovers happy for several weeks. These range from authentically unreconstructed family-run trattorie to white-cloth gourmet ristoranti, while keen cooks with their own kitchen facilities will find plenty of scope for food shopping at the city’s daily markets where the bountiful seasonal produce is inspirational. See Florence cafés and restaurants for my top choices.
Shop til you drop
It’s small and it’s not Milan, but Florence has a remarkable variety of shopping opportunities packed into a limited space. Once a retail backwater, today you will find plenty of opportunity for parting with your cash whether you are searching for designer bargains, that perfect pair of leather gloves or a hand-bound book of marbled paper. Find out where to shop here: Shopping in Florence.
Look beyond the obvious
Do put aside some of your time in Florence for just wandering. Leave the jostling crowds behind and set off for some of the more authentic areas of the city such as the neighbourhoods of Sant’Ambrogio or Santo Spirito where you will find Florentines going about their daily business, untroubled by the tourist mayhem nearby. Follow your instincts and keep to the quiet backstreets; it’s well worth it.
Small is beautiful
One of Florence’s great advantages is its accessibility. The centro storico is quite small and most sights, shops and restaurants plus many hotels are within walking distance of each other. But if you do find that you are suffering from aching legs and sore feet, there is a very handy fleet of small electric bussini (buses) that ply the streets of the centre. To find out more about getting around, see How to get around Florence.
With its steamy summers and cold, damp winters, the climate in Florence is far from ideal, but for someone who grew up in Northern Ireland where the weather is various degrees of wet all year round, it’s a dream. Spring and autumn can be truly lovely and while they are still stoking up the central heating back in the UK, we are often able to eat lunch outside here in February and November. Winters can get quite cold, but the sun is never absent for too long, and that’s what makes the difference to me. Find out When to go to Florence.
July and August can be unbearably hot and humid, but temperature aside, it’s not a bad time to visit. The prices of Florence hotels dip, the crowds ease up and a whole host of summer venues and activities come into play to keep those of us who choose to stick it out entertained. Nightlife moves outdoors to take advantage of long, balmy evenings and no-one minds if your post-lunch siesta lasts all afternoon.
Catch a traditional festival
Contrary to what your average outsider might think, Florence’s traditional festivals form an important part of the city’s culture and are not simply put on as a tourist attraction. The Scoppio del Carro takes place outside the Duomo on Easter Sunday and the infamous Calcio Storico, a series of no-holds-barred rugby-like matches, are played out in late June. All events are accompanied by colourful parades of musicians and flag-throwers in medieval costume.
It’s so easy to leave
While the main purpose of this guide is to persuade you to come to Florence, I must confess that one of the reasons I enjoy living here is that you can get out so easily. The city is surrounded on three sides by hills thereby limiting suburban sprawl. A 10-15 minute drive from the city centre will bring you into a classic Tuscan landscape of rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards.