Spring - traditional festivals, sunny days and crowds
The crowds begin to arrive in Florence about a week before Easter. Not only do the streets become clogged with tourists, but also school groups and coach parties - it can feel truly oppressive. The good news is that the weather can be really lovely with a genuine feeling of anticipation of spring. If you visit at Easter (the most crowded weekend of the whole year), it’s worth braving the crowds on Easter Sunday to jostle your way to a place in Piazza del Duomo to see the ‘Scoppio del Carro’, an ancient festival which sees a parade of musicians, flagthrowers and local bigwigs all dressed in medieval costume leading an ox-drawn cart through the streets to the cathedral.
Other spring-time events include the Mostra Mercato di Piante e Fiori flower and plant show at the Giardino dell’Orticoltura and the Artigianato e Palazzo artisan craft show at Palazzo Corsini (www.artigianatoepalazzo.it). Vintage car enthusiasts will grab the chance to see the Mille Miglia car rally pass through Florence in late May (www.millemiglia.it) and opera and classical music buffs will appreciate the international line-up of conductors, orchestras and soloists on the programme of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival held at the Teatro del Maggio from late April-June (www.maggiofiorentino.com).
Summer - sizzling heat, fewer people and easygoing, al fresco living
Traditionally, the Florentines leave the city and retreat to the beach during the high summer heat from around mid-July until the end of August. But those of us in-the-know prefer to stick it out and go away once the crowds have returned. True, the combination of soaring temperatures (which often reach the high 30s and low 40s in July and August) and high humidity can be draining, but the up side is an emptier city, a legitimate excuse for an extended post-lunch siesta and a boom in al fresco nightlife and events. Hotel prices also drop considerably between mid-July and mid/late August.
The Feast of San Giovanni on June 24th is a big holiday in Florence culminating with a spectacular firework display at 10pm from just under Piazzale Michelangelo. Try and find a spot on the lungarni (the roads that line the Arno) for the best view.
If you visit in summer, pace yourself carefully and drink plenty of water. Get up early and do your sightseeing before the worst of the heat sets in. Have a leisurely lunch and take a long nap before emerging once temperatures begin to dip. Enjoy an al fresco dinner before taking advantage of one of the many live music, opera, dance and film events that take place all over the city in summer, or simply cool off with a drink in one of the outdoor, late night bar venues. See my section on Florence nightlife for details.
Autumn - a lovely season but big on crowds
I love autumn in Florence when the city breathes a collective sigh of relief that the fiercest of the heat has passed and life can get back to a more energetic norm. However, it’s a very popular time to visit; the museum queues build up again and hotel prices don’t start to drop until toward the end of October. The weather can go on being pleasant and warm well into autumn, although November can be quite rainy.
Winter - cold weather but an empty city
Leaving aside the Christmas and New Year holidays (which in Italy extend until after La Befana - Epiphany - on January 6th), one of the best times to visit Florence is between November and February. Hotel prices are at their lowest, queues for the museums are at a minimum and the Florentines themselves relax for a couple of months between tourist onslaughts. It can get quite cold in December and January, but rainy weather will be offset by crisp, bright days with clear blue skies and temperatures that will allow the first al fresco lunches of the year.
Christmas is a pretty time to be in Florence; decorations are tasteful and discreet, street vendors ply roasted chestnuts and there’s a big German-style Weihnachtsmarkt market in Piazza Santa Croce from early December where, apart from choosing Christmas gifts, you can fill up on wurstel and gluwein.