Florence Travel Guide

Chi King

Its art and architecture is what sets Florence apart from other cities in Italy. From the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio to San Miniato, there is so much to see and explore. Each neighborhood has something to show off. Santa Croce's trademark is its leather shops, while San Frediano has a ton of unique artisan shops that have been operating for centuries. Campo di Marte, meanwhile, is all about viola, the color of the Fiorentina football (soccer) team. But it is the city's marketplaces that really showcase the hustle and bustle of daily life. There are markets all over the city in every neighborhood.  Each having their own personality and locals that have been coming for many years.  The one thing that is great about Florence is that you can easily get lost and end up finding a treasure.  There are always little streets that nobody ever sees and shops that are kept a secret.  Explore the city because there is so much more to see than the Ponte Vecchio. 
Enjoy the traditions of the Fiorentini, such as having a caffe at the bar around 11am when Piazza Repubblica is bustling.  On Sundays, take a stroll through the center and window shop.  On Saturday, shop at the local markets and enjoy chatter of Italian in your ear.   Florence's main attractions consists of the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery.  During the high season these places are filled with visitors and sometimes it takes a while to see.  Plan ahead and enjoy these attractions in a calm and timely matter so not to rush your visit. 

Florence is known for it's secrets and little treasures that are found throughout the city.  For example, have you ever noticed the tiny wine doors in the walls of the Palazzo's?  These wine doors were made for the rich to sell their wine to the peasants on the streets of Florence.  When the local wealthy families had excess wine from the harvest they would sell it out of these windows. What you would do is knock on the door and slide the money in as they opened it.  Then the person behind the door will then fill a glass of wine to go.  Some of the windows around the center still are in it's authentic wooden structure others have been boarded up.  Another fact about Florence, if you look around in the center of Florence, at all the big Palazzo's and smaller buildings as well.  You will notice some of the windows that are missing.  The whole frame of the window is there but the window is missing.  Italians were taxed higher when they had so many windows.  So they filled in each window that they didn't want to pay an extra tax on. 

The most famous landmarks in Florence are the Ponte Vecchio(Old Bridge), Il Duomo and The Uffizi Gallery.  The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence, that currently has gold and silver shop aligning the bridge.  Previously housing butchers, the Ponte Vecchio holds onto the tradition of gold and silver shops making it a very posh street to purchase your goods on.  Il Duomo(Santa Maria del Fiore) is what brings flocks of people to Florence every year.  The gothic style church was begun in 1296 with the design from Arnolfo di Cambio and the dome was completed in 1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi.  The church has one of Giorgio Vasari's famous fresco which covers the inside of the dome.   The Uffizi Gallery is yet another attraction most visitors look to visit when arriving in Florence.  From Da Vinci to Caravaggio, you have a pick of the great works of the Renaissance period.

San Giovanni (Duomo)

San Giovanni takes its name from San Giovanni Battista (St John the Baptist), patron saint of Florence, in whose honor the Baptistery was built. The historic city center (centro storico) is most representative of Florence. The layout of the district follows a road system created by the Romans (known as the cardus and decumanus system). In the centro storico, you will see the enormous, imposing structure of the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, referred to mostly commonly as the Duomo (from the Latin domus, meaning house of God), with its cupola designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, a beautiful dome that adds splendor to the city skyline. The city has also preserved its medieval network of streets, lined with regular, geometric Renaissance palaces such as the Palazzo Strozzi and Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, which once belonged to Florence's powerful, oligarchic families. Florence is divided into five districts and the center is divided into four sections (San Giovanni, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and Santo Spirito). The university and the Tribunale di Firenze (which is housed in the Complesso di San Filippo Neri) are also in this district.

Santa Maria Novella

Named after the Santa Maria Novella Basilica - a Dominican basilica and important cultural center during the Middle Ages, the district of Santa Maria Novella covers the area west of the train station where a majority of affordable hotels and the city's largest park is located. The train station of the same name (designed in 1932 by the young architect Giovanni Michelucci) is also situated nearby. Not far from the station is the Fortezza da Basso, a former stronghold of the city which is now used as an important center for conferences, conventions and exhibitions. The zone is also home to the Parco delle Cascine, one of the city's green oases. In this district also lies exclusive boutiques that are concentrated in a few of the most well-known streets, such as via de' Tornabuoni and via della Vigna Nuova. Via de' Tornabuoni is famous for being home to some of Italy's most prestigious designer boutiques e.g. Versace and the Florentine Salvatore Ferragamo.

Santa Croce

Santa Croce is named after Santa Croce church, a medieval Franciscan basilica. The National Central Library (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze) is also located here.

Santo Spirito (Oltrarno)

The entire stretch of the side of the river opposite the majority of the city's tourist attractions, the Oltrarno is home to many locals, small eateries and amazing tourist sights such as San Frediano to San Niccolò. At its heart is probably one of the most incredible Renaissance churches and piazzas: the Piazza Santo Spirito, which has retained much of its historic charm and is filled with workshops of the city's traditional artisans. This piazza is the place for parties on summer evenings, bringing together young Florentines and foreigners, many of whom live in this area. The Palazzo Pitti with its old Medicean garden and the Boboli Garden, are both in Oltrarno. The famous Piazzale Michelangelo (with its panoramic view) is also in this district. From here, it is possible to see one of the few remaining stretches of medieval wall around the Belvedere that was spared from demolition in the 19th Century. Included in this is the lovely medieval gate of the Porta Romana.

Campo di Marte & Fiesole

The Campo di Marte is located outside of what used to the be the medieval city wall and is home to many historical buildings dating back to the early 20th Century, as well as to many modern stone and cement apartment blocks which were built after World War Two. There are also numerous sports venues, athletic facilities and the Stadio Artemio Franchi, Fiesole, and the Bellariva zone are close by; these are swathes of Piagentina countryside that always induced feelings of nostalgia in Tuscan painters.

Gavinana & Galluzzo

Gavinana and Galluzzo are south of the Arno and lead to the well-known Chianti wine region. On the southwestern side lies Galluzzo, famous for its Carthusian monastery.

Isolotto & Legnaia

Combining areas of the city that were developed during the 1960s and 1970s (and are still expanding!), Isolotto and Legnaia are home to commuters and enormous American hotel chains. The Isolotto district was once the scene of various clashes and social unrest during the 1960s.

Rifredi

Rifredi in the northwestern part of the city where, by the 15th Century, the Medici had already constructed some of their many country villas, among which Villa di Careggi, the villas of Castello and La Petraia in the Castello. In this district there are also several industrialized, residential zones, such as Novoli, Firenze Nova, Brozzi, Le Piagge and l'Olmatello. Brozzi, the zone is host to many Chinese and African immigrants. The influx of immigrants means that even a city like Florence cannot live forever in the past but must create a new multi-ethnic history.

Where to Go in Florence

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An ancient Florentine palazzo of the Brini-Batacchi family dating back to the 13th century.

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Dine in style, looking onto Piazza della Signoria.

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Live music, karaoke and tons of lively people in the heart of Florence.

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