01 Gallery glories
Undertake the Uffizi, one of the world’s finest (and busiest) art galleries. Get there early or book in advance and plan your ‘must-sees’. This sprawling 16th-century palace is packed with works by such luminaries as Da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo and Botticelli. www.b-ticket.com/b-ticket/uffizi/
02 Renaissance dynasty
Meet the Medicis, the powerful family that put Florence on the map and blessed Tuscany with some of its most recognisable architecture. San Lorenzo is the city’s oldest church and resting place of the Medicis in their Michelangelo-sculpted tombs. On the piazza outside, San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale is a great lunch pitstop: the covered market houses landmark delis Perini and Nerbone.
03 Gracious gardens
Take a stroll around the Boboli Gardens. The sumptuous formal grounds of the Palazzo Pitti, Florence’s largest palace, spread elegantly across a hillside, with pools, marble statuary, secret paths and hidden gardens. If you have the stamina, the Renaissance pile that is the Pitti houses eight museums including the Galleria Palatina, graced with paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian.
04 A square with a view
Be an art inmate for the afternoon: the Bargello, a former prison, houses Italy’s finest collection of Renaissance sculpture. Had your fill of fine art? Head to nearby Piazzale Michelangelo for panoramic views of the terracotta-roofed city, then browse the goldsmiths shops on the 13th century Ponte Vecchio over the river Arno.
05 Strut and shop
Take an evening passeggiata — Italy’s evening ritual of dressing up and taking a pre-prandial stroll. Follow the procession of posing locals along the lungarni (riverside streets), stopping for an aperitivo in one of the stand-up bars and pop in to the boutiques on Via del Proconsolo, open until 8 or 9pm. End at the iconic Duomo cathedral, with its red, white and green geometric shapes. If you want to explore the huge fresco of The Last Judgement and excavated Roman remains inside, get there before 4.30pm.
06 Ice cap
After dinner grab a gelato at Gelateria Badiani (Viale dei Mille) or a decadent dessert and digestivo (after-dinner nightcap) at O-Bar (Via dei Bardi) a cafe-bar popular with well-dressed Florentini.
£££ Ora d’Aria: The new home of upcoming chef, Marco Stabile, offers Tuscan staples and innovative takes on Italian classics, set in a bright, modern dining room. Via Dei Georgofili 11 Rosso, 50122. T: 00 39 055 2001699. www.oradariaristorante.com
££ Da Ruggero:
The Colsi family’s trattoria has had a loyal following for three decades. Eat classic dishes like ribollita (hearty soup) and rich Tuscan crostini. Via Senese, 89/R, 50100. T: 00 39 055 220 542.
£ Sostanza: Claiming to be Florence’s oldest trattoria, with open-fire cooking, this restaurant serves artful ‘spun’ omelettes and bistecca alla fiorentina. Via del Porcellana 25/r 50123. T: 00 39 055 212 691.
Lighting up: Feed a Euro coin into the slot at the little Capponi chapel inside the lesser-visited Santa Felicita church in the Oltrarno district, to light up the breathtakingly vivid mannerist altarpiece of The Deposition from the Cross by Pontormo.
Did you know? Florence remains a hive of artistic activity. Prestigious international arts institutions have schools here and craft workshops thrive, producing everything from gold-leaf icons to hand-bound books, using techniques and tools that haven’t changed since the Renaissance. Browse Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella for heaven-scented traditional oils, balms and perfumes. www.smnovella.it
Published in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)