Strange that many of the selected tips this week seemed to require an overnight stay. I wouldn't recommend Barga for a day trp from Florence. You'll need to change trains at Lucca and the drive along the valley of the Serchio river is not particulary quick. However, if you do give it a go leave time to stop at the Ponte del Diavalo, also known as the Ponte della Maddalena. You'll find it at Borgo a Mozzano. Better to stay in Barga for a few days and explore the upper reaches of the Garfagnana region, which is so different to the traditional Tuscany that everybody knows. Even better still, coincide your stay in Barga with the Pesce e Patate festival when local Italians tuck into fish and chips served down at the local football ground.
PS Lucca is an excellent recommendation for a day trip. There's an international music festival every summer - Leonard Cohen is playing this year. The best way to explore the city and its walls are by bike, which can be hired by the hour.
Google map: bit.ly/153ob5S
Take a bus (or drive) from Florence towards Sienna and you'll be able to visit two medieval fortified hill towns that offer stunning views across the Tuscan countryside and a taste of life from another time. You can spend a day in either Monteriggioni or San Gimignano or combine both for a day trip to remember. Great places to eat and drink, with rustic churches and historic buildings that rightly make San Gimignano a UNESCO world heritage centre.
Certaldo Alta is a short train ride from Florence. The new part is less interesting, apart from a twice weekly market so head for the old part, Certaldo Alta either on foot or using the cable car from the square. Here you will find a lovely Tuscan hill town with few tourists, some interesting history and quiet bars and restaurants. In the summer there is a music and arts festival so you can listen to jazz in part of an old church surrounded by ancient frescoes. Even better, stay for the night in the nearby Fattoria Basseto, a former Benedictine convent, that is now a budget hotel and hostel. In one of the rooms there is a black and white photograph of the family who still own it, taken in the 1950's by Cecil Beaton.The owners are lovely, you will want to stay, arrange a cooking class at a nearby farm, and not return to Florence!
Via delle Città, 50052 Certaldo FI, Italy
+39 348 4370285
Google map: bit.ly/11ucXCG
... and leave the train at Pisa Central. From the station walk towards the river and cross the Arno by Ponte di Mezzo. Explore the narrow streets and squares of this historic university town. Eventually you will arrive at the Leaning Tower in the Piazza dei Miracoli (Cathedral Square). Make sure that you walk back to the station exploring a different route – there’s so much more to discover than the buildings close to the Tower (which is all that you are likely to see if you book on an organised excursion).
Hilltop town favoured by the Etruscans and wealthy Renaissance families who valued the cooler climate. Well preserved Roman Theatre and other ruins in the archaeological park with lots of Etruscan artefacts in the Civic Museum. A Combo ticket also gives admission to Ethnographic Missionary and Bandini Museums (small but worth it for the painted panels).
Eating wise there are two good restaurants (l'Polpa particularly good) at the bus terminus on Piazza Mino or take a picnic on the panoramic terrace with wonderful views of Florence.
Take bus no. 7 either from outside the main railway station or from Piazza San Marco - about three an hour. Lots of hairpin bends up to the town. Double decker Florence sightseeing bus also goes there.
Piazza Mino, 21/22, 50014 Fiesole, Italy
Google map: bit.ly/XDwbVI
A 'must see' to visit Michelangelo's statue of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia. Additionally you see half finished sculptures by Michelangelo so you get an opportunity to see how the process of creating David must have taken.
The most important thing is getting in and avoiding the queues. Sometimes there are small queues while other times the queues can be quite big.
You can call +39 055 294883 to make a reservation in advance which costs an extra €4 onto the €11 ticket price. The phone operator will give you a six digit extension number which you quote when you purchase tickets. All the operator takes is your name and asks what your chosen day / time slot is.
The reservation will then allow you to go to a different door avoiding the long queues. The real beauty of the phone reservation is that you do not pay until you turn up so if there are any unforeseen changes to your schedule you don't end up out of pocket. Additionally if there are small queues, you would simply queue up and avoid paying the €4 reservation fee.
Phone reservation available Mon - Fri 08.30 - 18.30 (Italian time) & Sat 08.30 - 12.30.
Tried the online booking service but gave up as it kept falling over as I input the details of my UK credit card.
Nice tree lined square surrounded by pavement cafes.
Plenty of seating in which to relax, away from the more tourist parts of Florence.
One end of the square has the church of Santo Spirito dating back to the 15th century.
On the south side of the Arno river on the right as you come over the Ponte Santa Trinita.
Google map: bit.ly/LTXFOw
Great location to sit and drink and watch the world go by, on Piazza Santa Croce. The Santa Croce church is just yards away.
For such a prime location, the prices were surprisingly good. We only had drinks but at €3.50 per large glass of house white we were not complaining.
Service was good.
Historic Franciscan church located in the heart of Florence. When you consider that the artist Michelangelo, the political theorist Machiavelli, the composer Rossini and the scientist Galileo are all buried within the walls of this church, one can't help but be blown away.
The interior of this Gothic church is relatively plain (as befitting a Franciscan church?) however there are some 14th century Florentine frescos & paintings (by Giotto amongst others) around the altar. Great to see some of this artwork in their original surroundings.
Among the most beautiful Italian cities, Florence is a favoured location when it comes to romance. This Tuscan city is fairly small and its well-known attractions, such as the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, are within walking distances. Although it is a very touristic destination, there are countless quieter spots for a romantic proposal. Couples can enjoy a stroll or a picnic in the Boboli Gardens, or use the service of a “Renaiolo” for a boat trip on the River Arno. Climbing the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo rewards visitors with stunning views of the city and a few more steps take you to another Florentine treasure: San Miniato al Monte. Of course a romantic weekend in Florence would not be complete without the delicious food, wine and ice cream on offer.
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the world's most incredible galleries, not known as a live music venue.
However if you go at 9pm on a Saturday evening in the summertime (when the gallery has late night opening), the windows are all open, the tourists have all gone, the cruise ships have set sail, you have the place to yourself.
The windows are all open to allow the summer breeze in and the live music being played by string quartets busking in the square below fills the rooms, making it one of the most amazing - unexpected - live music venues I have ever experienced.
If you join Friends of the Uffizi you get access to all state run museums in Florence and can go to the top of any queue. Museums include the Uffizi, Accademia, Bargello and San Marco but there is a longer list.
You can join in advance but it is easy to do when you arrive. Membership is for the calendar year and not for 12 months from payment but it is still value for money and encourages you to go to museums 'little and often'. Varied costs but it is 100 Euros for a family.
The office is opposite the main Uffizi entrance in the old post office building.
The centre of the city is not large, so it makes this place easy to visit in a day.
You can choose to visit Florence by bike, following the cycle tracks that reach the most famous historic sites.
What to see:
- Piazza della Signoria
- Piazzale Michelangelo
- Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square)
- The Bargello Museum
- Ponte Vecchio: To one side of the bridge there is the majestic bust of the most famous Florentine goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini.
- Bike along the romantic Viale dei Colli up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the wonderful landscape of Florence
- Panoramic view of the Boboli Gardens
Bike rental estimated prices:
1 hour - about 3 Euro
1 day - from a minimum of 14 Euro to a maximum of 27 Euro
While more people tend to make the slog up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo for great views of Florence, the Forte di Belvedere is its match in every way.
On a summer evening, sitting high above the almost unbelievably beautiful city, quivering in the haze below, is a genuine Florence must-do.
Forte di Belvedere, Oltrarno
If you have more time while in Italy and want to experience one of its most beautiful countrysides, take the Eurostar train from the Termini station in Rome and go to Florence.
The trip takes you about 1h and 50 min and it is all worth it. You dart through Tuscany at 200 km an hour on your way to Florence and you see for yourself the undulating hills, the cypress trees and on the top of the hill, villas and agriturismi Tuscany is known for.
And once you get to Florence go off the beaten tourist track – do visit the market of Florence and dive into the colourful atmosphere, the smell of leather and the art of bargaining. You can find there some great gift to carry home – especially the pashmina shawls and the silk ties.
I love going to Florence from Rome – even for a day and if you find the time to do it you will not regret it.
For more Italy travellers inspiration here is a cool blog: www.italytravelnotes.com
Stunning location to view Fra Angelico's works, including the sublime 'Annunciation' at the top of Dormitory stairs. The individual cells are also decorated with lovely frescoes. Of all the wonders offered in Florence, it is this gentlest of sites that leaves me smiling.
A wonderful and often neglected gallery, the Bargello formerly housed a barracks and a prison; now, however, it is home to some of the finest sculpture in the city. Gems include Donatello's insouciant bronze David, which has an almost dandyish air, and Michelangelo's stern and commanding bust of Brutus, very much in the artistic line that paints Caesar's adoptive son as a heroic and inspirational figure, rather than a weak and malleable one. You will also find a treasure trove of works by the Della Robbia family in this imposing castle.
Via del Proconsolo 4 (near the Palazzo Vecchio); tel: (+39) 055 238 8606
If you only do two things in Florence, make sure it's the Accademia to see David, and Piazzale Michelangelo which has one of the best views of the city.
Galleria dell'Accademia: Via Ricasoli 58-60, a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio; tel: 055 294 883;
San Marco, and Savonarola; Angelico's Annunciation is worth the admission alone. You can usually find somewhere in the cloisters just to sit away from the crowds. So much of Florence's history revolved around this convent. If I could visit only one place in Florence this would be it.
Cappella Brancacci: Masaccio's masterpiece.
San Miniato: beautiful small church. Don’t forget the graveyard, and then there's the view of Florence.
San Lorenzo: the old sacristy as well as Brunelleschi's brilliant interior.
Oh and Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, Cappelle Medici...
Museo di San Marco: Piazza San Marco; tel: +39 55 238 8608
Cappella Brancacci: Piazza del Carmine; tel: +39 055 238 21 95
San Miniato: Via Monte Alle Croci, 34; tel: 055 2342768
Basilica di San Lorenzo: Piazza San Lorenzo
A beautiful little church set on a hillside overlooking Florence. A fantastic view of the city shimmering in a heat haze. Easily reached by no.13 bus from the Duomo or on foot if you like climbing. Gregorian chants sung by monks at 5.30 every day.
Just outside Florence to the south of the city.
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