Italy has many beautiful cities, but Florence (Firenze) can perhaps justifiably claim to be one of the most beautiful and historic. The city contains so much great art, culture and history that a short visit is not enough to see it all. You could spend a lifetime just exploring the city’s statues, museums and art galleries.
Florence dates back to 59 BC when the city was a Roman settlement, and the center of the city still follows the Roman grid pattern in places - but the city really came into its own during the 15th and 16th centuries. This was when much of Europe was caught up in what has become known as the Renaissance – an explosive period of learning in art, science, mathematics and architecture.
For a time, Florence was perhaps the most important and powerful city in the world. The city will forever be associated with some of the most famous and influential names from that era – Giotti, Titian, Botticelli and of course, the artist Michelangelo.
Florence is a relatively small city, compared to other European cities and the city center is small and compact enough to be easily explored on foot. The city is extremely crowded during the summer months - the streets around the Duomo are often traffic-clogged and crowded with pedestrians. Sidewalks in the city are narrow – less than two feet in places. Watch for the small motorcycles called Vespas that whiz through the streets.
Seeing Florence’s great museums can be tiring because of the crowds. You can avoid the long lines at the Uffizi Gallery by buying your admission ticket ahead of time. Keep in mind that some major museums and other sights close early in the afternoon or are closed on one day of the week.
Every visitor to "Firenze" has to see the world famous sightseeing attraction – the distinctive Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio, the stone bridge lined with shops that spans the Arno. And not to be missed is the imposing statue of David by Michelangelo in the Accademia Gallery – perhaps the most famous and instantly recognizable statue in the world. Another Masterpiece is the Medici Chapel.
But one of the pleasures of a visit to the city is to venture into some of the other neighborhoods where ordinary Florentines live and work. And take time between sight seeing to relax in a small family run café or bar for a delicious Italian ice cream or a cup of strong espresso coffee.
The San Lorenzo neighborhood near the train station is a colorful area which contains the huge indoor food market, as well as dozens of outdoor market stalls which line the streets. The area around the railway station is also a good place to find budget hotels.
Across the river Arno from the center, the residential area known as the Oltrarno is also a neighborhood of artisan’s workshops and craftsmen. The central square is a delightful place to linger over a drink, tree-lined and surrounded by bars and cafes. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived in the area until her death in 1861.
Walking the narrow streets of Florence, you may come across details such as tabernacles containing sculptures or paintings of the Madonna and child; as well as tiny arched openings set into buildings, often next to the main doorway. These openings were originally used for displaying and selling produce and wine.
While strolling through the Tuscan city, look for the marble plaques affixed to many buildings for different purposes. Some plaques indicate that a famous person once lived there, others indicate the level that the 1966 flood waters reached and some plaques simply have a verse from the works of Dante (see also Dante's House).
And if you tire of the crowds of Florence, take a trip into the countryside. "Firenze" is the capital and main city of Italy’s picturesque Tuscany region. It’s a region familiar even to those who have never visited Italy – endless vineyards, groves of olive trees, red-roofed villas and beautiful medieval hill towns.