12 Best Hotels in Florence, Italy - Jan 2019
Your Travel Guide to Florence
The city of Florence is called “the cradle of the Renaissance”. As the city’s wealth grew in the 14th century, it was able to invest its resources in developing art, architecture, and scientific endeavors. The great Italian Renaissance luminaries--Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli in sculpture and painting, and Boccaccio in literature, and many more--did much of their work in Florence.
Fortunately, the work of these prolific artists is maintained in Florence’s many art venues. But viewing these works in the museums of Florence is much different than seeing them in a book: you become immersed in the history behind the artwork as well, and gain a very different level of appreciation.
What are the Must-Do-s and See-s in Florence?
Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square)
When visiting a city as scenic as Florence, you undoubtedly want a site where you can view the entire city. The Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) is a complex of several buildings: the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (or simply Florence Cathedral), Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower), the Florence Baptistery, and Loggia del Bigallo, and more. The Florence Cathedral has indeed become a symbol associated with Florence. The stained-glass windows of the Cathedral were designed by Donatello, del Castagno, and Uccello between the years 1434-1455. The iconic dome of the Cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1420, has a fresco on the interior, depicting “The Final Judgment”.
A visit to Giotto’s Campanile (= Bell Tower), designed by the architect Giotto di Bondone in 1334, gives you a perspective from 84.7 meters above street level, and a wonderful panoramic view. Actually, the Bell Tower took several architects to complete--it was finally finished by Francesco Talenti in 1359. The tower is 7 stories high, and you have to climb 414 stairs to get to the top. Sixteen life-size sculptures as well as relief carvings depicting the Creation of Man and the Sacraments decorated the observation deck of the tower. (The original sculptures and reliefs have been relocated to the Museo dell’Opera Del Duomo, and replicas have been substituted in the Bell Tower.)
An exquisite hotel in the area is the Palazzo Niccolini al Duomo.
Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria
The Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) was built at the beginning of the 14th century, with the intent of serving as Florence’s seat of government. The building incorporates features that make it a sturdy fortress, as well as a luxurious palace. (It gained the name “Old Palace” when Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574) moved to Palazzo Pitti (“Pitti Palace”), which was considerably newer, constructed in 1458.) The artwork in the palace reflects the history of when it was made. For example, there are frescoes of major cities in Austria--which were painted in honor of the wedding of the Medici family with the Archduchess of Austria in 1565. Other frescoes dramatize military victories of Florence versus the surrounding city-states. You’ll find artworks by the great Renaissance artists Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli, and more. There are also famous statues gracing the palace--for example, for over three centuries, the Palazzo Vecchio housed Michelangelo’s famous statue of David. (It was moved to the art museum Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, and a replica was situated in front of the palace instead.) The Rocco Forte Hotel Savoy and the Helvetia & Bristol Firenze Hotel are located in the area.
The Piazza della Signoria is the square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, connecting the various buildings that served as administrative offices, but now function as museums. The architecture is quite unique, with distinctive wide arches, Corinthian capitals, and statues of Italian Renaissance sculptors.
The Palazzo Pitti (= “Pitti Palace”) was constructed in 1458 under the auspices of the banker Luca Pitti. As we mentioned before, the Medici family purchased the the building in 1549 and used it as their residence, and a place to house their art holdings. It is the largest art museum in Italy, but it presently is really 4 museums:
- Treasury of the Grand Dukes, on the ground floor and mezzanine, with vases, silverware, frescoes, and jewelry that were the personal possessions of the Medici family.
- Palatine Gallery, on the first floor of the palace, with the world’s largest collection of paintings by Raphael, and works of Titian, Caravaggio, and Rubens. There are also the “Planetary Rooms”, with each room containing a fresco devoted to one of the planets.
- Modern Art Gallery, is on the second floor of the palace, containing Neoclassical and Romantic art from the late 1700s to the present.
- Museum of Costume and Fashion, dedicated in 1983 as the first museum devoted to fashion. Its holding include clothing, jewelry, and even underwear.
Museum of Opera of Saint Maria of Fiore
Another exquisite museum is the Opera Duomo Museum, which have 750 different works, including sculptures and reliefs in marble, bronze, and silver. The museum has 25 rooms in three floors, and also hosts educational activities and lectures. Michelangelo’s famous “La Pieta” is housed here, as well as works by Donatello, della Robbia, Pisano, and more.
The Galleria dell’Accademia is a gallery museum in Florence, with works from the greatest Italian artists: Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and more. The museum also has a wing of antique musical instruments, including string instruments by the famous Antonio Stradivari, and the prototype of the piano by Bartolomeo Cristofori, dating from 1699.
The Uffizi Gallery is the main art museum of Florence--and is essentially the first art museum. The building was built in 1560, and originally served as administrative buildings for the Medici ruling family of Florence, with sections of the building holding the Medicis’ extensive art collections. The Uffizi Gallery’s holdings include paintings, architecture, sculpture, prints, and drawings, from over 23 masters: Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and many more. It also has a vast collection of Greek and Roman art, with busts of Roman emperors and other dignitaries. In order to cover the gallery, it’s recommended to sign up for a guided tour, which takes around 2 hours.
When to Visit
Florence has a Mediterranean climate, with the summers not being too hot, and the winters being relatively mild, with at most a light snow. Visiting in the summer will allow you to soak in the ambiance of open-air dining at restaurants, as well as opportunities to enjoy concerts and art festivals. Coming in the winter will mean colder weather, but at least the museums and tourist attractions will be less crowded.
Getting To and Around Florence
Florence Airport, Peretola
The Peretola Airport (formerly the Amerigo Vespucci International Airport) is probably where you’ll arrive. They receive flights from most countries in Europe, but if you’re flying from the U.S., you’ll have to make a connecting flight to Florence.
The airport is a mere 4 kilometers from the middle of Florence. To get out of the airport, there is the special bus shuttle system called “Vola In Bus” (= “Fly by Bus”), with a bus every 30 minutes during the day, and once an hour at night after 8 PM.
There is also the regular bus network, leaving from the terminal building to Florence and other cities in the Tuscany area. A bus ticket is good for 90 minutes, and you have unlimited use of buses within those 90 minutes. There are also day tickets, and multiple day tickets.
Taxis to downtown Florence will cost around 20 Euros. Other options include a limousine service, or car rental. But there are strict laws about where you can drive--driving through the historic section of Florence will get you a ticket with a fine! Also, there are restrictions as to where you can park: parking spaces marked in blue are available for non-residents of Florence.