florence - detailed itinerary

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Day 1 - San Marco/Duomo
Considering the city's Renaissance status as the center of the universe, Florence is remarkably small and easy to explore on foot. In fact, most of the city's historic core is closed to automobile traffic.

City buses are generally clean and efficient, but they can be packed and hot depending on the time of day, and year. If you can get there on foot, by all means do. A great part of Florence's charm is seen at street level, glimpsed down an alleyway or through a gated courtyard.

But be prepared for crowds, even when you hoof it. The Renaissance city planners hadn?t counted on 1.5 million visitors every year.

To help make sightseeing more manageable, many of Florence?s must-see museums have begun taking reservations. This is great since it alleviates the two-hour plus waits that had become common at the Uffizi and the Accademia.

We recommend visiting the Accademia in the morning and the Uffizi some other afternoon.

So get your tickets before you leave home, waltz pass the queue, and walk right in at the appointed time. You?ll pay a surcharge for each ticket. But what?s an hour of your time worth when you?re on vacation?

If you didn?t have enough lead time to make reservations in advance, or weren?t so inclined, your best bet is to visit the Accademia very early (8:30AM) and the Uffizi very late (around 6PM).

Florence is on siesta time. Most shops are closed from between 1PM and 3:30PM or 4PM and then reopen until around 7PM. Restaurants close about 2:30PM and reopen for dinner around 7:30PM. Many of the city?s museums close for the day at 2PM, so plan your sightseeing accordingly and visit museums that close early in the morning.

The following itinerary groups attractions based on their proximity. Your schedule will revolve around your reserved admission times. So use the day-by-day itinerary as a guide for what else to see near the major attractions.

Florence is divided by the River Arno and most of its attractions and hotels lie on the north side. There are eight bridges across the river, the Ponte Vecchio being the oldest and best known.

There are several large piazzas, and in most cases the surrounding neighborhood shares the name of the piazza.

Start your exploration at Piazza di San Marco, on the northern edge of Florence?s medieval heart. During the Renaissance, this neighborhood was in the boon docks. Today the Accademia di Belle Arti makes it a lively student quarter.

The Galleria dell?Accademia serves as the gallery of the art school, which is the oldest in the world, founded in 1563. The gallery was established in 1784 to give the students artwork to copy.

Today, it?s the home of Michelangelo?s David, carved in 1504 when the artist was just 29. If any one work of art captures the essence of the Renaissance, it?s David who was moved here from the Piazza della Signoria in 1873.

Michelangelo?s Quattro Prigioni or Four Prisoners remains unfinished, revealing Michelangelo?s genius in progress. The prisoners? seeming struggle with the stone makes their anguish all the more palpable.

The Accademia also has a fine collection of 15th- and 16th-century Italian paintings, including works by Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi, and Botticelli.

Across the piazza, the Museo di San Marco contains exquisite frescoes by Fra Angelico. In 1437, Cosimo di Medici funded the renovation of this Dominican convent which became the base for Savonarola. Fra Angelico painted the cells of the convent with scenes from the life of Chirst.

In addition to Fra Angelico?s breathtaking "Annunciation," "Deposition," and "Crucifxion and Saints," there?s a beautiful "Last Supper" by Ghirlandaio. The Cloisters, designed by Michelozzo, are also lovely.

From Piazza di San Marco, walk down Via Cesare Rattisti to Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, a lovely Renaissance square. On the north side of the piazza, Santissima Annunziata was founded in 1250 but rebuilt in the 15th century. Inside the church, there are frescoes by Andrea del Sarto and a shrine built around an icon of the Madonna which is reputed to have been completed by angels.

Also on the square, the Spedale degli Innocenti is an orphanage designed by Brunelleschi. The exterior has terra cotta cameos created by Andrea della Robbia. Opened in 1444, the orphanage was Europe?s first and is considered to be the first Renaissance building.

Behind the Spedale, the Museo Archaeologico contains a strong collection of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculpture, ceramics, and artifacts.

When you?re through exploring San Marco, walk toward the Duomo -- Santa Maria del Fiore. Brunelleschi?s magnificent dome was the largest to be built without scaffolding when it was completed in 1463 and it can be seen from anywhere in Florence.

If you?re hungry, have lunch at Coquinarius or Caffe Italiano before visiting the Duomo.

The cathedral is as interesting outside as it is in, so walk the circumference of the church exploring the exterior before you go inside. Faced with white, pink, and green marble, Florence?s Duomo is the fourth largest in Europe.

Note how Brunelleschi set the bricks between the marble ribs of the dome in a herringbone pattern, He borrowed this technique, which makes the dome self supporting, from the Pantheon in Rome.

There are three apses at the east end of the cathedral, each crowned with a smaller dome. The chapels there have stained glass windows designed by Ghiberti.

The 276-ft. Campanile was designed by Giotto and is decorated with reliefs by Andrea Pisano, who completed the Campanile following Giotto?s death. These reliefs are copies -- the originals are in the Museo dell?Opera del Duomo.

Inside the church, you?ll see the highlights by looking up, or down. The intricate, inlaid floors were designed in the 16th-century by Baccio d?Agnola and Francesco da Sangallo. Stand beneath the dome and look up at the recently restored fresco of the "Last Judgement" by Vasari and Zuccari. It has to be the largest Renaissance painting.

Brunelleschi is buried in the Duomo, and Giotto?s tomb may be in the Campanile.

When you?re ready, you can climb either the dome or Giotto?s tower for sensational views of Florence and the Tuscan countryside. We recommend climbing the Campanile. It?s 50 fewer steps, it?s less crowded, and from there, you can take pictures of the dome.

In front of the main entrance to the Duomo, you?ll find the Baptistry which is the oldest building in Florence, dating from the 11th century.

In 1401, the leading artists of the Renaissance, including Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia, competed to design the doors for the Baptistry, which were commissioned to celebrate Florence?s deliverance from the plague.

Ghiberti won the commission for the North Doors and spent 21 years working on them before starting the East Doors, which Michelangelo called the "Gate of Paradise." The south doors were designed by Andrea Pisano.

The superb East Doors contain ten gold-leafed panels depicting Old Testament scenes from the "Expulsion from the Garden" to "Solomon and the Queen of Sheba." The originals are now in the Museo dell?Opera del Duomo.

Inside the Baptistery, there?s a 13th-century mosaic of the "Last Judgement" decorating the ceiling. Dante and other Renaissance luminaries were baptized here.

After you?ve toured the Baptistry, walk back past the Duomo to the Museo dell?Opera del Duomo, which contains the original sculpture from the cathedral, the Campanile, and the Baptistry.

The museum also has interesting exhibits detailing the construction of the cathedral and its magnificent dome.

When you?re tired, walk to Piazza della Repubblica. Once the site of the Roman Forum, the Piazza was the home of Florence?s food market until the 1860s. Today, it?s a popular meeting place for Florentines and lively day or night. There?s a plant market here on Thursday mornings.

Find a café on the piazza that strikes your fancy, order a glass of wine, and enjoy watching the world go by. When you?re ready for dinner, several of Florence?s best restaurants have tiny trattorias that serve a limited menu for a fraction of the cost charged in the main dining room. Cibreo and alle Murate are two good examples.

Other good choices include Taverna del Bronzino, Osteria del Caffe Italiano, or Trattoria Sostanza.

Florence isn?t exactly known for its nightlife, so take a stroll, have a nightcap at any place appealing, and turn in early.


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Day 2 - Santa Croce/Piazza della Signoria
Have breakfast at your hotel this morning, or assemble it at the Mercato di Sant?Ambrogio, Florence?s least touristy food market.

Then walk to the Basilica di Santa Croce. Many of the great thinkers of the Renaissance are buried here, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Macchiavelli. The church contains sculpture by Donatello, a fantastic Crucifixion by Cimabue, and frescoes by Giotto and Gaddi.

The Pazzi Chapel, which is in Santa Croce?s cloister, was deigned by Brunellsechi and decorated with rondels by Luca della Robbia.

Those who enjoy the work of Michelangelo may want to visit Casa Buonarate a few blocks away. Michelangelo bought the house for his nephew, whose son turned it into a museum. In was restored in 1964 and today it contains some sculpture, models, and drawings by the Renaissance genius.

If you?re ready for a snack, Gelateria Vivoli on Via Isola delle Stinche has the best ice cream in Florence, maybe the best in Italy.

Head back toward the Duomo on Via dell?Anguillara to Piazza di San Firenze and turn right to the Bargello, Florence?s other great fine arts museum. The building dates from 1255 and was one of Italy?s first museums when it opened in 1865. Today, the museum is best known for its superb collection of Renaissance sculpture.

The Michelangelo Room contains his sensuous Bacchus, a bust of Brutus, and a circular relief of the Madonna and Child. Donatello?s "David" is here, as well as his heroic "St. George," and two "St. John the Baptists." Other highlights include Brunelleschi?s and Ghiberti?s entries for the Baptistry doors competition, and "David" by Andrea del Verrocchio.

From the Bargello, take Via Dante Alighieri to Orsanmichele. Once the city?s grain market, the 14th-century building became a church after an image of the Virgin appeared on one of the columns inside. The 14 exterior niches are adorned with statues by the leading sculptors of the period, including Ghiberti, Donatello, and Verrocchio.

When you?re ready for lunch, try Enoteca de Giraldi on Via de?Giraldi

Hopefully, you have reservations to visit the Uffizi this afternoon. The greatest gallery in Italy -- and by anyone?s measure, one of the greatest in the world -- the Uffizi reveals the astonishing brilliance of the Renaissance in one manageable floor.

The collection begins with Gothic art from the "trecento" or 1300s. Note the transition from flat, one-dimensional scenes to figures with weight and backgrounds with perspective, particularly in the work of Giotto. Paintings from this period include works by Giotto, Duccio, Cimabue, and Simone Martini.

The Early Renaissance is represented by Paolo Uccello, Fra Filippo Lippi, Piero della Francesca, and Botticelli, whose work is the highlight for many visitors. In rooms 10 through 14, you?ll see his "Birth of Venus," "Primavera," and "Adoration of the Magi," and several other paintings.

Paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Bronzino, Michelangelo, Luca Signorelli, and Parmigianino illustrate the High Renaissance style and the gallery also contains a fine collection of Venetian paintings.

After you?ve toured the Uffizi head for Piazza della Signoria, one of the most beautiful and historic squares in Florence. It was here that Savonarola was hanged in 1498.

There are several statues in the piazza including a life-size replica of Michelangelo?s "David," "The Rape of the Sabine Women" by Giambologna, and a bronze of Perseus by Cellini, as well as the 16th-century Fountain of Neptune. Flanking the piazza is the 14th-century Loggia della Signoria which has a fine collection of sculpture and the splendid Palazzo Vecchio, the city?s original town hall.

Dating from 1299, the Palazzo is distinguished by its 308-ft. tower. There?s a beautiful frieze above the main entrance and Medici crossed keys in the Heraldic Frieze above the third floor.

Inside the Palazzo, the Salone di Cinquecento, or Hall of the 500, features frescoes by Vasari and Michelangelo?s "Victory." The Cappella di Eleonora here was painted by Bronzino, Donatello?s "Judith and Holofernes" is in the Sala dei Gigli which also contains frescoes by Ghirlandaio.

When you?re beat, find a café on the Piazza, and take it easy.

For dinner, try Caffee Concerto or La Baraonda.

The Teatro Comunale is Florence?s leading venue for classical music and dance. Zubin Mehta has been the principal conductor here since 1985 and has attracted top talent to the orchestra and chorus. The concert season runs from January through March, followed by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival which lasts until July. Opera and ballets are performed in the fall.

Caffe la Torre and the unimaginatively named Jazz Club are the two best bets for live music.


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Day 3 - Oltrarno
Have breakfast at your hotel or buy it at the corner pasticceria then walk to the River Arno and cross the Ponte Vecchio. The oldest surviving bridge in Florence, it dates from 1345. Today, the bridge is lined with jewelry and antique shops. There aren?t many bargains here, but the window shopping is great.

Across the River, the Otrarno neighborhood has good antique and food shops, quiet squares, and popular trattorias. The two major attractions here are the Palazzo Pitti and Santo Spirito.

The Pitti Palace contains five museums and Florence?s most beautiful gardens. The Galleria Palatina is the most important of the museums here. It contains a wonderful collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, with many canvases by Titian, Raphael, and Andrea del Sarto.

The Galleria d?Arte Moderna exhibits art from 1784 to 1924. The Galleria del Costume has two centuries worth of fashions. And the Museo degli Argenti displays silverware and other precious objects. Tours of the royal apartments of the Kings of Savoy are also available. The meticulously restored rooms are decorated with Gobelin tapestries and other luxuries.

The Boboli Gardens were designed in the 16th-century by Renaissance landscape architect Triboli. The fountain-filled gardens are a lovely respite from the bustle of the city and the views from the Fortezza di Belvedere are worth the climb.

In 1564, Vasari built a passageway from the Palazzo Pitti to the Uffizi so the Grand Duke Francesco I could commute to his office without having to mingle with the riffraff. The corridor runs along the river and then crosses it atop the shops of the Ponte Vecchio.

There are wonderful views of the city from the corridor -- most of which are unique -- and more than 700 paintings, including work by Andrea del Sarto and Carracci. Admission to Vasari?s Corridor, also known as the Prince?s Trail, is by reservation only. If you?re interested, get your tickets in advance.

Leave the Pitti Palace and take Sdrucciolo de?Pitti to Via Maggio. Cross the street, turn right and walk half a block or so until you come to Palazzo di Biana Cappello at number 26. The palace, which was once the home of Grand Duke Francesco I, is decorated with exquisite sgraffito. It?s well worth a detour to see.

Santo Spirito is just a block away. Brunelleschi designed the church in 1435 although it wasn?t completed until the late 15th century. Inside the church, there are paintings by Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi.

When you?re ready for lunch, try Trattoria Casalina on Via dei Michelozzi or Angiolina?s on Via di Santo Spirito.

The other attraction on this side of the river is the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine. The Chapel contains some of the finest Renaissance frescoes in existence, painted by Masolino, Masaccio, and Filippino Lippi. Highlights here include Masolino?s "Temptation of Adam and Eve," and Masaccio?s "Expulsion of Adam and Eve" and "The Tribute Money."

When you?re ready to head back, cross the Arno via Ponte Santa Trinita. This will lead you to Via de?Tornabuoni, Florence?s most fashionable shopping street. You?ll find designer shops like Giorgio Armani, Gucci, and Salvatore Ferragamo here. Jewelry and leather goods are first rate.

For something different tonight, consider taking the Number 7 bus from Piazza San Marco to Fiesole for dinner at Ristorante Enoteca Mario. The bus runs every 15 minutes and the trip takes about twenty minutes. The drive through the rolling hillsides covered with olive groves is wonderful. The views from the hilltop town of Fiesole overlooking the Mugnone Valley are worth the trip.

For views closer to town, take the number 12 or 13 bus up to Piazzale Michelangelo on the south side of the Arno. It?s best at dusk after the tour buses have gone.


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Day 4 - San Lorenzo/Santa Maria Novella
If you?re up for another market, start your morning at Mercato Centrale, Florence?s biggest. The two-story cast iron and glass building dates from 1874 and there?s a fabulous array of produce, meats, cheeses, and tempting takeout.

After you?ve explored the market, walk to San Lorenzo, the parish church of the Medici family. The church was designed by Brunelleschi and it is the first to follow his theory of rational proportion. The Old Sacristy contains two bronze pulpits by Donatello and Bronzino?s fresco of the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence.

Michelangelo designed the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana and the superb staircase leading to it. It is reached from Piazza San Lorenzo 9.

The indisputable highlight of San Lorenzo is the Cappelle Medicee or Medici Chapels, which are adjacent to the Basilica itself and entered from Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini.

The opulent, over-the-top Cappella dei Principi was the Medici mausoleum. It was begun by Matteo Nigetti in 1604.

Continue into the New Sacristy where Michelangelo labored between 1521 and 1534. The three groups of statues -- the Tomb of the Duke of Urbino, the Tomb of the Duke of Nemours, and the Madonna and Child -- here are among his finest works. Note the figures of Night and Day and Dawn and Dusk at the feet of the Dukes.

If you?re up for one more church, Santa Maria Novella was begun in the 13th century and contains wonderful frescoes by Masaccio, Uccello, and Ghirlandaio and a carved Crucifixion by Brunelleschi.

When you?re through have lunch in whatever district appeals to you. Then spend the afternoon shopping and strolling, or visit the Museo della Storia della Scienza where you can see Renaissance inventions and displays about Galileo.

If it?s antiques you?re after, head for Via Maggio or Borgo Ognissanti, but don?t expect much in the way of bargains. Rinascente is the city?s premier department store and you?ll find it on Piazza della Repubblica.

Start your evening off with a cocktail at Harry?s Bar or a glass of wine at Cantinette dei Verrazzano which is the Florence outlet of one of Chianti?s best known vineyards.

For your last night in Florence, splurge a little. If money?s no object, Enoteca Giorgio Pinchiorri with two Michelin stars is one of the best restaurants in Italy. If you want something nice but don?t want to take out a second mortgage, try Cibreo, alle Murate, or Restaurant Lungaro which has wonderful views overlooking the Ponte Vecchio.

After dinner, take a stroll along the Arno and bask in the brilliance that has distinguished Florence since the 14th century.