Florence: hub of the arts, birthplace of the Renaissance, popular tourist destination, and heart of Tuscany. She is a city of history, with seemingly endless surprises to be discovered within her mazes of streets. Here are some must see sites for any visitor's itinerary!
1. The Academia
The Academia houses Michelangelo's legendary "David." Skirt the block-long - or longer - lines by buying a ticket online, and once inside, take your time enjoying the many other pieces of the museum before hurrying to the main attraction. Notice Michelangelo's "Slaves" lining the hallway leading to David, demonstrating the pure rawness and power of his skill as compared to the chiseled, calm exterior of his nearby David. Beautiful marble sculptures dating back to Roman times reside in a room to the left of David's light-bathed cupola. And of course, David is the center of attention, towering high above the heads of his admirers. Take the opportunity to observe him from every angle and notice his beautifully proportioned limbs and muscles.
2. Piazzale Michelangelo
For the best view of Florence, hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo where the hazy, blue mountains in the distance frame the panoramic vistas of the city. The peak of the Duomo stands tall and the Arno is easily traceable through the divided shores of Florence. In the center of the square, a bronze casting of David watches over Michelangelo's beloved home, testament to the square's namesake. Down the road rests a stunning basilica - Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte - from the 11th century. This dark church with high ceilings is dimly lit by a combination of natural light and small candles offered for prayers. Lovely faded frescoes of saintly figures adorn the walls. This church is a quick and easy walk from the square and a wonderful example of Romanesque architecture. Don't miss the monks' store selling soap, grappa, and rosaries or some of the best pictures of Florence from the top of the steep stairs in front of the church.
3. Loggia dei Lanzi
This sanctuary of statues within Piazza della Signoria adjoins the Uffizi Gallery. A prime spot for budding artists and students to spend a leisurely afternoon sketching, these statues are emotive, full of motion and beauty, and deserve a long observation. Sit on the long stone benches as you look, and listen to the music of guitar-strumming artists from the square.
4. Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery features offerings dotting history - from Medieval tapestries and one-dimensional Madonnas to a room resplendent with Botticelli's greatest masterpieces from his mysterious Venus to his austere Virgin. Observe the long hallway of sculptures and the intricate ceilings; take time to view the Michelangelo, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, and da Vinci works. The Uffizi is paradise for the Renaissance lover, from the nostalgic Roman remakes of Greek originals to the wealth of works by famous Renaissance painters - and what better place to discover these artists than in the birthplace of the Renaissance? Beyond Italian artists, be sure to find the works by Goya, Ruben, El Greco, and Rembrandt.
5. Palazzo Vecchio
Enter this Palazzo, looking to the left at the model of David (the original stood here before being moved to its current residence in the Academia) and observing the vivid blue frontispiece of the building, which features two petite lions on either side. Points of interest of the "Old Palace" include the stately, dark Salone dei Cinquecento - the walls of which are lined with scenes and battles of history, the death mask of Dante - housed in a hallway in front of a rich red backdrop and cased in a wooden box, and the hall of maps decorated with 53 maps created in oil paint. Be sure to keep your eyes directed to the ceiling throughout your tour - the complicatedly decorated ceilings vary from deep blues and rich golds to lovely frescoed paintings. For a touch of intrigue on your tour, book tickets ahead of time to tour the Vasari Corridor, the passageway utilized by the Medici family to cross from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti without needing to go down onto the streets with commoners or risk murder attempts.
6. Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens
This fortress of a palazzo rests on the southern bank of the Arno, across the Ponte Vecchio. Like almost every other part of Florence, the Medici family touched the Pitti Palace, purchasing it in the sixteenth century and making it home to their art collection. Spend some time walking through the galleries of the palace, take in the lovely frescoes and works of art by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Caravaggio. Then, take your tour outside into the Boboli Gardens, which lie behind the Pitti Palace and are home to long green stretches of grass, unique fountains, and beautiful sculptures. Focal points include an Egyptian obelisk and the Fountain of Neptune.
7. Museo Galileo
For the science lover and history lover alike, this museum showcases Galileo's life, inventions, and ideas as well as other revolutionary inventions of the time. Highlights include Galileo's gnarled middle finger and teeth and scientific instruments from the Medici and later Lorraine dynasties. This is a great museum for both children and adults and the gift store offers books to explain Galileo's life, times, and work.
8. Listen to Music Along the Ponte Vecchio
To me, a quintessential part of visiting Florence is walking along the Ponte Vecchio and stopping to listen to the talented musicians there. Nothing is more stunning that an inimitable Florentine sunset silhouetted by lovely guitar music.
9. Palazzo Medici Riccardi
This classic Renaissance building deep in the city of Florence housed the Medici family in their heyday. A beautifully ornate building that has been passed from the Medici to the Riccardi to the State, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi gives its visitors a riveting look back in history at the most powerful Renaissance family of Florence's power and influence.
10. Mangia! Eat!
Florentine cuisine is characterized by simplicity and heartiness, with heavy usage of beans and olive oil and a favoring of interesting meats such as boar and rabbit. Find some of the best fresh pastas in Italy at Zeb (during truffle season, be sure to order a deliciously earthy, lightly olive oil drizzled truffle spaghetti) or a delicious, fresh and carefully prepared meal at my favorite restaurant, L'Osteria di Giovanni. Venture into the bustling markets - indoor and outdoor - for a taste of the fresh ingredients that make Florentine cooking so delicious!
See these restaurants and more in my trio of articles: "My Top 30 Meals Around the World"
Do you love Florence? Check out my novel "Waiting for Sunrise," which is set along the banks of the Arno, on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Waiting-Sunrise-Heather-Julia-Keleher/dp/1936731010
Photo Courtesy of Author