From its physical beauty to its unique spirit, Florence offers something magical to each and every visitor. Whether exploring the city’s narrow alleyways and backstreets, visiting famed museums such as the Uffizi or Accademia, or enjoying the diverse and traditional Florentine cuisine—every minute of your Florentine experience is sure to be wondrous.
Located in the heart of Tuscany, Florence is nestled in the Arno River Valley, which originates about 15 kilometers east of Florence near the town of Pontassieve and winds west through Tuscany to meet the Ligurian sea at Pisa. The Arno neatly divides Florence into its north and south sections, connected by several historic bridges. The area of Florence south of the Arno is known as the Oltrarno (literally, “the other side of the Arno”), a neighborhood known for artisan crafts production and antiques shops. Florence’s city center is relatively small and easy to navigate on foot with a map in hand. Walking may well be the most effective and pleasant way to discover this city. Spend time strolling along the Arno or amid the city’s beautiful architecture and museums to best discover the history and traditions of Florence.
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Florence’s rich culture can be attributed to its complex history. The nearby hilltop town of Fiesole was originally an Etruscan settlement, known to and eventually conquered by the Romans, who, in the 1st century B.C., established an army camp in what is now downtown Florence.
Given its intriguing and complex past, Florence offers countless opportunities to discover its historic layers. Start with one of its many museums that display the rich culture and traditions of the city. The Uffizi, home to masterpieces by Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Andrea del Sarto, is the most renowned and culturally rich museum in Florence, not to mention one of the most important museums in the world. Michelangelo’s David, located in the Accademia, is a truly incredible sight that art lovers and curious travellers alike will surely appreciate. Not far from the Accademia is Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore, or duomo.
A visit to the duomo is an essential Florentine experience. Florence’s duomo has the third longest nave in the world, just after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. Its complex exterior design merits a walk around the church to fully appreciate the surprising contrast with the church’s minimalist interior. Climbing to the top of the duomo offers arguably the most breathtaking view of the city. Together, the baptistery, the bell tower, and the duomo make up Florence’s Piazza del Duomo, the city’s religious center. The two bronze doors created by Ghiberti for the baptistery, including the Gates of Paradise named by Michelangelo himself, merit an un-rushed observation, preferably with a reliable descriptive source in hand. Giotto’s soaring Gothic masterpiece, the campanile, or bell tower, concludes the visits to Piazza del Duomo’s main sites. The bell tower’s 412 steps lead to yet another stunning view of the city.
Another essential stop is the Piazza della Signoria, a 13th-century square home to the Palazzo Vecchio on the east side and the Uffizi Gallery just to the south. Piazza della Signoria came into existence as a result of the Guelph-Ghibelline struggles, when many Ghibelline homes were destroyed to create space destined for civic use. Still Florence’s civic and political center today, the piazza is adorned with many famous sculptures, such as Ammannati’s Fountain of Neptune, colloquially referred to as Il Biancone; a copy of Michelangelo’s David; and, within the 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi, Cellini’s bronze Perseus and Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine.
Piazza della Repubblica, the commercial center of Florence, offers yet another rich historical sketch. In the Roman era, this was the site of the forum, the very heart of the Roman settlement. During the middle ages it was the site of a bustling market, the Mercato Vecchio. An inscription found in the piazza states “Ancient center of the city, squalid for centuries, returned to new life,” referencing another episode in the piazza’s past, when it was home to Florence’s Jewish Ghetto. Today Piazza della Repubblica’s look is quite modern: the late 19th-century buildings house popular cafes, restaurants and shops, making it one of Florence’s most popular and lively public squares.