So many lookers in such a good-looking city! Naked like Michelangelo’s David or rugged up in the latest winter fashion by their own world-class designers, Florentines and their city never fail to impress. Already in need of oxygen after admiring their art, visitors are mesmerised by the vision of locals at aperitivo time, effortlessly strutting, flirting and evidently enjoying life. At times it seems nothing much has changed since the days of the Medici.
Of course much has changed. Florence’s short-lived stint as capital of Italy in 1865 was like a shot of adrenaline. The city bulldozed, constructed, rearranged avenues, wiped out whole quarters and tore down the medieval walls. And so the scene was set for the modern regional capital of Tuscany. Along the broad viali (avenues) that encircle old Florence a confusion of endless traffic tears around in chaotic style. Horns honk and brakes squeal as Florentines dart in and out of lanes in search of a break in the traffic. Ignorant of fear, motorini (moped) riders dash in and around larger vehicles, as if protected by some divine force.
The jewel of Renaissance Italy remains essentially what it was – a busy business centre. Even before the Renaissance was over, the wily Florentines had to concede that their town was on the wane, increasingly ignored on the European stage. But they never forgot their proud heritage and it was rediscovered in earnest by the rest of Europe from the late 18th century. Curious and admiring travellers, particularly the English, descended on the city as part of their Grand Tour. Ever canny with currency (after all, Florentines invented the florin, one of the most successful currencies in history), the locals knew how to cash in, as they still do, with utter aplomb.
The fortunate few get their first glimpse of Florence from the south. The road from rival Siena leads you to the heights backing the south bank of the Arno. Suddenly, through the trees, the glories of Florence burst into view – Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower), Brunelleschi’s dome, the Basilica di Santa Croce. Only the hardest of hearts can remain unaffected.
The memory of the Medici, who for centuries commanded the city’s fortunes and were, as generous patrons, instrumental in unleashing the Renaissance, lives on. To this day the family crest of six balls adorns many public buildings. The city’s artists and sculptors, supported by the Medici and other powerful families, regaled the city with their finest creations. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, Giotto, the Lippis, Masaccio, Botticelli, Pontormo and a host of others left their mark, and formidable galleries such as the Uffizi, Pitti and Accademia today house many of their works.
Medieval and Renaissance Florence was a financial powerhouse but it was never a romantic place. Its great families built fine mansions and lavished money on churches, public buildings and the arts, but not out of a love of beauty. To display greatness was to be great. The majesty of the Romanesque Baptistery, the Gothic Duomo and Renaissance basilicas was an advertisement as much of the power and wealth of Florence’s leading families as of the city’s artistic prowess. The families have gone, but the advertisements live on!
Florentines are born into a world of extraordinary timeless beauty, so it is hardly surprising that they cultivate their appearance, and do it so effortlessly. Home to the likes of Gucci and Ferragamo, Florence means one thing: style, both past and present. Phalanxes of stylish boutiques line up alongside the galleries and palazzi.
When the shops close, it’s time to eat. Sit down to a simple Tuscan meal of tomato stew followed by prime steak in a family-run trattoria or splash out on one of the city’s classic gourmet restaurants or stylish designer eateries. Florence is known for its top-grade Chiantis, but you should make the acquaintance of other exquisite tipples too: Montalcino’s Brunello, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the more daring Super Tuscans.
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
Best places to stay in Florence
Whether you're joining the beautiful people for an after-dinner constitutional in Piazza della Signoria or following the exciting Renaissance narrative in the canvases of the Uffizi, Florence will dazzle you.
Delicacies of Tuscany & Umbria
These recommendations are taken from a previous edition of Lonely Planet's Tuscany & Umbria travel guide, which is full of inspirational ideas & detailed coverage for foodies, walkers & culture lovers. "To cook like your mother is good; to cook like your grandmother is better," says the Tuscan proverb.
Shopping in Florence
Florence's grand churches and chapels
Florence & Tuscany - Florence (Chapter)
Cradle of the Renaissance and of tourist masses that flock here to feast on world-class art, Florence (Firenze) is magnetic, romantic and busy. Its food and wine are so wonderful the tag ‘Fiorentina’ has become an international label of quality assurance.
Florence destination guides
Italy's top attractions: taking the 'trap' out of tourist trap
Across the globe, lucky souls are packing for Italy to explore the famed marvels of ancient Rome, find romance along Venice's teal-blue canals – and well-meaning friends are still trying to talk them out of it. 'You're going where? When? But it's a tourist trap!' they gasp.
Art in Florence
Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour
Famous for a wealth of art, history, striking landscapes and outstanding produce, Tuscany really does have the best of all worlds! With only a day to spare, see the best Tuscany has to offer on this full-day guided coach trip from Florence. Meet your local guide before heading for the hills on a scenic drive through the Tuscan countryside.
Skip the Line: Florence Accademia and Uffizi Gallery Tour
Explore Florence’s two must-visit art museums – the Accademia and Uffizi galleries – on this Florence combo tour! Start with a morning skip-the-line tour of the Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell’Accademia) to see Michelangelo’s statue of 'David' as well as other treasures, and then spend four hours at leisure, either roaming the rooms of the gallery or strolling around the city.
How sweet it is: destinations and their desserts
Most destinations have at least one signature dessert - that one confection that they do so well, you can taste history in every bite. It's impossible to list all of the world's best desserts, but here is a shortlist of six cities and their famous sweet treats.