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Florence

Florence Itineraries

Best Florence Shopping and Markets

Best Gelato in Florence

Florence Art Museum Crawl

Florence, South of the Arno River

Must-See Churches of Florence

Must-see Museums in Florence

Tuscany's gateway has few peers (and no, that's not an exaggeration)

Florence’s accolades include the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art in the world, the most famous sculpture in the world, one of the greatest cathedrals in the world, a bridge so beautiful that even Hitler (allegedly) could not bring himself to destroy it and some seriously toe-curling gelato. Additionally, there’s the exceptional cuisine, energized nightlife, a youthful, international array of residents and a rather overwhelming number of visitors. In short, it’s among the world’s most beguiling and rewarding historic cities – and you’ll be in good company.

Italian Renaissance Art

According to UNESCO, 60 percent of the world’s most important works of art are located in Italy and approximately half of those are in Florence. One can (and does) spend years getting a solid grasp on all the incredible artists that lived here and their groundbreaking work, so buckle up.

The Uffizi is hands-down the greatest collection of Italian and Florentine art in the world. Budget about four hours for a proper visit, assuming you’re reserved tickets in advance. Galleria dell’Accademia is best attacked as a first stop of the day, like even before coffee. Get in line, then send someone to get coffee. Seriously. The undisputed star here, of course, is Michelangelo’s David. Take photos inside and risk the aggressive shushing of the security guards. After two bustling museum visits, give yourself a break and head for the much less chaotic Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce, filled with 14th and 15th century religious art.

Florence Museums

This itinerary is listed as a “weekend or longer,” so what I’ve done is first list the art spots that you’ll definitely want to hit if you don’t want people to tear their hair out if you tell them you missed them. That said, the museums at the bottom of the list are also wonderful, but not world-class.

Near the Ponte Vecchio, you can’t miss the Uffizi – just follow the crowds. This is hands-down the greatest collection of Italian and Florentine art in the world. Museo del Bargello is home to Italy’s largest collection of Tuscan Renaissance sculptures, including early pieces by Michelangelo, Donatello, Vincenzo Gemito and Jacopo Sansovino. Galleria dell’Accademia is, first and foremost, the home of Michelangelo’s David. Try to take photos of him and risk the aggressive shushing of the security guards. Finally, early-Renaissance painter Fra Angelico’s masterpieces are housed in Museo di San Marco. Nearly all the work was painted by the friar or done by people under his supervision.

Churches of Florence

If what you’re looking for is centuries-old places of worship, containing some of the most celebrated art in the world and architecture that is no less amazing now than when it was painstakingly pieced together in medieval times, then you’ve come to the right place.

The Duomo is one of Italy’s defining sites, an engineering marvel which also provides a breathtaking view of the city. Once you’ve absorbed that colossus, check out the neighboring, 11th-century Romanesque Baptistry and its ornate, gilded bronze doors. In terms of pure age, the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella is the hands-down leader, being the first great basilica in Florence. Finally, visit Basilica di Santa Croce and pay respects to the final resting places of many famous Florentines, including Michelangelo and Galileo Galilei.

Bringing It All Back Home (Shopping)

Between the markets scattered across the city and the assortment of eye-popping luxury and boutique shops, you’ll be well served by the city’s shopping option.

Naturally, the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge and one of Italy’s most famous landmarks, is where some of the best window shopping is done for upscale jewelry and art. Mercato Nuovo, the now ironically named “new market,” dates from the 16th century and is still the place to find cheap souvenirs, leather goods, seasonal flowers and a famous bronze piglet. Mercato de San Lorenzo has you bonanza of clothing and accessories.

When To Go

Florence is a year-round destination. That said, the crowds during high season (June-August) can seem like bedlam at times. Moreover, August is a good month to avoid as nearly all of Italy goes on holiday for the month and many shops, restaurants and whatnot will shut down. Low season (November-Easter) is much better in terms of personal space, though sometime the cold and/or the rain can be a drag. Shoulder season (roughly March – May and September – October) are a nice compromise, with the exception of notable holidays, such as Christmas and Easter.

How Much Time To Spend

It’s possible to cover the big sites in a three or four day, sleepless, maniacal sprint, but that would be a shame. Take your time, soak it in. Five to seven days is enough time to get a good sense of Florence, but if you have a particular interest in art or food or sitting in cafes and daydreaming, you’ll probably want to stay longer.

High and Low Season

Florence is a year-round destination. That said, the crowds during high season (June-August) can seem like bedlam at times. Low season (November-Easter) is much better in terms of personal space, though sometime the cold and/or the rain can be a drag. Shoulder season (roughly March – May and September – October) are a nice compromise, with the exception of notable holidays, such as Christmas and Easter.

Weather and Climate

Florence generally experiences relatively mild weather all year. The heat isn’t as hot and the cold isn’t as cold as other parts of Italy.

Like most of the Northern Hemisphere, July and August will be hottest (and the most crowded with sweaty bodies). As you get further from these months in either direction, one can count on warm weather without it getting stifling.

December and January are cool and sometimes just plain cold. Any precipitation can accentuate the chill. November tends to have the most rainfall, though rain comes along pretty regularly in October, December, March and April.

Events and Holidays

– 1 January New Year’s Day
– 6 January Epiphany
– Monday after Easter Easter Monday
– 25 April Liberation Day
– 1 May International Workers’ Day
– 2 June Republic Day
– 15 August Ferragosto/Assumption Day
– 1 November All Saints’ Day
– 8 December Immaculate Conception
– 25 December Christmas Day
– 26 December St. Stephen’s Day

Time Zone

Central European Time

Italy is GMT/UTC 1h during Standard Time
Italy is GMT/UTC 2h during Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time starts on Sunday March 27, 2016 at 2:00 AM local time
Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday October 30, 2016 at 3:00 AM local time

What To Pack and Wear

Italians tend to dress for the season, not for the weather, which is why sometimes you’ll see the hilarious scene of people wearing winter coats in November even if it’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Italians are very style-conscious, so while travel isn’t normally a fashion show, one might consider dressing a level better than the usual ultra-casual, utilitarian road clothes.

What it Costs

While Florence is generally on the high side of Italian destinations in terms of costs, it’s not too difficult to make the city work on almost any budget. Sleeping options run the full spectrum of budgets and one can even find a decent meal for 10 euros or less. Alternatively, it’s also possible to really splurge in Florence on rooms in ancient palazzos with centuries-old murals and meals that cost more than your rent in university. Keep in mind, some of the best meals in Italy can be had at the simple mom and pop joints. Don’t mistake high price as a sign of high quality.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in €.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person

Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double

Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double

Eat
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person

Currency Converter

Check for the latest currency rates at XE Currency Converter.

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Car rental prices can vary wildly depending on what type of car one needs and which service one uses.

Generally speaking, one does not need a car in Florence. The city is easily walkable and extremely well-connected by rail and bus to regional destinations and the rest of Italy.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Italy use the Euro.

Check XE Currency Converter for the latest rates.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs are everywhere and credit cards are widely accepted.

Some smaller, mom and pop places may accept cash only. A few hotels will offer a discount for cash payments.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Generally speaking, people in Italy usually just round up to the next euro when paying bills and leave an extra euro or two if the service was exceptional.

Some restaurants, taxi drivers, etc in extremely popular tourism locations have gotten accustomed to larger tips due to the over-tipping culture in the U.S. You may get the occasional stink-eye from a server for a tip under 15 percent, but this is rare. Hospitality workers in Italy are already paid a living wage, making tipping superfluous.

That said, you may want to consider leaving a moderate tip for your hotel room attendant, due to the sheer drudgery of the work.

Transportation

Florence is one of the best connected cities in Italy. It sits square on the Rome-Venice main train line and has a busy bus station.

Three airports (Florence city, Pisa and Bologna) are an hour or less from Florence by train. (The standard, slow train from Bologna airport is just under two hours.)

Getting There

Florence’s central train station (Stazione di Santa Maria Novella) is located on the busy Rome-Milan line.

You can buy tickets at one of the many vending machines in the main hall. Beware that some machines do not accept cash. And it seems like many machines are perpetually broken. You can also wait in line for service at a ticket window in the main hall, though this is often a very long wait. The information counter is open from 7am to 7pm.

International train tickets can be purchased in the main ticketing hall from 6am to 9pm. Look for the windows dedicated to international tickets only.

(NOTE: As with all train tickets in Italy, before you get on the train, you MUST validate your ticket in one of the yellow date/time stamp machines on the platform! You can be fined up to 50 euros on the spot if you board the train with an unvalidated ticket.)

Temporary luggage storage service is on platform 16. It costs 4 euros for the first five hours, and then 0.60 euros for every hour after that. Hours are 6am-11:50pm.

This is a very busy station and, though crime is relatively rare, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes/hands on your bags at all times.

Train service includes:

Bologna: 10.50-25 euros, 60-100 minutes, 3-5 trains per hour
Lucca: 5.10 euros, 90-100 minutes, two trains per hour
Milan: 29.50-53 euros, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, 1-3 trains per hour
Perugia: 10.75 euros, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, approximately one train every two hours, sometimes with a change in Terontola
Pisa: 5.80 euros, 45-60 minutes, 2-3 trains per hour
Pistioa: 3.70 euros, 35-50 minutes, 2-3 trains per hour
Rome: 17.15-45 euros, 1 1/2 to 3 3/4 hours, 3-5 trains per hour
Siena: 7.70 euros, 90 minutes, one train per hour
Venice: 24-43 euros, 2-3 hours, 1-2 trains per hour

For more information and schedules, visit
www.trenitalia.com.

Getting Around

Cars

Do you need a car or motorcycle in Florence? The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ Unless you have very serious mobility issues, there is no reason to have a car or motorcycle in Florence.

Apart from being a wonderfully walkable area, the main reason you don’t want a vehicle in Florence is that vehicle traffic in central Florence (known as the ZTL or Zona Traffico Limitato) is restricted to residents and people with special permission from 7:30am to 7:30pm Monday through Friday and 7:30am through 6pm Saturdays. This rule also applies to dizzying, rotating time periods in high season (May to September). Every car that enters the ZTL is photographed for the license plate info. If you do not have permission to drive in the historic center, they will use this license plate info to send you a ticket.

Even if you have permission to drive in the center, parking is expensive and can be difficult to find. If you must park in the center, your hotel can help you arrange a spot, usually for 20-35 euros per day. Outside the historic center this is less of a problem. Look for the parking spots outlined in blue. Spots that are outlined in white are for residents only.

For people arriving by car, who are staying at a hotel in the historic center, you are allowed to drive up to your hotel and drop off your bags, but then you must leave the center. (There’s a two hour grace period for this privilege.) You MUST tell your hotel you are driving in and out of the ZTL so they can add your name to the exception list reported each day to the police. If you don’t get your car’s license number on that list, a fine will arrive in the mail some months later.

If you’d like to rent a car in Florence to visit someplace outside of Florence, some of the major rental companies include:

Avis – Tel 199 10 01 33 – Address: Borgo Ognissanti 128r
Europcar – Tel 055 29 04 38 – Address: Borgo Ognissanti 53-57r
Hertz – 199 11 22 11 – Address: Via Maso Finiguerra 33r

A car rental search engine that I like (for almost anywhere in Europe) is Nova Car Hire.

Buses

Though not very popular, there are inter-city buses serving Florence. Probably the most useful route is Florence to Siena, which is slightly faster than the train and conveniently drops passengers at Piazza Gramsci, as opposed to the train station 2km outside of town.

The SITA bus station is on Via Santa Caterina da Siena 17r, telephone 800 37 37 60, website www.sitabus.it. Currently, the site is only in Italian.

The information office is open 8:30am-12:30pm and 3pm-6pm Monday through Friday as well as 8:30am-12:30pm Saturdays and Sundays.

Bus service includes runs to San Gimignano (change in Poggibonsi), Arezzo, Grosseto, and a large variety of smaller cities in Tuscany.

Bicycle/Scooter

The interminable crowds mean you won’t be riding very fast, but biking (or for longer journeys, scooters) are a great way to get around and out of the city for a little exploration.

Biciclette e Noleggio
Piazza della Stazione
Hours: 7:30am-7pm Mon-Sat, and 9am-7pm Sun
Bike rental is 1.50 euros per hour or 8 euros per day.

Rental Point Ghiberti
Piazza Ghiberti (an open-air stand behind Mercato di Sant’ Ambrogio)
Hours: 8:30am-7pm Mon-Sat (reduced hours in low season, October through April)
Bike rental 1.50 euros per hour or 8 euros per day.

Florence by Bike
www.florencebybike.com
Via San Zanobi 120r
Hours: 9am-1pm & 3:30pm-7:30pm Mon-Sat
A full service bike shop, offering bike rentals, repairs and a variety of self-tour itineraries. Bike rental 14.50 euros per day. Scooter rental 68 euros per day.

There’s also a variety of places offering guided bike tours. The best of the bunch is:

I Bike Tuscany
www.ibiketuscany.com
335 812 07 69
Via Belgio 4
Single or multi-day bike tours. And if the thought of climbing those hills is too much, they now have electric bikes too. Founded by ex-pro bike racer Marco Vignoli, who still leads tours.

Transportation Hubs

Florence’s central train station (Stazione di Santa Maria Novella) is located on the busy Rome-Milan line. The train station is the place where you’re mostly likely to have you pocket picked in Florence, so stay alert. Sometimes people try to run simply and complicated scams in and around the station. Virtual Tourist has an exhaustive rundown of possible scams and other dangers.

Florence Airport
BUS
The Volainbus shuttle (operated by ATAF) goes to/from Florence airport and Florence’s main train station (Santa Maria Novella). At last check, the one-way price was 5 euros (round-trip 8 euros). Buy tickets on board. Shuttles depart approximately every 30 minutes from 6am to 11:30pm (airport) or 5:30am to 11pm (train station).
TAXI
A one-way taxi journey to/from Florence Airport is a 20 euro flat rate. There’s a Sunday/holiday surcharge of 2 euros and a nighttime surcharge (10pm-6am) of 3 euros, plus 1 euro per bag. The taxi station is on your right as you exit the airport.

Pisa Airport
TRAIN
The easiest and cheapest way is the train. One-way tickets to Florence are 5.80 euros and the journey takes about 1 and 1/2 hours. Trains run hourly (at least) from 4:30am to 10:25pm. Tickets can be purchased at the machines on the train platform. (NOTE: As with all train tickets in Italy, before you get on the train, you MUST validate your ticket in one of the yellow date/time stamp machines on the platform! You can be fined up to 50 euros on the spot if you board the train with an unvalidated ticket.)
BUS
Buses to/from Pisa airport and the bus stop outside Florence’s train station (on Via Alamanni) cost 10 euros one-way (16 euros round trip) and run hourly between 8:40am and 9:15pm. The journey takes about 1 and 1/4 hours. You can purchase tickets online from www.terravision.eu or on the bus or at the Terravision desk inside Deanna Bar at Florence train station or at the impossible-to-miss Terravision desk in the Pisa Airport arrivals hall.

Bologna Airport
TRAIN/BUS
The “Aerobus” (price 4.50 euros) connects Bologna Airport with Bologna’s central train station, about a 20 minute ride. From the train station it’s only a 40 minute ride to Florence on the Eurostar (high speed) train. One-way tickets to Florence are 25 euros. The slower trains make the journey in a little over an hour and cost 10.50 euros one-way. Trains depart every 20-30 minutes. (NOTE: As with all train tickets in Italy, before you get on the train, you MUST validate your ticket in one of the yellow date/time stamp machines on the platform! You can be fined up to 50 euros on the spot if you board the train with an unvalidated ticket.)

Tickets

IMPORTANT NOTE: In Italy it’s not enough to simply buy a ticket and board your train or bus. You must also validate the ticket by stamping it before boarding a train (usually a yellow box on the platform) or immediately after boarding a bus. If you’re unsure about what to do, just observe the locals for a minute and you’ll probably figure it out. Any tickets that are not stamped are considered invalid and you run the risk of being fined.

It can takes ages to stand in line at the ticket window and buy a ticket from a human at the train station. If you have the cash, using the multi-lingual ticket machines are the way to go. These can also have long lines, but they tend to move quicker, unless an especially confused tourist starts having trouble with the transaction, then you may be there forever. Unfortunately, these ticket machines break frequently. If you see lines in front of some machines while another has no line, it’s because it’s busted.

Background

Florence’s accolades include the greatest collection of Italian
Renaissance art in the world, the most famous sculpture in the world,
one of the greatest cathedrals in the world, a bridge so beautiful that
even Hitler (allegedly) could not bring himself to destroy it and some
seriously toe-curling gelato. Additionally, there’s the exceptional
cuisine, energized nightlife, a youthful, international array of
residents and a rather overwhelming number of visitors. In short, it’s
among the world’s most beguiling and rewarding historic cities – and
you’ll be in good company.

History

Like virtually everything in Italy, Florence is very old. People have been milling about on this ground since Etruscan times, when the city was called “Fiesole.” The Romans, of course, eventually appeared during Julius Caesar’s time, renaming the city “Florentia” around 59 BC, so as to lock down the Arno River’s most narrow point (i.e. the easiest point of crossing). Controlling this strategic point gave Rome a relatively painless route all the way to northern Italy and Gaul.

The Goths scooped up Florence after the collapse of the Roman Empire, followed by no doubt whiplash-inducing changes in management, first to the Lombards, then the Franks.

Margrave Ugo of Tuscany moved the capital from Lucca to Florence in AD 1000, which rapidly improved Florence’s fortunes. Florence declared itself a free commune (city-state) in 1110 and by 1138 had organized its ruling body to the 12 consuls. This was also the era in which the legendary Consiglio di Cento (Council of One Hundred) was formed, largely composed of people from the merchant class. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this arrangement facilitated corruption, nepotism and pretty much everything else that put more money in their pockets. As the effectiveness of this arrangement faded and in-fighting and plotting ensued, citizens forced the appointment of a foreign head of state (aka podesta) in 1207, who would theoretically remain immune to local squabbling and scheming.

Medieval Florence prospered and evolved into one of the top financial, banking, textile and cultural centers on the continent. With great wealth, comes great cultural development. Bankrolled by a city full of “new money,” artists descended on Florence and one of the greatest periods of artistic growth in history began, which is still evident today.

Matters that are roughly equivalent to today’s “First World problems” began to escalate. The most detrimental of these were the divide between the pro-papal Guelphs (Guelfi) and the pro-Holy Roman Empire Ghibellines (Ghibellini), which mushroomed in the mid-13th century. Each side wrested and then lost control of the city repeatedly for almost a century.

The sobering and devastating Black Death landed on Florence in 1348, during which time the city’s population was halved.

The city’s now ubiquitous association with the mega-rich Medici family began when Cosimo de’ Medici took power in 1434. Cosimo was a legitimate art enthusiast and, using his near-inexhaustible wealth, he commissioned and encouraged the likes of Alberti, Brunelleschi, Luca della Robbia, Fra Angelico, Donatello and Filippo Lippi – names that, if you don’t already know them, you’ll be very familiar with by the time you leave Florence.

The Renaissance was in full bloom while Lorenzo il Magnifico ruled Florence (1469-92). This period saw the rise of Michelangelo, Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio, among others. Alas, every era of genius and growth must come to an end. Lorenzo’s passing in 1492 coincided with the swift and reckless end of Florence’s Golden Age. The seemingly bottomless Medici bank had inconceivably failed and the family’s once powerful grip on the city along with it. Backlash against the family and their wretchedly excessive lifestyles resulted in them being driven out of Florence in 1494. Florence went a little schizo in overcompensating for their city’s overindulgence and handed control over to a killjoy, hysterically puritanical Dominican monk named Girolamo Savonarola. A campaign of alarming cultural bulldozing ensued culminating in the Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497, when artists were encouraged to toss their “immoral” work into the flames. Savonarola lasted another year before the public grew weary of his systematic destruction of anything resembling joy. He was declared a heretic and then he too was burned.

Florence’s next governing body became a little too pro-French for the likings of the pope. Calling upon his Spanish allies for help, the pope succeeded in trouncing Florence in 1512 and the ever-ready Medici were invited to resumed power. This generation of Medici were even less charming than the previous batch, but the citizens didn’t have to wait long to bounce them out. The Medici pope Clement VII was ousted when emperor Charles V pounded Rome in 1527 and Florence took this opportunity to eject the Medici family again.

This satisfaction lasted barely two years before the death-proof Medici were brought in again after imperial and papal forces retook Florence. Alessandro de’ Medici – Lorenzo’s great-grandson, a famously brutal, cross-dressing maniac – was installed as Duke of Florence and the Medici settled in for a reign that lasted 200 years. Though this longevity gave the Medici the means to gain control over all of Tuscany, Florence’s heyday was over and the city’s fortunes waned.


After Gian Gastone, the last male Medici, died in 1737, his sister, Anna Maria, agreed to hand control of the grand duchy of Tuscany over to the Austrian-controlled House of Lorraine. With the exception of one, Napoleon-shaped interruption (1799-1814) the Lorraines ruled Tuscany until the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Florence was initially named the capital, but that title went to Rome in 1871.

Along with all of Italy, Florence took a beating in WWII, namely by the retreating Germans, who famously blew up all its bridges except Ponte Vecchio, which, legend has it, Hitler spared for it’s beauty.

The famous flooding of the Arno River in 1966 was even more destructive, doing heartbreaking damage to Florence’s buildings and artworks. The silver lining was that the city’s recovery included the development of modern restoration techniques which have since been employed in saving artwork throughout the country.

Culture

Florence’s fantastic artistic heritage is world renowned. According to UNESCO, 60 percent of the world’s most important works of art are located in Italy and approximately half of those are in Florence. One can (and does) spend years getting a solid grasp on all the incredible artists that lived here and their groundbreaking work.

Names you will no doubt encounter while absorbing the city’s museums, galleries and architecture include Cimabue, Giotto, Arnolfo, Andrea Pisano, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio, Ghiberti, the Della Robbias, Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Paolo Uccello and the A-listers Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Also in the mix are works by Nanni di Banco, Piero della Francesca, Benvenuto Cellini, Andrea del Sarto, Benozzo Gozzoli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Bernardo Buontalenti, Orcagna, Pollaiuolo, Filippino Lippi, Verrocchio, Bronzino, Desiderio da Settignano, Michelozzo, the Rossellis, the Sangallos, Pontormo, Raphael, Andrea Pisano, Giambologna, and Il Sodoma.

Visiting the galleries and museums featuring these artists can be a marathon of focus and foot/leg stamina, so pace yourself and make sure to switch things up with other activities, lest you go into art zombiefication overload. Your attention and endurance will be test by the monstrous Uffizi Gallery, the Palatina gallery, the Bargello, the museum of San Marco, the Accademia, the chapels of the Medici, Buonarroti’s and an amalgamation of “lesser” museums (which would be headliners in any other city): Bardini, Horne, Stibbert, Romano, Corsini, The Gallery of Modern Art, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the museum of Silverware and the museum of Precious Stones.

Florence has no shortage of buildings that warrant extended reflection, including the Cathedral (Duomo), the Baptistery and countless medieval churches like San Miniato al Monte, San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Trinita, Santa Maria del Carmine, Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, the Annunziata, Ognissanti. Notable palaces include Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, and Palazzo Davanzati. Throw in the monasteries, cloisters, refectories, and archeological wonders dating back to Etruscan times, and one runs the risk of slipping into a private hysteria from all the amazingness. This is no joke: there’s even a name for the condition, “Florence syndrome,” aka “Stendhal syndrome,” “a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Florence also has a full calendar of exhibitions and festivals, highlighting music, cinema, dance and theatre, often being performed out in the city’s squares for all to appreciate.

Etiquette

Wear respectful clothes when visiting churches. Women should cover shoulders and knees. Shorts are a definite no-no for both genders. Also, avoid entering and wandering through churches during services.

Unless they are on their way to play volleyball or have just been in a horrific accident, Italian are usually dressed to impress. This includes going out to dinner, parties or just strolling the streets at night. If you haven’t packed for this degree of personal style, at the very least avoid sneakers, shorts, and sportswear. Men only need jackets and ties for the fanciest of restaurants.

Italians drink a lot of wine, but not in great quantities in one sitting. It’s more of a slow drip – one or two glasses with meals and so forth. Drinking to excess and staggering drunk in public is not encouraged, though, unfortunately, with Florence’s teeming foreign student population you will probably see this anyway.

Even if you don’t speak any additional Italian, say “good day” (buongiorno) or “good afternoon/evening” (buona sera) when you enter cafés, shops, hotels, and restaurants. Also, liberally use “thank you” (grazie) and “thank you very much” (grazie mille, grazie infinite, grazie tante). These will make you instantly more likeable with the locals.

In cafes, locals stand at the bar (al banco) and you should, too. It’s less expensive than table service, particularly the oh-so inviting tables out on the main squares, and you’ll get a better look at this paragon of Italian culture. If you try ordering at the bar and then sitting down at a table, you will get a stern talking to.

Beyond all expectation, a smoking ban in enclosed public places introduced in 2005 has not been universally disregarded by the smoke-happy Italians. This includes cafés, bars, and restaurants. There has been recent murmurs of widening this ban to outdoor public places, such as parks, stadium and beaches, though no formal action has been taken – yet.

Cuisine

Florentine cuisine mainly falls under the Tuscan styles, though being one of Italy’s top destinations, one can probably track down just about any Italian specialties.

You’ll see a lot of locally sourced produce, cheeses and grilled meats as well as other hallmarks of Slow Food, a movement designed around preserving traditional and regional cuisine, encouraging sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses. However, there’s also a strong culture of innovation and modern twists on classic dishes

A classic dish you’ll see frequently is Beef Steak Florentine (aka bistecca alla fiorentina), a T-bone traditionally sourced from either the Chianina or Maremmana breeds of cattle, seasoned with salt, olive oil and sometimes black pepper, often shared by two or more people because they are enormous. Additional game dishes include wild boar, deer and rabbit, often braised in red wine. Thick, hearty soups are a mainstay in Tuscan meals as well as white beans cooked with sage and olive oil.

Tuscany is the home of the Chianti region, and the wine is unsurprisingly wine ubiquitous.

Eating budgets range from shockingly expensive, to affordable mom and pop restaurants where locals are usually found (a strong indication of excellence, being that Italians tend to eat at home) to student-friendly sandwiches and quick bites. This guide exhaustively covers the entire spectrum.

Religion

Italians are overwhelmingly Christian, which should come as no surprise being that the figurehead of all Catholics on the planet lives among them. Over 83 percent of Italians are Christian according to a 2012 Pew survey. Though non-practicing Christians  form a large part of this group, atheists are rare.

According to a 2005 poll, 74 percent of Italians “believe there is a God” and 16 percent “believe there is some sort of spirit or life force.” Only 6 percent “do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force.”

Language

Being that Italy was a hodgepodge of states that unified relatively recently (over the course of 50-some years in the 19th century), the language can vary wildly over seemingly short distances. Some “Italian” is so unrecognizable from standardized Italian that it doesn’t even qualify as a dialect. However, nearly all Italians speak the standardized Italian which, conveniently for you, originated in Tuscany.

Italian is the native language of some 65 million people throughout the EU with the total number of speakers numbering at roughly 85 million.

Art

According to UNESCO, 60 percent of the world’s most important works of art are located in Italy and approximately half of those are in Florence.

For more detail, see the Culture section.