Rocca Aldobrandesca ruins, Sovana

View of Montalcino

Pienza in the springtime

A street cafe in Arezzo

Sunset in Siena

Val d'Orcia, central hilltop towns region

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Discover the Best of Florence

The Gates of Paradise at the Baptistery, near the Duomo in Florence, ItalyOur book covers hundreds of locations within Tuscany.

Here is a sample of some of our favorites places in Florence:

Three of our favorite sites in Florence

The Duomo (Baptistery and Cupola)

The Duomo (more formally known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) is the most famous landmark in Florence. The Duomo (meaning cathedral) dominates the Florentine skyline, making Florence one of the most easily identified cities in the world. The Florentines were inspired to build a great cathedral in 1294 in response to the Siena and Pisa cathedrals.

Not to be outdone, the Florentines wanted to build the largest cathedral in the world (which it was at the time, though it is now the fourth-largest cathedral in the world). The cathedral was to be built at the site of the sixth-century Santa Reparta church, the remains of which are being excavated underneath the Duomo today.  Be sure to climb the stairs to the top of the dome if you are able.

Just across the walkway from the Duomo is the Baptistery, which is the oldest building in Florence, having its origins in the sixth or seventh century. The Baptistery is thought to have been built by the Romans and used as an ancient temple honoring Mars. Although the Roman influence is apparent in the columns and ancient mosaic pavement, the Baptistery is most famous for its bronze doors. Michelangelo is said to have described the doors as The Gates of Paradise (as they are called today) in response to their sublime beauty.

Lastly, don’t miss the Campanile, the Duomo’s Bell Tower, situated to the immediate right of the Duomo when facing the entrance. The Campanile is constructed of the same marble as the Duomo and in similar patterns.

Uffizi (Galleria degli Uffizi)

The Uffizi is a must-see activity even if you only have very limited time in Florence. The Uffizi, one of the oldest museums in Europe, is one of the top ten museums in the world and houses some of the greatest art treasures of the Western world. Cosimo de’ Medici I built the Uffizi in 1560 to be used as the Medici’s official administrative offices (“Uffizi” means office in Italian). The building was designed by Georgio Vasari in a late Renaissance style consisting of two long parallel wings joined at one end to form an enclosed square. An aerial walkway was built linking Palazzo Vecchio to the Uffizi and ultimately to the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace. In 1581, Francesco I opened the east section of the Uffizi to house the Medici family art collection. Ten years later visitors were allowed to view the collections. In 1765 it was officially opened to the public and has served as a museum ever since.


Santa Maria del Carmine & the Brancacci Chapel

For centuries, art lovers and artists have been making pilgrimages to Santa Maria del Carmine to view the frescoed walls and ceilings of the Brancacci Chapel. The frescoes painted by Masaccio are monumental and historically significant as an early representation of Renaissance style.

When viewing the frescoes, pay particular attention to the following:

  • The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden depicts Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden, and is famous for the intensity and the humanity of the grief expressed. The two scenes of Adam and Eve are a vital part of the other stories of the life of St. Peter, as the overriding theme of the frescoes is salvation.
  • The Tribute Money fresco is perhaps the best example of Masaccio’s work and the most famous painting in the chapel. It depicts the story of Peter being approached by a tax collector, whom he angrily refutes. Jesus instructs Peter to go to the lake and catch a fish that has a coin in its mouth. Peter catches the fish and gives the coin to the tax collector. This fresco is said to have been inspired by the fact that Florence recently imposed a tax on its citizens. Masaccio’s faces and figures clearly demonstrate the influence of ancient Roman art, as well as Giotto and Donatello.
  • The Baptism of the Neophytes on the upper register to the right of the altar is a scene where Peter is in Jerusalem preaching to the neophytes who have just been converted and baptized. The two nude neophytes are some of the finest examples of the nude figure in early Renaissance art; moreover, the fresco successfully conveys the fervor of conversion.
  • Saint Peter Healing with His Shadow, on the lower register to the left of the altar, is drawn from the biblical tale of Peter’s mere shadow lending hope of healing. Masaccio masterfully conveys the suggestion of hope on the faces of those waiting in the path of St. Peter.

Masaccio left Florence for Rome, along with Donatello and Brunelleschi, before the frescoes were completed. No one knows why he left at this time and, unfortunately, he suddenly died shortly after arriving in Rome at the age of 27.

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Three of our favorite restaurants in Florence

Trattoria 4 Leoni

Trattoria 4 Leoni is one of the most popular restaurants in Florence and for good reason: the food is excellent and the prices are reasonable.

The pasta with pear, ricotta and asparagus (fiocchetti di pera in salsa di taleggio e asparagi) is universally loved. All of the food is amazing, but make sure to try one of their great salads. The bistecca alla fiorentina, straccetti di manzo all’arancia ed aceto balsamico (steak with orange and balsamic vinegar) is exceptional, as is the cheesecake.

Address: Borgo S. Jacopo 43r, 50125

Cantinetta dei Verrazzano

Cantinetta dei Verrazzano is a universally loved and stylish wine bar and bakery owned by the famous Verrazzano Winery which, of course, features all of their excellent wine. This is a great lunch spot where you can enjoy a fine glass of wine and a freshly baked focaccia sandwich. Verrazzano also has wonderful cakes, coffee, biscotti, pastries and other menu selections. There is a nice seating section at the rear of the restaurant.

Address: Via dei Tavolini 18r, 50122

L’Osteria di Giovanni

L’Osteria di Giovanni has refined but simple Tuscan food at its best. Recommended choices include the melanzane e funghi (a veal-wrapped eggplant, pecorino and mushroom), bistecca alla fiorentina, homemade pasta, salads, vegetables and bean with farro soup (there is a minimum kilo requirement for bistecca). The restaurant serves wonderful complimentary homemade biscotti, and the house wines are very good. The service here is top-notch.

Address: Via del Moro 22, 50123

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Three of our favorite hotels in Florence

Lungarno Suites

The Lungarno Suites is an elegant modern hotel located right on the Arno River within sight of Ponte Vecchio. The rooms are large, airy apartments that, at a minimum, include a kitchenette, sitting area, one bathroom and a separate bedroom. The size and floor plan of the suites vary according to your choice of accommodation and the amount you are willing to spend. The hotel also has grocery and food delivery service available.

The rooms are nicely decorated with clean elegant lines. The suites facing the river have large floor to ceiling windows with stunning views of the Arno and Ponte Vecchio. Some of the suites also have terraces overlooking the Arno.

Lungarno Suites has a great location right in the center of all the attractions, great restaurants and shopping. This is another excellent choice for families traveling with children. The suite offers some privacy and is convenient for providing rest stops through the day or for preparing a quick meal.

Address: Lungarno Acciaiuoli 4, 50123

Hotel David

Hotel David is a three-star hotel located in a residential area in the Oltrarno district. Although Hotel David is a bit further from the historic city center than some of the other recommended hotels (by 10 to 15 minutes), it has the rare benefit of free on-site parking. Hotel David is thus a great choice for those who have a car but still want the benefit of staying in Florence without the high cost of parking a car.

Hotel David is an excellent choice even if you do not need the convenience of free and easy parking. The hotel is housed in an aristocratic nineteenth-century villa located in a charming residential neighborhood. Hotel David offers many free amenities including a fully stocked minibar, happy hour, 10 minutes of international phone calls, and free in-room Internet. The rooms themselves are large, comfortable and well-appointed. The location outside of the city center is quiet and restful. The walk to the city center is enjoyable in fine weather, and if you do not feel like walking, there is a convenient and inexpensive bus that goes to the city center. Tickets for the bus are available at the hotel.

Address: Viale Michelangiolo 1, 50125

Hotel Il Salviatino

Hotel Il Salviatino, formerly the Salviati family’s palazzo, is now one of the finest five-star hotels in Florence if not all of Italy. The palazzo is located in Fiesole on five acres, with a gorgeous view overlooking Florence. The property has extensive gardens, swimming pools, a spa, many places to walk and enjoy the extensive gardens, and a splendid view of The Duomo.

The palazzo itself is magnificent with a grand sweeping staircase and a beautiful library with a high ceiling, comfortable couches and wall-to-wall bookcases filled with books for your enjoyment. It also features a sleekly modern restaurant on a terrace overlooking the Duomo and the city of Florence. It truly does not get any better than this.

All of the guest rooms are fabulous, from the least expensive room to the magnificent suites. The rooms have a unique plasma television, which is hidden behind the mirror that covers one wall of the room. The beds are heavenly with fine Italian sheets, luxurious pillows and soft warm alpaca blankets. The bathroom too is a study in artisanship. The fixtures are of the highest European quality. The shower is a unique and delightful experience. The towels and robes are of the best Italian materials. These extra touches make you feel comfortable and pampered throughout your stay at Il Salviatino. All rooms come fully stocked with complimentary beverages, snacks and your own personal espresso machine.

Address: Via del Salviatino 21, 50137

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Three of our favorite shops in Florence

Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella

The Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is the oldest pharmacy in Europe, operating without interruption for over 400 years.  It is much more than a pharmacy, however, being both a museum and one of the most beautiful shops in all of Tuscany.

The pharmacy now operates as a perfumery, but it contains a valuable collection of pharmaceutical instruments, jars and other medical devices. The pharmacy was once a chapel belonging to the Dominican monastery, where the monks were skilled in creating herbal remedies and potions. Consistent with its history, there are lavender and rose waters, colognes and extracts of every possible fragrance for sale.

Address: Via della Scala 16, 50123

Mercato Centrale

The Mercato Centrale is Europe’s largest covered food hall, with all kinds of shops dedicated to food. There are butchers, grocers, tripe-sellers, cheese sellers, pasta stalls, fruit stands, flower shops, greengrocers, bakeries and all manner of food and drink. This is a great place to stroll around and either pick up a quick meal or buy food products to bring home.

Address: Via dell’Ariento 87r, 50123

Vestri Chocolatier and Gelateria

Vestri, a serious contender for best gelato in Florence, is much more that a gelateria, however, as chocolate is its primary passion. This upscale shop features unique artisanal chocolates with unusual flavor combinations, a favorite being chili pepper.

In warm weather the shop features creamy rich gelato – primarily chocolate spiked with cayenne, hazelnut or mint. A shop specialty is the drinkable chocolate – hot in winter and cold in summer.

Address: Borgo degli Albizi 11r, 50122

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