Florence is famous amongst tourists and scholars for the glorious artwork, cultural heritage, and the major role the city played in the Renaissance and Humanist movements. All these facets combine to make this one of the most glorious cities in the world. Florence may be a small city, but it's extremely beautiful and a favorite meeting place for visitors and ex-pats of all ages and nationalities. The city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
San Giovanni (Duomo)
San Giovanni takes its name from San Giovanni Battista (St John the Baptist), patron saint of Florence, in whose honor the
Santa Maria Novella
Named after the
Santa Croce is named after
Santo Spirito (Oltrarno)
The entire stretch of the side of the river opposite the majority of the city's tourist attractions, the Oltrarno is home to many locals, small eateries and amazing tourist sights such as
Campo di Marte & Fiesole
The Campo di Marte is located outside of what used to the be the medieval city wall and is home to many historical buildings dating back to the early 20th Century, as well as to many modern stone and cement apartment blocks which were built after World War II. There are also numerous sports venues, athletic facilities and the
Gavinana & Galluzzo
Gavinana and Galluzzo are south of the Arno and lead to the well-known Chianti wine region. On the southwestern side lies Galluzzo, famous for its Carthusian monastery.
Isolotto & Legnaia
Combining areas of the city that were developed during the 1960s and 1970s (and are still expanding!), Isolotto and Legnaia are home to commuters and enormous American hotel chains. The Isolotto district was once the scene of various clashes and social unrest during the 1960s.
Rifredi is in the northwestern part of the city where, by the 15th Century, the Medici had already constructed some of their many country villas, including
Although Florence is quite a small city, it is inundated with visitors, ex-pats and students; this is great news if want to have an evening of raucous fun, or if you prefer to follow more cultural pursuits. Visitors and Florentines alike are impressed by the wealth of entertainment that they find on offer here.
Going to the cinema has become an increasingly popular pastime since the mid-1990s, and the number of cinemas has increased to meet the needs of the people in Florence; many of the city's multiplexes have been renovated and reopened. This change in the amount of cinemas that exist has created a climate of “non-stop cinematography" and fewer cinemas close down during the summer months. Florentine cinemas are very varied; there are modern one-screen halls, massive multiplexes and small independent cinemas. The Cecchi Gori Group owns the most cinemas in the city and the majority show general releases and (dubbed) American blockbusters, although the Atelier group makes sure that Art house theatre is kept alive. Atelier have six cinemas that show good quality independent films and directors and actors will often attend previews and answer audience questions. On Wednesdays, prices are reduced and many Florentines go to the movies. However, one of the best times to go to the cinema is during the summer; between the months of June and September: you can watch a new release or one of the previous winter's "smashes" in the open air, as you sit beneath the stars. Some of the "normal" cinemas will remain open; many of these have air-conditioning, which is a great way to avoid the humidity of a Florentine summer, not to mention all the mosquitoes! One cinema in the historic center, the Odeon, caters to the international community showing films primarily in English, and sometimes the occasional French or Spanish-language cinematic phenomenon on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Although there are many more cinemas, compared with the amount of theatres, it is unfair to say that Florence favors the "Big Screen" to the stage. The Florentine theatrical tradition has always been noteworthy, for example, the famous Maggio Musicale Fiorentino attracts many well-known people. The range of productions is very varied too, there are upbeat comedies by Neil Simon at Teatro della Pergola, or more provocative, thought provoking dramas such as A Streetcar Named Desire at the Teatro Manzoni. If Shakespeare is more your thing, then the Metastasio Theatre will meet your highbrow needs!
Cafés, Bars & Pubs
In Florence (and everywhere else) most people want to go out and stay out until late at the weekend; this city has a large number of bars and discos, which people can enjoy any day of the week. For a quiet evening, drinking and chatting late into the night, why not try Caffè Pitti in Piazza Pitti, or Hemingway close to Santa Maria del Carmine. At il Genius you can relax with friends and play board/card games. Zoe, Dolce Vita and Porfirio Rubirosa are a little more crowded and lively, while Cafè Caracol has a Latina vibe. If you are more of a wine lover, then try Pitti Gola or Cantina. Maybe you fancy a pint? Both The William and Chequers are British in style, (perhaps to meet the needs of the many ex-pats who make their home here!) They sell an infinite number of beers, and snacks accompanied by good music and are populated by Florentine beer lovers and foreigners alike.
Lots of tourists like to check out the clubs and discos when they are on holiday. Florence offers a great variety of nightspots, it is possible to choose from mainstream discos such as Meccanò, where you might meet a VIP or two), and the fabulously cheesy Andromeda, or more specialist rock bars such as Tenax (popular with many young Italians) and the Auditorium Flog. There are many nightclubs (especially during the summer) with theme nights, where people can dance, listen to music and chat. These include Pongo, which is close to Teatro Verdi and il Lidò on the banks of the Arno, which attracts at least half of the city.
As you can see, Florence has much to attract the cultivated wine drinker, the cinephile or the perpetual party boy/girl. Divertitevi!
The history of Florence stretches back as far as the 8th Century BCE when a primitive settlement lived in the valley, close to the Arno. "Florentia" is recorded as an official Roman colony in 59 BCE and was designed according to the typical Roman road system, which can be seen in many Italian cities today. There are two principal roads: the cardus descends from the Baptistery to Via Roma and continues on to Via Calimala, while the decumanus stretches from via del Corso to via degli Speziali until it reaches via degli Strozzi. The Forum (public meeting place and market) was built at the point where the roads meet, on what is now the Piazza della Repubblica. During Roman rule, Florence was the most important city in Roman Tuscany.
Florentia was invaded by numerous tribes in the following centuries: Goths, "Silicone", Ostrogoths and Longobards. Many inhabitants adopted Christianity at the time of the Silicone, and the first churches appeared outside the Roman walls of Florentia: San Lorenzo and Santa Felicita were built during the 4th Century CE and can be visited today.
Charlemagne's arrival put an end to the colony's expansion. Buildings were still constructed however, and the Baptistery dates back to this time. The city flourished in the 9th and 10th Centuries, a great deal of money was spent on the construction of many religious buildings, e.g. the Badia Fiorentina. Many public works were undertaken, including the building of the city walls in 1078. Florentia was a cultural and economic success!
Florence's wealth and power grew at an enormous pace; a second set of city walls had to be built; the district of Oltrarno became part of the city and Romanesque-style architecture ruled (e.g. San Miniato and Santi Apostoli churches). Florentine craftsmen became involved in textiles (beginning with the trading of wool and silk), which lead to gradual urbanization. Political tension began to rear its ugly head in the 13th Century as two political factions (the Guelphs and the Ghibellines) fought for power. At the end of the 13th Century, there was something of a cultural revolution. A major player in this revolution was the architect Arnolfo di Cambio who designed the Palazzo dei Priori (which became the Palazzo della Signoria a century later and then the Palazzo Vecchio) and also started work on the reconstruction of Santa Maria del Fiore, which was completed in successive centuries. Arnolfo also continued with the construction of the third and final set of city walls.
The city was devastated by plague in 1348, and political conflicts were still rife. The Ciompi Revolt of 1378 occurred as a result of the people's frustration—the poor reacted against their unjust governor. Meanwhile, Florentine merchants and bankers were already working hard to increase their wealth in order to attain power over the nobility.
Lorenzo de'Medici played an important role in Florence's history; he strengthened the political interests of the nobility, while dedicating himself to his love of the Arts and philosophy. The city underwent a cultural rebirth. After Lorenzo's death in 1492, the city came under the harsh, puritanical rule of the fanatical Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, who was elected to the leadership of the Republic. He was so unpopular for his preachings that he was burned at the stake six years later by angry citizens. The leadership of the city was unstable for several years after that with the arrival of French troops under King Charles VIII, but the de'Medici clan regained power and Florence had her first Duke in 1530, and then Grand Duke in 1569. The succession of the Grand Dukes of the Medici family continued until the end of the 18th century, but Florence gradually lost the central role it had occupied in preceding centuries. The last heir of the Medici's handed over power and all the family's riches to the House of Lorena, whose rule continued until 1859, when Florence was united with the rest of Italy (which later became the Kingdom of Italy). Florence was only the capital of this kingdom for a few years (1865-1871) and the court transferred its official residence to the Palazzo Pitti. A lot of urban design and restructure took place during the 19th century, including the construction of embankments along the Arno and piazzas in the centre of the new districts of Barbano and Mattonaia (which are now Piazza dell'Indipendenza and Piazza D'Azeglio). The "arnolfiane" wall and the Jewish Ghetto (which was situated in the current location of the Piazza della Repubblica) demolished to make way for a series of ring roads which were to lead to the Piazzale Michelangelo and the Piazza della Repubblica.
World War Two had a devastating effect on Florence. The city sustained many damages, especially to its bridges and the area inside the Ponte Vecchio. The flood of 1966 further hindered the preservation of valuable Florentine treasures, resulting in a restoration process that will be on-going well into the 21st and 22nd Centuries.
Italians say that it will certainly take you more than a day to drink in the beauty of Florence, you will need to stay for at least a long or extended weekend. It is also true to say that it can be a problem to find a room in Florence, especially if you decide to visit on the spur of the moment. To save yourself unwanted trauma, it is always best to book in advance. Florence is always popular with tourists and often the more cost-effective hotels are full in November. You will also find that hotel prices are high even during low season.
If you decide to drive to Florence, take note that the municipal police will not allow you to enter the city unless you have a hotel booking or unless you need to unload your luggage. If you must use a car, it is important to stay at a hotel that has parking.
Santa Maria Novella
Many of the city's hotels are located in this centrally-located district; close to the train station and all the tourist attractions. If you want to stay near the splendor of the Santa Maria Novella, then try Hotel Aprile. Five star hotels are sprinkled throughout the city and some of the best of these hotels include: the Grand Hotel and the Westin Excelsior, (both are in piazza d'Ognissanti) these are the places where the VIPs and politicians stay when they come to visit the city. The Villa Medici has an enticing swimming pool, and is close to the Piazza della Repubblica, as is the Helvetia & Bristol. The Croce di Malta faces the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The Astoria Palazzo Gaddi is inside a beautiful palazzo which has glorious ceilings decorated with frescoes. If you arrive in Florence by train, you will find many hotels around the Stazione Santa Maria Novella that are either two or three star. Via Panzani (leading to Piazza del Duomo) and Via Nazionale, have a wide choice of reasonably priced hotels, many of these are family run establishments, housed in historic palazzi. The Annabella and the Nizza are only a few of the long list of hotels that will welcome you and treat you well, as you enjoy your trip to this beautiful city.
San Giovanni (Duomo) & San Marco
For comfort and elegance near San Marco, try the Hotel Regency in Piazza Massimo D'Azeglio, a pleasant, peaceful piazza. Many fantastic four star hotels are also scattered throughout the district, the pick of the bunch are: the Grand Hotel Baglioni, which is conveniently located between the Piazza della Stazione and the Duomo, this hotel has a stupendous terrace view. Il Brunelleschi, housed in the splendid, Byzantine Pagliazza tower, was a female prison during the Middle Ages. Il Calzaiuoli is also situated in a prime spot, between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. The Hotel Loggiato dei Serviti and Le Due Fontane are to be found in the setting of the Piazza Santissima Annunziata.
Santo Spirito (Oltrarno)
Perhaps you would like a view of the Arno? Lungarno has been recently renovated and faces the river.
Campo di Marte & Fiesole
You can also find a wide choice of three-star establishments along the banks of the Lungarni in this district, these are a little further out of town, but you can easily reach the centro on foot within a matter of minutes: such as the Hotel Columbus.
If you are coming to Florence for business rather than pleasure, you may find it easier to stay near to the airport or the main motorways. In the north of the city, you'll find the Hotel Alexander and the Hotel Fleming.
Gavinana & Galluzzo
If you want to lose yourself in the midst of the city and be immersed in the green of Viale dei Colli, then the Grand Hotel Villa Cora is ideal, you can take a dip in the pleasant pool, or you can try the four star hotel, Relais Certosa in Certosa del Galluzzo, with its own splendid tennis courts (should you fancy a little exercise). On the outskirts of the south the Holiday Inn Garden Court and the Sheraton beckon. If looking for a view of the Arno, then the Park Palace is for you.