48 Hours In: Florence

The autumn sunshine brings a new lustre to the Renaissance treasures of this great Italian city. Aoife O'Riordain checks it out
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Why go now?

As autumnal tones begin to transform the Tuscan countryside, the queues to see Florence's Renaissance treasures will be a little shorter and the temperatures still warm.

Touch down

Florence's Amerigo Vespucci airport is served only by Meridiana (0871 423 3711; meridiana.it ) from Gatwick. A shuttle bus runs every half-hour to the Santa Maria Novella station (1) for €5.

A more accessible (and cheaper) option is to fly to Pisa. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com ) flies there from Gatwick; easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com ) has flights from Gatwick, Luton and Bristol; Jet2.com (0871 226 1737; jet2.com ) from Belfast, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle; and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com ) from Stansted, Birmingham, Bournemouth, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow Prestwick, Leeds/ Bradford and Liverpool.

From Pisa airport, the Terravision ( terravision.eu ) bus service takes around 70 minutes to Santa Maria Novella station (1). A one-way ticket costs €10. Slower but cheaper (€5.70 one-way) is to take the train from Pisa airport via Pisa Centrale to Santa Maria Novella ( trenitalia.com ).

Check in

Top billing goes to the new Palazzo Vecchietti (2) at Via degli Strozzi 4 (00 39 055 230 2802; palazzovecchietti.it ). Doubles start at €245, including breakfast.

There are rooms with views over the Duomo (3) at the 16th-century Palazzo Niccolini (4), Via dei Servi 2 (00 39 055 282 412; niccolinidomepalace.com ). Doubles start at €150, including breakfast.

Casa Howard (5), Via della Scala 18 (00 39 06 69 924555; casahoward.com ), is another good choice. Doubles start from €110, including breakfast.

Get your bearings

The preponderance of the city's wealth of historical sites, galleries and churches are clustered on the northern banks of the river Arno, while the quieter streets and piazzas of Oltrarno to the south are an ideal antidote to the fray. The photogenic Ponte Vecchio (6) is the most celebrated and oldest of Florence's bridges.

A tourist office (00 39 055 23320; firenze.turismo.toscana.it ) is located across the Piazza della Stazione from Santa Maria Novella station (1); open 8.30am-7pm daily (Sundays to 2pm). The main tourist office (7) is at Via Cavour 1 (00 39 055 290 832); open 8.30am-6.30pm daily (Sundays to 1.30pm).

Take a hike

Start in Oltrarno outside Santo Spirito (8), one of the city's most important Renaissance churches. Head down Via Michelozzi until you reach Via Guicciardini and the imposing Palazzo Pitti (9). Cross the Ponte Vecchio (6), then continue down Via Santa Maria, bearing right at Via Vacchereccia. You will emerge on to Piazza della Signoria (10), the city's political centre. Admire the towering Palazzo Vecchio and the Fountain of Neptune, then veer to your left and head down Via dei Calzaiuoli. Straight ahead is the green and white exterior of the city's spiritual heart, the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore (3). Admire the glittering bronze adornment of the adjacent Baptistry – the Gates of Paradise. Skirt around it and head north up Borgo San Lorenzo. Finish outside the Basilica of San Lorenzo (11).

Lunch on the run

The nearby Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo (12) is a riot of local colour and flavours. Join the queues at the counter of Da Nerbone (00 39 055 219 949). It serves pasta, salads and ever-popular tripe sandwiches (€4).

Cultural afternoon

Tucked at the back of the basilica of Sante Croce at Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini, the Medici Chapels (13) (00 39 055 2388 602; firenzemusei.it ), designed by Michelangelo for the tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici, are an awe-inspiring testament to the spending power of the erstwhile first family of Florence. Open 8.15am-6pm daily, €6.

To see another Renaissance great, join the queue for the Accademia Gallery (14), Via Ricasoli 60 (00 39 055 2388 609; firenzemusei.it ), where you can view Michelangelo's David in all its milky-white marble glory. Open 8.15am-6.50pm daily except Monday, €6.50.

Window shopping

Florence's main shopping thoroughfare is concentrated between the cathedral (3) and the Piazza della Signoria (10). Blue-chip Italian brands are found around Via de' Tornabuoni, including the store and museum of the Florentine cobbler Salvatore Ferragamo (15) (00 39 055 289 430; salvatoreferragamo.it ).

Soak up the aromas and the atmosphere at the Officina Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (16) at Via della Scala 16 (00 39 055 216 276; smnovella.it ) – reputedly the oldest pharmacy in the world.

An aperitif

From the Sky Bar Lounge on the roof of the Hotel Continentale (17), Vicolo dell'Oro 6r (00 39 055 2726 4000; lungarnohotels.it ), sip a glass of Chianti Classico. You will be treated to panoramic views of the rooftops, with the floodlit Duomo on one side and the Ponte Vecchio on the other.

Dining with the locals

Trattoria Cibreo (18) at Via de' Macci 122r (closed Sunday and Monday), is the smaller and cheaper sibling of the Cibreo gourmet empire. You cannot book, so show up early or be prepared to wait to secure a table, where you can feast on simply prepared seasonal dishes. Expect to pay around €30, with wine.

At Trattoria Sostanza (19), Via del Porcellana 25r (00 39 055 212 691), you won't be disappointed by the food, or the rustic, jovial atmosphere.

Go to church

Florence may be blessed with many beautiful churches, but for visitors, attending a mass under Brunelleschi's dome (3) is a must. Although closed to tourist visits when mass is being celebrated, everyone is welcome to join the services held at 9am, 10.30am and noon on Sundays.

Take a view

Climb the 414 steps to the top of the adjacent 14th-century Campanile designed by another great of the Renaissance, Giotto di Bondone. It opens daily from 8.30am to 7.30pm, admission €6.50.

Out to brunch

If your budget won't stretch to the room rates at the Four Seasons (20) at Borgo Pinti 99 (00 39 055 26261; fourseasons.com/firenze ), brunch overlooking the garden here is the perfect Sunday treat. Stroll around the private garden of this stunningly restored Renaissance palazzo, before sitting down to the meal served on Sundays from noon to 3pm for €25.

Take a ride

Hop on bus 7 at either Santa Maria Novella station (1) or Piazza di San Marco (21) for the eight-kilometre ride out along the increasingly scenic route that climbs to the town of Fiesole. Here you will be treated to fabulous views over Florence. A ticket, which can be purchased from kiosks all over the city and is valid for 90 minutes, costs €1.20.

A walk in the park

A couple of centuries in the making and tucked behind the Palazzo Pitti (9) are the expansive Boboli Gardens (00 39 055 238 8786; firenzemusei.it), scattered with fountains, an amphitheatre and plenty of shade-dappled benches. In October, it opens daily from 8.15am to 6.30pm. From November to February it

The icing on the cake

The Uffizi Gallery (22) (00 39 055 238 8651; firenzemusei.it) is undoubtedly one of the world's great museums, containing an unrivalled collection of works from the likes of Botticelli, Da Vinci, Bellini, Titian and Caravaggio. Admission is €6.50, but it is well worth paying the additional €3 to book in advance and cut down on queuing (00 39 055 294 883).

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