Europe's capital of Renaissance art is a great weekend break destination in late summer – and the fine Italian food on offer will fuel your quest for cultural nourishment

Click here for 48 Hours In... Florence map


The greatest concentration of art in the world: that is a fair contention for the Tuscan capital. Late summer is an excellent time to see Italy's most attractive city at her best; by the second half of August the tourist crowds have started to dwindle.


The city's Amerigo Vespucci airport is served only by Meridiana (0845 355 5588; www.meridiana.it) from Gatwick. A much wider and cheaper range of flights is available to Pisa, 90km to the west. British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) flies there from Gatwick; easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) has flights from Gatwick, Luton and Bristol; Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) flies from Stansted, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow Prestwick and Liverpool, and Jet2.com (0871 226 1737; www.jet2.com) from Belfast, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle.

Terravision shuttle buses leave from a stand to the right of the arrivals exit every hour or two. The return fare is €16 (£13.30) for the 70-minute ride. Alternatively, six train services depart to Florence each day from Pisa airport's railway station. The train is cheaper (€11/£9.20 return), but about 20 minutes slower. See www.trenitalia.com for timetables.


Both the train and the coach drop you off at Santa Maria Novella station (1), about 1km north-west of the city centre. The nearest tourist office (2), directly across the large, always-busy Piazza della Stazione (00 39 055 212 245; www.firenze.turismo.toscana.it), provides free maps and useful literature; open 8.30am-7pm daily (Sundays to 2pm). The main tourist office (3), at Via Cavour 1 (00 39 055 290 832), opens 8.30am-6.30pm daily (Sundays to 1.30pm).

Most of the important sites, notably the Duomo (4), lie within a square kilometre immediately north of the River Arno. The river is spanned by six bridges, of which the Ponte Vecchio (5) is arguably the world's loveliest river crossing. The Oltrarno district on the south bank contains better vantage points, but demands less of your time.


The most striking luxury option is the Bernini Palace (6), in the heart of the action at Piazza San Firenze 29 (00 39 055 288 621; www.baglionihotels.com). This former 15th-century palazzo served as Italy's parliament when Florence briefly became capital of the new republic in the 1860s. Spacious and opulently furnished double rooms start at €250 (£208), including breakfast.

Classical and modern design are stylishly combined at the four-star Borghese Palace Art Hotel (7), a few minutes' walk from the Duomo, at Via Ghibellina 174 (00 39 055 284 363; www.borghesepalace.it). A glass lift ascends from the internal courtyard to the upper floors. Double rooms, with breakfast, start at €260 (£217).

On the left bank, Hotel Silla (8) at Via de Renai 5 (00 39 055 234 2888; www.hotelsilla.it) is a well-refurbished 17th-century house with a riverside terrace that's a perfect spot for breakfast. Double rooms, with breakfast, start at €150 (£125).


You have a choice. Climb the 466 steps to the top of the Duomo (4) or the 414 steps to the panoramic terrace of the adjacent Giotto's Bell Tower, part of the astonishing Renaissance religious complex designed to show off Florence's wealth and ambition. The drawback of the first ascent is that the cathedral itself is missing from the view. The Duomo's cupola is open Mon-Fri, 8.30am-6.20pm; Sat 8.30am-5pm. The Bell Tower opens 8.30am-6.50pm daily. Admission to either is €6 (£5).


It is easy to tick off most major civic and religious sites, at least from the outside, because of the compactness of the old town. Start at the Duomo (4). Head towards the river along Via Del Proconsolo to the Bargello Museum (9), one of the city's oldest public buildings; it now houses a vast collection of sculptures. Cross Piazza San Firenze (6) past the stately, crenellated Palazzo Vecchio (10) and one of the world's great art galleries, the Uffizi (11). When you reach the river, turn right to marvel at, and then cross, the Ponte Vecchio (5), crammed with gold and silversmiths' shops.

Once on the south bank, follow Via de Giucciardini to the intimidating Palazzo Pitti (12), the city's largest, which was once the base of the Medicis. Inside the palace and its garden pavilions are no fewer than eight galleries, the most important of which – the Galleria Palatina – features paintings by Caravaggio, Titian and Rubens among others. The admission charge of €8.50 (£7) gives access to all its museums, and is valid for three days. It opens 8.15am-6.50pm daily except Monday.

Finally, follow Via Maggio towards the river, crossing the graceful Ponte Santa Trinita (13) to the lovely piazza of the same name.


Explore the narrow streets set back from the obvious tourist traps, where cafés and snack bars are plentiful – though it's hard to resist an outdoor terrace table on one of the main piazzas, even if the prices are a jolt.


The world's finest collection of Renaissance art is the Uffizi Gallery (11) (00 39 055 294 883; www.firenzemusei.it). Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Rubens are among the luminaries at Italy's most popular tourist attraction. It opens 8.15am-6.50pm daily except Monday. Booking your visiting slot in advance guarantees entry, but there's a €3 (£2.50) surcharge on the admission charge of €6.50 (£5.40). The queues are almost as long outside the Galleria dell'Accademia (14) at Via Ricasoli, where the big attraction is Michelangelo's David. Opening hours and admission charges are the same as the Uffizi's.


As if there wasn't enough to do on the cultural beat, Florence offers rich pickings for shoppers, with an abundance of modern fashion stores alongside the leather manufacturers and jewellers. For leatherware and gloves, the Piazza Santa Croce (15) is filled with smallholders' stalls selling locally made products. Piazza San Lorenzo (16) has the best of the open-air markets, open 7am-2pm daily except Sundays.


Near the Duomo, La Congrega (17), at Via Dei Tosinghi 3-4 (00 39 055 264 027) is a stylish lounge bar serving snacks throughout the day and cocktails in the evening. Near the Ponte Vecchio, on the south bank, Ringo's wine bar (18) at Borgo San Jacopo 21 (00 39 055 219 100) decorates the pavement with zinc tables and champagne buckets in a street of great character and diversity. Both are a short walk from the frenzy of the nearby attractions.


For a veritable Tuscan-style blow-out, the excellent Caffe Italiano (19) at Via Isola delle Stinche 11-13 (00 39 055 289 368) serves a sampler of Tuscan-dressed meats, followed by vegetable soup, ricotta and spinach ravioli and artichokes, beef braised in Chianti Classico with creamed potatoes, and tiramisu. This set menu is not cheap – €50 (£41.50) a head without wine – but the friendly staff and decor are delightful.

Il Pizzaiuolo (20) at Via dei Macci 113 (00 39 055 241 171) is an institution, reputed to turn out the finest pizzas in town. It's rustic, inexpensive and so popular that it's advisable to book.


On the south side of the Palazzo Pitti, a quarry was transformed into the formal Boboli Gardens (21) by the Medici family. It opened in 1766, replete with sculptures, ornate pavilions and grottos. From June to August, the gardens open daily between 8.15am-7.30pm, closing an hour earlier in September and October. The entrance fee of €6 (£5) allows admission to some minor museums.


One of the few Florentine establishments that specialises in American-style brunch on Sundays is Noir (22), at Lungarno Corsini 12 (00 39 055 210 751; www.noirfirenze.com), which is open from noon until after midnight (except Mondays), and is also a fashionable cocktail venue.


Officially known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, but universally called the Duomo (4), this monumental structure was Europe's largest religious building in 1436. The colourful marble façade was added in the 19th century. Admission is free to the main church, which is surprisingly austere. On Sundays, tourists are allowed to tour the church between 1.30-4.45pm; for worshippers, Mass is said at 7.30am, 9am, 10.30am, noon and 6pm. There's a service in English on Saturday at 5pm.


The finest long-range view of the river, bridges, spires and great dome is from the Piazzale Michelangelo (23), south-east of the centre. Stone terracing is provided for the many thousands of tourists to enjoy the ever-changing scene and the hubbub of humanity around the souvenir stalls and cafés.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam