Where all roads lead to the dome

City Slicker: Florence - A new flight makes it easier to reach the city of the Medicis. Kate Simon has some tips for new and returning visitors
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The Independent Travel

Why visit?

Getting to Florence just got a little bit easier with the launch of CityJet's new flight from London City – doubling non-stop services from the UK to the Italian city from one to two (the alternative is flying with Meridiana out of Gatwick).

It's a great excuse to return to this living museum and if you travel now, before the weather improves and the crowds descend, you might have to pack a raincoat and a brolly and miss out on strolling around with one of the city's famous gelati in your hand, but the pay-off will be relatively unfettered access to some of the world's art treasures.

Compact and eminently walkable – how better to admire its quaint medieval streets – Florence is split into two by the River Arno. The Centro Storico is home to most of the historic and cultural sights, where you can also learn about the legacy of the Medicis and the influence of politics and trade on the fabric of this city, and understand the influence Florence had beyond its walls. The south side of the river, Oltrarno, traditionally the artisans quarter, also has important historic sights, not least the Pitti Palace, but this is the place to get more of a taste of Florentine life.

Don't miss

The Duomo. You can't really miss it, because Brunelleschi's huge dome dominates the city. But close up, it's the red, white and green marble, fashioned in geometric shapes, which clad the church, the Baptistery of St John, and the Campanile, which was designed by Giotto, that takes the breath away. Go inside to see the huge fresco of The Last Judgement within the dome, and descend the stairs at the western end of the nave to explore the excavated remains from Roman times.

The Ponte Vecchio. A crossing over the Arno since the Roman era, the current bridge dates from medieval times and continues to be an unusual location for commerce, its shops, these days, are occupied mainly by jewellers.

The Uffizi Gallery. It's the ultimate showcase of Renaissance art and features every artist of note from that era. Remember, the first rule of the Uffizi is to pre-book even to have a hope of getting in. Afterwards, step out on the Piazza della Signoria, a veritable open-air exhibition of statuary and the site of the rather impressive city hall, aka the Palazzo Vecchio.

The Accademia. The home of Michelangelo's David and The Slaves.

The Bargello. This former prison houses the finest collection of Renaissance sculpture.

San Lorenzo. The oldest church in Florence is where you'll find tombs of the Medicis sculpted by Michelangelo. Once outside on the square, call into the food market, with its glorious array of fresh produce.

The Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. This is the largest palace in Florence, set in glorious formal gardens. It hosts eight museums, including the Galleria Palatina, featuring paintings by Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio.

The Piazzale Michelangelo. Head for this elevated square in Oltrarno for panoramic views of the city.

What's new

Via del Proconsolo

This street is getting a reputation as the place to be, with shops including A Piedi Nudi Nel Parco (see below) and Marithe + François Girbaud attracting the fashion-hungry crowd. But its attractions don't wane after dark. Alle Murate (allemurate.it), at No 16, and Angels Restaurant and Wine Bar, at No 29, are popular places for the smart crowd to drink and dine. And the house and techno-music nightclub Doris, just around the corner on Via de Pandolfini, keeps the beautiful crowd here until the early hours.

A Piedi Nudi Nel Parco

This fashion store is one of the reasons why the via del Proconsolo is becoming so trendy. It has stocks cutting-edge Italian fashion, though other labels, such as Comme des Garçons and Vera Wang also feature. However, this shop is not just about clothes, its concept is multi-dimensional: there's a small bar for coffees and cocktails and a permanent exhibition of art byJosephine Zayal. Yet, even in this 21st-century enclave, the star of the show remains Florence – as you walk about the clothes racks, note the glass floor beneath your feet revealing some of the city's ancient archeology. The shop's next outlet, opposite Dante's House, is due to open in April and will focus on menswear.

Details: pnp-firenze.com

Enoteca di Andrea Amadei

Andrea Amadei opened this tunnel of a shop close to the corner of Borgo Pinti just a few months ago. Formerly a private sommelier, he is using his expert nose to sniff out some of the finest wines that Italy's small producers have to offer, from the Marche to Puglia. The shop is functional, with wine arranged by region, though the odd assortment of ornaments – from a sangiovese vine root to a nitrogen tank – add a little homespun character. Give amiable Andrea a little notice and he will bring out the Parmesan and guide your choice of purchases with a tasting.

Details: Borgo Pinti, 8/rosso; 00 39 348 38 16 020

Ora D'Aria

This smart and contemporary restaurant is the home of emerging chef, Marco Stabile, and has recently moved to new premises on via dei Georgofili. The main dining room is bright, with a light-wood parquet floor and furnishings and decor in soft shades of grey and white, a palette that is saved from being dull by the design flourish of framing the back wall with a high-backed banquette and bevelled glass panels. The atmosphere feels intimate thanks to the room's small scale – there are only 18 covers (there's a second room downstairs). Chef Stabile isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, he deals in innovative re-arrangement of ingredients, many of which are Tuscan. The result is an interesting menu, featuring such curiously named dishes as "The realised dream of the potato: overtaken by truffles!!". It builds expectation, yet, while the dishes are well executed, they don't deliver that wow factor. Expect to pay from €52 per head for two courses without wine. Tasting menus from €50.

Details: oradariaristorante.com

Compact Facts

How to get there

CityJet (0871 666 5050; cityjet.com) offers flights from London City to Florence from £69 one way. The Four Seasons Florence (00800 6488 6488; fourseasons.com/florence) offers B&B in a double room from £286 per night. Kirker Holidays (020-7593 2283; kirkerholidays.com) offers three-night packages including return flights from London City, return private car transfers, B&B, guaranteed entrance to the Uffizi Gallery, and guide notes to the city from £469 per person, based on two sharing.

Further Information

Italian State Tourist Board (www.enit.it).

Insider Secret

"Go inside the Porta Romana, one of the city's ancient gates. There is an entrance in the walls on the right-hand side which will take you to the top for a more unusual view of the city."

Juliana De Nicola, fashion designer