48 hours in Florence

If you're planning a visit to Italy's artistic capital go now, while the Vasariano Corridor is open.



The crowds are thinning out, prices are coming down and although the sun's still shining it's not nearly as sticky. As the tourist season starts to wind down, Florence in September is a pleasant place to be. And if you go now you can also visit the Vasariano Corridor. Only open to the public for a limited time (until 30 October), the Vasariano Corridor in the Uffizi Gallery is the Medici's old escape route. Lined with paintings, it runs from the Palazzo Vecchio across the River Arno via the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti. For reservations call 00 39 055 26 54 321 between 8.30am-1pm.


Florence airport is small and few airlines fly there direct. Hamilton Travel Europe (0171-344 3333) is currently offering flights from London on Lufthansa via Frankfurt for around £165, or on Alitalia via Milan for £180. Both of these are trickier than a flight on Ryanair (0541 569569) from Stansted to Pisa from around £90, with a direct connection from the airport to Florence station.


There is no shortage of centrally located hotels in Florence even at the height of the season. For a taste of luxury stay at the Grand Hotel Baglioni, situated in a 19th-century palace close to the Duomo. The roof-top restaurant and garden with flowering pergolas offer panoramic views over the city, (Piazza Unita Italiana 6; tel 00 39 055 23 580; a double room costs 460,000 lire, about £160). The three-star Hotel Porta Rossa, an old coaching inn with frescoed ceilings, is a favourite with British guests (Via Porta Rossa, 19; tel 00 39 055 28 75 51). A double room costs 240,000 lire (about £80). For those on a tighter budget, try the Nuova Italia, with wrought-iron banisters and a stone-flagged stairway. Rooms start from 140,000 lire, around £50 (Via Faenza 26; tel 00 39 055 26 84 30).


A city of artists and artisans, Florence is easy to negotiate on foot. Clustered around the famous Duomo on the north bank of the River Arno, cobbled streets and squares retain their Renaissance charm. The main tourist office is at Via Cavour 1, just north of the Duomo and is open from Monday to Saturday 8.15am to 7.15pm and Sunday from 8.45am to 1.45pm. Pick up a map, hotel information and friendly advice. Their main tip for the first- time visitor who wants to "see" Florence is not to spend all day in the museums, just walk around - and look up.


An American breakfast (eggs, coffee, tea or orange juice and toast or brioche for 22,000 lire) is advertised outside the French-style Caffe Giubbe Rosse in the Piazza della Repubblica, originally a Roman forum and now lined with fashionable cafes. Eat outside under a large awning or in the roomy interior with marble-topped tables, ceiling fans, and artists' sketches and posters covering the walls.


Horse-drawn carriage rides start from Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria. The smart green-jerkined drivers provide interesting commentary as you trot towards the Arno passing the church of Orsanmichele, originally a grain market, and the Mercato Nuovo, a loggia built in the 16th century for the gold and silver trade. The square market is now bursting with stalls selling leather bags and belts, lace and linen, and silk ties. Rub the wild boar's nose as you drop in a coin and you'll return to Florence. Another right along the Borgo SS Apostoli to the Piazza Santa Trinita and then down to the river and along the bank of the Arno until you reach the Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge to survive the Nazi's bombing. Back up towards the Piazza della Signoria and diagonally across the square to head down the little back streets towards Dante's house just off the Via del Corso, finishing back at the Duomo. Cost 100,000 lire for half an hour.


For authentic Italian food try the little restaurants around the San Lorenzo area. At Giannino in S Lorenzo, 35/37 Borgo San Lorenzo, you can sample a traditional Florentine menu for 30,000 lire (about £10) including ribollita alla florentina (a filling bread and vegetable soup), Florentine tripe, Tuscan peasant beef chops and Tuscan sausages with white beans in oil. A rustic restaurant with painted ceiling, shelves of salami and cheeses, tiled floor and exposed brickwork.


Alice Atelier in Via Faenza, a tiny back street near San Lorenzo market, is an Aladdin's cave filled with amazing papier mache masks. Like a character from Hans Christian Anderson, Professor Agostino Dessi uses 17th-century techniques to create intricate masks for Italian theatre and cinema, and the famed Venice Carnival. Open Monday-Saturday, 9.30am- 1pm, 3.30-7.30pm. Entrance is free.


Walking Tours of Florence (00 39 055 23 46 225) offers an alternative to the more traditional group walks. But, with map in hand, you could try the do-it-yourself route, plotted as easily around a tour of the ice-cream parlours as churches. Start at the Chiesa di Santa Croce, where you will find the tomb of Michelangelo, before heading west via the famous Gelateria Vivoli on Via dell Isola Delle Stinche - renowned as the best ice-cream parlour in Florence - to the Palazzo Vecchio. Cross the square littered with statues and head north to marvel at the green, pink and cream marble facade of the Duomo. Continue north through the market of San Lorenzo to the Medici Chapel, burial place of the Medicis, before bearing west to the church of Santa Maria Novella and the famous frescos of Filippino Lippi and Masaccio.


Brunelleschi's famous dome dominates the city's skyline. On Sunday Mass is sung in the cathedral at 10.30am (as well as at 7.30am, 9am, 12noon and 6pm). For a more intimate atmosphere, cross the Arno where mass at Santo Spirito is at 9am, or to hear the mass in Latin make the trek up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and the church of San Miniato al Monte at 5.30pm. A full list of services is available at the tourist office.


Wander down to Alfredo sull' Arno on the south bank of the Arno where the open terrace overlooks the Ponte Vecchio. For the best Tuscan ham and melon at only 10,000 lire (approx £3.40) followed by mouthwatering wild boar stew or a famous Florentine steak.


Across the Arno in the Piazza Santo Spirito is the bohemian Cafe Cabiria. The square has an off-centre feel and the jazz floating out of the cafe adds to the atmosphere. Open until 1am, cocktails start at 10,000 lire (£3.50). Alternatively sip the aperitivo della casa, a delicious concoction of Campari, Martini, tonic and Punt & Mes at the classic Cafe Rivoire on the Piazza della Signoria, an open-air sculpture gallery with Ammannati's Fountain of Neptune, copies of Michelangelo's David and Donatello's Marzocco outside the Palazzo Vecchio.


For one of the best views of Florence, cross the Arno and walk up the leafy, cobbled footpath to the Piazza del Michelangelo. This large square, dotted with souvenir stalls, offers a panoramic view. The Renaissance Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace is another ideal escape from the city's heat and bustle. One of the most important examples of Italian Renaissance landscape - design by Niccolo Pericoli, aka "Il Tribolo" - it offers shaded pathways, wooded groves, and long avenues leading to fountains, with statues tucked away and unexpected vistas. Cost 4,000 lire.


The smell of leather assaults you as you meander through the Piazza San Lorenzo. Handbags, luggage, wallets, leather jackets and belts are piled high on every stall and there are some real bargains. In the courtyard outside the Uffizi, along the banks of the Arno and along the Via de' Calzaiuoli, street hawkers display seconds of Louis Vuitton and Prada bags from 150,000 lire, on pavement cloths laid out like a shopaholic's picnic. The Via de' Tornabuoni is the street for designer shopping, with Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci and Armani to name but a few. And for silver and gold you need look no further than the Ponte Vecchio. Originally this 14th-century bridge was the domain of butchers who threw the remains into the river until Cosimo de Medici had them evicted. Florence is also famous for its beautiful patterned paper - try Il Papiro behind the Duomo.


The Uffizi Gallery is a must, of course, and if you only visit one museum during your stay this has to be it. Built in the second half of the 16th century for Cosimo de' Medici, the gallery houses what many consider to be the greatest collection of Italian and Florentine art in the world. A firm favourite is the Botticelli room including the famous Primavera and Birth of Venus. Complete the visit with a fresh lemonade in the roof- top cafe under the famous crenellations of the Torre d'Arnolfo, the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. If you are going to the Uffizi Gallery you can book tickets in advance on 00 39 055 29 48 83. (Open weekdays 8.30am-9pm, Sunday 8.30am-10pm. Closed Mondays. Cost: 12,000 lire.)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn