|Church of Santa Croce|
|Il Borro Tuscan Bistro|
Florence, Italy, is one of travellers’ favourite art-city destinations. It’s famous, of course, for the Uffizi Gallery, which houses a greater concentration of Italian Renaissance art than anywhere else in the world, it’s also got a good number of other museums to see. But you’ll also want to spend some time outside of museums and churches, just wandering the attractive streets seeking out artisans or wine bars.Here are some of my “local tips” for sight-seeing, eating and sleeping.
WHAT TO SEE IN FLORENCE
As a long-term resident in Florence and someone who first moved here for the love of its art, it’s always really hard for me to write about suggestions for what to do and see. It really depends on if you’ve already visited before, and also on your tolerance for big museums.
If you’ve never been to the Uffizi before, it can be pretty big, crowded and overwhelming. I’ve written a guide to help first-time visitors and those who don’t have an art history background identify which works to concentrate on. It’s not a complete guide but more a “top paintings not to miss” list with some notes on how to look at them.
Of the other large tourist destinations in Florence, my top pick would be the Church of Santa Croce. Best known as the Florentine Pantheon for the many famous people buried or commemorated there (including Michelangelo and Dante), I’m less thrilled about the tombs and more excited about the frescoes. There are two chapels by Giotto, the proto-Renaissance painter who pretty much kicked off the modern, three-dimensional and emotional way of representation that characterized the following 500 years. I also feel a strong connection to the Pazzi Chapel, part of the church complex designed by Brunelleschi (yeah the guy who designed the Dome).
The exhibition #ytalia presents over 100 works by Italian #contemporaryartists at #fortebelvedere and other locations around #florence. The most photographed piece is the Cosmic Magnet (aka #loscheletrone ) by Gino de Dominicis; the radical artist refused documentation so we can only guess that it's another reflection on life and death. @verymarygray put it nicely when she connected it to Masaccio's skeleton in @operasmn ...
Besides the classics, I always suggest people take in some temporary exhibitions. In the summertime, brave the steep hill to walk up to Forte Belvedere, where the city puts on displays of large contemporary art. It’s always a thrill, and also a great view. Just don’t try to walk up mid-day in the heat! The rest of the year (but not in August, when it’s closed), check out what exhibit is on at Palazzo Strozzi, who generally put on the city’s best curated shows, alternating between modern/contemporary and pre-modern art.
WHERE TO EAT IN FLORENCE
You could just spend your whole day eating.
Let’s start with lunch. My favourite panino shop in town is the tiny Sott’Arno on via Maggio, by the same owners as the funky hotel mentioned below. Dining is managed by Fratelli Lunardi, a bakery outside of Florence who, at this central location, serve up delicious local specialties on huge pieces of the savoury Florentine schiacchiata, in a setting reminiscent of a New York deli.
For something more formal at lunch, many of the city’s fancier and even Michelin-starred restaurants offer a lunch special that allows you to try multiple courses for a great price. I often go to Hotel Savoy’s Irene restaurant for lunch right in the middle of the city in piazza della Repubblica. I particularly like the appetizers: their fried calamari with sweet and sour sauce is to die for, paired maybe with the fennel and orange salad for a bit of freshness.
For dinner, try Il Borro Tuscan Bistro, with a classy understated setting characteristic of its Ferragamo ownership. Chef Andrea Campani is equally talented serving up fish or meat in his modern reinterpretations of traditional Tuscan cuisine.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN FLORENCE
I’m a big fan of Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which has been nicely renovated and is a lively crossing point. Right on the piazza, I often recommend two hotels: the boutique hotel JK Place for its amazing rooms and intimate breakfast table; and the larger Hotel Minerva, recently restored and with the best rooftop pool and rooftop aperitivo bar in town, hands down!
The COSIMO IL VECCHIO apartment space was originally the part of the medieval townhouse that was used as the kitchen. In this era, the kitchen always had to be at the top of buildings because of the fire risk posed by cooking over open flames in fireplaces. This apartment has retained a touch of its ancient atmosphere and is comfortably furnished with a mix of antique and modern pieces. It is perfect for a family of four to six, or a group of friends.
In the Oltrarno, lovers of quirky antique finds will fall in love with Soprar’Arno Suites, or with the newly opened AdAstra Hotel Particuler by owners Matteo Perduca and Betty Soldi. Want something more Tuscan in style? Right near funky piazza della Passera is Palazzo Belfiore, with nicely appointed apartments and friendly ownership; their just-opened Palazzo San Niccolò is also a great option.
For Unanchor, Alexandra has written a handy Art-History guide to the Uffizi (available for Kindle only) and a 3-day art-lovers’ itinerary in Florence. Follow her blog www.arttrav.com.
Interested in getting more information about Florence, Italy or elsewhere? Check out the rest of Alexandra's guides: