Day 1 – The beginning
Introduce yourself to this colourful, compact city by starting off the day in Piazza della Repubblica. Sit outside in one of the cafes that line this square, order a cappuccino and biscotti and watch the fashionable Florentines go by against a backdrop of towering domes and burnt orange roofs.
After breakfast walk through Via Roma and you will come across Brunelleschi’s famous Duomo and the medieval Baptistery, the oldest building in Florence. In the same square lies the Campanile, an elegant bell tower.
From here saunter through Borgo San Lorenzo to reach Piazza San Lorenzo where you can admire the Brunelleschi Basilica. Commissioned to Brunelleschi from the Medici Family in 1420, this cathedral represents a classical example of Brunelleschian architecture.
Later in the day, stroll by the open market of San Lorenzo, located on Via del Canto De’Nelli, Via Dell’Ariento and Via Sant’ Antonino, one of the biggest leather markets in Italy (open daily from 9am until 7pm). It’s great for picking up beautiful hand-made Italian leather bags and belts.
You should have worked up an appetite after all that shopping so why not take the opportunity to taste some genuine Florentine food. There are clusters of atmospheric trattorie’s in this area. Don’t forget to check out that there are plenty of locals eating there as a guide for a good meal.
If you in the mood for some more shopping Via del Corso has some cheap and cheerful clothes and shoes while if designer clothes are more up your alley, head to the area around Via della Vigna Nuova.
Florentines, unlike the rest of the Italians, have always preferred wine to coffee. They may not have the café culture that Rome boasts of but their love of wine and the influx of foreign students has made sure Florence has some lively nightlife. Dolce Vita in Piazza del Carmine, is a particularly good spot to watch the sun go down while sipping a chilled cocktail.
Day 2 – Culture to Cuisine
Start off the day in Piazza Santa Croce, one of Florence’s most lavish churches. Built in Florentine gothic style, this church’s interior holds the funeral monuments of figures such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini and Dante.
From Santa Croce, if you stroll along the river you will reach the Uffizi Gallery and the treasures that it holds. You should allow three hours to appreciate all that the Uffizi has to offer and the wise museum-goers should book their tickets in advance to avoid the lengthy queues.
Further along the river you won’t be able to miss the famous Ponte Vecchio, now lined with glittering jewellery shops. Walk across the bridge admiring the view of the city’s reflection on the way.
A short stroll east of the bridge will bring you to the largest palace in Florence, Palazzo Pitti, home to Cosimo I de’ Medici in the sixteenth century. Behind this impressive palace are the enormous gardens of Giarrdinodi Boboli, where you can take a well deserved break to eat an old-fashioned gelato, ice-cream or take a nap under the shade of a tree.
The ‘other’ side of the river, once an artist’s quarter, is now home to some of the swankiest shops in Florence. This is a good place to do a bit of window shopping on your way to one of the many excellent Tuscan restaurants that this historical area has to offer.
Day 3 – Escape the city
You mustn’t leave Florence without a visit to the Bargello. Its many Renaissance sculptures are housed in the fortress-like Palazzo del Bargello. This atmospheric museum has a whole room devoted to Michelangelo and a beautiful gothic courtyard.
Why not escape the hot city on your last afternoon to the magnificent gardens of the Medici Villa della Petraia, about 3.5km north of the city. Walk around this opulent villa and see the frescos of the Medici’s from their ‘hey day’. You could also bring a picnic, stretch out those weary legs and linger over a delicious panini and perhaps a local Chianti wine!
If you are lucky enough to be in Florence in April to July, you should not miss an opera or classical music show organized by the annual festival, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, in one of the many venues scattered around the city.
Alternatively, you could go to the open air cinema at the Forte Belvedere, above the Boboli gardens. This is highly recommended as a place to go on a balmy night with a clear sky, as moons glow and twinkling stars will bring out anyone’s romantic side.
Day 4 – Siena
After 3 full days in Florence, it is nice to get a break from the city. Siena presents the perfect opportunity to do so. Situated just 50 kilometres south of Florence, this small walled city has a lot to offer and you won’t be able to fit it all in a day, but you can always make an attempt at visiting the city’s flagship attractions. And before you even get there the 90 minute to 2 hour train journey is a spectacle on its own.
Like many medieval European cities, walking around Siena’s ancient streets is the same as walking around a museum. Naturally this has its advantages as if you don’t get to visit some of the museums or cathedrals.
Some parts of the city which it would be criminal to miss (but you probably won’t due to Siena’s compactness) is Piazzo il Campo. Many who visit Siena agree this isn’t only its most spectacular one, but also one of Italy’s. Duomo (the city’s cathedral) is a remarkable example of Gothic architecture, along with the nearby Palazzo Pubblico with its 97 metre high bell tower, known as Torre del Mangia.
If it is (more) culture you are after visit the city’s Museo Civico. Of all Siena’s museums this is arguably its most impressive housing some wonderful paintings from many the two most famous Sienese artists Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Upon entering you can saunter through various rooms and see many displays which are sure to keep any art lover enthralled for an hour or two.
And before heading back to Florence (or you could also stay overnight if you wish) visit the Ospedale di Santa Maria which can be found opposite the Duomo. Starting its existence as a hospital from 800s for a total of 900 years and into 1980s, it was then restored and converted into a museum. A very impressive collection of art is on display here also so try not to miss it.
If you do decide to stay in Siena for the night you find an abundance of bars and nightclubs, but there is enough of them to ensure you will have a choice of where to go. Some of the ancient city’s hot spots include Barone Rosso which hosts many local bands, The Walkabout Pub, Siena’s own antipodean drinking hole, and Irish Pub which always guarantees a memorable night.
Day 5 – Your final day
A good place to begin your final day in Florence is at Piazza della Signoria. The L-shaped square is not the centre for the endless amounts of tourists which visits the city every year, but since the middle ages it has also been the political hub of Florence (from 1268 to be exact). It ended up with its unique L-shape due to a ‘civil’ war between rival families which saw a total of 38 buildings destroyed. As they were rebuilt the strange shape began to take shape.
Scattered all around the square are a number of monuments, statues and fountains which, one by one, mean you could find yourself visiting the nearest camera shop for an extra roll of film quicker than you expected. The best known of all of these is the Statue of David. But this one is fake. So only take a snap if you plan to tell people you are standing at an impostor. Other statues in the area which are sure to make your jaw drop (for a few seconds at least) is the Rape of the Sabine Woman and that of Heracles, sculpted with great elegance by Baccio Bandinelli.
Once you feel you have devoted enough time to Piazza della Signoria (chances are you will need to sit down and people watch over a coffee at some stage) make your way to Galleria dell’Accademialocated on Via dei Servi. This is where you will find the real statue of David. No doubt you may have caught a glimpse of it at some stage in a travel guide or postcard, but due to the size of the sculpture (it really is HUGE) it can’t be appreciated until you see it up close. Most people visit the museum solely to see David (which was sculpted by Michelangelo), it is that impressive.
Considering Florence is where the world’s first opera was performed in 1598 when ‘Daphne’ took to the stage at the home of Jacopo Corsi, you can’t vacate in the city and not go to one. The most famed venue in the city for its operatic performances is Teatro Comunale. You can also catches operas and dance performances in the smaller Teatro della Pergola and also Piazza dei Congressi.