Florence is the perfect balance of style and substance. Packed with masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture, the beautiful Tuscan city is an essential destination for anyone curious about the foundations of western culture. Florence-based travel writer Sabrina Crawford explains why everyone should visit the city she calls home.
Home to Michelangelo, Dante and Galileo, among many other artistic and scientific luminaries, Florence has long been the place for revolutionary creativity and thought. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, the city has been instrumental in creating the foundations of western culture as we know it today.
The music-filled piazzas, ancient churches, narrow cobbled alleys, green shutters and burnt sienna terracotta rooftops here retain the charm of centuries past, whisking visitors back to simpler times. Here are the top 11 reasons to add Florence to your Italy itinerary. We promise you’ll be glad you did.
Ask any Florentine where you can get the best views in the city, and they’ll point you to Piazzale Michelangelo. There is something rewarding about the climb up the 400-plus stone steps to reach the windswept terrace, but if stairs are not your friend or the blistering heat is too much in the height of summer, you can get a bus from the main train station or hop in a taxi or on a Vespa tour to make the ascent. From the Piazzale, you can see for miles beyond the ancient city walls, taking in the rolling green Tuscan hillside. It’s definitely worth stopping in at one of the terrace bars here to sip a spritz, relax and admire the city’s splendour from way up high. The panorama of terracotta rooftops, grand Renaissance palazzos and the architectural prowess of the Duomo below is a picture-perfect mental postcard you’ll keep forever.
As the capital of Tuscany, Florence is also the de facto capital of Italian wine country. While it’s true that every region in Italy has something unique to offer the curious palate, Tuscany is a real winner when it comes to wine. Rent a car in Florence to best explore the famed beauty and fine wines of the surrounding countryside. Zigzag through small hill towns in Chianti, tasting local wines and sampling sumptuous local meats, cheeses and oils to your heart’s delight. By car or organised tour, it’s also easy to visit Florence’s historic arch-rival, Siena, and the nearby medieval towers of San Gimignano. Whatever your route, don’t leave without a trip to the countryside to experience the lush, rustic beauty of Tuscany and to sample the grapes of Chianti, Montepulciano and Brunello.
Michelangelo’s masterpiece – carved from a single, famously discarded and “flawed” block of precious white Carrara marble – will leave you awestruck. No matter how many photos, magnets and T-shirt images you’ve seen, the real David is a truly striking sight. It’s not only the sheer size which is astounding, but the artistry of this hero carved out of the rock. Originally commissioned to adorn Florence Cathedral, the sculpture is today one of the best-known works of Renaissance art.
Before the rise of the Medicis, before the height of the Renaissance, and long before there was a unified country called Italy, there was Dante Alighieri. Poet of poets and author of The Divine Comedy – universally considered one of the greatest Western works of literature – Dante is revered as the father of the modern Italian language. His old neighbourhood is here in Florence, and you can visit the site of his house (now a museum), and the small church dedicated to Dante and Beatrice – the object of his poetic devotion. Literary lovers come to Florence from all over the world just to pay homage to the poet, and see the city that inspired him. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the modern-day Dante: a local legend who dresses in period costume and recites the poet’s verse on street corners.