With excursion to Fiesole
City trip Florence: art and culture in the Tuscan capital
Florence is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with an amazing range of world famous buildings and art treasures. But Florence is also a city where an overdose is lurking. An overdose of art if you want to stuff too many sights in too few days, and most of the year unfortunately also an overdose of tourists. Then a visit to this beautiful city threatens to become a frustrating exercise in shuffling along crowded streets and endlessly queuing for an entrance ticket. So if you can, take this tip to heart: visit Florence preferably in winter, between November and the beginning of March. The days will be short, but if you're lucky, you can enjoy the beautiful winter light over the Arno River and the pastel-coloured buildings.
One of the first places we usually visite in a city is the central market, just to get a taste of the atmosphere. That's also recommended in Florence. In the Mercato Centrale the ground floor is occupied by a colourful variety of stalls where beautifully displayed produce from the Tuscan region are sold. All food is of an amazing quality we can only dream of in the low countries and ranges ranges from cow stomach (lampredotto) and veal tongue to the famous biftecca fiorentina and black truffles worth hundreds of euros. Upstairs you can enjoy a plate of pasta or a pizza with a glass of wine at one of the many eateries. You can order a dish at various stalls and take a seat anywhere. The prices are a bit higher than on the street, but it is very cozy (and in summer very hot and busy).
For a magnificent view over Florence and the surrounding hills and mountains, cross the Arno river and walk along a path and later on a staircase with 145 steps rather steep uphill to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Especially around sunset there are always a lot of tourists on the square. The statue is a copy of Michelangelo's David.
The view becomes even more panoramic as you climb a little further to the 11th-century church of San Miniato al Monte. This is one of the most beautiful churches in Italy, with a striking facade of white and green marble. The interior of the church is also worthwhile with the marble floor and the striking wooden roof without ceiling. The frescoes on the walls date from the 14th and 15th centuries.
It is difficult to choose from the many museums in Florence, but the Museo Nazionale del Bargello is certainly one of the most beautiful. This austere city palace, which once served as a prison, houses a magnificent art collection, mainly sculptures. Perhaps the most extraordinary work is Donatello's David of 1440, an amazingly modern-looking sculpture of a naked, androgynous youth (The first nude since antiquity). This museum has also extraordinary terracotta works of the Della Robbia's on display. The Bargello Museum is open from 8.15am to 2pm, except on Mondays, but there are sometimes unexpected closing days, so check the website first.
The Uffizi Gallery is the cultural highlight of every visit to Florence, but try to get in first... In the high season the queues in front of the counters are immense and waiting times of a few hours are normal. It's strongly advised to buy your admission ticket in advance from the museum's official website. The Galleria degli Uffizi was built in the 16th century by order of the Medici family as a government office; the second floor was set up as a painting gallery.
The Uffizi boasts some of the most famous paintings in the world, such as the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, the Venus of Urbino by Titian, the portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca and the Bacchus by Caravaggio. There are also a few rooms reserved for Dutch and Flemish masters, including Rembrandt, Rubens and Van Honthorst. From the side window on the second floor you have the best view on the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno. Take a look through the windows that open onto the courtyard and try not to be surprised about the state of maintenance of the woodwork of the windows.
Boboli Garden and Palazzo Pitti
The extensive Boboli garden (€ 7) behind Palazzo Pitti is ideal for a long walk within the city limits. This 16th-century garden is best known for its beautiful symmetrical avenues with cypresses and boxwood and the Mannerist elements, such as a replica cave full of whimsical stones and some (copies of) famous statues. Unfortunately the cave is often fenced off, but you can always look inside.
Walk upstairs and you'll have a beautiful view over the city and at the Museo delle Porcellane on the surrounding hills. Even in winter the garden is worth a visit thanks to the many evergreen plants, only the fragile lemon trees are stored in a covered space. The adjacent Palazzo Pitti contains several museums, most famous is the Galeria Palatina with works by painters such as Titian, Caravaggio, Filippo Lippi and also Rubens and Anthony van Dijck.
Trip to Fiesole
It's only a short bus trip from Florence to the attractive hill village of Fiesole, where you can visit the ruins of a Roman theatre. The monastery of San Francesco with a 14th century colonnade and a small museum is also worth a visit. A pair of mummified hands from Egypt are the highlight of the collection. Note also the endearing frescoes about the good works of Francis. A somewhat hidden staircase leads to the very simple cells of the monks, an impressive sight. From the square near the monastery the view of the Arno valley around Florence and the Apennines is absolutely magnificent.
Buses run frequently to Fiesole (line 7 from Stazione Nazionale), but you can also hike there from Settignano, a picturesque rural village just outside Florence, which can be reached by bus 10 from Piazza San Marco. It is a beautiful, signposted hiking trail of 8 km through the hilly area of Monte Ceceri (see map and gpx file). Tip: buy bus tickets in advance at a kiosk in Florence, also for the return journey, and don't forget to stamp them on the bus; the controls are strict and fines are high.