The heartstoppingly beautiful city on the Arno is, along with Venice and Rome, one of Italy's must-see cities. The cobblestoned streets, honey-coloured buildings, sublime churches and works of art that one almost trips over could suggest that Florence is a living museum - it is certainly a renaissance time capsule with art by Brunelleschi, Donatello, Michelangelo and Botticelli - but travellers booking flights to Florence will discover a warm, laidback city with a lively population.
It's thanks to the Medici family, enthusiastic patrons of the arts, that Florence is so full of treasures. The impossibly grand Church of San Lorenzo, near the Medici Palace, was the family's parish church and it's the final resting place of many of the Medicis. Other buildings associated with them include the Uffizi Gallery, the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens and the Belvedere.
Florence is a great city in which to indulge in more earthly pleasures such as eating or shopping. Florence was the fashion capital of Italy until Milan seized the crown in the 1960s. All the greats are here: Armani, Ferragamo, Gucci and Zegna. For bargains, visit the outlet shops or take a trip to the warehouses of Gucci and Prada.
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Florence has a temperate climate with warm, dry summers and cool winters. Spring is warm and dry with temperatures in the teens in April and May. July and August are the hottest months with temperatures are in the high 20s. September cools down to the low 20s, and December through February are usually about zero or just over it. Winter is also the rainy season, but it rarely snows.
When to fly to Florence
July and August are the peak months of Florence’s high season which runs from April to mid-October. The evenings tend to be cool and provide relief from the heat and pollution.
Easter week is also a very busy time, and busloads of schoolchildren arrive from March to May to visit the museums and historical sights. If you're planning on visiting during peak season, book Florence flights far in advance.
The shoulder season is April to June and September and October. The weather is pleasant and there are fewer tourists.
December is cold and crisp, but the rest of the winter tends to be cold and damp.
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Getting around Florence
When your flight to Florence arrives, take the “Vola in bus” Airport Shuttle from the airport terminal. It will take you straight downtown for a reasonable price. You’ll figure out quickly that Florence is a walking city. There are so many pedestrians that traffic slows to a crawl. Take your time wandering through the winding alleys to any of Florence’s major attractions. You can also rent a bike to get around. Avoiding taxis and rental cars will help you save money.
Florence insider information
- Museums, galleries, cathedrals, churches, bridges, shopping and art, art, art: there is so much to do and see in Florence that no matter how long your visit you won’t have time to see everything you’d like to. Don’t rush around trying to fit it all in, but take time out to enjoy the living city. Linger over a cappuccino on a pavement café and watch the city go past.
- Every tourist stepping off their flights to Florence goes to see the Ponte Vecchio, but take a stroll along the Arno river at the same time. The views down the river – and to the other bridges – are wonderful. Visit at dusk when the sun is setting for a really beautiful view of the city.
- No matter what time of year you visit, be prepared for tourists and long, long lines. This is especially true at the museums, where you can wait in line for up to five hours, especially at the most famous ones. However, it is possible to arrive early in the morning and get a reservation for later on in the day. Definitely recommended.
- Florence is in the heart of Tuscany. If you’ve got time, take a visit to one of the nearby cities and see some of the famed countryside.
- Spend some time researching restaurants before you go out to eat. Because of its popularity as a tourist destination, there are many over-priced offerings with less than genuine Italian fare. If possible, try to avoid the restaurants around the most popular areas and get a recommendation before you go. Most guidebooks list good, authentic places to eat; even better is a suggestion from a local. Wandering the streets and looking for somewhere good can be fun – but you may end up paying through the nose for your meal at the end.
- Don’t miss the passeggiata – a daily Italian ritual. At around dusk Italians take to the streets for a slow walk before supper with family and friends. The perfect opportunity to see and be seen.