Whether you’re looking for a day trip to its art galleries or are staying in its historic centre, Florence will wow you with its sumptuous food, famous artworks and incredible architecture. Here’s where to see…

Still the fairest of all Italian cities, Florence flourishes when you can flee the throngs. Discover award-winning hidden masterpieces, secret paths through the pines, perhaps even a cookery school cradled in a hilltop monastery. Throw in pasticceria on the periferia (‘outskirts’) and you have a recipe for cracking cuisine, culture and calm.

The best things to do in Florence

1. Get arty at the The Palatine Gallery

If the queues at the Uffizi Gallery don’t drive you to vino, the crackle of the audioguides will. Instead, tucked behind the walls of the Pitti Palace, find a hidden gem. The Palatine Gallery (Piazza de Pitti 1) is still dripping with freschi from this wing’s glory days as home to the Medici Dukes, and its Renaissance paintings rival anything in the Uffizi. Don’t miss the exquisite face of Raphael’s Madonna dell Granduca.

2. Hike to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte

For a road less travelled on your trip to Florence, hike the five kilometres from Ponte alle Grazie to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte (Via delle Porte Sante 34). It’s steep, but the climb up pine-shaded steps leads to a city overlook that would have Leonardo reaching for his pencil. And inside this green-and-white marble 11th-century church are rainbow-bright mosaics and frescoes. Make it for evening mass for the monks’ bell-clear Gregorian chant.

Basilica of "San Miniato al Monte" closeup interior details, Florence, TuscanyGetty Images

3. Stock up on snacks at Mercato Sant’Ambrogio

With bush-sized bunches of fresh basil and oregano, the bustling Mercato Sant’Ambrogio (Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti) is where Florentine mammas come to load up their larders. While tourists all flock to the Mercato Centrale, this 19th-century food hall – think Eiffel Tower iron facade under a cherry-red roof – remains unknown to all but the most in-the-know foodies.

The super-square lines of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi (Via Camillo Cavour 3) were designed by Michelozzo, the Zaha Hadid of his 15th-century day. Inlaid with ancient Roman marble, the inner courtyard radiates peace, but the real find is the tiny Magi Chapel – three of its four walls glow with Benozzo Gozzoli’s action-packed painting of the Journey of the Magi. This is the Bible told in a fairy-tale-meets-photo-story.

The super-square lines of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi were designed by Michelozzo, the Zaha Hadid of his 15th-century day

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4. Stock up on snacks at Mercato Sant’Ambrogio

The most delicious way to escape from it all is at the cookery school in the Belmond Villa San Michele, in nearby Fiesole (Via Doccia 4, Fiesole). At this Michelangelo-designed monastery-turned-hotel, chef Attilio will teach you to cook pasta like your mamma never made. The celestial views of Florence are matched by the taste of, say, tortelloni filled with aubergines and goat’s cheese in a fresh thyme sauce.

While the Piazza del Duomo is a flytrap for tourists, just five minutes’ walk away, the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata is an oasis of Platonic calm. Closed to traffic, it is bordered on three sides by exquisite arcades: the first of them was designed in 1419, by Brunelleschi, the papa of Renaissance architecture, to house an orphanage. Don’t miss the poignant reliefs of swaddled bambini on each arch.

Firenze, Italy, FlorenceGetty Images

5. Take in the views from Ponte Santa Trinit

Dodge the mall-sized crowds crossing the Ponte Vecchio and make your way over on the Ponte Santa Trinita – the Cinderella of bridges, simple, but super-elegant as it stretches over the Arno river. Its peaceful parapet delivers the perfect view of the Ponte Vecchio in all its honey-stone splendour. After your snapfest, pick up a tangy limone e cioccolato combo from the Gelateria Santa Trinita (Piazza Frescobaldi 11/12 R) on the corner.

6. Admire the art at The Church of Santa Croce

The Church of Santa Croce (Piazza Santa Croce), too enormous to become busy, presents a spiritual Greatest Hits, from heart-rending scenes of the death of St Francis by medieval fresco-master Giotto to Michelangelo’s tomb. Go in search beyond the church for Brunelleschi’s Pazzi chapel and the Museo dell’Opera, where the battered-but-beautiful 13th-century Crucifix by Cimabue is the fount of western art.

7. Wander the gardens at Baroque-Romantic Giardino Bardini

Every travel guide and walking tour aims for the Boboli Gardens, but Baroque-Romantic Giardino Bardini is more intimate – and has better city views. Afterwards, visit the Bardini Museum, a neo-Renaissance palazzo filled with the eclectic collection of 19th-century antiques dealer Stefano Bardini. Its coffered ceilings and bright-blue walls are as striking as the Roman arches and elaborate urns on show.

8. Go back in time to the Renaissance

See Renaissance art in the churches: unlike the Uffizi, they’re usually quiet and mostly free. Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper in the refectory of Ognissanti is second only to Da Vinci’s (don’t miss the Botticelli in the church itself), while his frescoes in Santa Trinita and Santa Maria Novella are a whirl of colour. In the latter, also check out Masaccio’s fresco: it’s revolutionary perspective had 15th-century Italians queuing to gawp.

9. Snap pics at San Miniato al Monte

Most march up to Piazzale Michelangelo to take the classic snap of the city below – and stop there. Not you. Shake off the crowds and climb all the way to San Miniato al Monte, the strikingly patterned Romanesque church that looms over the city. Time your visit for 5.30pm evensong in the crypt, when monks in white fill the air with a Gregorian chanting that makes time stand still. Or, for the iconic Florence photo, you need to rise above the sea of selfie sticks. The museum of Orsanmichele church, noted for its fine sculptures, has eye-level views of Brunelleschi’s dome, while from the rooftop cafe of the Oblate library, the dome seems just a rooftop hop away. Or peer down on tourist-rammed Ponte Vecchio, cocktail in hand, from La Terrazza bar atop Hotel Continentale. It’ll be the best part of your stay in Florence.

10. Head for a picnic at Giardino di Borgo Allegri

Collect picnic fare from Sant’Ambrogio market (Piazza Ghiberti) – scruffier and more gutsy than Mercato Centrale. Taste cheeses and prosciutto at Innocenti Urbano’s stall or buy bread at Panificio Chicco di Grano, sniffing and prodding fruit as the locals do. Then head to tiny Giardino di Borgo Allegri, tucked behind Santa Croce, with its painted-tyre flower tubs.

11. Hit the shops

Potter among artisan shops a world away from Santa Croce’s dodgy leather stalls. In L’Ippogrifo (Via Santo Spirito 5r), Gianni Raffaelli hand-tints copper etchings; at Il Torchio (Via dei Bardi 17), artists bind marbled paper into notebooks; and in Roberto Ugolini’s slip of a shoe shop (Via dei Michelozzi 17r), apprentices sit on tiny stools to hand-stitch leather shoes.


View on cityscape and the dome of the Cathedral of Florence.

9 of the best restaurants in Florence

1. Gusta Osteria

Old favourites taste better served on wooden platters and in terracotta bowls, in this dinky dining room or on its terrace with a view over Santo Spirito church.

Travel’s tip: Try the superb gnocchi with truffles for a true taste of Tuscany. Via de’ Michelozzi 13/R.

2. Trattoria Marione

Sometimes you want no-nonsense classics (say, tripe alla fiorentina), a great house Chianti, checked tablecloths and hanging hams – but no whiff of tourist trap.

Travel’s tip: Arrive at noon to be sure of a table — the locals love this place. Via della Spada 27.

3. Osteria de’ Benci

The legendary bistecca alla fiorentina is best as served in this no-frills locals’ pick.

Travel’s tip: To leave room for that beef, share your pasta course. The ubriacone (drunkard) spaghetti boiled in red wine is the speciality. Via de’ Benci 13/R.

4. B-Roof

An alfresco pergola and views over rooftops provide the faultless Tuscan cuisine, such as duck with passion fruit and curry sauce, with a fitting accompaniment.

Travel’s tip: Vegetarians get five-star treatment thanks to the Wellness Menu, which includes several meat-free options. Grand Hotel Baglioni, Piazza dell’Unità Italiana 6.

5. Cantinetta Dei Verrazzano

The lunchtime filler

This bakery-cum-cafe makes some of the best focaccia in town, and heats slices to order.

Travel’s tip: Avoid the waiter-served area at the rear – table service costs extra, so sit on the benches opposite the display cabinets instead. Via dei Tavolini 18/20r.

6. Mercato Centrale

The late-night food fix

This lively food court on the first floor of the covered market is open until midnight, with counters of pizzas and lasagne, cheeses and meat. Pay, then find a table beneath the grand glass-and-iron canopy.

Travel’s tip: No need to juggle drinks and food – servers circulate taking drinks orders. Via dell’Ariento.

7. Osteria Tripperia Il Magazzino

The locals’ hang-out

Despite the name, tripe (the city’s speciality) isn’t the only dish at this scrubbed-wood-and-paper-placemat restaurant. Other favourites: pasta with cavolo nero or veal ossobuco.

Travel’s tip: Skip pud for an ice cream from the gelateria on the other side of the piazza, and enjoy the buzz outside. Piazza della Passera 2-3.

Santa Groce, Florence, Tuscany, ItalyGetty Images

8. Pentola Dell’Oro

The back-street surprise

The rough-and-ready appearance (step off an anonymous street into the kitchen) belies a creative take on Tuscan favourites; bistecca is a speciality.

Travel’s tip: Ask for a ground-floor table, rather than eat in the cellar restaurant, and hear the kitchen banter. Via di Mezzo 24.

9. Il Palagio at the Four Seasons

The Michelin star turn

Amid gardens once owned by a Medici, this place is the closest you’ll get to dining in a country palazzo without leaving the city. Sumptuous canapés and amuse-bouches soften the prices.

Travel’s tip: Ask nicely to see the private rooftop dining pavilion: wow! Borgo Pinti 99.

6 of the best bars and gelateria

1. Lounge Bar La Terrazza

Sunset over the Arno looks sublime from the creamy sofas at Hotel Continentale’s rooftop bar.

Travel’s tip: If you cocktail here, plan a light supper afterwards as the free canapés are abundant and delicious. Vicolo dell’Oro 6.

2. Carabe

Antonio Lisciandro is the Vivaldi of ice-cream-making, and his fresh, low-sugar ingredients make flavours sing.

Travel’s tip: Go nuts! Antonio uses almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts only from his native Sicily, so those flavours are the crème de la (ice) crème here. Via Ricasoli 60/R.

3. Caffe Rivoire

The best way to warm up on a cold morning is with Italy’s silkiest hot chocolate in this sumptuous cafe.

Travel’s tip: Arrive at 7.30am to nab a table by the window for a view of the classical sculptures across the square. Piazza della Signoria 5/R.

4. Ditta Artigianale

The owners started out as coffee suppliers, so know their beans – and buy direct from producers. The cool, retro design attracts both students and business folk.

Travel’s tip: If it’s sunny, use the back entrance to bag a table in the tiny courtyard. Via dello Sprone 5r.

5. Pasticceria Robiglio

Unlike the central branch of this cafe-bakery, this one’s locals-only. The cakes are sinfully good – try the millefoglie – and are prettily wrapped if you want another for later.

Travel’s tip: The hot chocolate is considered the best in the city. Via de’ Servi 112/114r.

6. La Cite

There’s an agreeably bohemian air to this cafe-bar, with its armchairs and primary-coloured walls lined with dozens of books.

Travel’s tip: Check the website for upcoming live music sessions. Borgo San Frediano 20r.

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