Things to see in Florence

Tourist information

Azienda di Promozione Turistica (APT)
Via Cavour 1red
Tel: (055) 290 832.
www.firenzeturismo.it
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 0830-1830.

Other branches are located outside the central station, at the airport, at Via Manzoni 16 and in Borgo Santa Croce, near the church.

Passes

There are special tickets available at some museums, which allow the holder a discount on the entrance price of other participating attractions. Special passes for the Palazzo Pitti (including the Galleria Palatina, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Galleria del Costume, Museo degli Argenti, Museo delle Porcellane and Giardino di Boboli) are valid for three days.

The passes are available for purchase at participating venues. Save time queueing by booking tickets in advance (tel: (055) 294 883). There is a surcharge for reserved tickets for the state museums.

Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels)

Entering the Medici Chapels feels rather like stepping into a large jewellery box. These were built by the powerful Medici family to serve as their mausoleums, and were intended to reflect the immense wealth and influence of this mighty family. The Chapel of the Princes is decorated with semi-precious stones and dotted with works of art, while the New Sacristy was designed by Michelangelo, including the powerful works of sculpture, Dawn & Dusk, Night & Day and Madonna & Child.

Opening Times: Tues-Sat 0815-1350; also second and fourth Mon of each month 0815-1350; first, third and fifth Sun of each month 0815-1350.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini 6, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 238 8602.
Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery)

This is the most important art collections in Italy and one of the richest in the world - arrive early to avoid a long wait in the queues that snake across its courtyard. Housed in the majestic, 16th-century Uffizi Palace, the Uffizi Gallery houses the Medici art collection bequeathed to Florence in 1737, on the condition that it never leaves the city. The huge collection is too vast to tackle on a single visit. Visitors with limited time may wish to ensure that they see some of the city's biggest draws - Botticelli's mythological masterpieces, The Birth of Venus and Primavera (Spring) and Leonardo Da Vinci's Annunciation.

Opening Times: Tues-Sun 0815-18.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi 6, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 238 8651 or 294 883.
Galleria dell'Accademia (Accademia Gallery)

While Florence offers a panoply of artworks, most people associate the city with just one masterpiece - Michelangelo's David. The huge statue occupies pride of place in the city's Accademia Gallery, dwarfing the multitude of chattering tourists below. The statue was carved from a single block of marble in 1502, when the artist was just 29 years old. Its exaggerated size and musculature is a symbol of the new-born Republic that briefly cast out the Medici - the city's 'Goliath'. Also in the gallery are Michelangelo's unfinished Slaves, which stand captive in blocks of marble, from which their forms seem to struggle to escape.

Opening Times: Tues-Sun 0815-1850.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Via Ricasoli 60, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 238 8612.
Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square)

Brunelleschi's gravity-defying dome dominates the Florence skyline and defines the city. The double-skinned dome that sits atop the city's rose-coloured Duomo (cathedral) was an architectural breakthrough; it's the largest self-supporting dome since classical times. The cathedral that you see today took nearly 150 years to complete. Its original façade was pulled down on the orders of Ferdinand I in 1587, and the Duomo remained faceless for nearly 300 years, until 1887. The lavish pink, white and green marble frontage belies a cavernous interior that is surprisingly free from decoration. Once inside, most people look heavenward, pausing to admire Giorgio Vasari's recently restored frescoes in the cupola, before climbing the 463 steps for a spectacular city view. Tall, slender and straight-backed, the Campanile (bell tower) is the graceful sidekick to the stout Duomo. Built according to Giotto's designs, in 1334, the tower is decorated with two garlands of bas-reliefs, strung around its rose-tinted façade. Higher up, sculptures of the Prophets and Sybils, carved by Donatello, look down upon the city below. Visitors can climb the 414 steps of the Campanile for rewarding views over the piazza. The adjacent Baptistery completes the trio. Originally believed to be a pagan temple, the octagonal building is the oldest in Florence. It is famous for its gilded bronze doors, particularly those on the east side, dubbed the Gates of Paradise. Each of the 10 bronze bas-reliefs tells a story from the Old Testament, with astonishing realism and compassion.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 215 380.
Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens

Across the river, in Oltrarno, lie the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Built in 1440, for the wealthy Pitti family, this sprawling, severe-looking palace was intended as a challenge to the omnipotent Medici. Ironically, however, the family fortunes dwindled and the palace was acquired by their rivals. It is best for visitors to start early in the day, as the palace now houses six different museums. Most visitors only make it around the Galleria Palatina, a tour of which includes the lavishly decorated State Apartments, and houses yet more masterpieces from the Medici collection. Rubens, Titian and Raphael, wrapped in heavy gilt frames, vie for attention amid frescoed ceilings and opulent furnishings. Other museums on site include the Galleria del Costume (Costume Gallery), Museo degli Argenti (Silver Museum) and Museo delle Porcellane (Porcelain Museum) and misleadingly named Galleria d'Arte Moderna (Gallery of Modern Art), which houses Florentine art from the 18th and 19th centuries. Visitors at saturation point might choose to skip the galleries and head straight for the wonderful Boboli Gardens, a haven of fountains, grottoes and shady walks.

Opening Times: Gardens: Tues-Sun 0815-1630 (winter); Tues-Sun 0815-1930 (summer); Palace's Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments: Tues 0815-1850.
Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piazza Pitti, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 238 8616.
Ponte Vecchio (Vecchio Bridge)

The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge to have survived the Nazi bombing of Florence during WWII. Nowadays, the famous 14th-century bridge is literally lined with gold (home to Florence's gold and silversmiths) and is a prime shopping trap for tourists. It was Cosimo de Medici who first created the mood for change, when, in 1563, he ordered the previous occupants (a motley crew of butchers, accustomed to throwing their bloody leftovers into the River Arno) to make room for a more genteel trade.

High above the shops, a secret passageway known as the Corrodoio Vasariano links the Uffizi Gallery to the Pitti Palace. Built by Vasari, it was intended to shield the powerful Medici family from the Florentine riffraff, as they journeyed from one palace to the other. Lined with portraits of the city's greatest artists, the passage reopened to the public in 1997, but you can only visit by prior appointment.

Opening Times: On special request (Corrodoio Vasariano).
Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Between Via de 'Guicciardini and Via Por Santa Maria, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 294 883 or 238 8651.
Santa Croce

The elegant Franciscan church of Santa Croce was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect responsible for the Duomo. Its broad piazza, once the site of jousts, wild animal fights and the burning of heretics, is today home to miniature Davids and plaster cast Virgins, as souvenir stalls ply their trade to visitors. The big draw inside the gothic interior is death. Some of Italy's most gifted men are buried here, including Michelangelo (whose body was smuggled out of Rome in a packing case), Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini and Ghiberti. Dante's tomb lies empty - the forefather of Italian literature died in Ravenna and the city refused to return his corpse, in spite of Florentine pleas. A series of colourful chapels lift the gloom. Those in the Bardi Chapel are considered some of Giotto's best. Outside, in the tranquil cloisters, stands a Renaissance gem, the Pazzi Chapel, designed by Brunelleschi in 1430.

Opening Times: Mon-Sat 0930-1730, Sun 1300-1730.
Admission Fees: Yes (combined ticket with Museum Santa Croce).
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 246 6105.
Museo di San Marco (San Marco Museum)

Rebuilt at the behest of Cosimo de Medici, this Dominican convent was once home to Fra Angelico, as well as the fanatical Girolamo Savonarola. The 'mad monk' famously preached damnation and exhorted Florentines to burn their books and paintings on the Bonfire of the Vanities. Savonarola is depicted in a haunting portrait in the Corsini Gallery, himself being burned at the stake in Piazza della Signoria. But the wonders of this museum are the works of Fra Angelico, whose luminous frescoes adorn each of the preserved monk's cells. The religious theme is emphasised by the stark simplicity of their setting. At the head of the stairs lies the most powerful of them all, The Annunciation, a striking representation of the young Mary's fear and astonishment as she learns she is to be the Mother of Christ.

Opening Times: Mon-Fri 0815-1350, Sat-Sun 0815-1650; open second and fourth Sun of each month; first, third and fifth Mon of each month.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piazza San Marco 3, Florence, Italy
Telephone: 055 294 883.
Museo Nazionale del Bargello (Bargello National Museum)

The grim façade of the Palazzo del Bargello, formerly the city's jail and torture chamber, is a daunting introduction to Tuscany's most impressive collection of Renaissance sculpture. Masterpieces by Cellini, Donatello and Michelangelo are arranged over three floors and overflow into the Palace's handsome courtyard. Donatello captures the spirit of the early Renaissance best, with his sensual bronze David and his watchful St George. There is exquisite bronze statuary by Cellini, while Giambologna's Mercury should not be missed. Two bronze panels by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac, provide a compelling comparison. Both artists entered the panels in a competition to win the commission to cast the north doors of the Baptistery. Both won, although Brunelleschi refused to work in partnership with Ghiberti and instead went on to construct the cathedral dome - a veritable artistic snub.

Opening Times: Tues-Sat 0815-1700; open on the second and fourth Sun of each month and on the first, third and fifth Mon of each month.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Via del Proconsolo 4, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 238 8606.
Cappella Brancacci (Brancacci Chapel)

The reason most visitors make the trek across the river to Oltrarno is to see the famous Brancacci Chapel, which is situated inside the church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Miraculously salvaged from a fire in the 18th century, the chapel is home to early Renaissance treasures: frescoes by Masaccio, his pupil Masolino and Filippino Lippi. Masaccio's crisp retelling of The Tribute Money is snappily executed with bright colours and comic asides, in sharp contrast to his mournful Expulsion from Paradise. Both the Paradise fresco and Masolino's Temptation of Adam and Eve were propelled into the public eye in the late 1980s, when they underwent restoration to remove the bogus foliage, added on by prudish Victorians, to cover up the genitalia. Visits to the chapel are restricted to 15 minutes. Reservation is required.

Opening Times: Mon and Wed-Sat 1000-1700, Sun 1300-1700.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piazza del Carmine, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 238 2195 or 276 8224.
Santa Maria Novella

The zebra-striped façade of Santa Maria Novella, completed in 1470, is the starting point for many tours of Florence. Situated near the city's train station, the graceful scrolls, gothic arches and classical pediments combine to form one of Florence's most dramatic façades. Alongside Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella was the most important church in the city. The first chapel to the right of the altar, Capella di Filippo Strozzi, is decorated by Filippino (son of Filippo) Lippi. But the highlight of the lofty interior is Masaccio's Trinity (1427), a fresco displaying outstanding use of perspective. Miraculously, the flat wall becomes a recessed vault bearing the crucified figure of Christ. Behind him, deep within Masaccio's coffered chapel, God demands the viewer to acknowledge his sacrifice.

Opening Times: Mon-Thurs 0900-1700, Fri 1300-1700.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy
Telephone: (055) 264 5184.
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