Joanna Booth plans a couple of days in Italy’s most artistic city
Two days is not enough – that’s the first thing to say about Florence. Even if your clients don’t, like British historian Edward Gibbon, visit the Uffizi gallery fourteen times in a single trip, two days will merely allow them to fall in love with the city, and vow to return.
Our itinerary will give them a good scratch at the surface, and have them itching to book a return visit.
10.00: Make life easy and start in the Piazza del Duomo. Even before you’ve got your bearings, it’s simple to find this square – just look for the imposing dome of the cathedral.
The huge duomo (pictured below), soaring campanile bell tower and the squat baptistery form a trio of attractions – take a wander around the outside to appreciate the detail of the brightly-coloured façade before heading inside to see the more understated, uncluttered interior.
It’s possible to pay extra to climb the dome, and the bell tower, and both give excellent views over the roofs of the city.
The plus point of the former is that you are first taken up on the inside of the cathedral, giving close views of the vast Last Judgement fresco painted on the inside of the dome, showing heaven and hell, where sinners are being given a rather graphically unpleasant time by devils.
12.00: Reward your exertions with an ice cream from Grom, a parlour just south of the Piazza del Duomo – you can’t go wrong with its signature flavour.
Take a wander to the imposing walled square of the Piazza della Repubblica, where the surrounding streets are home to the city’s high-end shops.
Fashion and Florence go hand in hand, and you’ll find outlets of Italian brands including Gucci, Pucci, Ferragamo and Cavalli, plus major designers from all over the world.
For those who are more shopa-phobic than shopaholic, the rooftop terrace of La Rinascente department store is a great spot for a cappuccino.
14.00: Grab a glass of wine and a snack at Procacci, a posh, wood-panelled deli on Via de’ Tornabuoni, famous since 1885 for its truffle sandwiches.
Then head down to the banks of the Arno and walk along the river towards the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge has always been topped by clusters of shops since its construction in 1345; originally butchers, but they were thrown out in 1593 to make way for jewellers and goldsmiths, and these trades still line the bridge today.
Florentines are like Londoners in their river-based snobbery – north of the river is called ‘over here’, and south, ‘over there’. Head over the bridge to Oltrarno (the south), as it is also known.
15.00: South of the river can’t have been too bad an address, as it’s where you’ll find the Palazzo Pitti, the largest palace in Florence. Built by banker Luca Pitti in the mid-15th century, within 100 years the family’s fortunes had fallen and it was bought by bitter rivals, the Medicis.
It now houses the Galleria Palatina, which feels more like a stately home than a gallery, with works by Raphael and Titian among sumptuous furnishings. Then head outside into the Giardino di Boboli, one of the largest green spaces in the centre of the city.
19.00: After heading back to the hotel to relax, it’s time to dine. Florence is packed full with wonderful restaurants from relaxed trattorias to formal fine dining spots.
Why not try local specialities, including Florentine steak, dishes with white beans and boar meat, ribollita (a thick onion soup), and for the brave, tripe and lampredotto – the fourth stomach of the cow.
11.00: After yesterday’s designer extravaganza, shop at the other end of the budget scale at the San Lorenzo market, where you’ll find plenty of clothes and leather goods. For foodies, the Mercato Centrale is nearby, with meats, cheeses, wines, fresh pasta and olive oil to choose from.
Once your appetite is suitably whetted, head to one of the nearby restaurants. Trattoria Zaza is large and friendly, with generous portions and seats inside and outdoors under a canopy.
15.30: The Uffizi is one of the most famous art galleries in the world, let alone in Florence, so booking tickets in advance is an absolute must.
Why not go the extra mile and book a guided visit, to put the pictures in context? Do Something Different offers a package that includes not only fast track entrance and a guided tour of the gallery, where you’ll see works of art including the famous Venus by Botticelli, but also adds on a visit to the mysterious Vasari Corridor, for £71 per adult for three hours.
The kilometre-long Vasari Corridor is a private passageway, commissioned by the rich and powerful Medici family so they could get from the Palazzo Pitti to the Palazzo Vecchio without having to mix with the ordinary Florentines. It’s lined with artworks, and the central section passes over the top of the Ponte Vecchio, where you can look down at the crowds below.
18.30: Arrive early to get a table at Le Volpi e l’Uva, one of Florence’s most appealing wine bars, on Piazza dei Rossi, just on the south side of Ponte Vecchio. Sample glasses of Barolo and Brunello, full-bodied Tuscan reds, and share plates of cheese, charcuterie and thickly-sliced crostini.
21.00: Indulge in the Italian passion of la passeggiata, and take a stroll up to the Piazza della Signoria. As well as watching the Florentines in their finery, you’ll see the crenellated turrets of the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall, and a fine collection of statues, including an impressively muscled Neptune, a couple of Medici lions and a copy of Michelangelo’s David, the original of which is in the Accademia.
The Palazzo Vecchio is open to the public during the day, and Attraction World offers a tour of its secret passages.
22.00: Back towards the Arno river is the Hotel Continentale – head up to its Sky Lounge bar for drinks with a view. On top of the medieval Consorti Tower, it blends ancient and modern with white banquettes and glowing tables next to the old stone wall – a wonderful spot to sip cocktails, fill up on the generous portions of complimentary nibbles, and look out over the city you’ve explored.
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