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Birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was once the epicentre of the intense growth, innovation, artistic abundance and scientific discovery that swept across Europe in the mid-14th century. Inspired by a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, medieval values were eschewed in favour of new philosophies and modes of living that saw the beginnings of humanistic thought and an immense cultural shift.
The ideals of the Renaissance seeped into every part of ; it was a confluence of art, philosophy, science and literature that culminated in some of history’s most important works of art and scientific discoveries.
More than a third of the world’s most valuable art pieces reside within the remnants of the city walls; salient works include Michelangelo’s David, Caravaggio’s Medusa and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Renaissance notions of order, beauty and rationality are demonstrated in the city’s architecture; perfectly symmetrical domes, courtyards, arcades and fountains. A short walk through the city’s historic centre will take you past countless museums and churches including the Uffizi Gallery (home to the world’s largest collection of Renaissance art), Galleria dell’Accademia (for Michelangelo’s David) and Il Duomo di Firenze.
Climb to a lookout point and you’ll recognise the archetypal image of Florence: terracotta rooftops, rolling Tuscan hills, the prominent outline of the Duomo and the flowing Arno river that divides the city. A series of bridges connect the historic city centre to the south bank, including the iconic Ponte Vecchio. Marked by the overhanging shops that line its edges, locals say the bridge escaped damage in World War II because Hitler thought it too beautiful to destroy.
The Oltrarno District on the south side of the river, is slightly more removed from the hoards of tourists that descend year-round. Once overlooked, it has seen a revival in recent years. Residential dwellings are interspersed with trattorias, wine bars, artisanal boutiques and antique shops, along with hip cafés and bars set in restored medieval buildings.
Although the tourist traps are inevitable, our guide to Florence aims to entice you away from the obvious and towards the alternatives that the modern day city provides.
Centrally located in the city’s Oltrarno district, it’s barely recognisable as a hostel. Set in an old school hall, Tasso Hostel’s common area and bar has been transformed with industrial-style furnishing and a stage for live music. Events are held each weekend; expect parties, live music, open-mic nights and poetry readings.
- +39 055 060 2087
- Go to Website
Offering an idyllic panorama of the city skyline from its rooftop garden bar, Palazzo Guadagni is a boutique hotel with a historical feel. Set in a 16th-century palace, it features antique furniture, frescoed ceilings and grand fireplaces in some of the rooms.
- +39 055 265 8376
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A bed and breakfast set in an historical palace, SoprArno Suites was created by an architect, a carpenter, a designer-calligrapher and a lawyer “with a passion for vintage furniture”. Artwork is carefully selected for each space, and each room is uniquely furnished; antiques from Tuscany and around the world are paired with original pieces such as a fire hydrant-turned-lamp.
- +39 055 046 8719
- Go to Website
Set in an ancient mill that dates back to the 13th century, La Martellina is surrounded by nature. This bed and breakfast is 5km out of Florence on the Arno river, but well-connected by bus routes and a bike path along the river. Rooms are decorated with antique furniture and wide wooden shutters open on to a picturesque view of the surrounding valley.
- +39 335 768 4675
- Go to Website
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