Mini guide to art in Florence
Florence's skyline can be seen from across the Arno river. (Jeff Overs/BBC)
Small it may be, but this glorious city is the very cradle of Renaissance Italy. Art lovers flock to its medieval centre for a close-up of famous paintings, frescoes and statues by the likes of Raphael, Titian and Michelangelo.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo safeguards treasures once held in the neighbouring Duomo, including seven of the original 10 panels from Ghiberti’s masterpiece Porta del Paradiso. Look out for Arnolfo di Cambio’s The Virgin and Child and Donatello’s sculpture of St John (Piazza del Duomo 9; admission £4.70).
The seat of city government since the 1300s, the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) is synonymous with Florence itself. Medici dukes filled the medieval building with art in the 1500s. Star of the show is Michelangelo’s sculpture Genio della Vittoria (Genius of Victory). Guided ‘secret passage’ tours take you backstage into the Medici family’s private digs (Piazza della Signoria; admission £4.70, secret passage tours £1.60).
Florence’s greatest art museum is currently being expanded. So expect some disruption. The Uffizi Gallery is the definitive guide to the Italian Renaissance. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is world-famous; other highlights include Piero della Francesca’s portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, and works by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. Book tickets online (booking fees £3) to avoid long queues (Piazza degli Uffizi 6; closed Mon; admission £5).
San Lorenzo and San Marco
The 15th-century Dominican monastery, Museo di San Marco, was once home to gifted painter Fra’ Angelico, and today showcases his work – panel paintings include the Deposition, the Annunciation and his complex masterwork, Crucifixion, completed in 1442 (Piazza San Marco 1; closed some Sun & Mon; admission £3).
The Spedale degli Innocenti – Europe’s first orphanage, founded in 1421 – houses an impressive art collection. Highlights include Ghirlandhaio’s striking Adoration of the Magi (1488), serene wooden sculptures by Marco della Robia, and a charming Madonna of the Innocents by Domenico di Michelino (Piazza della Santissima Annunziata 12; admission £4).
The Galleria dell’Accademia was built especially to house one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance – Michelangelo’s original David. The most famous statue in the world is worth the queue: seeing its subtle details up close really is impressive. Other Michelangelo sculptures are on show, plus pieces by Filippino Lippi, Andrea Orcagna and Taddeo Gaddi (Via Ricasoli 60; closed Mon; admission £5).
Artworks at the Basilica di Santo Spirito, set on an attractively shabby piazza, include Domenico di Zanobi’s Madonna of the Relief, in which the Madonna wards off a little red devil with a club, and Filippino Lippi’s Madonna with Child and Saints from the 1490s (Piazzo Santo Spirito; closed Wed; admission free).
Situated inside the forbidding Palazzo Pitti, the Museo degli Argenti displays lavish frescoes celebrating the life of Lorenzo de’ Medici, ruler of Florence at the height of the Renaissance – look out for one featuring Michelangelo (Piazza Pitti; closed first & last Mon of month; combined ticket with Boboli Gardens £5.50).
‘Modern’ is a relative term at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, which celebrates art of the 18th and 19th centuries. Dominating its collection are works by artists of the Florentine Macchiaioli school (an Italian take on Impressionism), including Telemaco Signorini and Giovanni Fattori (Piazza Pitti; closed Mon; combined ticket with Palatine Gallery £6.60).
Where to stay
Pensione Hotel Scoti is a splendid mix of old-fashioned charm and great value for money on Florence’s smartest shopping strip. It has 16 guestrooms and a frescoed living room (Via de’ Tornabuoni 7; from £35).
Hotel Morandi alla Crocetta, is a former medieval convent and a real stunner. Rooms are tasteful, refined and full of authentic period furnishings and paintings. The highlight is room 29, filled with frescoes (Via Laura 50; from £85).
The old Palazzo Magnani Feroni is exceptional. Its 12 suites are vast and elegant, with period furnishings and rich fabrics. The 360-degree city view from the rooftop is unforgettable (Borgo San Frediano 5; from £245).
Florence airport has flights from Gatwick (from £130). Pisa International airport is further away, but with a wider choice of flights – BA, easyJet, Jet2 and Ryanair fly from airports including Stansted (from £100) and Leeds-Bradford (from £75; jet2.com). Trains from Pisa airport to Florence’s central Santa Maria Novella station take an hour (singles from £5.60). Florence’s city centre is small, with most sights within walking distance of one another. Cycle hire is a good alternative – blue bikes can be picked up right at the front of the main station (£6.30 per day).