Florence is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, as well as the world. Located in the heart of Tuscany, this is the Italy of stunning views, fields of sunflowers, miles of vineyards, rolling hills and mountaintop castles. It is the Renaissance capital of the world -- its famous sons are Leonardo DaVinci, Dante Alighieri, Machiavelli, Fra Angelico and Michelangelo. It is a destination not to be missed.
Dominating the Florence skyline is the world famous Duomo (Cathedral Church) with the Brunelleschi cupola, Giotto's Bell Tower and the bronze sculpted doors of the marble-clad Baptistry. The side streets of the historic town centre are often narrow and dark, with bustling sidewalks and intimidating crowds and traffic.
But the place to start touring is the piazza, the square -- that wonderful Mediterranean oasis where you can spend hours sitting down, enjoying an espresso and just people-watching. You'll likely start at the square in front of the train station and across from the bus station -- the places you arrive by airport bus or by train.
Santa Maria Novella Church, run by the Dominicans, faces the square. To enter you'll have to go around the block walking beside the church to another, yes, square! It's Unit d'Italia Square. (Coffee and sweet shops are there.) You'll want to see inside the Church (admission charged). Gothic and Renaissance frescoes as well as Fra Lippi-designed stain glass windows.
If you head back toward the square in front of the train station and bear right along the large street (Via Panzani), you're on your way to the square at the Duomo. Small storefront restaurants beckon. But check the menu to be sure you haven't struck upon a pricey bistro! A short walk, 10 to 15 minutes, will bring you along side the Duomo. The Baptistry is the building in front of the Cathedral. No lines, just walk up and look. Then turn around and look up at the church facade and bell tower. The entrance line forms along the cathedral steps. The square is filled with shops, and further along the side streets are women's fashion stores. If you walk to the left of the Baptistry across the square you'll come to a small mall area and restaurants and coffee bars.
Among the other things you can't afford to miss are the Uffizi galleries, one of the best art museums in the world (tickets required), the Santo Spirito church and the Old Bridge (Ponte Vecchio) with its must see shopping area. The Academia with the original David is also not to be missed. To get a great overview of the city, head for Piazza Michelangelo in Oltrarno section of town (other side of River Arno) or farther up to the church of San Miniato.
Lovers of art will want to visit the hillside town of Fiesole, just outside Florence (you can go by bus 20 minutes from the central bus station mentioned above). Besides the Roman ruins, the Church of St. Dominic has the stunning frescoes of Fra Angelico.
The surrounding areas of Florence have many things to offer to the visitor. You can explore this region for weeks without being bored. For this, Florence is the perfect starting point for day trips. Travel agents can book them for you. (An agency is on the far side of the Duomo Square.) One day trip of note is that to Siena and San Gimignano.