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Things to Do in Florence - page 2

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San Miniato al Monte
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31 Tours and Activities
There are so many churches worth visiting right in the streets of central Florence that you might think it’s no big deal to skip San Miniato al Monte, sitting as it does high above the city in the hills. But couple the fact that it’s an incredibly beautiful church with the fact that you’re rewarded for your uphill efforts with some of the finest views of Florence and you’ll see why it’s such a highly recommended stop. The church of San Miniato al Monte was started in the early 11th century on the site where Saint Miniato is said to have died. The interior of the church features beautiful multi-colored marble and a sparkling 13th century mosaic over the altar. The remains of Saint Miniato are said to be in the church’s crypt, but there is only one tomb in the church itself - that of Cardinal James of Lusitania, who was the Portuguese ambassador in Florence in the 15th century. There is a monastery next to San Miniato al Monte, where the monks produce the sought-after honey and liqueur
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Opera del Duomo Museum (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo)
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Despite the name, Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo has nothing to do with opera music - “opera” also being the Italian word for creative works, in this case the artwork that was once inside the cathedral.

The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is located conveniently right behind the Duomo, for which most of its collection was originally created. Inside you’ll see an unfinished Michelangelo pieta that he had apparently started as a piece to decorate his own tomb. He was later so unhappy with it that he broke it, but it was later put back together by a new owner. The face of Nicodemus is said to be a self-portrait of the sculptor.

Other highlights of the museum collection are Ghiberti’s original bronze panels from Florence’s Baptistery. The doors you see on the Baptistery today are excellent reproductions, but the originals are kept in air-tight containers to prevent further damage.

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Oltrarno
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Central Florence is split by the Arno River. The main sights - the Duomo, the Uffizi, the Accademia - are on one side of the river, while the neighborhood known as the Oltrarno is on the other. “Oltrarno” actually means “beyond the Arno,” or “the other side of the Arno.”

Among the attractions in the Oltrarno are the massive Pitti Palace, to which the ruling Medici family moved after leaving their residence in the Palazzo Vecchio, and the sprawling Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti. You can also visit the Santo Spirito Basilica (designed by Brunelleschi, who designed the cathedral’s famous dome) and the church of Santa Maria del Carmine (with the fantastic Brancacci Chapel and its Filippino Lippi frescoes). Keep going through the flatter part of the Oltrarno and you’ll eventually head up staircases and narrow streets into the hills overlooking the city. You know that postcard view you keep seeing all over town? You can see it for yourself from the Piazzale Michelangelo.

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Fountain of Neptune
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In pride of place at the center of the busy Piazza della Signoria, the Fountain of Neptune has long been one of Florence’s most memorable landmarks, set against a backdrop of the grand Palazzo Vecchio (Town Hall). Inaugurated in 1565, the striking artwork is the masterpiece of sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati and was commissioned to celebrate the wedding of Francesco I de’ Medici and Johanna of Austria.

The elaborate bronze and marble statue portrays a 5.6-meter-high image of Neptune, the Roman God of the Sea, with the face of Cosimo I de 'Medici, stood on a high pedestal above the water, around which Satyrs and horses frolic. Despite sustaining considerable damage over the years, including losing one of its hands to vandals back in 2005, the statue has now been painstakingly restored and remains a popular meeting place for both locals and tourists.

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Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)
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Behind the massive Pitti Palace lies the enormous Boboli Gardens - both were once the private domain of Florence’s ruling Medici family, but today they’re both open to the public. The Boboli Gardens are not only typical of formal Italian gardens of the 16th century - they’re actually some of the earliest examples of the style. Along with the manicured lawns, blooming plants, and fountains that you’d expect from a garden, these also have a fine collection of 16th-18th century sculptures on display in different parts of the grounds. The Boboli Gardens were originally started for the wife of Cosimo I de Medici in the 1540s, and were added to later in the 16th century and again in the 17th century. Notable features include tree-lined pathways, sculpture-filled grottos, and an amphitheater with an Egyptian obelisk at its center.

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Bargello Museum (Museo Nazionale del Bargello)
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Housed in the medieval splendor of Florence’s Palazzo della Podestà – once a barracks and subsequently the city’s courts of justice – the National Museum opened in 1865 and showcases an abundance of glorious Renaissance artworks. As befits the oldest public building in the city, it has a fortified façade and a maze-like interior with fine halls, balconies and loggias overlooking an arcaded courtyard with walls smothered by the coats of arms of medieval aristocracy. Displayed in a series of vast apartments are collections of medieval gold work, 16th-century weaponry, a series of bronze animals made for the Medici family and hand-crafted tapestries, but the undoubted star of the Bargello’s collection is the statuary from big names of the Italian Renaissance, which has its birth in Florence. On display are the bronze relief panels created by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti when they were competing for the commission of the baptistery doors in Florence duomo (cathedral) in 1401.

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Medici Chapels
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The Medici chapels (Cappelle Medicee) are two architectural gems flanking the Basilica of San Lorenzo in the heart of central Florence. Brunelleschi designed the basilica for the Medici family in the 1400s, and it became the family church and mausoleum.

The New Sacristy is the more famous of the basilica's two chapels. Designed by Michelangelo, it stars his reclining funerary statues, Night and Day, Dawn and Dusk. The simple design features a somber color scheme of gray and white.

The tall domed Princes' Chapel is a riot of multicolored marbles and semi-precious gems, filled with carved niches, statues and armorial plaques. The chapels' richly carved tombs are empty, as the deceased Medicis now lie in the crypt beneath.

Pop inside the basilica to see Donatello's pulpits, the cloisters and the famously sweeping steps designed by Michelangelo leading to the Laurenziana Medicea Library.

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San Lorenzo Market (Mercato di San Lorenzo)
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When you hear people talk about shopping in the San Lorenzo Market, there are actually two markets they may be referring to. One is the popular-with-tourists outdoor market full of leather goods as well as Tuscan and Florentine souvenirs. The other is right next to the street market, but it's indoors with food vendors selling everything from meat and fish to vegetables and bread. Both are worth visiting. The indoor San Lorenzo Market - more commonly known as the Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo - has two floors of food stalls, and it's an excellent place to stroll through if you're wondering what ingredients are fresh and seasonal (and therefore what you should look for on menus) or picking up supplies for a picnic or the kitchen in your rented apartment. Some of the deliciousness can be brought home as souvenirs, too, although be sure you know your country's laws regarding bringing meats and cheeses back home before you spend the money on something that may get confiscated.

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More Things to Do in Florence

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

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At first just a busy square and basilica in the middle of Florence, at a closer glance the church and museum reveals much about the city. It was decreed to the Dominicans in 1287 by the Florentine Republic, to decorate as the new church was being built on site. The piazza quickly became a popular public gathering place, home to artists, theater, festivals, tournaments, and more. It later became the sight of the carriage race, or Giambologna show, which took place between the basilica and the Hospital of San Paulo.

Today the piazza remains central to Florentine life. It faces the intricately designed green and white marble facade of the basilica, which was built in the 13th and 15th centuries and is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance art. As it was recently renovated and surrounded with hotels and restaurants, it is popular with visitors as well — particularly at night when the square is spectacularly lit up.

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Vasari Corridor (Corridoio Vasariano)

Vasari Corridor (Corridoio Vasariano)

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Built in 1564, the Vasari Corridor was designed to enable the Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici to move between the Pitti Palace where he lived, the Uffizi where he had his offices, and on to the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of Florentine government. Almost one kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) long, the elevated corridor passes overhead from the Uffizi, across the Arno River over the top of the shops lining the Ponte Vecchio, through the church of Santa Felicita until it reaches the Palazzo Pitti.

Built in just five months, Vasari Corridor was a major feat of both architecture and civic power.

The Vasari Corridor is lined with self-portraits by artists, nearly 1,000 paintings, dating from the 16th century. Access to the corridor is only by guided tour.

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Sant'Ambrogio Market (Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio)

Sant'Ambrogio Market (Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio)

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Florence's most famous and popular market is the aptly named Mercato Centrale – but it's by no means the only market in the city. Another ideal spot to pick up picnic supplies, see what's fresh before you browse local menus or simply enjoy the colors of an Italian food market is the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio (Mercato Alimentare Sant'Ambrogio).

Also known as the Sant'Ambrogio Market, the site is home to stalls that sell many of the same sorts of items seen at the Mercato Centrale – fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, fish, cheese, spices and other sundry pantry essentials. In a couple areas of the market, you'll also find vendors selling clothing and household items.

Because the Mercato Centrale is the more famous market, the Mercato Alimentare Sant'Ambrogio offers a slightly less touristy experience. It's in the historic center, so it's unlikely to be tourist-free, but you may find more locals than visitors browsing here.

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Loggia dei Lanzi

Loggia dei Lanzi

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In a corner square of Florence, Loggia dei Lanzi is an open-air museum containing some of the world’s greatest works of art. Known most for its collection of Renaissance art statues, which many consider to be masterpieces, it contains works such as Cellini’s Perseus, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women, and an ancient Roman statue of Menelaus that used to be part of the Ponte Vecchio.

Originally intended to be a space for public ceremonies, construction on the area began in 1376. It was designed in a late Gothic style, a predecessor to the emerging Renaissance style. It is named for the Swiss personal guards (‘lanzi’) of emperor Cosimo I, who were once encamped here. The loggia opens to the street under three wide arches, seamlessly integrating with the rest of the city. The arches are supported by Corinthian capital, creating a canopy over the sculptures. It remains completely free and open to the public.

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Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

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Florence is a city filled with quaint squares, picturesque landscapes and plenty of old-world architecture that’s ripe with European charm. This is particularly true amid its famous squares, and travelers agree that few are as beautiful as Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.

A massive bronze statue of Ferdinando I de’Medici on horseback stands at the center of the square, with two notably strange fountains on either side. Visitors can relax in the sun and lounge as locals wind through the square on a busy afternoon, or duck into the Santissima Annunziata church, which was built in the 15th century and gave the square its name. Ospedale deli Innocenti—the oldest orphanage on the continent—also flanks the square and offers travelers a unique opportunity to explore the city’s past. Ceramic glazed reliefs of swaddled newborns line the façade and visitors can check out the circular stone where women could leave their unwanted newborns without fear of repercussion.

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Prada Outlet

Prada Outlet

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For high-fashion shopping on the cheap, head to the Prada Outlets (called Lo Spaccio, or Space) just outside Florence.

Along with cut-price Prada clothing, cosmetics, shoes, and bags, you'll also find accessories and outfits by Miu Miu and Jil Sander.

While you're here, also drop into The Mall for discount gear from just about every designer imaginable. Get ready to try on everything from Armani jeans and Gucci shoes to Pucci scarves, Fendi bags, Burberry coats, and La Perla lingerie.

Choose carefully and you could pay up to 50% less for top designer fashion that will have your friends green with envy.

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Pitti Palace Palatine Gallery

Pitti Palace Palatine Gallery

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One of the grandest sweeps of architecture in Florence, the Pitti Palace was built in the 15th century. Its gallery includes a huge collection of paintings dating from the 15th to 17th century, and occupying the whole left wing of the first floor, one of the most significant groups of works is by Titian and Raphael. You’ll also see important works by Rubens, including the Four Philosophers and the Allegory of War, and pieces by Caravaggio and Velazquez. In fact, there are over 500 works on show in all.

And it’s not just canvases that you’ll see; the Palatine Gallery is also known for its frescoes. Laid out according to the personal tastes of its collectors from the House of Medici, rather than by painting school or by chronological order, the gallery has been open to visitors since the day Leopold I of Lorraine opened it back in 1828. There is also a cafe in the courtyard of the Pitti Palace.

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Leonardo Da Vinci Museum

Leonardo Da Vinci Museum

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Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella

Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella

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This 13th century pharmacy opened by Dominican friars now operates as a soap and perfume shop that resembles a museum, detailing the history of scent and fragrance. It is housed in the original building crafted in ornate detail. With an impressive array of herbal elixirs, perfumes, and soaps made with ancient techniques, a stroll through the pharmacy grants a historical perspective on smelling good. Friars first opened the pharmacy in 1221 to make and store concoctions for use in their monastery. Still in operation, it is one of the oldest known pharmacies in the world. The pharmacy is attributed with creating the first “eau de cologne” for Catherine de Medici, created in the 16th century and known as the “water of the queen.” Visitors can still purchase the scent in its original formulation; it is known simply as “Acqua di Santa Marina Novella.” It is also famous for its potpourri, which uses a blend of local plants and natural products and is still handcrafted on site.

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Palazzo Davanzati

Palazzo Davanzati

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This ancient home grants a peek into history going back to the Middle Ages, and is a way to experience the wealthy merchant homes of the Renaissance era. It was built by the Davizzi family in the mid-14th century and later purchased by the Davanzatis in the 16th century. With three towers and five stories, it is decorated from floor to ceiling — complete with period furniture and frescoed walls. There are both medieval and Renaissance architectural elements, allowing for a comparison of the two styles and the history of the transition.

The traditional layout of the home makes it a magnificent example of a medieval Florentine home. Some of its highlights include a central courtyard, stone and wood staircase, and underground gallery. Historic art, lace, furnishings and even coats-of-arms throughout the palace demonstrate the trends and styles as they have progressed through the ages.

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Barberino Designer Outlet

Barberino Designer Outlet

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Italy is known for a number of expensive and high quality designers. As a result, shopping is a popular activity with locals and tourists alike. Just 30 minutes from Florence, you can go shopping at the Barberino Designer Outlet and find designer clothing for up to 70% off the regular prices. There are more than 100 boutiques located here selling Italian and international brands including the big fashion names like Dolce & Gabana, Prada, and Polo Ralph Lauren. You can also find brands like Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein. For more sporty purchases, you can shop at Puma, Adidas, Nike, and more.

Aside from clothing, you can also shop for home goods and accessories. When you get hungry after all that shopping, take a break at one of the restaurants where you can find coffee, Tuscan cuisine, and desserts. If you're a non-EU citizen, ask for a tax refund form at the shops, which can be redeemed at the airport on your way home.

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Ospedale degli Innocenti

Ospedale degli Innocenti

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Florence’s one-of-a-kind Ospedale degi Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) is the oldest orphanage on the continent and offers travelers the perfect blend of Italian history, Roman artistry, classic architecture and lush gardens. It can only be described as one of the city’s oddest—and most beautiful—attractions. Built during the early 15th century, Ospedale degli Innocenti has served as a center of care for infants and children for more than 500 years and today also operates as a home for some of the nation’s best-known works of art.

In addition to a vast gallery, this historic landmark is also home to open cloisters and plenty of hospital-like rooms, including an infirmary and group dormitories. Travelers can explore the grounds and bear witness to giant frescos that depict scenes from the historic site’s lengthy past.

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Bardini Gardens (Giardino Bardini)

Bardini Gardens (Giardino Bardini)

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