Florence is the true city of culture

You need far more than a day to explore all that Florence has to offer, says Ben Bloom.

Coming in to land in ‘la citta bella’ – ‘the beautiful city’ – of Florence, thoughts immediately spring to mind of fine architecture, ornate cathedrals and majestic palaces.

Tell anyone you are visiting the capital city of Tuscany and you can bet Michelangelo’s David their response will be ‘Oh, it’s beautiful’. And with galleries displaying the works of history’s great artists and buildings detailing the magnificent architecture of past centuries it is hard to disagree.

But if you glance out of the aeroplane window just moments before arriving at Florence Airport it is none of these sights that greets you. Instead the image is one that can only be described as truly iconic in countries around the world – Ikea.

You can give the people of Florence as much Botticelli, da Vinci, and Donatello as is possible, but don’t try to deny them a flat-packed wardrobe from everyone’s favourite love-to-hate Swedish home goods store.

But I’m being obtuse. Less than a half-hour drive from the airport you will indeed find yourself in the famous beauty of Florence city centre.

It is all too easy to become overawed by the sheer history of the city, especially when trying to cover it all in just 24 hours. One day walking around the cobbled streets leaves you craving more and yet you get the feeling that years wandering from monument to monument would still leave hundreds of years’ worth of stories unearthed.

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The Florence skyline is dominated by the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – the Duomo. The striking cathedral took 170 years to build once construction started in the 13th century and it is Filippo Brunelleschi’s spectacular dome, added in the 15th century, which pulls in visitors’ gazes both from the inside and outside.

With its vast size, and its pink, green and white facade, the cathedral is hard to miss and provides a great starting point for a stroll from piazza to piazza.

If art galleries are what you are looking for (although it would probably be harder to hide from them than be forced to look for them), you can do worse than join the masses at Florence’s most visited museum, the Uffizi.

One of the oldest, and most famous art galleries in the world, the Uffizi is steeped in a history of its own. Built in 1581 for the ruling Medici family, it soon became an art gallery after the family decided to store their extensive collection there. Included alongside some of the finest Florentine paintings of the 14th and 15th centuries on display are Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, da Vinci’s The Annunciation and Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels.

Away from the formalities of the galleries, Florence is often referred to as an ‘open-air museum’ and nowhere is this more apparent than in the main square, Piazza Signoria.

In this outdoor sculpture gallery stands an array of statues including a copy of Michelangelo’s famous David, as well as a number of different works by Donatello, Benvenuto Cellini, and many others.

Just a short stroll down from the Piazza is the Ponte Vecchio – one of Europe’s oldest stone bridges. Spanning the Arno river, the bridge was originally home to numerous butchers stalls and shops which now house jewellers and souvenir sellers. The bridge has become the postcard picture spot in the city with tourists flocking to grab an iconic snapshot of Florence.

With barely the surface of Florence scratched, but with time ticking away, those with a heavy wallet can do worse than drag their tired legs to the Four Seasons Hotel, located on the edge of the city centre.

Set within the tranquillity of Florence’s largest private garden – spanning more than 11 acres – the hotel occupies two buildings dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries and acts as its own living museum.

With stunning rooms and a ‘garden’ that would put most London parks to shame, the hotel provides the perfect place for those looking for a luxurious getaway.

As time is of the essence on a 24-hour trip, the businessman, or the romantic couple, can save vital minutes flying from the centre of London to the heart of Florence with minimal stress. City Jet last month began operating daily flights on a direct route from London City Airport to Florence Airport meaning you can be back in London in no time – just a short drive from your nearest Ikea.

But next time you need a new piece of flat-packed furniture, why not combine it with a flying 24-hour trip to Florence. They’ve got one there too don’t you know.