Three Must See Florentine Cathedrals

  1. Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore

Better known as the Duomo, this focal point of Florence can be seen from any spot in town.

The Duomo was built in 1294.

The Duomo was built in 1294.

Florence’s biggest masterpiece, the Duomo took two centuries to build, mostly because the iconic dome was the largest dome in the world and no one knew how to make it. Filippo Brunelleschi’s design solved the problem and gave the dome the nickname cricket cage.

With its soaring multi-colored marble bell tower, large dome and beautiful 19th century neo-Gothic façade the Duomo is breathtaking, the inside pales in comparison.

Where the real beauty is, is up 463 tiny winding steps to the top of the dome. From the top of the dome Florence is laid before you. Go close to closing and you’ll see the city bathed in light with a beautiful sunset in the background.

The Duomo as seen from Piazza Vecchio.

The Duomo as seen from Piazza Vecchio.

For the best view of the Duomo climb 416 steps to the top of the bell tower. The dome in all its glory will fill up your camera screen.

Hours:

Cathedral: Monday-Friday: 10am-5pm

Saturday: 10am-4:45pm

Sunday: 1:30pm-4:45

Dome: Monday-Friday 8:30am-7pm

Saturday: 8:30am-5pm

Sunday: 1pm-4pm

Baptistery: Monday-Friday: 8:15am-10:15am/11:15am -6:30pm

Saturday: 8:15am-6:30pm

Sunday: 8:15am-1:30pm

Bell tower: Monday-Friday: 8:15am-6:50pm

Saturday: 8:15 am- 6:50pm

Sunday: 8:15am-6:50pm

Crypt: Monday-Friday: 10am- 5pm

Saturday: 10am-4:45pm

Sunday: Closed

Museum: Closed until 10/29/2015

Prices:

Cathedral: Free

A 10 euro ticket gets you into all 5 monuments in Piazza Duomo: Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the crypt of Santa Reparata and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

  1. Santa Croce    
santa croce

The facade of Santa Croce.

Not nearly as colorful and busy in its façade as the Duomo, the Santa Croce makes up for it in the inside. Light shining through the stained glass windows create pools of light in reds, yellows and blues.

The main alter in Santa Croce.

The main alter in Santa Croce.

Stained glass windows aren’t the only artwork in Santa Croce. It houses some of the most important art of any church in Florence. The highlights are Donatello’s Crucifix and Annunciation, and Giotto frescoes.

Santa Croce is the burial ground of choice for Renaissance celebrities with the most prominent being Michelangelo.

The tomb of Michelangelo.

The tomb of Michelangelo.

Second most prominent is Galileo Galilei, the guy who claimed, correctly, that the Earth was not the center of the universe. (Fun Fact: It was because of this controversial claim that he was not granted a Christian burial until 100 years after his death.) Others include Niccolò Machiavelli, a political theoretician who influenced the Medici family and composer Gioacchino Rossini.

Hours:

Monday-Saturday: 9:30am-5:30pm

Sunday: 2pm-5:30pm

Prices:

Full price ticket: 6 euros

Reduced price ticket: 4 euros for children 11-17 years old, for school groups and for groups that include a minimum of 15 people.

Free: childen younger than 11 years old

Residents of Florence and province

Disabled travelers and their own assistant

  1. Basilica of San Lorenzo

One of the largest churches of Florence, and some claim one of the oldest, the Basilica of San Lorenzo was built in 393 outside of the city walls.

The alter of San Lorenzo.

The alter of San Lorenzo.

San Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medici family, one of the most influential families in Florence. It is now the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family and their artist friend, Donatello.

The tomb of Donatello.

The tomb of Donatello.

This Renaissance style church houses many beautiful pieces of art like Donatello’s last works, two bronze pulpits, and the work of Brunelleschi and Michelangelo can be seen in the sacristies. The grandest part of San Lorenzo would probably have to be the Medici Chapels with its unusual shape and colored marble everywhere.

Hours:

Weekdays: 10am-5pm

Sunday: 1:30pm-5:30pm

Prices:

4,50 euros

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Photo of the Week: Italian Streets

Classic Fiats are the car of choice for many Italians.

Old Fiats add a dash of class among the old brick streets of Florence. Small and compact, Fiats are able to weave in and out of traffic with the same ease as a moped or bicycle making them a favorite among Italian drivers. Get behind the wheel of a vintage Fiat, an icon of Italy, and putter around the Tuscan countryside.

Best Views of Florence

There are hundreds of ways to see a city: out the window of a car, whizzing by on a moped, cycling through the alleys or even clipping along in a horse and carriage. But my favorite view of the city isn’t the side streets, the monuments, or the shops and restaurants; these are just snippets of the city. I prefer to see the city as a whole and the best way to do that is from high above. So here are the five best places to see Florence in all its glory.

  1. Piazza Michelangelo
The view from Piazza Michelangelo in Florence, Italy.

The view from Piazza Michelangelo in Florence, Italy.

Here is the most famous place in Florence to watch the sunset. Piazza Michelangelo offers a breathtaking view of the city. Sit on the stairs with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset reflect off the Arno River. It is quite a hike to the top so wear comfortable shoes. Also, it is really popular for tourists and locals so plan to get there early to grab a good spot.

  1. Fiesole
The view of Florence from Fiesole, Italy.

The view of Florence from Fiesole, Italy.

At the end of the Bus #7 route this small town offers a view of the city and surrounding countryside. During the whole ride up glimpses of the city can be spotted. Hike around town and enjoy Florence from various unique angles.

  1. Duomo dome (or bell tower)
View of Florence from the Duomo.

View of Florence from the Duomo dome.

The Duomo sits in the center of the city and if you are fit and able to climb the 400 plus stairs of either the Duomo dome or the bell tower you will be rewarded with a 360 view of the city from the heart of it. Just remember, if you want pictures of the city with the main monument, the Duomo, in it you won’t get it from the dome.

  1. The tower of Palazzo Vecchio
View of Florence and the Duomo from Piazza Vecchio near sunset.

View of Florence and the Duomo from Piazza Vecchio near sunset.

Not far from the Duomo is Palazzo Vecchio. This museum is fascinating but what is even more compelling is the sight awaiting you at the top of the tower-an unblocked view of the city including its biggest masterpiece-the Duomo. Go close to closing and you can enjoy watching the sunset over the city without all the tourist crowds.

  1. San Miniato al Monte
View of Florence from the church on the hill.

View of Florence from San Miniato al Monte, the church on the hill.

Uphill from Piazza Michelangelo is San Miniato al Monte. The view as seen from the front of the church is picture postcard perfect. The brown roofs, churches and piazzas that make up Florence are laid out before you outlined by the River and city walls. And if you look to your right you can even make out Piazza Michelangelo.

Photo of the Week: Fallen Soldiers in Florence

cross

World War II Memorial for the fallen American soldiers in Italy.

Many people don’t know that about 20 minutes outside of Florence is a cemetery that mirrors that of Arlington in the United States. The lines of crosses in perfect unison at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial site in Italy covers 70 acres and memorializes the soldiers who lost their lives while fighting in Italy during World War 2.

The memorial site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Think You’re a Travel Expert? Take this Quiz to Test Your Travel IQ

So you’ve traveled the world, or at least dreamed about it for years, and think you know everything there is to know? Test your travel knowledge below. Answers are on the bottom. But don’t cheat!

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Travel quiz over Italy.

You aren’t trying to cheat are you?

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Here are the answers! 

1.  Venice, Italy, is made up of 117 islands which are formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon. The canals serve as the city roads so boats are the main form of transportation.

2. The Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy, houses a tooth, vertebrae, thumb and middle finger that scientists and historians cut from Galileo, a famous renaissance astronomer, during his burial ceremony.

3. Rome, Italy. During the days of the Roman Empire, all the empire’s roads radiated out from the capital city to all the different provinces.

4. Parma, Italy. It was monks in the area around Parma who first started making a distinctive hard cheese during the Middle Ages. The concept of naming foods after their place of origin dates back to the Roman Empire. It was known as caseum paramensis in Latin, and locals shortened this to Pramsàn, in dialect.

5. Pompeii, Italy, was mostly destroyed in 79 AD when Mont Vesuvius erupted covering the town in ash and pumice. The objects that lay beneath the ash, including thousands of human bodies were well preserved and show what life was like for the residents.

6. Verona, Italy, was the home of Shakespeare’s feuding families in his play Romeo and Juliet. The city of romance has more than just star-crossed lovers and balconies. It is also the home of the summer opera festival which is held in an ancient, well-preserved Roman amphitheater, known for its famous acoustics.

7. Pisa, Italy. Construction began in 1173 on the tower of Pisa and took 334 years to finish. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built on marshy, soft ground causing the tower to start leaning by the time builders got to the third story. The tower is around 56 meters tall, aka one must climb about 296 steps to reach the top, and has a lean of 5.5 degrees (about 15 feet or 4.5 meters). Between 1990 and 2001 the tower was stabilized and the lean was partially fixed. It is thought that with the restoration work done on it, the tower should be stable for the next 300 years.

8. Milan, Italy. World Fairs (also called Expos) are held every five years. This year’s theme is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. More than 140 participating countries will showcase their technology for a sustainable future and some of their best dishes. Located in the northern area of the 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area, the Tree of Life stands as a celebration of the theme.

9. Turin, Italy. In 1844, Angelo Moriondo patented his steam driven “instantaneous” coffee beverage making device. Now, this drink is such a tradition that it is not even called by name. It is called un caffè because it’s the default drink. It must be drunk fast – the word espresso is freely translated means a cup of espresso coffee served quickly– and be prepared for the jolt of caffeine because has a higher caffeine content than other coffees.

Let me know how you did!