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Marvels of Florence, the Gateway to Tuscany
Some cities enjoy moments when a variety of factors propel them to a unique cultural flowering. One of those cities and one of those moments was Florence in the 15th century, when Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael were just the most prominent of the many artists and thinkers who worked in the city—and changed Western civilization in the process. 

That glorious Renaissance period continues to draw travelers to Florence in droves. In few other places in the world are so many masterpieces of art—and architecture—found in just a few square miles. It takes about a half-hour to walk from the Galleria dell’Academia in the north, across the Arno, and end at the Porto Romano in the south, and along the way, you’ll pass many of Italy’s most important buildings as well as galleries containing some of the world’s most important paintings and sculptures. 

If that makes Florence sound appealing, it is—arguably too appealing. So this itinerary includes some less-expected recommendations as well as tips to help you beat the lines at top attractions. Start your journey by booking a flight on Lufthansa from one of the airline’s 19 U.S. gateways. With its warm approach to hospitality and onboard service, as well as its signature German efficiency, your trip will start on the right note.
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    Photo By cnicbc
    Day 1
    Boboli Gardens
    After you land at Florence’s airport, make your way to the city’s historic core, roughly a half-hour by cab or train. The moderately priced Hotel Continentale opts for a contemporary aesthetic and has a location that can’t be beat, on the north bank of the Arno River next to the Ponte Vecchio. If you want to escape the crowds at the end of each day of sightseeing, the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze might be a better choice. The hotel is located to the north of the city in a 16th-century palazzo that occupies 11 acres of formally landscaped private grounds.

    Head to historic Caffè Gilli on the Piazza Repubblica for a pick-me-up—coffee, snack or lunch—and look at its lavish interior. Then continue across the Arno to the Palazzo Pitti, a palace built by the Medicis.

    You’ll spend much of your time in Florence in museums, but rather than jump right into that after traveling, ease into your cultural itinerary with a visit to the Boboli Gardens, located behind the palace. The gardens were first planted in the 16th century and became a model for many other gardens in Italy and Europe generally, including those at Versailles. Take in the fountains and grottoes, the ancient oaks and the elegant rose garden, and the views of Florence from its higher points. Look out for its most famous statue, of a dwarf astride a tortoise, near the exit.

    Dine tonight at Cucina del Garga, one of Florence’s top restaurants for more than three decades. The dining room is decorated with colorful contemporary art, while the menu focuses on traditional Florentine dishes: risottos, pastas, slow-cooked pork, and breaded veal.
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    Photo By Darold Massaro
    Day 2
    There’s no reason to wait in the long lines at the Uffizi, one of the world’s most celebrated museums, or the Accademia, where the David statue resides—as you can make advance reservations through the official website for Florentine museums. You then exchange your receipt for an actual ticket when you arrive.

    Originally built as offices—hence the name, Uffizi—the building was later converted to a museum, which opened to the public after the last Medici heirs died in the 18th century. The museum’s Italian works include paintings by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and Parmigianino. Some northern European artists are represented too, most notably Dürer and Rembrandt. The rooftop café is an ideal place to get lunch and take a break before tackling the riches of this vast collection.

    After your visit, spend some time getting lost in the streets around the Piazza Repubblica. Florence is famous for its leather—Ferragamo, Roberto Cavalli, and Gianfranco Lotti are among the homegrown brands. On and around Via de’ Tornabuoni, you can find their boutiques along with other designers who aren’t household names—yet.

    For another sort of retail therapy, seek out Santa Maria Novella, a pharmacy based in a stunning 13th-century chapel that continues to sell lotions, soaps, and herbal supplements created by Dominican friars. It’s worth stopping in to admire the wood paneled ornate rooms even if you don’t intend to purchase anything.

    Make your way south across to the Oltrarno and get to know the Arno’s other side, known for traditional artisan workshops and, increasingly, Florence’s hippest indie shops and hangouts. iO Osteria Personale on Borgo San Frediano, for one, can feel like a breath of fresh air, with its chalkboard menus and exposed brick walls. The kitchen here focuses on smaller, lighter portions and seasonally inspired variations on classic dishes, like chestnut tortelli. For a memorable nightcap, it’s a five-minute walk from iO to Mad Souls & Spirits, the most creative cocktail bar in town.
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    Photo By MartinM303
    Day 3
    Head for the Hills
    With only four full days in Florence, you won’t run out of things to do, but spending at least one day exploring more of Tuscany will deepen your perspective. (If your visit to Florence includes a weekend, you may want to plan your daytrip then, when an often-crowded city is even busier.)

    Siena is an hour by car or roughly 90 minutes by train to the south of Florence. The city is most famous for the Palio, a horse race that dates from the Middle Ages and takes place twice a year—in July and August—on the unusual shell-shaped central piazza. The cathedral’s notable Renaissance art is a year-round draw.

    A train ride of under an hour will bring you to Pisa, to the west of Florence. The Leaning Tower is, of course, the city’s most famous landmark, but its cathedral and baptistery as well as several charming squares, especially the Piazza dei Cavalieri, means there are more than enough sights for an outing. Don’t leave without trying cecina, the city’s signature peppery flatbread made with chickpea flower.

    If you want to taste some of Italy’s best wines, the region of Chianti lies just 30 minutes to the south of Florence. You’ll want to explore the small towns of Montespertoli, Gaiole, Panzano, and others, while dozens of family-owned wineries have tasting rooms open to the public—and many will ship bottles back to the U.S. If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, your hotel in Florence can help connect you with private or group tours to the area.
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    Photo By Olivier Bruchez
    Day 4
    Michelangelo's Masterpieces
    Back in Florence, kick off your final day with Michelangelo. The Medici staircase at the Laurentian Library is one of his most important and surprising architectural compositions, yet tends to be overlooked by visitors given the extraordinary local competition. The gray stone staircase leads to the upstairs library, seen as a key moment in the transition from the Renaissance to the Mannerist style that followed. (Note: The Laurentian Library is only open from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; ask your hotel to call and confirm you’ll be able to visit.)

    Near the library, the Trattoria Mario is a popular lunch option. Open only at midday, the typical menu includes pastas and soups, a selection of meat-centric main courses, and four or five contorni, or side dishes. Also nearby is the covered Mercato Centrale. While the lower level of the market is busy with locals shopping for produce as well as fish and meat to cook at home, the mezzanine level has a number of stalls selling pizza, gelato, mozzarella, and other treats to enjoy on the spot.

    You’ve saved Florence’s most famous work of art for last, Michelangelo’s marble statue of David, completed from 1501 to 1504. It long sat on the Piazza de Repubblica, and a replica is still there today. The original, however, was moved into the Galleria dell’Accademia in 1873 to protect it from damage from the elements. Don’t skip over the four Slaves that are located in the same gallery: These unfinished works give a glimpse at the sculptor’s technique, as he chipped away at the marble to create his powerful and beautiful sculptures.

    Another replica of the David awaits at hilltop Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the city. The sunset view is even more delicious if you walk up to San Miniato al Monte, a lovely church (built between 1018 and 1207) with a small shop featuring the monks’ homemade liqueurs, teas, and honeys.

    Wrap up with dinner at one of the city’s top restaurants. Marco Stabile is a young chef who has earned praise for his subtle reinterpretations of classic Florentine dishes at Michelin-starred Ora d’Aria, just behind the Uffizi.
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    Day 5
    Wake up early so you’ll have time to enjoy one last cappuccino and a peek inside the Duomo (you’ve likely passed by it many times—it can feel like all roads lead back to it) at the Last Judgment frescoes, designed by Giorgio Vasari and executed by one of his students. Continue on about five minutes to the Fontana del Porcellino where, it is said, that if you hope to return to Florence while rubbing the nose of the statue of the wild boar, your wish will be granted. Of course, you can also always go to the Lufthansa website, in case the boar fails to deliver.