World ? Europe ? Italy ? Florence

Florence: Attractions

Florence is the Renaissance city -- home to Michelangelo's David, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and Raphael's Madonnas. It's where Fra' Angelico painted delicate Annunciations in bright primary colors and Giotto frescoed monks wailing over the Death of St. Francis. The city is so dense in art, history, and culture that even a short visit can wear out the best of us. Take a hint from that great pragmatist Mark Twain, who, after acknowledging the genius of Michelangelo, said "I do not want Michelangelo for breakfast -- for luncheon -- for dinner -- for tea -- for supper -- for between meals. I like a change occasionally."

Don't necessarily pass up the Uffizi or take a rain check on David and the Accademia, but do take the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of Florence -- wander the medieval streets in Dante's old neighborhood, sip a cappuccino on Piazza della Signoria and people-watch, haggle for a leather jacket at the street market around San Lorenzo, or immerse yourself in the greenery of the Boboli Gardens.

The Best Times to Sightsee -- Museums Open on Mondays: Palazzo Vecchio, Museo Bardini, Museo di Firenze Com'Era, Museo di Santa Maria Novella, Casa Buonarroti, Casa di Dante, Opera di Santa Croce, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Campanile di Giotto, Duomo's cupola, Opificio Pietre Dure, Museo Stibbert, Instituto e Museo di Storia di Scienza, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Museo Horne, Cappella Brancacci, Synagogue, Spedale degli Innocenti, Roman Amphitheater, and Museo Archeologico (Fiesole).

Sights Open During Il Riposo (1-4pm): Uffizi, Accademia, Palazzo Vecchio, Duomo and its cupola, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Campanile di Giotto, Baptistery, Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, Galleria Palatina (Pitti Palace), Forte di Belvedere and Boboli Gardens, Cappella Brancacci, Roman Amphitheater, and Museo Archeologico (Fiesole).

Catching Calcio Fever -- To Italians, calcio (soccer) is something akin to a second religion. You don't know what a "fan" is until you've attended a soccer match in a country like Italy, and an afternoon at the football stadium can offer you as much insight (if not more) into Italian culture as a day in the Uffizi. Catch the local team, the Fiorentina, Sundays September through May at the Stadio Comunale, Via Manfredi Fanti 4 (tel. 055-262-5537 or 055-50-721). Tickets go on sale at the stadium box office 3 hours before each game.

Parks & Gardens

Florence's best park is the Medici grand dukes' old backyard to the Pitti Palace, the Giardino Boboli. Less scenic, but free and more jogger-friendly, is the Parco della Cascine along the Arno at the west end of the historic center. Originally a wild delta of land where the Arno and Mugnone rivers met, the area later became a Medici hunting reserve and eventually a pasture for the grand duke's milk cows. Today, the Cascine is home to tennis courts, pools, a horse racetrack, and some odd late-18th- and early-19th-century features like an incongruous pyramid and funky neoclassical fountains. There's a flea market here every Tuesday morning. Though perfectly safe in the daylight, this park becomes a den of thieves and a hangout for heroin addicts after dark, as do most sections of the Arno's banks, so steer clear.

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