From the moment you step out into bustling Piazza Santa Maria Novella, the first of Florence’s great basilicas comes into view. Cross the square to the Dominican Santa Maria Novella church and follow its cloisters south to Via degli Avelli towards the Old City where David and the Duomo await. Pass two museums on the way, which depart from Florence’s Renaissance theme and house modern art. Turn right to see Museo Marino Marini‘s equestrian sculptures, or left for Palazzo Strozzi’s contemporary exhibitions.
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Narrow streets flanked by palatial Renaissance residences adorned with shutters and balconies open up at Florence’s centrepiece, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Duomo. In the same piazza as Brunelleschi’s terracotta brick-domed cathedral, the marble Campanile di Giotto’s 414-step bell tower is the spot to get city bearings and Tuscan rural views. From Piazza del Duomo, the elegant, pedestrian-only Via dei Calzaiuoli shopping street is the main artery of human traffic south towards the River Arno.
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North of the river, the Piazza della Signoria square is an open-air sculpture gallery. Exit the square’s eastern side and wander on to Piazzale degli Uffizi for a treasure trove of Renaissance art, the Uffizi Gallery. Walk the length of the central courtyard of this old office building – it is so long that looks over the River Arno. At the narrowest part of the meandering River Arno, the medieval stone Ponte Vecchio bridge carries building blocks of jewellery shops on its stone arches.
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Just east of the Duomo, laid-back Piazza Santa Croce is dominated by its monochrome church. The neo-Gothic façade of the Basilica di Santa Croce guards the tombs of famous dead like Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Walk under the silent cloister archways to Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce to see Florence Nightingale’s graceful monument. Take Via Antonio Magliabechi south to the National Central Library, which holds a copy of every book published in Italy.
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Just north-east of the Duomo, the brickwork Brunelleschi church, the Basilica of San Lorenzo, marks one of Florence’s most vibrant districts. At sunset, traders clinch last-minute deals at San Lorenzo Market. Stalls stretch from Piazza San Lorenzo to Via dell'Ariento where the covered food market at Mercato Centrale sells gourmet truffle oils and olives. From San Lorenzo, it’s a short walk north to the Galleria dell'Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David. Queues start early on narrow Via Ricasoli to glimpse the marble giant.
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