Florence & Pisa

Iconic art, architecture and history among the Tuscan hills


Iconic art, architecture and history among the Tuscan hills

Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Leonardo’s Annunciation, and Caravaggio’s Medusa. In a day, a single day. In a city so crammed with beautifully crafted masterpieces, exquisite exhibits which would claim top billing practically anywhere else, hardly get a look-in in the Lonely Planet’s guide to Firenze (other guide books are available). In fact UNESCO recently asserted that almost a third of the entire world’s art treasures reside here in the Renaissance city of Florence. So while you should most definitely invest in perusing the renowned works at the Uffizi and Galleria Dell’Accademia, also take time to wander the winding cobbled lanes, smaller churches and glorious gardens where untold surprises, secret sculptures and unique carvings await.

As Florence hosts over 16 million tourists each year, Low Season Traveller recommends avoiding the hot and heaving peak summertime, instead making a journey during the colder, less popular November to April period. Easter sees numbers rising again, but avoid that and you can experience shorter queues and fewer crowds at those top locations. Temperatures can fluctuate from freezing to mid-teens °C but there’s no shortage of museums or fabulous eateries to head into if it’s chilly.


Piazza della Signoria is known as the heart of the city, conveniently sited between the stunning marble Duomo and the River Arno. Standing in this busy square you get a sense of the majesty and opulence of Florence. Fascinating statues, many paid for by the Medicis, portray the city’s long and convoluted past. Enter the 14th century Palazzo Vecchio with its castle like features, distinctive tower and spectacular Vasari ceiling oil paintings. Fill up on religious iconography at the Duomo, the Basilica Santa Maria Novella and the Basilica di Santa Croce before filling up on lunch at the Mercato Centrale market or on delicious gelato. Cross the Arno via Ponte Vecchio, the medieval stone bridge and explore Palazzo Pitti, Cappelle Medicee and the picturesque gardens on the south side.

Dig a Little Deeper

A full Florentine experience goes beyond the bucket list sights and museums. The city is compact enough to walk through the distinct neighbourhoods, each with its own charm, craftsmen and trattorias. It doesn’t take much to wander off the beaten track, and discover another side to the city that operates at a slower pace. Step away from the high-end fashion of Via Tornbuoni, and head into the funky side streets. Meet the back street artisans working in leather, gold, bookbinding, marbled paper, and jewellery, all trades that date from the Middle Ages and still very much alive today. Night-time is particularly beautiful with iconic sites lit up and narrow streets coming to life with the lively atmosphere of local bars and restaurants.


An hour from Florence by car, the one-time maritime capital is home to the famed leaning tower, and makes an excellent day trip. The scarily gravity-defying structure sits beside Italy’s largest baptistery, the 11th century cathedral, and the monumental cemetery of Camposanto. These Carrara marble beauties together make up the UNESCO Field of Miracles, or Campo dei Miracoli. Pisa is often a stop on the cruise ship schedule, so as these are less frequent during winter, you can avoid the hordes and achieve something more like an authentic experience of the architectural beauty of the place. Enjoy a low season walk on a nearly empty sandy beach along the Tuscan coast, then a delicious fish lunch near the marina with its luxury yachts. On a rainy day, check out the Museum of Ancient Ships in the old Medici shipyards.

Low Season Months

May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov

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Top Experiences

Il Duomo

The huge iconic Renaissance Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore with its distinctive green, pink and white marble took almost 150 years to complete. It’s free to enter, but the charge for Giotto’s bell tower, the Baptistery, crypt and dome are well worth it. Buy timed tickets in advance.


Translating as ‘beyond the Arno’, this is an area on the south side of Florence often missed by day trippers. It’s more local, more authentic with cool artisans, bars, shops, and a new creative energy. It includes the neighbourhoods of San Frediano and Santo Spirito, and the Boboli Gardens.

Piazzale Michelangelo

It may be a bit of a steep climb up, but there are plenty of fascinating places to rest en route, and oh, the stunning views from this hilltop terrace are so worth the effort. Hang out at sunset with snacks and a bottle and gaze over the Arno, Uffizi, Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, and the hills beyond.

Insider Tips

  • In December streets are beautifully lit with Christmas lights and shops have garlands adorning their doorways. Shop for gifts at pop-up Christmas markets full of the work of local artisans. January 6th sees a lavish historic parade of the Procession of the Three Magi that crosses the city centre.
  • November is exciting as it is olive picking time. Visit an olive farm and watch as olives are pressed and olive oil produced and try some delicious samples. Some towns in the surrounding areas have festivals dedicated to the olive harvest, truffle season or the opening of wild boar hunting.
  • In 2015 the shooting of the movie ‘Inferno’ starring Tom Hanks took place in Florence and featured many of the city’s major sites. Ghiberti’s 15th century 17 foot, 3 ton bronze Baptistery doors are one of the greatest Renaissance achievements and feature heavily in the novel by Dan Brown.

Good To Know

  • Typical Tuscan winter delicacies include crostini topped with porcini mushrooms or rustic chicken liver pate. Tuscany is also known for spelt or white bean soup. For meat lovers, Florentine Bistecca T-bone is legendary and should be from the Chianina, the typical Tuscan animal and served rare.
  • 20 miles up the coast from Pisa lies Pietrasanta, a medieval town where artists have for centuries quarried the quality Carrara marble for sculptures and architecture. The town is home to unique street art and the artists who make it. You can meet craftsmen and try your hand with a chisel.
  • For a great day out discover Montechiari winery close to the charming medieval town of Lucca. Walk through the family’s 10 hectare estate where the vineyards are grown, enjoying amazing views of the Tuscan countryside, visit the cellars and enjoy a wine tasting and delicious light lunch.

Food & Drink

Il Santo Bevitore, Santo Spirito, Florence

This typical Tuscan restaurant is well known in the Oltrarno district for rustic-chic flair, vibrant atmosphere and delicious food and wines. Specialities include suckling pig and gnocchi. Enjoy drinks at Il Santino, the tiny, funky drinking hole next door.

Ristorante Gurdulù, Santo Spirito, Florence

A totally unique venue named after a fictional wandering knight, this place is pretty glamorous and popular with trendy locals. Great pride is taken in sourcing the finest seasonal ingredients from the family farm of Florentine chef Gabriele Andreoni.

Cantina Vasari, Pisa

Popular with Pisan locals, this central place offers a complex cuisine with simple seasonal flavours paired with wines produced at small local wineries that only produce a limited number of bottles. For something a bit different try their organic egg with truffle.

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