The idea of Florence was to me shrouded in a surreal, dream-like haze. The reality? Exactly the same.

Roaming the city’s warren of streets where every building is architecture – no wall is left unadorned, no window unshuttered, no plaster unfrescoed… I can’t believe how amazing it is here! Museum after museum, coffee after coffee, gem after gem…

The enormity of Il Duomo appears in front of me as I round a corner, as if out of the mists of time. It shimmers like a mirage though I know it is not; green and white strips of marble blurring in and out of my vision. If I blink it may disappear…but it doesn’t – it is always there, a constant… the sturdy emblem of Florence.

Is this real? Is Florence real?! Or all just a fantasy…

What to do:
• Spend hours in the Uffizi Gallery (closed Monday, €12.50)
One of the most amazing art galleries in the world – you can easily lose track of time here. Some of my favourite works are Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Lippi’s Adoration of the Child, Del Pollaiolo’s panels, the octagonal Tribuna, Bugiardini’s Madonna and Child, and Michelangelo’s The Holy Family… Advance booking is recommended.

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Uffizi Gallery
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Uffizi Gallery
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Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery
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Detail of The Birth of Venus
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Portrait of a Youth with a Medal by Botticelli
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Lippi’s Adoration of the Child
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Del Pollaiolo’s panels of Temperance, Faith, Charity, Hope, Justice and Prudence at the Uffizi Gallery

• Discover Il Duomo (Piazza del Duomo, open daily)
Officially the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, this is arguably the centre of Florence and one of my favourite sights. Entry is free but the outside is lovelier than the interior. It is possible to attend mass in the cathedral – this is the only way to see the frescoed interior of Brunelleschi’s dome in detail. The cupola itself can be climbed for a fee as can the campanile (bell tower). The Baptistery of San Giovann is also impressive but again the engraved doors, such as the Gates of Paradise, on the exterior are the best features.

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Exterior of Il Duomo
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Il Duomo
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Il Duomo and Giotto’s bell tower
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Il Duomo

• See the David at the Galleria dell’Accademia (via Ricasoli, closed Monday, €12.50)
Michelangelo’s statue of David as a young man about to slay a giant is awe inspiring and breathtaking…carved from a single block of marble in 1504… but always surrounded by hordes of tourists wielding cameras and smartphones…ok I was one of them too… The museum also contains Michelangelo’s unfinished Slaves and St Matthew sculptures. Unless there are very few people waiting (typically early in the morning) get a reserved ticket from the bookshop across the road – small groups are admitted only every 15 minutes.

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Statue of David
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David
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One of Michelangelo’s Slaves

• Plunge into the life of Dante – visit Casa di Dante Aligheri (via Santa Margherita, open daily, €4) and the church of Santa Margherita
The house where it is thought that Dante was born is now a museum chronicling his life, his masterpiece The Divine Comedy, Florence during his life and other artwork inspired by the poet.

Santa Margherita, often called Dante’s church is opposite the museum. It is here that he met the love of his life, Beatrice Portinari, but was later wed to Gemma Donati in an arranged marriage. There are several paintings of Dante’s life and a shrine to Beatrice at the site of her tomb. Leave a note in the basket in the hope your romantic request will be answered.

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Dante’s death mask
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Dante’s dagger
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Statue at Casa Dante
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Display of dried flowers and minerals in Casa Dante
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Reconstruction of Dante’s bedroom
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The smallest Dante’s Inferno
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An illustrated copy of Dante’s Inferno
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Painting of Dante’s first meeting with Béatrice hanging in ‘Dante’s Church’
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Tomb of Béatrice Portinari, the unrequited love of Dante
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Altar in Dante’s church

TO BE CONTINUED…

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