The Littlest Travelers

Florence can be fun for the little Michelangelos and Lucretia Borgias out there. First, there's the Zoo Fauna Europa, which is small, but the hours are great and the admission is low. Then, THEN, there's Pinocchio Park, featuring sculptures and gardens based on the adventures of the little wooden boy.

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European Florence0Italy0Travel0Guide

· First Things First
· Where to Stay
· Getting Around
· At Your Hotel
· Around Florence
· The Littlest Travelers
· Musts
· If You Have Time

First Things First

Situated almost in the center of Italy, Florence is often picked by travelers as their favorite European city. Filled to the brim with world-class art and architecture, this "Cradle of the Renaissance" is worth as much time as you can devote to it.

Italy is a member of the Eurozone, the group of countries that uses the Euro currency (€). Prices below are expressed in U.S. dollars for convenience; check the rate of exchange prior to arrival in Europe. English is not as common as in Germany, France, or, say, England, so a phrase book will get you far.

Where to Stay

While hotels near the train station may be less expensive and perfect if you're staying only a night or two, the more comfortable and typically Florentine hotels are to the southeast of the station, near the Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, and Piazza del Duomo. Ask for a room away from the street, since Florence can get noisy in the evenings. Though things quiet down around midnight or so when, it is said, the spirits inside all of the marble figures come alive and walk the night... but they don't make any noise.

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Getting Around

Domestic and European flights to Florence arrive at Vespuci Airport, while international flights to Florence arrive at Galileo Galilei Airport in Pisa, but virtually all visitors arrive in Florence at the Santa Maria Novella train station. This is one of the largest rail stations in the region and serves virtually all train traffic into and out of the city. There is a smaller station, the Stazione Campo di Marte, that you have a slim chance of arriving in or departing from. If so, there's a shuttle that runs from there to the main station that operates 24 hours a day.

From the station, try walking. The weather in Florence is almost always pleasant enough, the city is very safe, and it's an easy route into the city and to most hotels. If you have a lot of heavy bags or even a few heavy kids, then pick up a bus schedule inside the station and purchase a ticket. The fare is just a few dollars. If you like it, you can buy books of 5 or 10 tickets for a discount once you're in town from bars or tobacco shops.

If you don't have heavy bags or heavy kids and if you're just too cranky and tired to walk, climb in one of the blue-and-white taxis. All over the city, the taxis are expensive. Just prepare yourself for the worst.

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At Your Hotel

Free city maps and other information can usually be obtained in hotel lobbies or from the front desk.

Check in, freshen up, and, with your bags unpacked, your room key in your pocket, and a few spare euros, you're ready experience the Renaissance.

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Around Florence

Wear comfortable shoes. In Florence, it's not only a maxim to live by- it's a reality. The city is compact and virtually all things can be reached by walking. The city is packed with art and architecture, so you'll invariably wait in line somewhere along the way. Like everywhere else in the world, there are things that you simply can't miss in Florence while others you should try to squeeze in if you have time. Here they are:

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Musts:

Piazza della Signoria: Before you do anything else, you should get yourself a cappuccino, and just sit here, watching the pigeons, watching the kids chase the pigeons, and listen to old men talk about stuff even if you can't understand a jot of what they're saying. Oh yes, and you'll be in the company of Perseus and David, so that's a plus. (OK, the latter is a copy, but the atmosphere is there.) Get yourself acquainted with the square, since this will most likely be the spot from which you'll base your explorations of Florence.

Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore: Otherwise known as the Duomo, the cathedral is one of the most impressive in Italy. Wear appropriate clothing if you intend to go inside. Mass is held on a pretty standard schedule and there's almost always a seat (but they really hate it if you get there late or leave early). The sanctuary is free, of course, but you can get up to the cupola for a fantastic view for about $6. Yes, yes, yes, the climb up those scary looking stairs is very worth it! Don't miss the doors of the baptistery and Giotto's bell tower next door.

Uffizzi Gallery: Originally built as government offices, (uffizi is a huge structure that is now home to Botticelli and da Vinci and other masters. If you have a full day, reserve it. Otherwise, take a good look at the museum plan and head for the three biggies: Birth of Venus, Adoration of the Magi, and Holy Family. Entrance is about $8, but get there at least an hour before closing so you're not turned away.

Galleria dell'Accademia: David. $8.

Yes, yes, there's so much more. Picture galleries and rooms with collections of other Tuscan greats are also open. The museum periodically undergoes restoration of one room or another, so be prepared to miss out on some things. The big guy, though, is always on display.

Ponte Vecchio: It used to be the center of bargain-priced jewelry in the region, but those days are over. However, the prices are still reasonable at the little and very similar shops on the bridge. For other shopping delights try the Via Maggio for antiques and Via del Parione for leather goods.

Antipasti etc.: Look in out-of-the-way places, hidden corners, and down dimly lit streets and stairs for some of Florence's finest restaurants. Many near the train station are somewhat expensive and cater to tourists (that is, they're sort of lousy). Excellent meals don't have to be expensive in Florence. And if a place looks empty at 6 p.m., it's OK, supper is later in the evening for most locals.

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If You Have Time:

Pitti Palace and the boboli Gardens: Giambologna's famous Venus and other works by the artist are on display in the gardens, while the rest of the grounds house numerous museums filled with masterpieces and not-so-famous-yet-incredibly-striking Renaissance art. Just a five-minute walk from the Arno, the complex charges varying rates, from $3 to $12, depending on what you want to see.

Daytrip to Fiesole: Take a half-day and hop on bus #7 for a short, scenic trip to this small town, built by the Etruscans. The views are spectacular along the way to the town.

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