Traveling in Florence
Historically disdained by downtown Florentines, the far side of the Amo remains a lively and unpretentious quarter, even in high season.
PALAZZO PITTI. Luca Pitti, a wealthy banker of the 15th century, built his palazzo east of P.S. Spirito against the Boboli hill. The Medici acquired the palazzo and the hill in 1550 and expanded in every way possible. Today, it houses six museums, including the Galleria Palatina. The galleria was one of only a few public galleries when it opened in 1833 and today houses Florence’s most important art collection after the Uffizi. Works by Raphael, Titian, Andrea del Sarto, Caravaggio, and Rubens line the walls. Other museums display Medici family treasures, costumes, porcelain, carriages, and Apartamenti Reale (royal apartments) lavish reminders of the time when the palazzo was the royal House of Savoy’s living quarters. (Open Su and Tu-Sa 8:15am-6.50pm. ‚6.50.)
BOBOLI GARDENS. With geometrically sculpted hedges, contrasting groves of holly and cypress trees, and bubbling fountains, the elaborate gardens are an exquisite example of stylized Renaissance landscaping. A large oval lawn is just up the hill from the back of the palace, with an Egyptian obelisk in the middle and marble statues in freestanding niches dotting the hedge-lined perimeter. (Open June-Aug. daily 8:15am-7:30pm; Sept.-May reduced hours. ‚4.)
SAN MINIATO AL MONTE AND ENVIRONS
SAN MINIATO AL MONTE. One of Florence’s oldest churches gloriously surveys all of Florence. The inlaid marble facade and 13th-century mosaics provide a prelude to the incredible pavement inside, patterned with lions, doves, and astrological signs. The Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal holds a collection of superlative della Robbia terracottas. Be sure to circle the church and spend a moment in the cemetery, which contains an overwhelming profusion of tombs and mausoleums in many architectural styles. (Take bus #13 from the station or climb the stairs from Piazzale Michelangelo. &055 234 27 31. Open daily 7:30am-7pm.)
PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO. Laid out in 1860, Piazzale Michelangelo offers a fine panorama of the entire city, which is especially beautiful at sunset. Unfortunately, the piazza doubles as a large parking lot, and is home to hordes of tour buses during summer days. It occasionally hosts concerts as well. The stunning photo-op, in addition to the copy of Michelangelo’s David on an ornate pedestal in the center, make it worth the trek. (Cross the Ponte Vecchio and turn left, walk through the piazza, and turn right up V. de Bardi. Follow it uphill as it becomes V. del Monte alle Croci, where a staircase to the left heads to the Piazza.)
In June, the quartieri of Florence turn out in costume to play their own medieval version of soccer, known as calcio storico, in which two teams of 27 players face off over a wooden ball in one of the city’s piazze. These games often blur the line between athletic contest and riot. Tickets (around ‚16) are sold at the box office across from P.S. Croce. Check with the tourist office for times and locations of matches. The Festival of San Giovanni Battista, on June 24, features a tremendous fireworks display in P. Michelangelo beginning around 10pm. May starts the summer music festivals with the classical Maggio Musi-cale. The Estate Fiesolana (June-Aug.) fills the Roman theater in nearby Fiesole with concerts, opera, theater, ballet, and film events. September brings the Festa dell’Unita, a concert series at Campi Bisenzia (take bus #30). The Festa del Grillo (Festival of the Cricket), is on the first Sunday after Ascension Day, May 22, when crickets in tiny wooden cages are sold in the Cascine park and then released into the grass.
For info on hot nightlife, consult the monthly Firenze Spettacolo (‚2). Begin your nighttime passeggiata along V. dei Calzaiuoli and end it with coffee or gelato in a ritzy cafe on Piazza della Repubblica, where singers prance about the stage in front of Bar Concerto. In the Oltrarno, Piazza San Spirito has plenty of bars and restaurants, and live music in summer.
May Day Lounge, V. Dante Alighieri 16r. Aspiring artists display their work on the walls of this eclectic lounge. Play Pong on the early 1980s gaming system or sip mixed drinks (‚4.50-‚6.50) to the beat of the background funk. Beer ‚4.50. Happy Hour 8-10pm. Open daily 8pm-2am.
Slowly, V. Porta Rossa 63r. Posh leather booths, sleek black barstools and tables, blaring pop-jazz to a silent four-screen TV, and small mood candles. Lively but casual. Mixed drinks ‚7. Coffee ‚3-5. Open daily 7pm-2:30am. MCV.
Eby’s Latin Bar, V. dell’Oriuolo 5r. Eby blends tasty fresh-fruit cocktails with only seasonal ingredients. Fantastic Mexican wraps and the best nachos in Florence are two more reasons to visit. Cocktails ‚5.50. Beer ‚3. Happy Hour 6-9pm (drinks ‚3). Open M-Sa noon-3pm and 6pm-3am.
The Chequers Pub, V. della Scala 79r. Of all the pubs in Florence, this one attracts the liveliest Italian crowd. Wide range of beers (pints ‚4.50). Happy Hour daily 6:30-8pm (pints ‚2.50). Open daily Apr.-Oct. Su-Th 12:30pm-l:30am, F-Sa 12:20pm-2:30am; Nov.-Mar. Su-Th 6pm-l:30am, F-Sa 6pm-2:30am. AmExMCV.
The Fiddler’s Elbow, P.S. Maria Novella 7r. This authentic Irish pub serves cider, Guinness, and other beers (‚4.20). Crowded with convivial foreigners. Open daily Su-Th 3pm-lam, F-Sa 2pm-2am.
Rio Grande, V. degli Olmi 1, near Parco delle Cascine. Among locals and tourists alike, this is the most popular of Florence’s discos. Cover ‚16; includes 1 drink. Special nights include soul, hip-hop, house, and reggae. Open Tu-Sa llpm-4am. AmExMCV.
Central Park, in Parco della Cascine. Open-air dance floor pulses with hip-hop, reggae, and rock. Mixed drinks ‚8. Open M-Tu and Th-Sa llpm-late. AmExMCV.
Blob, V. Vinegia 2lr, behind the Palazzo Vecchio. DJs, movies, foosball, and an evening bar buffet. Mixed drinks ‚6. 2-for-l Happy Hour 6-10pm. Open daily until 4am.
Yab, V. Sassetti 5. Another dance club seething with American students and locals. With classic R&B and reggae on Mondays. A very large dance floor is packed by midnight. Mixed drinks ‚5. Open daily 9pm-lam.
Tabasco Gay Club, P.S. Cecilia 3r from Palazzo Vecchio. Smoke machines and strobe lights on dance floor. Florence’s popular gay disco caters primarily to men. 18+. Cover ‚13, includes 1st drink. Open Tu-Su 10pm-4am. AmExMCV.
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