Don't Miss in Florence
Renaissance Art: Florence is home to many Renaissance masterpieces. One of the world's best-known statues, Michelangelo's David, is the stunning (and colossal) high point of a visit to the Accademia (Via Ricasoli 60; open daily, except Mondays, 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.), where art-lovers will find much else to admire. A short walk away, a spectacular collection of paintings and murals by the early Renaissance painter Fra Angelico can be found at the museum (and former convent) next to the church of San Marco.
El Duomo: Florence's Gothic-era Duomo (open Monday through Wednesday and Friday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.), also known as the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, is one of the world's largest. Entrance to the church is free (expect a long line), but visitors with limited time can buy tickets at the Museo del Duomo behind the church to ascend the dome's 463 steps for a fantastic view of the city and the neighboring countryside. Views from the terrace of the dome, about halfway up the climb, are equally dramatic. Less energetic tourists can see much of the same view from the rooftop bar and coffee shop of the fashionable department store La Rinascente. (2 Piazza della Republica)
Church of San Lorenzo: The Church of San Lorenzo, in Florence's main market district, houses tombs of the Medici family, as well as the tomb of Donatello. The church is part of a complex that includes Michelangelo's magnificent Laurentian Library and the stunning stairs leading up to it.
Uffizi Gallery: This Florentine gallery houses one of the greatest collections of (mostly Italian) paintings in the world, including Botticelli's famous "Birth of Venus" and exquisite 13th- and 14th-century paintings, as well as works by Rubens and Rembrandt. Flights of stairs lead to the galleries, but if climbing them is a problem, ask for directions to the elevator. Because the museum limits the number of visitors, it's a good idea to secure reservations in advance.
Ponte Vecchio: You've also got to see Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge in Florence. It's lined with tourist-oriented shops selling mostly jewelry. It's also a great way to head over to Florence's "Left Bank," otherwise known as the Oltrano. There you'll find Pitti Palace (Piazza Pitti), home to multiple attractions that include: the Galleria Palatina (open Tuesday to Sunday, 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.), known for its collection of Raphaels; and Boboli Gardens (Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.), which is a gorgeous landscaped park/garden. There's a cafe on the grounds.
Shopping: For designer shoppers, the relatively new Firenze Outlet, about 30 minutes south of Florence, is absolutely fabulous. The sleek, outdoor shopping area, incongruously located in the heart of the Chianti wine region, features shops like La Perla, Salvatore Ferragamo, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Emanuel Ungaro, Fendi, Burberry, Gucci, Frette and Tod's, among others. The whole facility is much more elegant than those in the U.S. (There's a swanky wine bar and cafe on site.) Discounts can be as much as 50 percent. There's shuttle service available from Florence; call the Information Centre at 011-39-055-865-7775 for details. We recommend renting a car. Take the A1 motorway toward Florence, pass the city, and take the exit marked Incisa. Then follow the signs. The main area of exclusive boutique shops in Florence can be found on and around Via de' Tornabuoni (with shops like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Bulgari, among others) and Via della Vigna Nuova. For antiques and funky artisan crafts, head to Borgo Ognissanti and the Via Maggio in the Oltrarno neighborhood (the other side of Ponte Vecchio, toward Palazzo Pitti). And, of course, jewelry options abound on the famous Ponte Vecchio. For serious Prada fans, the Prada Outlet is as famous for being hard to find as it is for the great deals you can discover. It's located in Montevarchi (also south of Florence); call 011-39-055-91-901 for directions.
Lucca: Lucca is one of the most beguiling, undiscovered treasures of Tuscany. This medieval walled city dates back to the time of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus, as well as the Renaissance era. Major sights to see include the Romanesque-style Duomo, built in the 13th century; the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi; and the San Michele in Foro, with its bustling, fabulously atmospheric piazza. We have to admit, though, that our favorite activities in Lucca include simply poking around the narrow streets, investigating gorgeous gardens, and shopping with locals and tourists alike. Active types can rent bikes and cycle atop the Passeggiata della Mura, the ring of ramparts that enclose the walled city. For a more relaxing option, sip Lucchesian wine at a sidewalk cafe while grabbing lunch.
Pisa: Home of the infamous Leaning Tower, Pisa is a delightful Tuscan city on the Arno River. It's also the closest tourist spot to Livorno.
Forte dei Marmi and Pietrasanta: Beach aficionados should head to Forte dei Marmi, the area's most elite summer resort town. It offers designer shopping and a whole raft of restaurants along the beachfront. While there, visit the nearby town of Pietrasanta, a lovely, small town that's a hub for artists and sculptors. Note that these villages lie between the Mediterranean Sea and the Apuan Alps, and the white expanse you see near some craggy peaks is not snow -- it's marble. These mountains are the source of much of the marble gracing some of Italy's greatest monuments; Michelangelo sourced his from nearby Carrara.