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Florence See And Do

Cappella Brancacci
Piazza del Carmine
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 276 8224

The Brancacci Chapel, inside the Oltrarno Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, is where the Renaissance started. Commissioned by a local silk merchant, the fresco cycle that adorns the walls of the chapel is one of the most important in Florentine art. It was the work of three great Renaissance painters: Masolino da Panicale, his pupil Masaccio, and Fra Filippo Lippi. One of the most memorable works is Masaccio's Expulsion of Adam and Eve. The frescoes were celebrated from the outset for their use of the new rules of perspective and their chiaroscuro (light and shade) effects, and artists such as Michelangelo came to study them. Note that admission is by a separate entrance at the side of the church and is strictly limited to 30 people per 15-minute slot. This means that, except at very quiet times of year, it is worth ringing ahead to book.

Open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday 1 to 5 pm.

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Cappella Medicea
6 Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 238 8602

Attached to the church of San Lorenzo, this complex of three rooms is the final resting place of Medicis great and small. Minor family members were relegated to the crypt, while Cosimo I turned the Cappella dei Principi, with its lashings of marble, into a bombastic exercise in self-glorification. But Michelangelo's Sagrestia Nuova is the real draw. Fresh from painting the Sistine ceiling in Rome, the returning prodigal son produced some of his most original sculptural works in the two finished Medici tombs that dominate the space. The tomb of Giuliano, youngest son of Lorenzo de' Medici, is crowned by twin reclining statues of Night and Day, while that of Lorenzo's eponymous grandson, Lorenzo Duke of Urbino, is capped by figures of Dawn and Dusk.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 8:15 am to 5 pm, plus second and fourth Monday and first, third, and fifth Sunday of each month.

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Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore)
Piazza del Duomo
Florence
Italy 50122
Tel: 39 055 230 2885

Florence's massive green and white cathedral and its wedding cake facade dominates the center of the city. Building began in the 1290s under the direction of Arnolfo Di Cambio, and the structure was designed to supersede all other churches in size and sheer magnificence. The celebrated dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was built in the 15th century after the engineering conundrum of how to construct such a huge cupola without it collapsing under its own weight was solved (even today, this remains the largest masonry dome in the world). Entrance to the cathedral itself is free, but four parts have separate charges and opening times (see below). Of these, the most worthwhile is the viewing platform inside the lantern that crowns the dome—but as the sign at the bottom warns: "463 steps... There is no lift." On the north and east doors outside the Baptistery, look out for Ghiberti's delicate bronze bas-reliefs.

Open Mondays through Wednesdays 10 am to 5 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm, Sundays 1 to 5 pm.

Cupola (Dome): Open Mondays through Fridays 8:30 am to 7 pm, Saturdays 8:30 am to 5:40 pm.

Campanile: Open daily 8:30 am to 7:30 pm.

Baptistery: Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to 7 pm, Sundays 8:30 am to 2 pm.

Crypt of Santa Reparata: Open Mondays through Fridays 10 am to 5 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 4:45 pm. Last entry 40 minutes before closing time.

Fiesole
Fiesole
Italy

A small hill town just to the north of Florence, Fiesole was founded by the Etruscans. Today, it is a charming upmarket suburb accessible by a short taxi ride from the city. Life centers around Piazza Mino, a lively old square lined with cafés and restaurants. There are some interesting sights, including the fine 11th-century Duomo and the Museo Bandini, with its Gothic paintings and Della Robbia terra-cottas. Relics of Etruscan and Roman Faesulae can be seen in the Teatro Romano and the Museo Archeologico, and there are wonderful views of Florence from the monastery of San Francesco up the hill. Be aware that most of the restaurants here are better known for their vistas than their food.

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Galleria degli Uffizi
6 Piazzale degli Uffizi
Florence
Italy 50122
Tel: 39 055 238 85; advance tickets 39 055 294 883

The greatest collection of Renaissance painting in the world is housed in the former administrative offices of Cosimo de' Medici's court, a 16th-century building designed by Vasari. The gallery contains enough great art to keep you busy for a whole day, but it may take half a day to get in at peak times—unless you book ahead. A small allocation of next-day tickets are available on the door. Alternatively, call the advance booking number and reserve a ticket, you can pick it up at the museum's reservation desk which has a shorter line. Highlights of the first nine rooms include the three glorious Maestà altarpieces by Giotto, Cimabue, and Duccio in Room 2, Gentile da Fabriano's action-packed Adoration of the Magi in Room 5, Piero della Francesca's famous portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino in Room 7, and a collection of Fra Filippo Lippi's in Rooms 8 and 9. The gallery's most famous paintings, the Botticellis, are in Rooms 10–14; here the crowds gather around such masterpieces as The Adoration of the Magi, Primavera, and The Birth of Venus.

Open Tuesday through Sunday 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.

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Galleria dell' Accademia
58–60 Via Ricasoli
Florence
Italy 50122
Tel: 39 055 238 8612; advance tickets 39 055 294 883

The vast majority of the people in the mile-long line outside this former art school are here for one reason only: to ogle what is probably the most famous nude sculpture in the world, Michelangelo's monumental David. The statue, finished in 1504, was carved from a single, particularly long and narrow piece of marble and is top-heavy; the artist intended it to be placed on a high plinth. The hands and feet are huge; other parts famously aren't. It's awesome, nonetheless. Besides David, don't neglect Michelangelo's other masterpiece, the nonfiniti ("unfinished") or Slaves. There are also some fine Quattrocento and Mannerist paintings and a magnificent collection of musical instruments that includes several Stradivari. It is possible to reserve tickets beforehand by calling the advance tickets telephone number, but the museum won't accept reservations more than two months in advance.

Open Tuesday through Sunday 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.

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Giardino di Boboli
Piazza Pitti
Florence
Italy

The only park in the center of Florence, the Boboli Gardens (behind Palazzo Pitti) provides a green oasis in the midst of the city's dense Renaissance architecture. Laid out by Buontalenti in the 16th century, it is a wonderful space where you'll come across fountains, statues, secret pathways, lawns, formal gardens, and a thriving population of stray cats. Look for the Neptune Fountain, the beautiful Giardino del Cavaliere at the top of the gardens, Buontalenti's fantastical, newly restored grotto, and the statue of Cosimo I's chubby dwarf astride a turtle, just before the main exit.

Open daily 8:15 a.m. till one hour before sunset. Closed the first and last Monday of each month.

Gucci Museo
5 Piazza della Signoria
Florence
Italy 50122
Tel: 39 055 290 017
www.gucci.com/us/worldofgucci/mosaic/think_forever/gucci_museo

Guccio Gucci opened his first leather goods and luggage shop in Florence in 1921, targeting the kind of luxury clientele he had seen while working as a bellboy at the Savoy in London. Since then the company he founded has become a huge global brand. On its 90th anniversary in 2011, Gucci opened its first museum in its founder's hometown, on a prime centro storico piece of real estate—14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Piazza della Signoria. The display has several jaw-dropping moments, such as the Gucci-customized 1979 Cadillac Seville, or the feathered and sequinned swan-princess dress worn by Hilary Swank at the 2011 Academy Awards. Other themes, such as the development of the Gucci logo or the evolution of the design department's floral motifs, are a little more recondite. Those looking for insights into the life of Gianni, Donatella, and other Versace family figures will be disappointed: The remit here is strictly corporate. But anyone with a passing interest in fashion will be fascinated, and the ground-floor Gucci Caffè is a relaxing place to chill out between bouts of sightseeing. There's also a bookshop, a gift shop, a and contemporary art exhibition space featuring rotating selections from Gucci CEO François Pinault's extensive collection.—Lee Marshall

Open daily 10 am to 8 pm.

Museo di San Marco
1 Piazza San Marco
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 238 8608

A testament to the work of painter–monk Fra Angelico, this museum is housed in the Dominican convent of San Marco. Fra Angelico was arguably the most spiritual artist of the 15th century, and his paintings can be seen in the setting for which they were intended. One of his most famous works, the Annunciation, is at the top of the main stairs on the first floor, while his great Last Judgment altarpiece is in the Pilgrim's Hospice. He also painted the frescoes in the corners of the cloister of Sant Antonio and, with the help of various assistants, those in the small monk's cells.

Open Tuesday through Friday 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m.; Saturday 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.; first, third, and fifth Monday of month 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m.; second and fourth Sunday 8:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Museo Nazionale del Bargello
4 Via del Proconsolo
Florence
Italy 50022
Tel: 39 055 238 8606; advance tickets 39 055 294 883

The Bargello occupies a rather forbidding building that was once the city jail; the romantic Gothic courtyard was the site of the gallows and chopping block. Today, the museum houses a fabulous collection of sculpture by Michelangelo, Donatello, Benvenuto Cellini, Giambologna, and others. On the ground floor, don't miss Cellini's bronze bust of Cosimo I, Giambologna's famous Mercury, and Michelangelo's Pitti Tondo. Upstairs, look out for Donatello's St. George and his androgynous bronze David.

Open Tuesday through Saturday 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. Also open (same times) first, third, and fifth Monday of month and second and fourth Sunday.

Ognissanti
40 Borgo Ognissanti
Florence
Italy

The church of Ognissanti, or All Saints, has a grand Baroque facade that was designed in 1672, but was actually founded in the 13th century by the Umiliati. Sandro Botticelli and Amerigo Vespucci are buried here, and there is some fine art, including frescoes and a St. Jerome by Ghirlandaio, a St. Augustine by Botticelli, and works by Taddeo and Agnolo Gaddi in the sacristy. But the jewel lies in the adjacent refectory of the old convent (open Mon, Tues, and Sat 9 a.m.–noon). Here you'll find one of Domenico Ghirlandaio's most famous works, his fresco of the Last Supper or Cenacolo.

Open 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.

Orsanmichele
1 Via dell'Arte della Lana
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 284944

Orsanmichele demonstrates just how closely religion and trade were intertwined in medieval Florence. First a chapel on a Benedictine monastery, it was turned into a granary, which at the beginning of the 14th century became a kind of secular temple to the city's powerful trade guilds. This explains the building's odd foursquare appearance, and also the statues of the guilds' patron saints on the exterior—each one commissioned from a leading sculptor. Today, those on the outside are copies: The restored originals, including Donatello's St. Mark and Ghiberti's remarkable bronze John the Baptist, are housed inside. Note that the museum is only open on a Sunday due to ongoing restoration, but the once impenetrable church, with its splendid Gothic Madonna and Saints by Bernardo Daddi, now has regular opening times.

Church open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Palazzo Medici Riccardi
3 Via Cavour
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 276 0340

The main reason for visiting this solid 15th-century palazzo, built by Michelozzo, and now the city's prefettura, is to see Benozzo Gozzoli's delightful Cappella dei Magi on the first floor. The frescoes of the Procession of the Magi fill the tiny chapel from floor to ceiling and are exquisitely painted in jewel-like colors with faces of public figures of the day easily recognizable among the lively crowd scene. Gozzoli himself can be spotted among the crowd on the right-hand wall, with his name helpfully written on his red hat.

Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Wednesday.

Palazzo Pitti
Piazza Pitti
Florence
Italy

This enormous 15th-century palace was built for wealthy banker Luca Pitti as a poke in the eye to the Medici; less than a century later, his impoverished family was forced to sell the place to their rivals. The Palazzo contains a number of separate museums, some of which have a decidedly niche appeal (anyone for the Porcelain Museum?). If time is limited, head straight for the Galleria Palatina, a series of lavish, frescoed rooms where Grand Duke Cosimo I's collection of 15th- to 17th-century paintings are hung floor to ceiling on damask walls. Don't miss Lippi's Tondo of the Madonna and Child or Raphael's Holy Family or his Madonna della Seggiola. But there is a lot more besides, including paintings by Titian, Van Dyke, Rubens, Velázquez, Perugino, and Caravaggio. Of the other museums, the Museo degli Argenti is probably the most worthwhile: It's not just silver but a whole range of luxe objets commissioned by a family anxious to show off its wealth in gewgaws made of rock crystal, lapis lazuli, and ostrich eggs. Behind the palace, you'll find Giardino Di Boboli.

Galleria Palatina & Appartamenti Reali
Tel: 39 055 238 8611
Open April through December, Tuesday through Saturday 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. Closed January, February, and March, open by appointment only (Firenze Musei; 055 294 883).

Museo degli Argenti
Tel: 39 055 238 8709
Open November through February 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; March 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; April, May, September, October 8:15 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily; June to August 8:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.

Palazzo Strozzi
Piazza Strozzi
Florence
Italy 50123
Tel: 39 055 2776 461
www.palazzostrozzi.org

Though Florence is known the world over as one of Italy's great città d'arte, it had long suffered from a dearth of temporary exhibition spaces. That is, until 2006, when Palazzo Strozzi—the imposing home of Renaissance banker and power-monger Filippo Strozzi—was renovated with this purpose in mind. Under the tutelage of dynamic British-Canadian general director James Bradburne, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi has quickly become a rival to Palazzo Grassi in Venice or the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome for the quality of its shows, which have taken in subjects as diverse as Cézanne, the history of fashion, and Chinese art from the Han to Tang dynasties. The galleries are also child-friendly (still a rarity in Italy), with kid-oriented panels and interactive discovery rooms. The Strozzina gallery in the former stables downstairs is dedicated to more contemporary exhibitions, sometimes thematically linked to the shows upstairs. Concerts and film series are also staged here, and there's a café in the grand central courtyard, which is a free Wi-Fi zone.

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Piazza della Signoria & Palazzo Vecchio
Florence
Italy

This monumental square, dominated by the somber Palazzo Vecchio and its iconic tower, has been Florence's administrative hub for hundreds of years, and it still functions as city hall today. It is home to several vast statues (including copies of Michelangelo's David and Donatello's Judith and Holofernes), a monumental fountain by Ammannati featuring a rather thuggish Neptune, and a plaque marking the spot where rabble-rousing priest Savonarola burned in 1498. Today, it's lined with cafés and restaurants, and on warm summer nights it becomes an impromptu theater for all kinds of street performers and a general hangout for backpackers. Inside the Palazzo Vecchio are acres of frescoes depicting the Medici family's leading figures and feats. It's worth signing up for one of the Percorsi Segreti guided tours that give access to normally off-limits parts of the building. Some of these tours are in English, but times vary: Take your chances by turning up in the morning (9:30 and 11 are good bets), or book here for the following day.

Palazzo Vecchio open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Piazzale Michelangelo
Florence
Italy

For a stunning view of Florence, head up to Piazzale Michelangelo, a panoramic viewing platform that perches above the south bank of the Arno. The huge square, dominated by a copy of Michelangelo's David, is usually crowded with tour groups, buses, and smiling tourists having their picture taken against the spectacular backdrop of the city. But it's worth braving the milling crowds for the stunning, iconic view, especially on a clear day.

Piazza Santo Spirito
Florence
Italy

At the heart of the buzzing, boho-chic Oltrarno district is this lovely shady square in the shadow of its parish church. This edifice was Brunelleschi's last work, and he died before it was completed; the unadorned facade has become a symbol of this bustling area that's full of character. At night, the action heats up as bars and restaurants fill with preclubbers. In the summer months, the piazza turns into an open-air bar and live-music venue.

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Ponte Vecchio
Florence
Italy

Crossing the Arno at its narrowest point, the 14th-century Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous bridges in the world. Today it is lined on both sides with quaint shops selling gold and silver jewelry (a mix of upscale and cheaper outlets), but until Cosimo de' Medici kicked them out in the mid-1500s, it housed the city's butcher shops. The Corridoio Vasariano, Cosimo I's secret passageway linking the Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, runs along the eastern side. It was the only bridge in Florence saved from destruction during the German bombing raids in 1944, and it stood up to the disastrous flood of 1966, though the force of the water smashed through many of the shops and carried away a wealth of gold, much of which has never been found.

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San Lorenzo
Piazza San Lorenzo
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 216 634

The Medicis' parish church stands on the site of one of the city's oldest places of worship. The present building was designed by Brunelleschi; work on it began in 1421 and continued well into the 1460s. The unfinished rough brick facade contrasts with the cool, calm interior in gray pietra serena. Two fabulous bronze pulpits near the front are by Donatello; decorated with panels depicting scenes from Christ's Passion, they were his last works and had to be finished by his pupils. The second chapel on the right houses The Marriage of the Virgin by the Mannerist painter Rosso Fiorentino. Don't miss the Old Sacristy off the left transept, a decorative tour de force by Brunelleschi and Donatello. A gateway on the left of the facade leads to Michelangelo's Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana (Mon–Sat 8:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.), commissioned by Medici Pope Clement VII to house the family's priceless collection of manuscripts. The reading room is off-limits to tourists, but the vestibule with its extraordinary Mannerist staircase can be admired by all.

Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., also Sunday 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in summer.

San Miniato Al Monte
34 Via delle Porte Sante
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 234 2731

Built in the 11th century, San Miniato is one of Tuscany's most beautiful Romanesque churches and the oldest still standing in Florence after the Baptistery. It sits on a hill above the south bank of the Arno, with fabulous views over the city. The lovely exterior has an intricately patterned green, white, and black marble facade that incorporates a glittering mosaic. The unusual interior features a raised choir built over the crypt and an intricate marble floor decorated with signs of the zodiac. Artworks include the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, a beautiful tabernacle—the Cappella del Crocefisso—by Michelozzo, and the Romanesque marble pulpit in the presbytery, with its semipagan symbolism. If you visit at 4:30 p.m. in winter or 5:30 p.m. in summer, you can hear Gregorian chant.

Open April through September 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily; November through March Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to noon, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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Santa Croce & Cappella dei Pazzi
Piazza Santa Croce
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 246 6105

The 13th-century Franciscan church of Santa Croce has a typical Florentine striped facade. The vast interior has an open timber roof and it houses many tombs of Florence's more notable illustrious citizens, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Ghiberti, and Machiavelli. Santa Croce's many art treasures include a beautiful marble pulpit by Benedetto da Maiano and Bernardo Rossellino's tomb of Leonardo Bruni. But it is the trecento frescoes that are particularly remarkable. The Castellani, Baroncelli, Medici, and Rinuccini chapels are all beautifully decorated, but the jewels are the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels, both frescoed by Giotto in the 14th century. A door in the south aisle leads through a cloister to Brunelleschi's Cappella dei Pazzi, one of the most influentially minimalist buildings of the Florentine Renaissance, a paean to a time when geometric perfection had a spiritual resonance.

Open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Santa Maria Novella
Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 282 187

The 13th-century Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella has a stunning black and white marble facade by Alberti. Inside, there is an extraordinary wealth of art that many visitors to Florence unjustly overlook. Highlights include: Masaccio's austere Trinità in the left nave; Giotto's superb crucifix hanging over the central aisle; the Strozzi chapel, entirely frescoed by Nardo di Cione and Andrea Orcagna; Filippino Lippi's frescoes in the Filippo Strozzi chapel; and Ghirlandaio's fresco cycle in the sanctuary behind the high altar. Reached via a separate entrance to the left of the church, the Green Cloister takes its name from the pigment used in the frescoes of scenes from Genesis by Paolo Uccello, with their giddy, experimental perspective. More fine frescoes, firmly in the Gothic tradition, are on display in the Spanish Chapel, which was used by the entourage of Eleonora of Toledo, wife of Cosimo I. While you're in the area, visit the nearby Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.

Open Monday through Thursday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Fridays and Sundays.

Santa Trinita
Piazza di Santa Trinita
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 216 912

This 12th-century church hides several treasures behind its rather bland facade. The Sassetti chapel is decorated with frescoes of the life of St. Francis by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448–1494). The lovely Adoration of the Shepherds above the altar is one of the artist's best-known works. One of the few early Quattrocento fresco cycles to have survived in the city is the Life of the Virgin in the Bartolini-Salimbeni Chapel, painted by the Sienese artist Lorenzo Monaco; the Annunciation behind the altar is also by him. In the second chapel to the left of the altar, don't miss the marble tomb of Benozzo Federighi by Luca della Robbia.

Open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to noon and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Soul Space
12 Via San Egidio
Florence
Italy 50122
Tel: 39 055 2001 794
info@soulspace.it
www.soulspace.it

If you're suffering from Stendhal syndrome—otherwise known as art overload—a session at this new day spa, a five-minute walk from Piazza del Duomo, could be just the cure. Dimmed lights, scented candles, ambient music, super-simpatico staff, and clean, muted hues set the relaxed mood as soon as you walk in the door. There are six cabins for massages and beauty treatments, a heated pool, a hammam, and a basement fitness center. The wide range of treatments and massages includes Tuscan-themed wine and olive-oil scrubs. Full-day packages are also available.

Teatro della Pergola
18/32 Via della Pergola
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 226 4316
www.pergola.firenze.it

The best place to hear chamber music in Florence is this gorgeous historic theater done out in splendid red and gold. Inaugurated in 1656, it is an intimate performance space with three tiers of boxes ideally suited to small-scale productions. The Amici della Musica's concert season runs from October through May and regularly features internationally known string quartets, singers, and recitalists; concerts are normally held on weekends. Besides the chamber music program, the theater hosts a full season of plays, but productions are in Italian.

Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
16 Corso Italia
Florence
Italy
Tel: 39 055 277 9245
www.maggiofiorentino.com

Opera buffs should try and catch a performance at Florence's municipal theater—also known as the Teatro Comunale—where the stagione lirica runs from September through December. More opera is on offer during the Maggio Musicale festival from late April or May through June. The theater supports a symphony orchestra, chorus, and ballet company who provide a full program of music and dance throughout the year; Zubin Mehta is the principal conductor, and standards, particularly when it comes to opera, are pretty high.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.