There are no universally recognized district names in Florence—apart from the Oltrarno, the area south of the Arno River. Florentines generally just refer to a neighborhood by its nearest church, such as Santa Croce or San Lorenzo, which isn't that useful if you don't know where the church is. The best way to get to grips with the city's layout is to split it into five sections: The central hub—which is basically the small area of streets between the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio—and the four compass quadrants that radiate from it. The whole of the Oltrarno is south, Santa Maria Novella is west, San Lorenzo and San Marco are north, and Santa Croce is east. Commercial and residential properties follow a different street-numbering system. Bars, restaurants, hotels etc. have red (rosso) numbers, while residential properties have blue. Therefore, an apartment number won't run in tandem to a neighboring bar. The rosso system is indicated by /r after the street number.
WHEN TO GO
Avoid the busy summer months of July and August, when Florence can get unbearably hot and humid. Tourist season in terms of crowds runs from Easter (one of the busiest weekends of the year) through the end of September: June and September are peak months. Winter can be very chilly, but November through February are the least crowded months of all, and perfect for anyone specifically coming to see art, as lines at museums and galleries will be short. The best months overall: May and October.
HOW TO GET THERE
Florence is served by two airports: Tiny but busy Amerigo Vespucci Airport (39-055-315-874; www.aeroporto.firenze.it) is in Peretola, about three miles west of central Florence. It handles some 70 flights a day, both domestic and inter-European. There are no intercontinental flights, but the airport is well-connected with the major European hubs (London's Gatwick, Frankfurt, Paris, and so on). The Volainbus shuttle runs between the airport and the city center (SITA bus terminus) from 6 am to 11:30 pm (every half hour until 8:30 pm, every hour thereafter) and in the other direction from 5:30 am to 11 pm (every half hour until 8 pm, every hour thereafter).
Galileo Galilei airport at Pisa (39-050-849-300; www.pisa-airport.com) lies some 50 miles west of Florence. It handles domestic and international flights, including those by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet. There is a direct, if rather erratic, train service (www.trenitalia.it) from the airport to Santa Maria Novella train station, and a bus service run by Terravision (www.lowcostcoach.com). In both cases, the trip takes about an hour and 15 minutes. A taxi between the airport and Florence center will cost about $150 (Taxi Pisa, 39-050-541-600).
Florence lies on the main Milan–Rome train line. The trip from Milan on a fast Eurostar service is about three hours and from Rome about an hour and a half. For train information, check out www.trenitalia.it. From Florence, there are regular local trains to Lucca, Pisa, Arezzo, and Siena.
Florence's centro storico, or historic center, where most of the major sights can be found, is tiny and easily accessible on foot. There is, however, an efficient bus service if you want to visit some of the outlying sights. For Fiesole, take bus No. 7; for Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato al Monte, take bus 12 or 13; for Settignano, take bus 10. There is a fleet of bussini, tiny electric buses (numbered A, B, C, and D) that circle around the centro storico and can be quite useful for foot-weary tourists. Bus tickets must be bought in advance from tobacconists, newsstands, or bars and must be stamped in the machine once you board.
Taxis cannot be hailed in the street in Florence. You must either pick one up at a taxi stand (the most centrally located stands are in Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza Santa Trinita, Santa Maria Novella train station, Piazza San Marco) or call one by phone (39-055-4798).
Agenzia per il Turismo di Firenze
1 Via Cavour
Tel: 39 055 290 832; 290 833
Piazza della Stazione
Tel: 39 055 212 245
29r Borgo Santa Croce
Tel: 39 055 234 0444