A senior lecturer in art history at Sydney's National Art School, Lorraine Kypiotis specialises in the Renaissance period. She also guides art tours through Florence: her next tour is In the Footsteps of Michelangelo, April 24-May 9, 2020, renaissancetours.com.au
Walking around Florence is time travelling back to the Renaissance. The older parts of the city have not changed that much and its cool, narrow streets would have looked familiar to Leonardo or Donatello. Wander into a time capsule in the Palazzo Davanzati, a restored Renaissance townhouse whose rooms are decorated with frescoes from the mid-14th century – one of the most stunning is the Sala dei Papagalli (the Room of the Parrots).
Michelangelo is everywhere! When he was about 15, he would go to the Brancacci chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine to sketch the paintings of the early Renaissance master, Massaccio. This little chapel is often referred to as the Sistine chapel of the early Renaissance. Of course, you can't miss his monumental David "il Gigante" in the Galleria dell'Accademia. Even though numerous copies abound in the streets of Florence, nothing prepares you for the magnificence of this sculpture. The Accademia is open 7-10pm in the summertime (June-September) so have an early dinner then wander over in the cooler evening. If you can't go late, then go very early: you don't want to be standing in line in the heat of the day – that's better spent lazing over a good pasta or relaxing in the shade of the Boboli Gardens, galleriaaccademiafirenze.beniculturali.it
Certainly visit the Uffizi (which means "offices" in Italian, where the Medici conducted their business) and the Pitti Palace – but remember they are vast: don't try to see everything or you'll suffer gallery fatigue by lunchtime. Instead, find your favourite artists and spend quality time with them. My favourites here? The Botticellis, Piero della Francesca's double portrait of the Duke of Urbino and his wife Bianca Sforza and Michelangelo's Doni Tondo. Jump the queues by pre-booking tickets and paying the extra €4 for a set entry time. For those who prefer to splurge their euros on gelato (I recommend Carapina, near Campo di Marte), the Uffizi has many free-entry days, uffizi.it
Want to avoid the crowds? Lesser visited, but with equally significant collections of art, the Bargello sculpture museum was once the city's prison. Its gems include Donatello's David – the first nude free-standing bronze since antiquity; works by Verrocchio (the master of Leonardo), Michelangelo and Cellini. The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is where the sculptures that once packed the Duomo and Baptistery are exhibited. It will seem virtually empty after the Uffizi. At the top of the staircase as you enter is another magnificent Michelangelo: the Pieta he carved for his own tomb.
Across the Arno River – called the Oltrarno – it's an uphill climb to Piazzale Michelangelo, where Michelangelo was commissioned to design fortifications when the city was in war, in 1529. From here, to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, one of the earliest and most exquisite Romanesque churches in Florence, for magnificent views over the Arno and Florence. On the way back down, lunch at one of my all-time favourites, Zeb Gastronomia, run by a mother and son, and spot the quirky art by Florence street artist Blub – you might see Botticelli's Venus or Leonardo's Mona Lisa wearing a scuba mask, zebgastronomia.com