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Florence, Italy

Florence is one of the planet's most pedestrian-friendly cities, and it's a virtual mecca for history lovers and adventurers. From its classic cobblestone streets to museums and galleries like the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi, this city truly is the cultural nexus of Tuscany. Florence features six key neighborhoods (or quarters) built around its major churches: Il Duomo, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito, San Frediano, Santa Croce, and San Lorenzo. As you'll discover, each of Florence's quarters has its own unique flavor and flair.

Il Duomo is one of the country's largest cathedrals, and the surrounding neighborhood sits at the very heart of Florence. By day, tourists shop for designer wares and admire local museums. After dark, families enjoy gelato at the Piazza della Repubblica and American expats party into the early mornings at late-night clubs. Locals know the real party is at Santa Croce, however. The Piazza Santa Croce's many bars and nightclubs are perfect for pub crawlers. Fashion-forward revelers often spill out onto Via de' Benci on weekends, flirting and dancing their way to the next watering hole.

Oltrarno, the neighborhood around San Spirito, represents the vibrant, youthful side of Florence. Hipsters and artists gather at the bohemian Piazza Santo Spirito and chic Piazza del Carmine. The neighborhood buzzes at night, but tourists enjoy the hand-woven silks, silver handicrafts, and other unique souvenirs they find there during the day. History buffs love the many tombs, museums, and chapels of San Lorenzo, including the famous Basilica di San Lorenzo. Just outside the church, vendors hawk leather goods, apparel, and knickknacks at the San Lorenzo Markets.

Since the middle ages, Piazza della Signoria has served as Florence's political center. Its free, open-air sculpture exhibit and eateries further serve to increase its appeal. However, its centerpiece is Florence's medieval town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio. Michelangelo's David once stood guard, but it has since been replaced by a replica while the real one tours the world. It is currently home to Michelangelo's The Genius of Victory.

Admire more of Michelangelo's works at his former residence, Casa Buonarroti, and at Florence's most prestigious sculpture museum, Museo Nazionale del Bargello. History buffs also love The Baptistery of John Baptist. This 11th-century marble building is one of the oldest in Florence. The green and white exterior is beautiful, but it pales in comparison to the mosaics and marble zodiac pavement inside.

Early April may be one of the best times to visit Florence. The spring weather is glorious, as the heat and humidity haven't had a chance to hit. Don't plan your travel for too late though, as showers tend to plague Florence in mid-April.

The pedestrian-friendly streets, fabulous attractions, and friendly faces of Florence make this city a delight for its residents and visitors. No trip to Italy is truly complete until you've had a chance to fully explore this exceptional Tuscan city.

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