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Florence at Christmas - Cradle of the Renaissance

Wide-ranging survey with Renaissance emphasis.

Includes a private visit to the Basilica di San Marco to see the transcendental splendour of the Byzantine mosaics.

Off-peak dates, smaller group than usual (maximum 18 participants).

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For hundreds of years Florence nurtured an unceasing succession of great artists. No other place can rival it for the quantity of first-rate, locally produced works of art, many still in the sites for which they were created or in museums a few hundred yards away. Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo – these are some of the artists and architects whose works will be studied on the tour, fully justifying Florence’s epithet as the cradle of the Renaissance.

It is moreover one of the loveliest cities in the world, ringed by the foothills of the Apennines and sliced in two by the River Arno. Narrow alleys lead between the expansive piazze and supremely graceful Renaissance arcades abound, while the massive scale of the buildings impressively demonstrates the wealth once generated by its precocious economy.

It is now a substantial, vibrant city, yet the past is omnipresent, and from sections of the mediaeval city walls one can still look out over olive groves.

Though the number of visitors to Florence has swelled hugely in recent years, it is still possible during winter, and with careful planning, to explore the city and enjoy its art in relative tranquillity.

Day 1

Fly at c. 11.15am (British Airways) from London City to Florence. In the late afternoon, study the buildings and sculpture in the Piazza della Signoria, civic centre of Florence with masterpieces of public sculpture.

Day 2

Visit the Bargello, housing Florence’s finest sculpture collection with works by Donatello, Verrocchio, Michelangelo and others. The granary-cum-church of Orsanmichele has sculpture by Donatello, Ghiberti and Verrocchio. See the Byzantine mosaics and Renaissance sculpture in the cathedral baptistry in the afternoon, and visit a private palazzo.

Day 3

See Brunelleschi’s Foundling Hospital (1419), the first building wholly in Renaissance style. The Early Renaissance is wonderfully and colourfully represented by the enchanting paintings by Fra Angelico in the Friary of San Marco. See Michelangelo’s David and the ‘Slaves’ sculpture in the Accademia. Visit the Uffizi, which has masterpieces by every major Florentine painter as well as international Old Masters.

Day 4

Siena. Day trip by coach to Siena, the most beautiful of Italian hill towns. Walk through exquisite streets to Il Campo, the main scallop-shaped ‘square’, and visit the Palazzo Pubblico, the elegant 14th-century town hall, with frescoes by Simone Martini, Ambrogio Lorenzetti and others. Visit the splendid cathedral of white and green marble, many times enlarged, and the baptistry. In the cathedral museum see Duccio’s Maestà, the finest mediaeval painted altarpiece to be found anywhere. Visit the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, which has a rich collection of 15th-century frescoes.

Day 5 (Christmas Day).

(Christmas Day). Free morning, with a range of options for a church service, followed by Christmas lunch.

Day 6

In Santa Trìnita there are fine frescoes by Ghirlandaio. See the Masaccio/Masolino fresco cycle in the Brancacci Chapel, a highly influential work of art which influenced all subsequent generations of Renaissance artists. Visit Santo Spirito, Brunelleschi’s last great church, and the extensive Boboli Gardens, at the top of which is an 18th-century ballroom and garden overlooking olive groves. In the afternoon visit the redoubtable Palazzo Pitti, which houses several museums including the Galleria Palatina, outstanding particularly for High Renaissance and Baroque paintings.

Day 7

A Michelangelo morning: visit his Laurentian Library, whose architectural components would herald the onset of Mannerism, and the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo, burial chapel of the Medici family and Michelangelo’s enigmatic sculptural ensemble. See the exquisite frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli in the chapel of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. In the afternoon visit Santa Maria Novella, a Dominican church with many works of art.

Day 8

In the morning, visit the vast Franciscan church of Santa Croce, favoured burial place for leading Florentines and abundantly furnished with sculpted tombs, painted altarpieces and frescoes. Fly from Florence airport to London City, arriving at c. 4.15pm.

Price – per person

Two sharing: £3,010 or £2,800 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,440 or £3,230 without flights.


Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 1 lunch (Christmas Day) and 5 dinners with wine, water and coffee; all admissions; all tips for waiters and drivers; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager; hire of radio guides for better audibility of the lecturer


Hotel Santa Maria Novella, Florence: a delightful 4-star overlooking the piazza and basilica of the same name.

How strenuous?

The tour involves a lot of walking in the town centre where the ground is sometimes uneven and pavements are narrow. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Fitness is essential.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size

Between 8 and 18 participants.

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.

'Our lecturer was first class. Academic contribution was exemplary – good style, fluent, informative. Very pleasant manner.'

'Relevant, interesting, well chosen, good mix of walk/museum/church/refreshment.'

'A very good and comprehensive introduction to the treasures of Florence.'