Image: The Duomo
David Friedman  /  MSNBC.com file
The Duomo in Florence, Italy. Free tours are offered every 40 minutes daily from 10:30 a.m.-noon and 3-4:20 p.m.
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 7/30/2007 10:45:32 AM ET 2007-07-30T14:45:32

“The greatest concentration of universally renowned works of art in the world is found [in Florence]”, noted the United Nations World Heritage commission in 1982, when it inducted the city’s historic center. They might have added that the greatest tourist logjams in the world are also, arguably, in Florence; if Goliath had encountered Michaelangelo’s "David" in 2007, he would have had to wade through a crowd as densely packed as that in a Tokyo subway car to get to him. So while there are few travel destinations as rich in history and eye-popping beauty, Florence can no longer be fully appreciated year round. Instead, take the following daylong itinerary between late October and early April, when this Renaissance epicenter weaves her charms peacefully.

8:15 a.m.-9:15 a.m.: Swing by David’s house, better known as the Galleria Dell’Academia , to marvel at the sexy rock star of Renaissance sculpture. "David" was created by Michelangelo in 1504 to celebrate the ouster of the Medici clan from power in Florence. Whoops—they were back in control a few years after the statue was erected, but the "David" was so spectacular that the Medicis let it stand. Book your Academia tickets in advance to sidestep the lines and make time for Michaelangelo’s unfinished but mesmerizing statues of four slaves in a nearby gallery.

9:30 a.m.-noon:  Head from the marvels of Michelangelo to a work that master marveled at: Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Baptistry Doors . In elegant detail, these bronze doors depict scenes from the "Old Testament"; Michelangelo was so taken by them, he dubbed them “The Gates of Paradise” and they’ve been known by that moniker ever since. From the Baptistry, walk across the Duomo , which was created by Ghiberti’s rival, Brunelleschi (who also vied for the door commission). A marvel of engineering, it’s based on Brunelleschi’s study of the Pantheon in Rome (for the complete story, read Ross King’s superb book “Brunelleschi’s Dome”).

Morning alternative: Wile away the morning with the Medicis, the Midas-rich ruling family who bankrolled most of Florence's greatest works of art and architecture. That old saw, "You can't take it with you", apparently had no meaning to this clan, as you'll see when you visit their over-the-top opulent tombs , with sculptures by Michelangelo and walls inlaid with the costliest of marbles and precious stones. From here, make your way to the Boboli Gardens , right behind the Pitti Palace, which the Medicis filled with more statuary from Michelangelo (copies are here now to protect the originals), a massive Egyptian obelisk, classic grottoes and garden temples, and carefully groomed plants and trees.

Noon-12:40 p.m.: No time for a long sit down lunch; instead, head to the wine bar of one of Tuscany’s most famous wineries, Cantinetta del Verrazzano . Wash down a crusty sandwich with one of their signature chiantis.

1 p.m.-2:30 p.m.: You’ve seen his work several times already, now it’s time to pay your respects to Michelangelo with a visit to his last resting place, the church of Santa Croce (Galileo, Ghiberti, Machiavelli and opera composer Rossini are also entombed here). A soaring Gothic beauty with Brunelleschi’s other masterwork attached (the exquisite Pazzi Chapel), it’s literally overrun with great works of art including important frescoes by Giotto and a surprisingly modern crucifix by Donatello. After you leave, nip over to the nearby Il Gelato Vivoli for the finest gelato in Florence (and that’s saying a lot).

3 p.m.-7 p.m.: Pony up the extra $3 to book in advance and skip the line at the Gallerie della Uffizi . In a museum this rich—every Renaissance master is represented here and often by his greatest masterpiece—time ticks away far too fast. Along with important Italian works by Botticelli, Giotto, da Vinci, Ucello and others, are an assortment of gems from Durer, Memling, Rembrandt and Holbein—colleagues to the north.

Afternoon alternative: Ditch the art marathon for an afternoon shopping spree (or window shopping session—curse you, mighty euro). Leather has been the city’s prime “get” for decades, and though mass produced goods now dominate the open markets, it’s possible to purchase butter-soft, finely crafted goods and watch the artisans at work at the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School) of Santa Croce . There are other great leather stores in Florence, but this is the most fun to visit.

7:30 p.m.-10 p.m.: Mangia! Settle in for a leisurely Tuscan feast at Il Latini , where you’ll dine at a convivial common table under a curtain of hanging ham hocks. Skip the menu and instead go for the set meal, which includes unlimited wine and delicious trattoria fare (pastas, roast meats, biscotti with vin santo).

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

Galleria Dell’Academia, Via Ricasoli 58-60, phone 055-238-8609; www.sbas.firenze.it/accademia. Open Tuesdays through Sundays 8:15 a.m.-6:50 p.m. Admission is approximately $9 adults, $4.50 children.

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Baptistry, Piazza San Giovanni, phone 055-230-2885; www.operaduomo.firenze.it. Admission about $4, free for children under 6. 

Il Duomo, Piazza del Duomo, phone 055-230-2885; www.operaduomo.firenze.it. The church is open Monday through Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs. 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; 1st Sat. of month 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., other Sat. 10 a.m.-4:45 p.m.; Sundays 1:30-4:30 p.m. Free tours are offered every 40 minutes daily from 10:30 a.m.-noon and 3-4:20 p.m. Cupola is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.-6:20 p.m. and Sat 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (First Sat. of month to 3:20 p.m).  There’s no admission charge to get into the church, but you’ll pay about $8 to go to the cupola.

Medici Chapel, Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini (behind San Lorenzo, where Via Faenza and Via del Giglio meet), phone 055-238-8602. The chapel is open daily from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for the 1st, 3rd and 5th Monday and 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month. Admission is approximately $8. 

Boboli Gardens, behind the Piazza Pitti (Pitti Palace) to get there cross the Pontevecchio and follow Via Guiccardini; phone 055-239-8614; http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/english/. The gardens are closed the first and last Monday of each month and hours vary by season (check the Web site). Admission is approximately $8.

Cantinetta del Verrazzano, Via dei Tavolini 18-20r off Via dei Calzaiuoli, phone 055-268-590

Santa Croce, Piazza Santa Croce, phone 055-244-619. Open Mondays through Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sundays 1-5:30 p.m. Free admission.

Il Gelato Vivoli, 7 via Isole delle Stinche, phone 055-292-334.

To reserve in advance at the Gallerie della Uffizi, call Firenze Musei at 055-294-883 (Mon-Fri 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Sat. until 12:30 p.m.) or surf to www.firenzemusei.it. Open Tuesdays through Sundays, 8:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.; cost is approximately $8.

Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School) of Santa Croce is located at the Church of Santa Croce on Piazza Santa Croce.

Il Latini,Via del Palchetti 6r off Via della Vigna Nuova, Near Piazza Santa Trínita, phone 055-210-916 (reservations required). Closed Mondays.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: Florence a la fresco

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  1. Magnificent marble

    The Statue of "David" by Michelangelo is on display at the Galleria dell'Accademia. Sculpted from 1501 to 1504, the 17-foot tall marble statue portrays the Biblical King David at the moment that he decides to do battle with Goliath. It is the most recognizable statue in the history of art. (Stefano Amantini / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Heavenly view

    A visitor takes in the view from the top of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral's Dome in Florence, Italy. (Guido Cozzi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Ancient garden

    The Boboli Gardens are filled with a collection of sculptures dating from the 16-18th centuries. Stroll through the grounds and see more statuary from Michelangelo (copies are here now to protect the originals), a massive Egyptian obelisk, classic grottoes and garden temples, and carefully groomed plants and trees. (Guido Cozzi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Last Judgment

    The "Last Judgment" fresco by Frederico Zuccaro and Giorgio Vasari seen in the dome of the Florence Cathedral. (Fred De Noyelle / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Chapel of the Princes

    A view of the interior of the Chapel of the Princes in San Lorenzo Basilica. The massive structure, which is the mausoleum of the powerful Medici family, was erected between 1604 and 1643 by Matteo Nigetti. (Richard Bryant / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ponte Vecchio

    Houses and shops are built along on the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge over the Arno River, in Florence, Italy. It is Europe's oldest wholly-stone, closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge. (Richard Cummins / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Famous cathedral

    The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral church of Florence, Italy. The basilica is most notable for its dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. (Fred De Noyelle / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
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