Thought of as a "Renaissance City" for its predominance of Renaissance art and architecture, Florence is much appreciated by travelers and residents alike. Scratch an elderly resident of the Santo Spirito area in the Oltrarno, for example, and you're likely to find that he grew up in that area and has never left. Usually rather little prompting is required before proud "Fiorentini" will happily tell you "secrets" about their city - half fact, half fiction. The Florentines may have a reputation for being the least friendly of the Italians (they'll tell you so themselves), but in fact they're happy you're here. A few words of Italian to get them started and you'll find yourself with a new best friend. This is part of the old world charm that is still present in some parts of the city. On the other hand, Florence is presently struggling with its active self in the 21st century, improving transportation, tourism and hygiene facilities that make this a pleasant place both to live and to visit. In some ways, Florence has hardly changed since the 15th century, when the Medici family dominated, Botticelli painted, and mens' cloaks opened up to reveal funny colored tights. On the other hand, stay here long enough and you'll notice the vivacity of every day, and the changes made every decade - the city is definitely alive.

Tourists flock to Florence as one of the "top" destinations in Italy; some stay just a few days, some are enchanted and stay forever. Whether you fit either of these extremes, or more likely if you're thinking of staying a week, know that there is plenty to do in this city. From an artistic point of view, you could easily exhaust yourself for a week straight of visiting churches, city palaces ("palazzi") and museums. From the world-famous Uffizi and Accademia to the lesser known Horne Museum, almost every building houses something to be discovered. Similarly the large churches of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella draw crowds and require entry fees, but there are so many small gems in the city into which you can wander and enjoy the peace. As respite from such "tourist activities", Florence offers some pretty good shopping (outlets are found outside the city, but can be accessed by car). There are markets to suit every taste, from the popular Saint Lawrence market for its leather goods and souvenirs, to the more local markets like Sant'Ambrogio or the weekly Cascine market, where you can get a slice of Florentine life. The luxurious via Tornabuoni purveys famous brand names, while the more accessible via Roma and via Calzaiuoli (between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria) are lined with every other imaginable type of clothing, eyeglasses, housewares, etc. As evening falls you can have an "apperitivo" at any number of bars - the Italian happy hour that involves one expensive drink and an all you can eat buffet of snacks; follow this up with a hearty Tuscan meal.