After Class Activities
Our program allows you plenty of time to discover your new country, culture, traditions and everyday life after your class is over.
Examples of typical cultural opportunities: Duomo di Firenze (one of the largest Cathedrals in the world), famous Ponte Vecchio Bridg, The Uffizi Gallery, Galleria Corsini (private art collection in Florence), Galleria dell Accademia (Michelangelo s David), Museo dell Opera del Duomo (museum), Piazza della Signoria, Battistero di San Giovanni
Weekend excursions could include: Rome (the capital), Pisa (the leaning tower - famous landmark), nearby coastal villages and beaches, other Tuscan villages, such as Volterra, the lush olive groves of Fiesole and the medieval city of Siena.
Active Italian Culture
The city of Florence is one of the best cities to explore on foot. Wander the banks of the river, or make your way around the historic town center which has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1982. Explore the remains of the Roman Empire in the Piazza della Repubblica and walk along the medieval streets to the Palazzo Vecchio and the gothic basilicas of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella!
6 different 3-hour tours available for $70 per person.
Top Highlights: See What Florence is Famous For
Florence is a fascinating city – architecturally, historically and culturally. From the Renaissance palaces, or the churches to the displays inside the museums and churches nothing you should see it all!
Piazza del Duomo:
The Piazza del Duomo, also known as the Cathedral Square, is situated in the heart of the city. To the west is Piazza San Giovanni.
No visitor should leave Florence without visiting The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, also referred to as the Duomo or the Cathedral of Florence. It is the highlight of the square with Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower), the Baptistry of St John with the golden Gates of Heaven, the Loggia del Bigallo and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo are all close by.
Florence Academia Gallery:
The Florence Academia Gallery is one of the most famous museums in Florence, best known for the works of Michelangelo which are displayed there. The original statue of David, the St Matthew, the Prisoners, and other famous sculptures are showcased in this gallery.
The other displays of vital importance at the gallery are plaster sculptures by Lorenzo Bartolini and Luigi Pampaloni. There is also a fine collection of religious paintings by well-known artists of the mid-13th to the late 16th centuries.
The Uffizi gallery which showcases masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, and others; the Archaeological Museum in the Palazzo della Crocetta with its fine collection of Greek, Egyptian and Roman artifacts, these are only some of the many places you have to visit!
Main Sights: Get to Know Florence
South of the Piazza della Signorina, in the centre of the city, is one of the most important landmarks of the city. It is the oldest and the most famous bridge, spanning the Arno River at its narrowest point. Built probably in the year 996, it was first destroyed in 1117, and then again in 1333 by floods. In 1345 it was rebuilt with three stone arches, with shops all along it. It was the only bridge left standing after the fleeing Germans destroyed all of the others across the river.
Although the earlier shops on the bridge used to be of all types, including food and fish, in the 15th century it was decided to only allow gold, silver and jewellery to be sold there, and the tradition remains today. Above the shops is a private passageway, known as Vasari’s Corridor, connecting Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti, designed for the Grand Dukes to use. Today it is an art gallery, and houses portraits of some of the greatest artists.
The Galleria dell’Accademia, is especially well known for Michelangelo’s David, which was moved from the Piazza della’Signoria to the Gallery in 1873 to protect it. However, there are many other works of great importance housed in the gallery. Botticelli’s Madonna and Child attracts huge numbers of visitors, as does his Madonna of the Sea.
There are other items on display here as well such as a section on musical instruments, which includes a Stradivarius.
The Mercato Centrale market, built in 1874, of iron and glass, is in the San Lorenzo neighbourhood. Although the construction is modernistic, the stone façade of the ground floor with its arches and arcaded windows reminds one of the Renaissance period.
Two complete floors of food stalls – fresh fruits, vegetables, dried fruits and cheeses, all spread out as if in a water colour painting. You can find all kinds of exotic foods, such dried coconut, Scotch bonnet peppers and different types of meats and snacks.
Mercato Nuovo, or the New Market, situated at the corner of Via Porta Rossa and Via Por santa Maria, was built in the 16th century. However, traders had been holding market in this area since the 11th century.
Today the market is held under a beautiful loggia, close to the Ponte Vecchio, and the shops are mainly for leather goods and souvenirs. When it was designed and built in the 16th century, the shops were mainly silk, gold and other expensive products. Later straw hats were sold. It is still often called the Straw Market.
The market is also called the Little Pig (Il Porcellino) by the Florentines because of the bronze statue of a swine placed in a small fountain. Rubbing the snout of the statue is said to bring good luck!
One reason why this place is so popular is because of the beautiful view it offers. You get a panoramic view of the city and can see the skyline of Florence.
There is a bronze replica of Micahelangelo’s David, as well as some Medici Chapel sculptures. There are many restaurants for tourists as well as it is a very popular area of the city.
Excursions: Explore More of The Region
Pisa, situated at the mouth of the River Arno where it meets the Ligurian Sea, is famous for its Leaning tower. The Leaning Tower of Pisa (the Torre Pendente or the Bell Tower) is a part of the breathtakingly beautiful 1,000-year old Duomo Cathedral, situated just behind the cathedral, which is also a world famous landmark.
The Bapistry and the Camposanto Monumentale are beautiful sights in the same square – the Piazza del Duomo. The Piazza dei Cavalieri and the Piazza Carrara are two other of the city’s most ancient squares. There are several museums in Pisa, and the University of Pisa, which has a wide range of courses, is especially renowned for its Physics, Mathematics, Engineering and Computer Science courses.
Volterra is a small, hilly town, initially a Neolithic settlement, about 1770 feet above sea level. It is about 72 kms from Florence, and 64 kms from Pisa. There are still remains of the strong walls which once surrounded it.
Archaeologically the city is a treasure, with its Etruscan and Roman architecture and buildings and the Medieval and Renaissance art. The Roman theatre, the Baths, the Etruscan Acropolis which is a fascinating archaeological site, built at the highest point of Volterra, these are only some of the places one must see.
The Cathedral (Duomo) of Volterra, Piazza di Priori, and the Palazzo dei Priori, a palace designed by Maestro Riccardo today attract the most visitors.
Fiesole is another Etruscan settlement in the province of Florence in Tuscany, founded probably in the 8th century BC, and located about 5 miles from Florence city. It's a small beautiful town with many Etruscan and Roman remains, set atop scenic hills. Visitors come to see the remnants of the Roman baths and amphitheatre preserved in the Archaeological Park, the Etruscan temple and walls, the impressive Cathedral of Fiesole, and take quiet, peaceful walks along the Via Belvedere, where they get panoramic views of the surrounding hills and Florence.
The beautiful, 14th century Palazzo Pretorio is situated at one end of the town’s main square, Piazza Mino, which is also lined with many cafes, restaurants and shops.
Siena, in Tuscany, the capital of the province of Siena, lies on three hills, and is connected by picturesque winding roads, alleyways and steps. The city is about 43 miles north of Florence, and is well known for its medieval features, art and museums, not to mention the cuisine.
The centre of attraction, undoubtedly, is the Piazza del Campo. Italy has many piazzas, but perhaps none as magnificent as this. It is huge, with gently sloping red brick sides, and you can’t miss seeing it! There are eleven roads leading to the piazza, where you can also visit the Palazzo Pubblico which, apart from being such an architectural treasure itself, houses some great works of art.
The Piazza del Campo, also known as Il Campo, is the scene of the famous bareback horse race, the Palio di Siena, which whips the town into frenzy twice a year – on July 2, called Palio di Provenzano, and again on August 16, known as Palio dell’Assunta.
Another sight in this small walled city which visitors can’t help admiring is its cityscape. The Gothic architecture keeps you transfixed in awe without even once entering a museum. However, the museums, such as the Museo Civico, Pinacoteca Nazionale and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, host attractions of their own. One day is truly not enough for this city.
A half-hour journey by road from Pisa, Lucca is a small city, hardly a mile across, walled in by its original Renaissance walls. It is one of the best examples of Italy’s medieval and Renaissance architecture.
For less crowded and busy attractions try visiting the tree-topped Guinigi Tower, which is an example of true Gothic elegance. The Cathedral of St Martin that's attached to it, provides an interesting asymmetry of façade.
Next to the Duomo is the Cathedral Museum, which houses jewellery, paintings, sculptures and many artefacts. The main market square is in the centre of the town, and the Piazza of the Amphitheatre, dating back from the 2nd century AD, still hosts cultural activities, musical programs and fairs.
50 miles southeast of Florence is the town of Arezzo, situated on a steep hill. The upper part of the town, set on the higher part of the hill, contains a lot of history. The cathedral – the Duomo, with its fine stained glass windows, and the 16th century Medici fortress, give the town its medieval look. The Piazza Grande is a huge square, which once used to be the marketplace of the city.
Arezzo gave birth to many famous people. Petrarca, Piero della Francesca, Luca Signorelli, Giorgio Vasari were all born here. The town also played a role in Roberto Benigni’s film "Life is Beautiful" as well as "The English Patient".
A few miles north of Florence lies a beautiful, green valley called Mugello. The Sieve River passes through parts of the valley, on its way to join the Arno River.
The districts of Mugello contain quaint little towns and villages, which boast of lovely medieval villas and castles. These can be dated back to the Renaissance era and to the Medici family. Many of these villages organize fairs which attract visitors. The Mugello Race circuit in Scarperia was one of the most famous motorcycle race tracks and is still used for test drives.
The Medicean residences, museums, churches in Mugello are beautiful architectural treasures.
The Castello di Verrazzano is situated in Greve, in the heart of the Chianti region, about an hour from Florence. The road leading to the castle is enchanting, winding through the wine region. The castle itself is famous for its wine and for Giovanni da Verrazzano, who is known to have been a great explorer. The Verrazzano Narrows Bridge is named after him.
Architecture: Discover Unique Styles & Structures
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, which was built over a period of six centuries, stands in a place of pride at the Piazza, and its dome can be seen for miles around. The construction was started in 1296, and completed in 1436. Finally, the façade of the Cathedral was finished in 1887.
Architecturally, the Duomo is unique. The dome, designed by Brunelleschi, is an octagonal, gravity-defying structure in pink, white and green. To stop the huge dome from spreading and collapsing under its own weight, Brunelleschi had to invent a new way to avoid adding any visible external support structures.
Today the dome attracts visitors from across the world to admire the engineering involved. The Gothic influence is breathtaking, and the slim, tall bell tower (the Campanile), next to the Duomo, adds to its beauty and elegance. The tower was designed by Giotto, and visitors can climb right up to the top for an amazing view.
The Basilica di Santa Croce is a beautiful, elegant Franciscan church situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce. With its sixteen chapels, tombs and cenotaphs. Its beauty is overwhelming, and visitors are often left breathless upon seeing the fine artwork, sculptures and architecture.
The Florentine work of art in the church is not to be missed. The sixteen chapels with the frescoes of Giotto and his pupils, Gaddi’s frescoes, and the Annunciation depicted by Donatello in gilded limestone, are examples of the priceless art at the Basilica! Some of the greatest Italians are buried here: Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, as well as Galileo Galilei.
Santa Maria Novella:
Conveniently situated right across the main railway station, this church makes a good starting point for tours. It was one of the first Florentine churches built, and the uniquely fascinating façade was designed by Leon Battista Alberti. His integration of various factors, such as the Gothic arches and classical Renaissance principles, formed one of Florence’s most dramatic facades.
The basilica interior has Corinthian columns which speak of the early classical Greek and Roman era. The artworks inside are by some of the truly great artists like Giotto, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, and many more.
Every year a chariot race used to be held in the huge open piazza in front of the church!
Museums: Experience The History of Past Generations & Cultures
Built well before other art museums in Italy, the Uffizi Gallery is also the most well-known and has one of the largest art collections in Italy. It is built in a U-shape from the Piazza della Signoria to the River Arno, near the Uffizi Palace, and houses masterpieces from all over Italy as well as from Germany, Spain and Holland. There are also beautiful sculptures showcased in the frescoed corridors of the gallery.
The art collection has been arranged to demonstrate the evolving techniques and ideas of the artists, and includes priceless treasures like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciatio, Botticelli’s the Birth of Venus, Raphael’s Madonna and the Goldfinch, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, and many others.
Museo Nazionale del Bargello:
The Bargello Palace, today the setting of the most beautiful sculptures, used to be the city’s jail and later the headquarters of the police until the mid-nineteenth century, when this large, Gothic, austerely striking structure was turned into a museum to showcase the country’s national treasures.
Italy’s largest and most impressive collection - masterpieces by Cellini, Donatello and Michelangelo and others reside here. Michelangelo’s Bacchus, Donatello’s David, Giambologna’s Flying Mercury, and many priceless sculptures are arranged all over this museum. If the Uffizi Gallery also features a number of beautiful paintings!
Museo di San Marco:
San Marco is actually a complex comprising of a convent and a church. The convent, restored by Michelozzo, who tried to maintain as much as possible of the old structure, has now been converted into a museum, and is still a beautifully preserved example of a 15th century convent. The convent was once home to Fra Angelico, the painter, and houses a large collection of his works.