The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is an art historian's paradise. The city has over 80 museums, many of them home to great works of art, including Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Michelangelo's David. A number of great works of art are preserved thanks to the powerful Medici family, who comissioned numerous paintings and sculptures; today, they're housed in the family's Pitti Palace, now a museum.
Florence is characterized by cobblestone streets, red rooftops, and sweeping views of the nearby Tuscany hills. The Duomo, the magnificent church in the center of the historic area, is the city's best-known landmark. Florence is a very pedestrian-friendly city, and many sights, which are concentrated in the historic center, are a five- to 30-minute walk from each other. But because the historic center is home to the most popular tourist attractions, the hotels in this area can be expensive, and the restaurants are often tourist traps. The city is nonetheless home to numerous budget hotels and fabulous restaurants (you've got to have some of their famous olive oil), but they are often on the outskirts of the city center.
Though Florence is rich in culture, it's also popular for its upscale shopping and lively nightlife. By day, shoppers peruse fine Italian leather, window-shop along the Via de Turnabooni (lined by high-end boutiques), and walk along the Ponte Vecchio bridge, where merchants sell beautiful gold and silver jewelry. Just be aware that some shops close for a couple of hours during the afternoon. By night, visitors and locals check out the bars and nightclubs, which often don't get crowded until the early morning.
Though Florence isn't as expensive as, say, Venice, it does have its fair share of luxury hotels. Most of these are situated in and around the historic center, home to the most popular tourist attractions. Those who don't mind taking a longer walk to the sights (or paying the fee for a short cab ride) can find numerous budget options just outside of the center. Rates often drop during the winter and other off-season months, while July and August often see spikes in room rates. Staying near the train station is also a sure bet for budget-friendly lodging, but it's not quite as safe as more central locations.