Since the Renaissance, Florence has been a key part of the Western imagination offering encounters with the great names of the artistic canon: Giotto, Masaccio, Botticelli, Michelangelo. This 12-day study tour takes advantage of the quietest time in Florence’s calendar with a residential program to unpack the city’s art, history and culture. Focusing on iconic collections, the itinerary has been planned to focus on both the highs of the Renaissance, excellent small museums and churches that preserve masterpieces and the artisan traditions that continue in the city to this day.
Academy Travel study tours provide in-depth intellectual stimulation via regular background lectures, morning site visits, and free afternoons for individual exploration. You’ll ‘live like a local’ with accommodation in the historic centre.
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If Government imposed COVID-19 restrictions mean that we cannot run a tour, or that you cannot travel to join a tour, then you will be given a 100% refund of all monies paid to Academy Travel for your tour.
Academy Travel requires all participants on its tours to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. We reserve the right to inspect your digital vaccination certificate.
Discover the great 15th-century achievements of the Florentine Renaissance: from the engineering of Brunelleschi’s dome, to the mathematics of linear perspective, to the introduction of the oil medium.
World-Class Art, Rebooted
Enjoy iconic museums like the Uffizi, which recently doubled its exhibition space to open new rooms dedicated to Botticelli, Leonardo and Caravaggio; or the reopened Grande Museo del Duomo, dedicated to Brunelleschi’s designs.
The Origins of the City
Uncover Florence’s pre-medieval past and learn about how the struggle between the Etruscans of Fiesole and the victorious Romans affected the artistic legacies of the Florentines.
Discover the extraordinary cultural patronage of the Medici family, from the colour and charm of Filippo Lippi and Benozzo Gozzoli, to Michelangelo and Giambologna’s Mannerism and Galileo’s radical theories.
Pisa and Lucca
Explore these two exceptional cities and the wondrous works of art and architecture they contain.
Days 1–3:Explore medieval innovation: superb
sculpture at Orsanmichele and the Bargello,
Brunelleschi’s dome and Giotto at Santa Croce.
Day 4:Excursion to Pisa.
Days 5–7:The Uffizi, and admire the Etruscans
at archaeological museums in Florence and
Fiesole. Investigate the Medici’s rise and their
early patronage of Brunelleschi, Benozzo
Gozzoli and Fra Angelico.
Days 8–11:Explore the Brancacci and Innocenti
museums. Marvel at grand ducal commissions,
from pietra dura, to Michelangelo’s Night and
Day and Galileo’s discoveries.
Days 11–12:Excellent small museums that reveal different sides of Florence’s more recent history and a day trip to elegant Lucca.
The tour begins and ends at the Hotel Pendini, Florence. Lufthansa and Swiss Air offer flights into and out of Florence; Emirates and Qatar offer direct flights into and out of Rome, with a fast train connection on to Florence. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Wednesday 16 November – Arrival
The tour begins this evening, with an orientation walk of our neighbourhood. Dinner tonight is in a local restaurant. (D)
Thursday 17 November – The Urban Core of Florence
One of the best ways to understand the early history of Florence is to follow the 13th-century processional route from the city’s Baptistery down to the Palazzo Vecchio. Florentine citizens were keenly aware of their urban centre as a kind of stage for civic rituals, and the sculptures, architecture and art that we see in the Baptistery (now cleaned and looking better than it has in centuries), Orsanmichele and at the Palazzo della Signoria are an artistic journey back to the medieval world view. After free time for lunch, there is the option of continuing to San Miniato al Monte, perched above panoramic Piazzale Michelangelo. Its stark Romanesque architecture and Renaissance chapels are testament to its long, pivotal role – it celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 2018. This evening there is a talk in our hotel. (B)
Friday 18 November – The Innovations of the Middle Ages
Increased trade, sophisticated accounting, luxury imports, self-government, a renewed interest in classical learning: many causes have been advanced for the cultural explosion of the Renaissance. Today we track its origins in medieval innovations, beginning at Santa Croce, where Giotto, Donatello and Brunelleschi experimented in art and architecture for wealthy private patrons. Continuing to the Bargello sculpture museum, we examine Ghiberti and Brunelleschi’s landmark competition panels for the baptistery doors, Donatello’s David (the first freestanding statue of a male nude since Antiquity) and the playful Mannerism of Michelangelo and Giambologna. Lunch is at leisure, and you may wish to use your combined baptistery ticket to book a climb of Brunelleschi’s dome. After lunch, we continue to Santa Maria Novella, where in the 15th century Masaccio, Paolo Uccello and Ghirlandaio used linear perspective to push Giotto’s experiments even further. There is a talk in the hotel this evening. (B)
Saturday 19 November – Pisa’s Miracles
In recent years, scholars have suggested that the origins of the Renaissance are to be found in 12th-century Pisa. Today we have a full-day excursion to Pisa by train. We begin our day with a visit to the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, a little-visited museum that quietly conserves an outstanding collection of painted crucifixes, stunning Sienese altarpieces and works by Fra Angelico, Donatello and Ghirlandaio. After time for lunch, we continue with our local guide to the so-called Square of Miracles: Pisa’s cathedral, baptistery, cemetery and tower were a monumental statement of the city’s pre-eminence, thanks to its role in the Crusades. (B)
Sunday 20 November – The Renaissance in Painting
The Galleria degli Uffizi is one of the most important collections of Western painting in the world, assembled thanks to the good taste (and forced acquisitions) of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany, and recently renovated to double the size of its gallery space. The works exhibited here are the foundation of many of our ideas about what constitutes “great art”. After a morning together exploring the collection, the afternoon is at leisure, with the option to remain in the Uffizi as desired. After an evening talk, we share our impressions of this memorable museum over dinner. (B, D)
Monday 21 November – The Etruscans
From the 16th century, the Medici were keen to showcase their Tuscan conquest as the reunification of a proud, ancient state: indeed, Cosimo I was “Magnus Dux Etruriae”, or Grand Duke of Etruria. Today we explore the Etruscan roots of Florence and nearby Fiesole, Florence’s earliest rival but now a pleasant town with panoramic views. At Florence’s Museo Archeologico we admire the wonderful Arezzo Chimera and Aule Metele (Orator), fine examples of Etruscan bronze casting. After a brief exploration of nearby Santissima Annunziata, we take a local bus to Fiesole, where there is time for lunch. At Fiesole’s Museo Archeologico there is evidence of the long settlement of this hillside, from an Etruscan necropolis through to the Roman forum and later Lombard conquest. We return to Florence by bus, although there is the option to stay on if you wish. There is a talk in the hotel this evening. (B)
Tuesday 22 November – The Rise of the Medici
If any family embodies the grand ambitions of Renaissance dynasties, it is Florence’s Medici. Originally rural folk, their 13th-century move to Florence was followed by a meteoric rise as wealthy bankers, holders of lucrative papal contracts, cardinals and popes. This morning we explore the origins of the family, beginning at their neighbourhood church of San Lorenzo. Here, their patronage of Brunelleschi, Filippo Lippi and, eventually, Michelangelo at the Laurenziana Library, was a powerful sign of growing visibility. In the nearby family palace, we admire Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes in the Cappella dei Magi, a private chapel that glorifies the cultural contributions of Cosimo the Elder and Piero the Gouty. At the Museo di San Marco, the Medici financed the entire rebuilding of the monastery, paying for Fra Angelico’s workshop to fresco every cell. After lunch, we take a tour of the Museo Galileo Galilei, Florence’s science museum, where artefacts, instruments and even relics attest to the Medici dukes’ interest in astronomy, medicine and science, and to their sponsorship of Galileo. There is a talk in the hotel this evening. (B)
Wednesday 23 November – How the Other Half Lives
Today we turn our attention to the less-privileged people of Renaissance Florence: the women, children, modest clerics and even paupers who made up the great number of Florence’s population, but whose lives have only been of serious interest since the 1960s. We begin with an optional visit of the Buonomini di San Martino and the Museo degli Innocenti, the former a lay society that cared for middle-class Florentines suffering financial ruin, the latter an orphanage that raised the city’s unwanted children for honest trades or good marriages; both 15th-century institutions have been recently restored. After lunch, we meet to visit the Cappella Brancacci, a tour-de-force in fresco by Masolino and Masaccio that documents the precariety of the Renaissance city’s poor. Afterward, we explore the Oltrarno, visiting Santo Spirito and Santa Felicita. There is a talk this evening in our hotel. (B)
Thursday 24 November – Pietra Dura
This morning we explore a beloved medium of the Medici Grand Dukes with our local guide. Pietra dura, or Florentine mosaic, is the careful arrangement of semi-precious and precious stones into intricate decorative forms. At the Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia, we spy precious stones in Andrea del Castagno’s little-visited Last Supper; continuing to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, we see the original workshop of the Grand Dukes’ mosaicists and splendid examples of their work. The afternoon and evening are at leisure, and you may wish to continue exploring Florence’s many fabulous museums. (B)
Friday 25 November – Decline and Rebirth
Florence was spared many depredations in the 16th and 17th centuries thanks to grand ducal diplomacy, but a feeble bloodline and a shift in European politics precipitated a long decline. We begin the morning with Michelangelo’s glorious Night and Day in San Lorenzo’s Cappelle Medicee – his wonderful Mannerism is seen as a last hurrah for Florentine art. At the Casa Martelli, the grand home of an ancient family, we admire the distinguished history behind their sculptures by Donatello and enviable art collection – from Piero di Cosimo to Luca Giordano and, at one point, Caravaggio. But in the 20th century, when the last Martelli women died without heirs, the palace was inherited by the Florentine Curia and many significant artworks disappeared. The museum was only recently opened after a forced acquisition by the State. There is more murky modern history after lunch, at the Museo Stefano Bardini, the personal collection of a 19th-century art dealer, who wasn’t afraid to invent an attribution (or even assemble a new “masterpiece”) if necessary. Bardini’s designs for his collection directly inspired Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston. There is the option to visit the panoramic garden of the nearby Villa Bardini. This evening we meet for a talk. (B)
Saturday 26 November – Lucca
Today we take an excursion by private coach to the Tuscan town of Lucca. We begin our day with a walking tour of Lucca’s churches, fine exemplars of the refined Pisan Romanesque, from the cathedral of San Martino to San Frediano, the latter’s baptismal font a fine piece of medieval sculpture, and the former housing Jacopo della Quercia’s moving tomb of Ilaria del Carretto. At San Michele in Foro and the remains of the amphitheatre we survey Lucca’s Roman origins. After a farewell lunch together, there is free time to browse the town’s elegant shops and stroll along the city’s immense Renaissance walls before we return to Florence. (B, L)
Sunday 27 November – Departure
Our tour concludes after breakfast in our hotel. Please check your individual travel plans for information about transfers. (B)
Dr Nick Gordon
A cultural historian with a PhD in History, and practicing painter who brings this passion to the visual arts.
Dr Nick Gordon is a cultural historian and artist, with over 10 years of experience leading tours to Europe. He has strong interests in art, history, philosophy and architecture, from the ancient world to the present.
Nick holds a University Medal and PhD in history from the University of Sydney. He taught medieval and Renaissance history at the University of Sydney, the history of political thought at the University of Western Sydney, and architectural and Australian history elsewhere. He continues to teach at the Centre of Continuing Education, and gives occasional lectures on topics ranging from Classical Rome through to Australian and contemporary art. Nick has lead tours for Academy Travel since 2007, and designs study tours, residential tours and art-focussed tours, such as the Venice Biennale, Art Along the Rhine, Art Basel, and Amsterdam to Paris: Van Eyck to Van Gogh.
Nick is also an artist and his firsthand experience of art complements his academic expertise, through his knowledge of materials and the processes behind how an artwork is made, and his well-practiced eye for reading art.
We asked Nick, what do you enjoy most about tour leading?
“One of the things I enjoy most about touring is helping people understand more about what they’re seeing. This happens through a combination of background lectures exploring different contexts, cultural commentary on the road, and especially by being able to explain what is going on in an artwork with the artwork in front of us.”
“The aim of all of this is to help people see more for themselves, independently, both on tour and beyond. Some of the best moments for me on tour are when this happens, and you get to be part of something bigger as people start adding their own knowledge and experience to what we’re looking at. It makes each experience unique.”
Freya Middleton has been living in Italy for the past twenty years. During an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice she discovered a love for guiding, and she has pursued this path ever since - predominantly in Florence, where she currently lives, but also in Venice.
Ten years ago she founded her own travel agency, Freya's Florence, specialising in private tours and bringing together an outstanding team of guides who love Florence, the arts, history and beauty as much as Freya does. Freya's bachelor degree included a major in art history, and she undertook a Masters in Renaissance Studies at Warwick University because she loves a good story and the history behind an image.
Hotel Pendini (11 nights)
A recently renovated 3-star hotel in a 19th-century palace above Piazza della Reppublica. Classic rooms are simple but stylish. Breakfast is held in an elegant room overlooking the square and guests can unwind in the hotel’s Tea Room in the early evening.
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.