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Florence

Florence Duomo (Courtesy of Samot/Shutterstock.com)

On any Italy itinerary, Florence is an absolute highlight -- the gem of the early Italian Renaissance. In the 15th century, when great artists like Giotto, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo worked there, they created magnificent examples of painting and sculpture that today still fill Florentine churches, civic buildings, grand palazzi, and world-class museums such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia. Architecture prospered in Florence, too -- indeed, the city's signature work of art is the masterful Brunelleschi-designed dome of its cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as the Duomo.

No question, Forence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and you'll need several days to explore it fully. Aside from the most famous sights -- Michelangelo's David, the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi -- be sure to allow time to wander Florence's quieter corners, like the exquisite San Miniato al Monte church or the Horne Museum, where you can see sculptures, furniture and paintings collected by Englishman Herbert Horne in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

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Florence is also a good base for day trips into the Tuscan countryside; you can connect by train to Pisa, Siena, Lucca and other nearby towns.

--written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

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