1 David Unless you make a reservation, be prepared to wait up to three hours to see Michelangelo's muscular marble masterpiece at Galleria dell'Accademia (Via Ricasoli). The jaw-dropping 5.2-metre sculpture of the biblical hero is mesmerising. Michelangelo, who was 29 when he created David, had to do a fair bit of scientific calculation to keep a piece of marble that tall from toppling. The upright log behind David's right leg and the stone in his hand both help to balance the colossal piece of rock. 2 Venus Another rock star of Renaissance art is Botticelli, and to get anywhere near his famous painting The Birth of Venus, at Galleria degli Uffizi (Loggiato degli Uffizi), it's essential to book. The strikingly colourful work has been reproduced on chocolate boxes and ashtrays, but nothing beats the real thing, even if it's behind bulletproof glass. Although the zephyrs in the painting suggest spiritual love of the lady, Botticelli's motives were still suspect and in some circles the word 'pagan' was even whispered about the divine 'Venus on the half shell' as the painting is sometimes called. 3 The Duomo The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral, or Duomo, of Florence (Piazza del Duomo). The building bears the workmanship of the finest artists of the Renaissance. The burnt-orange dome, built with more than four million bricks, was designed by Brunelleschi. Painter and architect Giotto contributed to the early part of the construction of the campanile (bell tower). Inside the cathedral are frescoes by Vasari and Zuccari, and stained glass by Donatello. Visitors can climb the 463 steps to the top of the duomo for knock-out views of the city and the River Arno, which bisects it. 4 Gregorian chants This church music may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the haunting sound of Gregorian chants is worth a listen to pitch yourself headlong into the atmosphere of 13th-century Firenze. High on a hillside, just a 10-minute bus ride out of central Florence, Benedictine monks still perform the ancient chants every evening in the candlelit interior of the Romanesque Church San Miniato al Monte. There's a wonderful view of the Duomo from the top of the green and white marble church steps. 5 Wine and olive oil Tuscany is one of Italy's major wine regions, and its famous red wines come from the Sangiovese grape, so beloved of Tuscans that they seem to speak in hushed tones when they say its name. And where else in the world would you find a city chamber of commerce with official olive-oil tasters? One of the best places to taste oil and wine is Olio & Convivium (via Santo Spirito; www.con viviumfirenze.it) in the picturesque Santo Spirito area of Florence, home of craftsmen and antiques dealers. The hotspot eatery calls itself a gastronomic atelier, and offers 250 types of wine and dozens of varieties of olive oil to taste. If all that seems too much work, just stop by for lunch. But don't miss the cheese selection. 6 Mercato Centrale Shift into epicurean overdrive and visit some of Florence's traditional food markets. Mercato Centrale, built on Via Signa in 1874, is a huge glass and iron building that houses fruit, vegetable, meat, pasta and fish vendors. The best way to explore this warren of olive oils, balsamic vinegars, cured meats, cheeses and other delights is with Italian food tour guide and cooking coach Silvia Maccari ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). Maccari's market connections will score you a tasting of 30-year-old balsamic vinegar at Conti's and entry to Perini's cheese and salami cavern, where owner Andrea peeks out from behind the hanging smoked hams and insists you try his sun-dried tomatoes, salamis cured with fennel and special garlic blanched in vinegar and soaked in olive oil. 7 Small unusual hotels There are splendid, high-profile historic hotels in Florence whose very names (the Grand, the Savoy) resonate with romance. But there are also some eccentric and beautiful small hotels. Super-sophisticated hideaway JK Place (Piazza Santa Maria Novella; www.jkplace.com ), with a black, cream and grey interior and neoclassical and art deco pieces, is a study in tranquillity. At the other end of the design spectrum, the more formal but no less intimate Palazzo Magnani Feroni (Borgo San Frediano; www.florencepalace.it ), with only 12 suites, lets visitors experience Renaissance Florence. Once occupied by French dignitaries, the Palazzo invites guests to slip into a 16th-century fantasy life of art, wealth and privilege. 8 Strange museums Florence has not only some of the world's best-known museums but a couple of the weirdest. After viewing the western world's best art, drop by Museo di Zoologia La Specola (Via Romana). This museum has a large collection of molluscs, jellyfish and sea slugs, and a weathered set of taxidermy specimens of large (hippopotamuses) and small (mice) mammals. The real draw is La Specola's 18th-century Anatomical Waxworks, a collection of gruesomely accurate wax cadavers in satin-lined glass caskets. Each model is cut open to reveal the human anatomy - so creepy that the tension among the visitors is palpable. Considerably cheerier is the Salvatore Ferragamo shoe museum. Ferragamo had an obsession with shoes. He once said: 'I love shoes. They talk to you.' If you want a good conversation with hundreds of opulent and historic pairs, head to Via dei Tornabuoni. The collection is magical (and over the top), each shoe sitting on a luminescent Plexiglas foot. There are shoes made of cellophane, encrusted with mirrored glass, strung with nylon fishing line and fastened with solid gold straps. 9 Nightlife In contrast to the daylight hours, when sturdily shod tourists commandeer the streets, Florence nightlife can be raucous, raunchy and decidedly cool. A night out begins with an early evening drink at the outdoor Roberto Cavalli Caffe on Via della Vigna Nuova - a perfect spot from which to watch shoppers on their way home. Follow with a visit to Moyo (Via dei Benci; www.moyo.it ) in Santa Croce for a nightly aperitivo (free food from 6pm to 9pm). Ultra-modern Moyo is the latest hotspot, and among the few wireless places in a city that takes more interest in the 15th-century technologies of Leonardo than those of Gates and Jobs in the 21st. Although Moyo keeps the beat into the wee hours, Florence's fashionistas haunt the Pink Room at the Lounge (Piazza Santa Maria Novella; www.thelounge.it ) where, bathed in luminescent pink light, Florence's best-dressed party people clink glasses and watch their favourite music videos. 10 Coffee Java junkies can't go wrong in Florence. Not only is there a cafe or bar on every block, they all seem to be good. Foamy cappuccinos are de rigueur for breakfast, espressos after meals and both in between. Standing at the bar sipping an espresso and watching football on a television screen, or lounging at a marble-topped table with a cappuccino and La Nazione, are as central to a trip to Florence as a visit to the Uffizi. For pure local flavour, head to Bar Patrizia (Via Maggio) or the classic 19th- century establishment Procacci (Via Tornabuoni), with its vintage marble-top tables and coterie of regulars hunkered behind copies of Il Corriere della Sera.