(CNN) — Homemade pasta, beautiful churches, delicious gelato, glamorous haute couture and a cultural history like nowhere else.
May 2 marks 500 years since the death of the original Renaissance man, known for his incredible contributions to art and science.
Five centuries later, some of his most famous artworks can be found dotted around these three urban hubs. So what better way to celebrate da Vinci’s legacy than to literally follow in his footsteps in Northern Italy?
After his early years in the provinces, da Vinci headed to his nearest city, Florence, where he worked for a decade with the Compagnia di San Luca — a brotherhood of Florentine artists.
Few paintings survive from this period, although a later stint in the Tuscan capital saw him paint his famous “Mona Lisa,” believed to be a portrait of the wife of a Florentine official.
Florence was once the center of medieval European trade and remnants from that era can be found throughout the city. Its historic architecture is well preserved, so visitors can see many some of the same buildings da Vinci may have wandered past.
They’re hanging in the same room, a chamber dedicated to da Vinci, his influences and his artistic heirs. This special gallery opened in 2018, reframing da Vinci’s works in climate-controlled cases to prevent humidity damage.
“The recently cleaned and restored ‘Adoration of the Magi’ is magnificent and it has to be seen in person,” says Matthew Landrus, an art historian at the UK’s University of Oxford who specializes in da Vinci.
“It’s not something that makes sense in pictures, photographs, because of the layers of work on it.
“One can see in the amount of work, the amount of craftsmanship on that ‘Adoration,’ how much Leonardo really committed to that project, even though he didn’t finish it.”
Landrus advises getting in line early at the Uffizi to see the room. Ever-popular, it’s likely to draw more crowds during this anniversary year.
Adjacent to the da Vinci room are rooms devoted to more Italian masters, Caravaggio, Michelango and Raphael.
This was a fruitful time for da Vinci, he filled his notebooks with extensive research into the sciences and engineering — including flying machines.
One of the sketches depicts da Vinci’s design for an early parachute.
da Vinci’s “Portait of a Musician” hangs in the Ambrosiana Library.
GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images
Landrus says the notebooks are worth the trip.
“You get to see the really small handwriting, the way in which he was relentless in approaching certain ideas and just continued coming back to geometrical ideas and studies of Euclid and trying to square the circle.”
“You go in rather quickly, so take note as soon as you can when you get in there, you only have a few minutes to look at ‘The Last Supper,'” advises Landrus.
“Milan is my favorite city for looking at Leonardo,” says Landrus. “It was his home for 18 years.”
Culture-rich Milan’s a fashion capital, but it’s also known for its operatic history.
Da Vinci also worked for several years in Rome, taking up residence in the Vatican.
It was the last place he lived in Italy before moving to Amboise, central France, where he died in 1519.
Residenza Paolo VI is a boutique hotel in an old Augustininan monastery.
Courtesy Residenza Paolo VI
There’s also a museum dedicated to da Vinci in Rome. It doesn’t contain any of his original artworks, but it offers plenty of detail about his life. There are machines designed from his sketches and interactive versions of his works.
Landrus points out da Vinci was a very busy man whose talent spread across mediums.
“His interdisciplinarity but also his multitasking is something that will strike people as they look around at these various objects” says Landrus.
“And also getting a sense of the context,” he adds. “When you understand the context you understand more of the significance of what Leonardo was working with, that he was highly sought after in an environment that was already rich with with really good, talented people.”
Leonardo around the world
Of course, a true da Vinci odyssey goes beyond his homeland.
Also in Paris, there’s a Codex called Paris Manuscript B, located in the Bibliotheque de l’Institut de France of Paris — including a sketch of a Flying Machine.
144 of da Vinci’s drawings belong to Britain’s Royal Collection and will be on display in Buckingham Palace in May and later on in the year, Scotland’s Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.
You should seize the chance this year though — it’s on display from April 16 – July 14, 2019.
“Salvator Mundi,” a work recently attributed to da Vinci, became the most expensive painting ever publicly auctioned when it sold for $450 million in 2017. No one quite knows if it’s a da Vinci, but either way, you won’t be seeing it any time soon — it’s in a private collection.
Landrus argues that its worth tracking down artworks even when scholars can’t agree whether or not they’re da Vinci originals. Likewise the work of da Vinci’s artistic influences and those inspired by him.
The Louvre has the most da Vinci works.
Enzo Figueres/Getty Images
Where to find da Vinci’s work around the world: