I have been in Florence for a small vacation (around five days), it was the first time I visited the city and I liked it really a lot. In this article some thoughts, advices and (hopefully) nice photos from my experience.
Florence is an Italian city, precisely the capital of the Tuscany region. It is easily reachable by train from the others main Italian cities, in fact there is a fast train (Frecciarossa) that stops at the Florence station, 2 minutes by foot from the city centre.
For those unable to use the train the location is of course reachable by plane (Airport).
I recommend to find an hotel (or an Airbnb) somewhere in the city centre. Having a small walk or eating an ice cream (maybe an orange granita if hot) near the Arno river before going to sleep is extremely relaxing. It also gives you the possibility to take some shots of the illuminated buildings that reflect directly on the river surface, first of all Ponte Vecchio (literally "Old Bridge").
For what it regards the hotel I advice to double check the bathroom and the breakfast, if in doubt just ask for details at their customer service. Some hotel will give you a really small bathroom, without windows and without a proper shower (the shower is in the bathroom, but the whole bathroom is covered with special tiles and it is used as a shower in its whole).
Usually you won't find an international breakfast unless you go for an at least four stars hotel. A common Italian breakfast is ridiculous for international travellers, in fact you usually find:
- A couple of fruit juices;
- A fresh brioche (if you're lucky);
- A (from supermarket) brioche (if you're not much lucky);
- Not a brioche (if you're not lucky);
- Some bread with butter and a couple of marmalade choices;
- Some (from supermarket) biscuits;
In such a nice city you could also easily consider to have breakfast in one of the many bar in the city centre.
This is the hotel where I stayed during my five days, it is optimally located (one minute from the Cathedral) and not much expensive, though it had an horrible bathroom and a very poor breakfast. I don't recommend it.
Ponte Vecchio: a medieval arched bridge with Roman origins and one of the most photographed and known symbol of Florence. Gorgeous in its orange shades during daytime, it remains an attraction when its lights reflect on the water of river Arno during nighttime. Walking on it you can find many jewelers and luxury shops (among which luxury watches shops such as Rolex and Patek).
Uffizi Gallery: a world wide know hub of art masterpieces mainly from Italian artists which doesn't need a presentation. Take in account at least three to four hours to visit it. It's big collection of Renaissance paintings and masterpieces that spans across two levels. First you'll be guided to visit the second floor, then you'll continue your visit descending to the first floor. Among the others paintings there are: Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Botticelli's Spring, The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, Madonna and Child with two angels by Filippo Lippi, The dukes of Urbino by Piero della Francesca, The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, The Venus of Urbino by Titian, Medusa by Caravaggio and The Seven Virtues by Botticelli & Pollaiuolo.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore: the stunning marble church in the city centre. Along with the Giotto's Bell Tower and the Baptistery of St. John, it creates an amazing and suggestive city centre where it seems that everything is a fine composition of gorgeous red, white and green marble. The Cathedral is enormous and it's always surrounded by people standing in the queue, taking photographs or eating an ice cream. I have to admin that despite its great marble outside, the inside is quite disappointing, a part from the dome fresco. The complex is in fact completed by the Brunelleschi's Dome and the (although free standing) Giotto's Bell Tower.
Brunelleschi's Dome: a stunning artistic and architectural dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and placed on the top of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. You can also climb to the top, but it requires a prior booking and, depending on the affluence, it could need up to four days in advance to book it. It took an early booking, many steps to climb and a long queue, but it's definitely worth it. While going up you have the possibility to closely watch the stunning fresco ("Last Judgment") begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1568, and completed by Federico Zuccari in 1579. After a close look at the Last Judgment, you will have also the possibility to go to the outside of the dome on the top of the Cathedral. There you'll have a beautiful and suggestive (though a little scary) view of the city centre directly from the border of the dome that falls quickly near your shoes.
Giotto's Bell Tower: free-standing Gothic tower attached to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It is constructed with beautiful red, green and white marble. After an exhausting loooong queue under the sun (yes, actually I had to wait more than two hours standing in the queue under the midday sun, but you could be more lucky), you can reach the entrance. After maaaany steps (didn't count, but it has five levels!), you can finally reach the top. The top is open (as it is every stair) and allows you to see an amazing view of the city right in the centre of the city itself (you will be at an height of approximately 85 metres!). Long queue, many steps, fantastic view, and again, totally worth it.
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella: just near the station and the Central Market, it will start to delight you with its facade of a gorgeous combination of white and green marble. In the inside you can find beautiful treasures and funerary monuments. It is also famous for its frescoes by masters of Gothic and Renaissance including Masaccio's Trinità, Ghirlandaio's fresco cycle in the Tornabuoni Chapel and Giotto's Crucifix.
Basilica of Santa Croce: Neo-Gothic Franciscan church. It is known for its Giotto frescoes and the tombs of important historical Italian people, among which Michelangelo, Galileo, Foscolo, Alfieri and Rossini. The central altar is stunning, and a photo in Piazza Santa Croce (the square in front of the beautiful church facade) is a must. During the night the facade is also enlightened, allowing for some other nice shots.
Palazzo Vecchio: it is the town hall of Florence, overlooking Piazza della Signoria. It is really worth visiting in the inside, there are plenty of rooms covered with art, from sculptures to paintings, everything refined with lavishly details. The main room (Salone dei Cinquecento) is enormous: has a length of 52m and is 23m broad, spanning across two floors in height. I advice also to notice the walls and ceilings, in fact they are painted with different patterns, some of them showing weird and esoteric characters.
Palazzo Bargello: a former fortress and prison, converted into a National Museum in the mid-19th century. It houses masterpieces by Donatello, Michelangelo and Cellini. Then it has been enriched with collections of bronzes, majolica, waxes, enamels, medals, seals, ivories, amber, tapestries, furniture and textiles from both the Medici collections and private donors. It is referred as the Uffizi of sculptures, but I prefer the paintings and the (real) Uffizi Gallery.
Palazzo Pitti: it is the largest of the Florentine's palaces, with authentic furniture that belonged to the Medici family. The Palace is divided into five museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes, the Palatine Gallery, the Royal Apartments, the Modern Art Gallery and the Museum of Costume. Visiting all them requires at least three to four hours, depending on how much you want to focus on each of the many objects inside. Then you have to account at least another couple of hours to visit the adjacent Bodoli Gardens.
Michelangelo's David: the famous and beautifully harmonic marble Renaissance sculpture of Michelangelo. It is dated at the beginning of the 16th century, and you can find it inside the Florence Academy of Fine Arts, along with some other sculptures and paintings of low relevance. Although it will not impress you by its size (it's about 5m tall excluding the basement), you will surely appreciate its beauty and geometry harmony.
Medici Chapels: beautiful building complex containing the tombs of the Medici family. These tombs are enormous, built with fine marble prettily decorated. The complex is composed by two main buildings, The New Sacristy (designed by Michelangelo), and the Chapel of the Princes. The latter has an octagonal structure and it is surmounted by a tall dome (around 60m high!). Everything inside is decorated with marble, both in large pieces or fine mosaics, creating a stunning effect and giving a sense of solemnity.
Baptistery of St. John: octagonal basilica with marble facade in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It is well known for its mosaic ceiling and its big bronze doors. In the inside it's difficult not to stare at its breathtaking ceiling.
Michelangelo Square: a panoramic square where you can have a comprehensive nice view of the whole city. There is a bronze replica of Michelangelo's David too.
Abbey of San Miniato al Monte: 11th-century church with a romanesque facade, medieval interiors and a great city view. It is located higher than Michelangelo Square and by foot it is a bit more than half an hour from Ponte Vecchio. It's not big, but I liked it.
Bodoli Gardens: these are the gardens behind Palazzo Pitti, they are massive. Unfortunately there is not a clear path to visit them, thus it is quite dispersive and messy. It's easy to get lost or to find yourself repeating the same path several times. On the top of the garden there is a small building with some chinaware inside and a great view. The Poseidon Fountain in the middle of the garden is nice too.
Central Market (Market of St. Lorenzo): it's a big building of multiple levels near the train station. The market is both indoor and outdoor. On the outdoor you'll see some locals (immigrants) selling some cheap leather goods. Don't buy them, they're of low quality and ugly. Instead go inside the building, there are many stands selling a great variety of fresh food, either raw or cooked.
Fountain of the little Boar: it's exactly what you read, a small fountain shaped as a little boar. With my big surprise it is always busy with tourists photographing themselves while touching this fountain, believing it will give them some sort of luck. I found extremely difficult to have some "privacy" to shot a good photo here.
The SS. Annunziata: just another church among the many present in Florence, unfortunately I have to admit that this had nothing particular in my opinion. If you have time give it a look, but if your schedule is busy I'd easily skip it.
Dante's home: don't visit it, really. There is almost nothing inside a part from Dante's pictures, some informative texts and rooms reconstructions. It's a paid visit, in five minutes you will have visited it all and yet will have had time to get bored.
A must eat while visiting Florence is the sandwich with Lampredotto. It is a typical Florence sandwich composed by bread, Lampredotto (basically it is meat from the fourth and final stomach of a cow, the "abomasum", slow-cooked in a vegetable broth, seasoned with herbs) and various condiments. You can grab one of these delicious sandwiches in one of the many small street food trucks.
I ate two of these sandwiches in a row in this small and cozy restaurant (Nobile Bistrò), which serves only fresh hand-made sandwiches with Lampredotto with a variety of condiments. Oh, and it's cheap too.
I wish I had tried also the sandwich with tongue (you can try it in the Central Market), unfortunately I knew of it on my last day and I hadn't the time to wait for it to be prepared (the staff was slow-cooking the tongue, it would have taken a couple of hours more to be cooked and my train was leaving in less than half an hour).
Another famous dish typical of Florence is the "fiorentina", a really big steak which is usually served in portions of at least 500g per person!
Bonus tip: you may want to use the TripAdvisor or TheFork apps in order to get access to discounts ranging from 10% to 30% in the many restaurants that are offering it.
Visited the place? Have advices or insights? Feel free to post a comment below sharing your experience!