I had visited Florence in Italy with my parents when I was about 15 years old. I loved the city and had always wanted to return. When my family decided that we would make a spring break trip to Florence and Venice this year, you can imagine my excitement. The renaissance art, the buildings, the fashion, the prosecco, the truffles, the great coffee – I was anxious to revisit this city, experience it and see it as an adult.
When we arrived early morning in Florence we were all very tired, the uncomfortable sleep on the plane, the layover in Frankfurt plus jet lag, had left us all groggy. To make things worse, we could not check into our apartment that I had rented until 2.30PM as the previous tenants had not left yet. We sat at the airport for more than an hour until our landlord told us the apartment was empty but needed to be cleaned. We could drop off our luggage and return later. In hindsight, this was a good thing as we were forced to overcome our jet lag and walk around the city. The sights of the gelaterias, trattorias, architecture, the beautiful Arno River and it’s many bridges immediately snapped us into holiday mode. The more we saw, the more we wanted to see.
Below I share with you a guide to the sights we saw in Florence.
Duomo, otherwise known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria of the Flower, dominates the Florentine skyline.The decorative marble exterior is beautiful. However, I found the inside of the church, in contrast to the outside, to be quite bland.The showpiece is the beautiful paintings of the “Last Judgement” in the dome ceiling. Entrance is free, so lines are long but the lines do move fairly quickly.
Florence has so many museums – for our five night stay we decided to visit only the two main museums, the Uffizi and the Accademia. From previous experience I have learnt that too many museums on one trip, no matter how beautiful the contents, equal boredom.
The Uffizi was going through renovations, so there was scaffolding everywhere. But it is still a beautiful building. I found the glass hallway which circles the entire museum to be particularly picturesque.
The Accademia museum is all about the David, the most famous statue in the world and Michelangelo’s masterpiece. This magnificent statue is the first thing you see when you turn the corner after entering, and nothing prepares you for it. The statue is a complete vision enhanced in every way by the spectacular presentation, right in the center of the museum, with a dome glass ceiling and nothing nearby to distract the gaze.
The Piazza Della Signoria is the biggest Piazza in Florence and houses the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. The Piazza is also an open air museum containing many sculptures that include a replica of Michelangelo’s David.
The church of Santa Croce is located on the Piazza Santa Croce, and like the Duomo, it is lavishly adorned from the outside but quite bland on the inside. What is exciting about the inside, however, is that many famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo and Rossini are buried there.
The Arno River cuts through the city dividing Florence into the busier northern part and quieter southern part. Linking the two areas are numerous bridges. The most famous is Ponte Vechio, the oldest bridge in Florence and very crowded with shops selling mostly jewelry, and tourists either taking pictures or posing for pictures.
I had heard the museums and galleries inside Palazzo Pitti were beautiful but we decided (as it was the warmest day of our trip) to see only the Baboli Gardens attached to the Palace. The gardens were huge – we only saw a fraction of it. A highlight for visitors is the terrific views of the city from the upper levels of the garden.
Piazzale Michelangelo is an area of the city that tourists may not visit and this would be a shame as it is an upscale green and lush part of Florence. We took a taxi all the way to the top of the hill and visited the church of San Miniato al Monte. Although much smaller in size to the churches in central Florence, the inside is beautifully decorated with gold paint. This area is all about the views – you can take in all of Florence from the top of the hill. We walked down the hill and there were plenty of vantage points for ample photo opportunities.
My tips on visiting Florence:-
– Like most European cities, walking is the best way to get around and see the city. Therefore comfortable shoes are a must. The pavements are cement
and uneven – without comfortable shoes your feet will throb with pain.
– We had a map but did not use it much. Florence city center is compact – eventually you will get to where you want to go – allow yourself to wander around and meander in and out of the streets. This is how you stumble across the cute little places that become your discoveries.
– If tickets are needed for entrance, always book in advance. We used www.italytickets.com The lines to get into the museums and some churches are very long throughout the year. Buying tickets in advance does not mean you avoid the lines completely, it just means you stand in a shorter line.
– If you are staying for more than two days consider renting an apartment. We have rented a number of times from www.VRBO.com and have been pleased. The center of Florence gets so crowded. I was always happy to return to my apartment in the quiet southern part of the city where there were very few tourists.
The second part of my write up about Florence will be about the food and shopping.