Austin and I visited Florence briefly 7 years ago during our first few months of dating (back during our study abroad era) and I'd say we hit the highlights but just scratched the surface of everything Florence has to offer. Well (allora... for any Master of None fans out there!) having spent another 3 days in Florence, we enjoyed visiting the highlights again with my parents for their first time and also caught a few new (well new to us- nothing is "new" in Florence!) sites and definitely had better food! We were on a college budget during our first trip after all.
By college budget, we are talking McDonalds lasagna on a stick kind of food. We certainly didn't get the more authentic experience that we had when traveling with Abby's parents (thanks Lisa and Curt). The one piece of advise I'd give to a younger me is to find the value and resources to eat at least one authentic and culturally significant meal a day. Food is just as important to understanding a culture and place as a museum or monument or tour will ever be.
There is still so much we want to see, but we know we'll be back again someday and it just gives us another reason to come back to Italy (as if we ever need a reason, right?)
Of the cities we have been to in Italy, Florence seems to be the easiest by far. Not that it's bland or unimaginative, hardly at all; however, it just gives off this certain vibe that almost makes you feel at home right away. It's a city that offers you just enough of everything you want without seeming overwhelming, whether that's museums or food or architecture or art. It seems to be a place meant for any tourist to feel like a local before their first plate of pasta has been devoured. It's a place that draws you back every time you leave and you always get the sense that it's somehow waiting for you as much as you are longing for it.
Sights to See:
Piazza del Duomo- the heart of Florence that houses several iconic historical, religious and architectural wonders.
Duomo del Firenze: one of the largest cathedrals in the world and probably the most famous structure in Florence. It is especially famous for its self-supporting dome designed by Brunelleschi. Entrance is free, however if you want to climb to the dome for a great view over the city, or visit the crypt below the cathedral, you must pay an additional fee.
- Baptistery of St. John: the oldest building in the city and is one of Florence’s most important religious buildings, which is dedicated to John the Baptist. It is famous for its beautiful golden mosaics on the ceiling and its three sets of artistically important bronze doors with relief sculptures that depict scenes from the Bible. The combination of white Carrara marble and green Prato marble is mesmerizing and stunning!
- Giotto’s Campanile (the Bell Tower): Austin and I climbed the 400 narrow steps to get the best view in the city of the terra-cotta rooftops that encompass the city. The steps are not for the faint of heart, but worth it!
- Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Museum): Museo dell’Opera del Duomo houses the original artworks and statues from the Duomo, the original doors of the Baptistery, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and several sculptures by Donatello.
Must See Museums- Florence is the birth place of Renaissance art and houses some of the most famous works in all of art history, while also being on the cutting edge of scientific advancements.
- Uffizi Gallery- This world famous fine arts museum has an enormous collection of Renaissance paintings and sculptures. The most popular pieces include The Birth of Venus, Primavera by Sandro Boticelli, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Renaissance art is not my favorite, but this world famous institution shouldn't be missed during your first trip to Florence. The building is also stunning, inside and out, and has particularly beautiful views of the Arno river.
- Galleria dell’Accademia- This museum is small and mighty and most people come just to see Michelangelo's David sculpture. It does not disappoint and is actually even more impressive up close. You can see the replica at Piazza della Signoria for free, but it's worth it to see it in person and check the masterpiece off your bucket list. Tip: Book tickets prior to visiting so you don't have to wait in line. We did not do this, but bought tickets out side from a group tour that had extras. We paid a little more and we were skeptical about booking tickets from a stranger outside, but just make sure to make the salesperson will walk you to the door and get you in. That's what we did and we walked right in with no problems.
- Museo Galileo- Since we were with my parents who are big science nerds, we had to check out the Galileo museum. Housed in an old palace that was restored in the mid-1800s, this science museum houses an impressive collection of scientific instruments dating from the 13th century, including maps, telescopes, globes, thermometers, and early chemistry and electricity inventions.
Day Trip - One of the best decisions we made was hiring a driver to take our group on a day trip to Cinque Terre. It was only a couple hours away and only about $30 a person and he took us to 3 of the 5 villages (we could have done all five but we decided that we'd rather enjoy the 3 best villages for a longer period of time than hop on and off). This was totally worth it as they are not the easiest places to get to. Absolutely breathtaking once you are there! We will follow up with another blog post about Cinque Terre, but just know the day trip was very easy from Florence!
Palazzo Alfieri Residenza D'Epoca - Our hotel was amazing! Right on the river, our rooms had spectacular views and was really in the perfect location. Every inch was crisp, comfortable, quiet, and beautiful. The hotel felt more like apartments than a hotel. We ate breakfast there every morning, in which I ate my weight in freshly peeled kiwis and cappuccinos every morning. What I could give to have that every morning... I can't rave any more about our hotel. We will definitely stay there again on our next trip to Florence.
Gusta Pizza - We heard it was the best pizza in Florence and it didn't disappoint, especially for only 5euros! Made to order in a wood fire oven, this pizza stop attracts a crowd especially with the study abroad students who live nearby.
Caffe Giacosa - The birthplace of the Negroni cocktail, this chic Florentine institution was bought and remodeled by Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli whose flagship store sits next door. Cappuccinos are a specialty as well, if cocktails aren't your thing.
Cantinetta dei Verrazzano - this little bakery served the best Focaccia bread, which was the perfect sustenance for all our walking
Cantinetta Antinori - On the recommendation of Austin's dad, we tried this upscale eatery for dinner. The restaurant itself is an outpost of the famous wine making family. The Antinori's have been making some of Italy's most famous wines for over 600 years. While the menu was very limited, we all enjoyed our hearty and rustic Tuscan meals. I recommend the Tignanello or Cont'ugo wines.
Gelateria La Strega Nocciola - Translated as 'The Hazelnut Witch' this gelato place is Delicious! Now some may thing our trip in Italy was simply a 'tour de gelato' and it may have been, but this place tops my list. I mixed Hazelnut and Coconut, YUM!