Florence is a city full of Italian charm. My most recent visit followed a couple of days in Milan attending the Grand Prix and the slower pace of Florence was a welcome change from the big city hustle and roar of the race track. Florence is full of iconic pieces from the Italian renaissance, historic streets and inexpensive but delicious red wine. This is how I packed my two day trip.
Florence was declared a world heritage site in 1982
The first morning I headed to the Galleria Dell’ Accademia. The gallery is on the Florence must see list so will most likely be busy. I arrived just before opening and still had to wait around 30-45 minutes to enter. Luckily the architecture around the entrance is interesting, you are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world after all.
The highlight here is Michelangelo’s David. Although I was familiar with this piece, I had not anticipated just how massive he would be. Standing at 17 feet tall, the level of detail is awe-inspiring, you can make out everything from his rather handsome muscles to each fingernail, even the veins on his body are expertly carved. Sounds daft to say, but when you are standing there it really is clear why the sculpture is so famous. I can’t even imagine the skill needed to carve this out of one piece of marble.
There are other exhibits to explore in the Galleria, however for me they were overshadowed by David and my desire to see more of Florence.
If you are really opposed to queuing or travelling on a budget you can see a ‘fake David’, in Piazza Della Signoria. This replica has been placed where the Michelangelo’s original stood before it was moved indoors in 1873. The Piazza is worth a look even if you did spend the morning in Dell’ Accademia.
Florence is known as the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’
Next on my Renaissance themed adventure was Galleria degli Uffizi. The queue here was massive, length of the building, couple of sweaty hours in the sun kind of massive. However, I happened on a short one where I could reserve a time slot to visit later in the afternoon. So I bought my ticket and headed off to explore the rest of the city for a couple hours.
On return, I pretty much walked straight in to stroll among the wonders of the high renaissance. I’ll be honest I get museum fatigue amidst wall after wall of paintings. Don’t get me wrong there are masterpieces here, I just get less joy from them after an hour or two. And there was more to see here than even Di Vinci could absorb in a day, so my top tip would be plan what you want to see and make an effort to go there first.
In my view, the highlights that you should not miss include Doni Tondo by Michelangelo, which is a stunningly vivid painting. Also the ceiling frescoes in the large hall. This huge ceiling is divided into individual panels, each is crammed with its own renaissance story. Warning you may end up with a crook in your neck as you walk through looking straight up!
My favourite was Botticelli ‘s Birth of Venus painted in 1484. It is a huge painting in reality with wonderful detail, after seeing it is now officially my favourite.
Recharge with a coffee or a glass of wine on the Gallery’s roof terrace and take in the city rooftops. This also a perfect meeting point, if you are travelling with someone with a higher museum fatigue threshold then you- they can keep wandering, you can watch the city = perfect holiday all round.
Tip: If you are keeping a travel journal/scrapbook of your trip, the shop has sticker versions of the most famous paintings which are not too expensive and perfect souvenirs.
Florence is the ultimate city to stroll around in, I filled my wait for the Gallery by taking in the architecture and enjoying a small carafe of red wine for 4 euros.
While exploring make sure you happen upon Ponte Vecchio which translates to ‘old bridge’ and dates back to the 16th century. Formerly the host to Florence’s butchers it now houses jewelers and souvenir sellers in tiny shops over the Arno river. I love bridges that are more than just a connection between two points and are living streets in their own right- Ponte Vecchio did not disappoint. Make sure you walk along the river a bit to get a snap of the bridge herself.
Florence’s Cathedral is the 4th largest in the world
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, was a pleasure to visit, its vast Gothic structure is worth a full circle outside before entering. The wealth of Florence and the patronage the Catholic church received from the city is apparent in the detail of design. The inside is generally slightly plainer than other Catholic churches I have visited, however still large and beautiful.
It is here you will also find Florence’s most famous structure the Duomo. Taking over 150 years to complete, inside you can admire the huge fresco painted inside the dome and climb narrow steps to view of the city beloe. The Duomo can be spotted throughout Florence and worth inclusion in more than one photo.
Palazzo Vecchio is Florence’s town hall and construction began on it in the 13th century. Interestingly the 94 foot clock tower is not centered which makes it feel slightly off when you look at.
The clock face was the first public clock in Florence installed in 1355. It has a single hand which is typical of medieval clocks, it is not as I first though broken. If you want to tell the time, just look at the longer point (the shorter is just for weight/balance), you know the minutes by how far between the hours the hand is.
Along with with taking in the history, another must when visiting any Italian city for me is the food and wine. Florence delivered on this big time, in fact it was one of the cheapest in terms of red wine I have found in Italy. I love stopping at a cafe which spills onto the street, ordering a wine and watching the world go by from under the shared of a striped umbrella. I probably could have packed more into this Florence trip but long lunches and a mid-afternoon drink are part of the experience for me.
These are a couple of places I tried for food and would recommend. Each place had their own vino bottles as pictured above- it was all lovely. I have honestly never been served a bad glass of wine in Italy- no matter how cheap it was- wish I could say the same for the UK!
Trattoria Enzoc Piero, Via Faenza, 105, 50123 Firenze
Boasting a quaint and rustic interior this place had reasonably priced food. I loved the antipasti (especially the Buffalo Mozzarella) and the Tiruamsa. All the pasta dishes ordered were fantastic too.
Osteria Pepo, Via Rosina, 4/6R, 50125
Here I tried Ribollita a traditional Tuscan soup, bread is mixed into the vegetable mix to make it more stew like- very yummy! Although it was surpassed by the superb chocolate cake I had for dessert.
I stayed at Hotel Porta Faenza which was an old hotel, one of those that has quirky pieces of history dotted about like an old typewriter in an alcove at reception. The staff were friendly and went out of their way to furnish us with restaurant recommendations and an umbrella when it rained one evening. Breakfast was also included. Is it just me or does this fell like a disappearing luxury these days? Highlight here was a jam dispenser machine- I had never seen the like and thought it was brilliant.
Italy is one of my favorite countries, if you are planning a trip you might also want to read about my trip to Sardinia.