Last weekend my fiancé played a rugby game in Florence and as you do when you live a couple of hours away, I booked a train ticket for the day. As I was thinking about how to spend my morning I realised that I’ve never actually written a post dedicated to Florence before! Well here we go ladies and gentlemen, a Florence city guide coming right up.
Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral.
Florence or Firenze as the locals call it is one of those Italian cities that is always busy regardless of the time of year, much like Venice or Rome. It’s also a city seeping with history and culture, dating all the way back to around 60 BC.
The once capital of Italy is the birth place of renaissance and was once home to the one of the most powerful dynasties Italy has ever seen — the Medici family. It also lent itself as a starting block for many of Italy’s most celebrated and treasured artists like Michelangelo and Da Vinci (both of whom are also buried in Florence).
Nowadays, people come to Florence to soak up the atmosphere and admire some of Italy’s finest art, architecture and food — of which the city has plenty of. Honestly, the city is like an open air museum!
Generally when I have visitors over or people ask me about Florence, I always recommend combining it with another destination as well. Florence is a great gateway to places like Pisa, Sienna and Cinque Terre to name a few. So make sure you add a couple of those to your bucket list as well.
View from Piazza San Michelangelo.
What to do
How you spend your time in the renaissance capital very much depends on how long you’re there for. The city itself isn’t so large and can easily be done in a day, but some of my favourite things to do in Florence require a leisurely pace.
Florence is great for wandering cobbled streets, drinking spritz and people watch in one of the many piazza’s and of course gazing at some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures.
If you only have one day in Florence I would definitely recommend doing a free walking tour, one museum and then spend the afternoon and evening wandering through the city checking out the leather markets, the Cathedral and the beauty that is Ponte Vecchio and the Arno. Both of which are particularly pretty at sunset if you don’t mind fighting the crowds.
Ponte Vecchio at sunset.
- The centre piece and heart of Florence is definitely Santa Maria del Fiore. This 7th century duomo is not to be missed, not that you could miss it anyway.
- Santa Croce is notably smaller than Santa Maria but no less beautiful. It’s also the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei and Machiavelli.
- Near the train station is Santa Maria Novella. Often overlooked, this old monastery and pharmacy is one of the oldest in the world.
- Free walking tour
- Piazza San Michelangelo
- A short walk from the city centre across the Arno is Piazza San Michelangelo. Not entirely a secret spot but the views are worth it. Just be prepared for a lot of people in the warmer months.
- Behind the Pitti Palace are the Boboli Gardens. Basically the Florence’s answer to the Gardens of Versailles.
- Not far from Boboli Gardens is the Bardini Gardens. Lesser known than Boboli Gardens, if you want beautiful flowers and views minus the crowds this one is for you.
- Just below Piazza San Michelangelo you’ll find the most beautiful Rose Garden with panoramic views over the city. Visit this on your way to or from the Piazza.
The famous bronze pig.
- Arguably the most famous is Palazzo Pitti. Home to several museums, rich in history and one of the only Medici palaces outside the of historic centre.
- Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria is one of the most politically important palaces in the city, still home to city office today.
- Palazzo degli Uffizi is home to the Uffizi gallery but is also one of the citie’s grandest palaces.
- Palazzo Strozzi was not owned by the Medici family and is known for it’s craftsmanship.
- Bell towers
- Santa Maria del Fiore’s bell tower aka Giotto’s Campanile offers some of the best views over Florence. With over 400 steps and 85 metres high, it’s not for the faint hearted though.
- Palazzo Vecchio’s tower also has some killer views and is often less crowded than the Duomo’s.
- Leather markets and stores
- San Lorenzo markets in the San Lorenzo neighbourhood are famous world wide for their leather goods. If you’re keen on buying something though, make sure you haggle! I bought a leather jacket for €90 while an American lady bought the exact same one for €350 because she didn’t bargain.
- Porcellino Market aka the pig market is also a great place to find leather goods. Its name stemmed from the famous bronze boar situated out the front. Don’t forget to rub its nose for good luck and to return to Florence again.
- Aside from the markets, Florence is littered with artisanal leather shops. They range in quality and price so there should be something for everyone.
- Ponte Vecchio and the Arno
- One of the most famous bridges in Italy, the Ponte Vecchio aka the old bridge is definitely one of Florence’s main tourist attractions. The best view of the bridge is from the bridge over called Ponte Santa Trinita and as mentioned before is particularly beautiful at sunset.
La Prosciutteria goodness.
Where and what to eat
When in Florence one must try its local speciality la bistecca alla Fiorentina, or more commonly known in English as a T-bone steak. You should be able to find it on the menu at most restaurants and trattorias.
Keep in mind when choosing a restaurant that Florence is a highly touristic city, so you will definitely pay more for a view or prime position in a piazza.
A couple of recommendations:
- For the insta famous sandwiches head to All Antico Vinaio. Although they now have three locations, including two right across from each, still expect a long line of tourists.
- A couple of doors down from All Antico Vinaio is La Prosciutteria specialising in delicious meat and cheese boards.
- For a different vibe and food scene, try Liberia Brac. Nestled at the back of a cute little bookshop, Brac offers healthy, vegan and vegetarian options including breakfast and brunch.