My first visit to Florence was sandwiched between a trip to Rome and a trip to Venice as part of a ten day whirlwind tour of Italy. Having come from Rome where I was on my feet all day every day trying to cram in as many sights as I could, Florence was a very relaxed alternative.
We only had two days in ‘Firenze’ but it was long enough to see why everyone falls in love with the city. Hopefully this post will show you why as well!
As with a lot of Italian tourist spots, hotels can be quite expensive for how outdated they are. Consequently we chose to use airbnb and stayed in a gorgeous apartment, seriously one of the nicest places I’ve stayed in a city before. The apartment was owned by a Roberto Cavalli shoe designer and her style shone through in the furnishings and overall design.
By the time our train got into Florence and we’d dropped our luggage off at the apartment it was late afternoon. To save time (and I’m quite lazy…) we took a bus from the city centre to the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. The Basilica is located at the top of the hill overlooking the city. It’s apparently quite a nice walk but very steep.
The Basilica di San Miniato itself was very pretty inside but everyone was at the top for the incredible view. This was our first real glimpse of Florence, we hadn’t yet had chance to explore the city centre.
A stroll down the road from Viale Galileo is Piazzale Michelangelo. This is where the majority of tourist and postcard photos of Florence are taken. It’s recommended to stay until sunset when the rooftops and river are glimmering gold but we had places to see and gelato to eat!
At the bottom of the hill on our way into the city centre we stopped at Vivaldi Gelateria. A family friend recommended this place to us and I’m so glad we tracked it down – good old Google Maps. Every flavour (I think we tried about six!) was so rich and delicious.
Arno River and Ponte Vecchio
Walking back from Piazzale Michelangelo into the centre we had to cross the Arno River. Whilst crossing the Ponte Vecchio I couldn’t help but remember a book I had to read for A-level English, E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View. If you haven’t read it, A Room with a View is about a young English girl’s first visit to Florence and her fascination with her surroundings. Worth a read if you’re going. Anyway, Ponte Vecchio is always packed with tourists and street vendors but it’s a must-see for any visit and so different to any other bridge in Italy.
Piazza della Signoria
My favourite part of Florence was the Piazza della Signoria. This L-shaped square is where the Palazzo Vecchio looms over a small copy of Michelangelo’s David and the crowds below. The David statue is a where the actual David was originally placed in 1504 – it’s now protected in the Academia museum which I’ll talk about in a moment!
There are lots of statues around the square and you can easily spend an hour or so wandering around it, taking in your surroundings.
This area in Florence might be my favourite because we were there during ‘golden hour’ just before sunset. The sunlight made the beautiful buildings look very regal.
There are plenty of boutique shops in the city; Italy’s fashion industry was born in Florence and was home to some of the first high-end boutiques. The Chanel store in Piazza della Signoria was too pretty for me not to photograph.
Florence Duomo (Cathedral)
Duomo is a dominating presence in Florence’s skyline and city centre. Its huge octagonal dome is instantly recognisable and the exterior is incredible ornate. Due to how close Duomo is to other buildings, it’s quite difficult to crane your neck and take in the whole spectacle.
Whilst the exterior is a decorative mix of pink, white and green marble, the interior is quite plain. We knew this before we arrived so we didn’t waste the limited time we had in the city queuing to go inside, especially when the queue was 1.45 hours when we were there! If you do have a few days in Florence I’m sure it’s worth doing though.
Michelangelo’s Statue of David
Michelangelo’s infamous David is now located in the Academia Gallery. To see David and the other amazing paintings and sculptures in Academia I’d advise you to book tickets in advance and be prepared to queue! Even if you have a ticket reservation, like we did, you’ll still have to queue for about an hour.
I won’t complain though, it’s worth every moment queuing to see the statue; I could have stood looking at it for hours. It’s amazing how lifelike the marble is; suddenly the year of History of Art I did at university seems worthwhile..!
There are galleries, sculptures, masterpieces and museums everywhere you turn in Florence. Academia, Uffizi and the museum of Palazzo Vecchio (the tower in Piazza della Signoria) are all worth seeing if that’s your thing.
Florence is a complete change of tempo in comparison to Rome. Of course Rome is the capital city so it’s to be expected that there’s more going on there; Florence felt more like the ‘real’ Italy. If you you enjoy relaxing and taking in scenery, appreciating art and good food you’ll fall in love with Florence head over heels.