Firenze, or Florence, the heart of Tuscany. Historic and romantic, sense tingling and taste teasing, beautiful and intriguing… so where could I possibly begin?
The three of us met at the Venezia Miestre train station; Rachelle, Pablo and I. If you read my last post on Venice, you may remember that I met this honeymoon couple in a queue and invited them to join me in Florence… after a quick discussion as to whether or not I am a serial killer it was a “sure, why not?”!
So two hours of delightful scenery, freezing air-con and awkward phone charging later, we arrived in Florence. Immediately we felt like the floor beneath us was moving when we made our way out of the station, maybe it was a mini earthquake or maybe it was just the rumbles of the trains or maybe Florence just felt different somehow. A short bus ride then walk away was the two-bed, light and airy top floor apartment.
Florence is much bigger than Venice and has a lot to offer. One moment you are surrounded by high street shops like Zara and H&M, the next you are staring up at a marble clad Cathedral.
Surrounded by mountains, and with the river Arno through the heart of it, Florence has everything for every type of person. For the history geeks, there are over 80 museums, for the foodie there are many restaurants, cafes and sandwich shops, and for the explorer the winding streets will always lead you somewhere new.
Here are some of the things not to miss.
Il Duomo di Firenze, previously known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower) is one of Italy’s largest churches and until recently, was the largest dome in the world but is still the largest brick dome ever built. This Gothic-styled Cathedral was built in 1436 with the exterior of the basilica clad with white, green and pink marble panels.
A major tourist attraction, the cathedral includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile.
Other churches are full of historical art, with their walls covered in beautiful paintings as well as marble sculptures. Even the most outwardly unassuming church can have the most stunning art inside so make sure you wander in when you come across a church.
For the keen history and art boffs, Florence is heaven! With over 80 museums, you are sure to find one you can get completely lost in. The Galleria dell’Accademia and Uffizi are two of the most popular museums.
The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, an art museum, is best known as the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. But it has many other sculptures by Michelangelo and a large collection of paintings by Florentine artists, mostly from the period 1300-1600.
The Uffizi, however, is the main art museum in Florence. It is one of the largest and most visited art museums in the world with a collection of priceless art. Waiting times to get in can be up to 5 hours, so if you plan to visit, get your tickets in advance online.
The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is a medieval stone bridge that crosses the Arno River. It is famous for the expensive jewellery shops built along it, and each night the jewellers cover their jewels and bring down large wooden chest-like barriers to protect their shops. Also enchanting are the Ponte Vecchio’s two neighbouring bridges; the Ponte Santa Trinita and the Ponte alle Grazie. Make sure you make a sunset visit for some very romantic views of the Arno River.
Who knew there was a beach in Florence? Not me!
Located in the middle of the city, on the banks of the Arno, is a recently built urban beach. The city council decided to use part of the river bank of the Arno for a relaxation spot in the summer, free of charge for locals and tourists alike!
Sunbathe, play ball or dip your toes in the water… but I don’t know if I would swim in the river!
Double Helix Slide in Palazzo Strozzi
Installed by a German artist, Carsten Höller, who is also known for his playful interactive installations, this pair of slides in a double helix formation can be found within the famed Palazzo Strozzi of Florence. It’s open quite late, doesn’t cost a lot, and at the bottom you can find a couple of bars and restaurants. I don’t suggest going on after a few drinks though!
A long walk from the centre, and an even longer climb, this Piazza is not worth missing! The best views over Florence, you can also find churches to explore and if you’re lucky you may find yourself in a Gelato festival!
I stumbled across this festival which took place between 20th – 22nd April this year (2018) but check the website to see when it’s next on. A festival dedicated to tasting ice-cream, the Italian and international gelato makers will prepare pounds and pounds of ice cream and with one ticket you can taste all of them!
Food in Florence
Let’s face it, you don’t go to Italy for McDonalds. Probably one of the most popular cuisine worldwide, Italian food is easily a palette-pleaser with its heartwarming combination of pastas, tomatoes, meats, herbs and cheeses. In Tuscany, pasta (especially pappardelle) is traditionally served with meat sauce (including game meat). Also famous for its wine, there are so many reasons your tastebuds will fall in love with Tuscany.
Here are some of the places you must not walk by.
All’Antico Vinaio Sandwich
After seeing queues nearly 30 people long, I felt it would be foolish not to join the crowds, each holding their own foccacia sandwich filled with an array of meats and cheeses, as they sat along the curbs drinking and eating.
Make sure you choose enough of the more succulent ingredients as the foccacia is quite a dry bread, and this large €5 sandwich won’t let you down.
By far one of my favourite places to eat, this restaurant had it all. Great food, great vibes and great staff, it was no surprise that I came back more than once. I recommend the fresh pasta, the meat plate, the burgers, all of it! Just pay this place a visit!
€2 Pizza on Via dei Neri
Who wouldn’t give this place a try for €2?? I admit, I didn’t actually expect much from this place being so cheap and my being dairy free but I was pleasantly surprised! I was offered a marinara pizza custom topped with parma ham at my request and it was delicious! I admit, I didn’t catch the name but you can’t miss it on Via dei Neri.
Come to this cafe for a chilled out vibe, freshly blended juices or a coffee on the go. They have dairy free options which was a first for me here in Tuscany, and whilst some relaxed on the bench outside, others worked on their laptops inside. I simply enjoyed my pancakes and soya chai latte.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, make sure you grab one of Italy’s delicious pastries; most famously, Cannoli. You won’t miss all of the gorgeous cafes lined with colourful sweet treats as you explore the city of Florence.
In my next post, you can hear about my day tour to Pisa, San Gimignano and Sienna.