Part of our travels last year took us through central Italy, and we were lucky enough to stop in Florence – Firenze – for a couple of days. Both Mario and I had been to Florence before, but we were still pretty excited to visit again. I’m not going to lie, this time we went pretty light on the artistic and historical aspects of the city (of which there are many!), instead choosing to focus on, well, food. And wine. And also some shopping. Hey, we were on holidays ok?
Although Florence is pretty small, there is just so much to do, so we had to be selective. Without further ado, here are my top picks for a short stay in Firenze.
Getting to Florence is pretty easy – it’s accessible by train (high-speed and normal), plane and car – although the centre of the city is a pedestrian zone. We caught the high speed train (the Frecciarossa) from Rome, which was fast, comfortable and easy. Would definitely recommend. We arrived at Santa Maria Novella station (SMN – the dark green star on the map above), and it was just a short walk to our Airbnb (the purple house on the map).
We left via car, which we picked up from Hertz on our last day. Also easy, and getting out of the city, while slightly hair-raising, was not as bad as we expected. There were a couple of gnarly roundabouts though…
Where to stay
As I just mentioned, we stayed in an Airbnb, and it was AMAZING. Centrally located, walking distance from everything, air-conditioned, clean, comfortable… just perfect (although it is up three flights of stairs, which might bother some people). Our host, Alessandro, met us just as we arrived, and he gave us so much useful information. Maps, restaurant recommendations, you name it. Alessandro made a bunch of the decor in the apartment too, which gave it such a lovely welcoming feel. You should check out the photos on Airbnb, because honestly mine don’t do it justice.
There are endless accommodation options in Florence, at all difference price points. My only suggestion would be to stay somewhere close to the centre, so you can walk between attractions easily, and pop home for a nanna nap (yes, we did this). Airbnb is quite a bit cheaper than a hotel, so that’s my choice.
What to do
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or il Duomo as it is generally known, is incredible (it’s the purple star on the map). Designed by Brunelleschi, it’s the heart of Florence. There’s almost an optical illusion going on where you feel like you can see it at the end of every street you walk down, thanks to the way the streets are laid out.
Seriously, the Duomo has something for everyone. People who are interested in art and religion can marvel at the church interior and the incredible painting by Vasari and Zuccaro on the inside of the dome, which is one of the largest paintings in the world. It’s breathtaking.
Thrill seekers can climb the dome from the inside, emerging in the cupola at the top for some spectacular views. The bell tower, Giotto’s Campanile, which is right next to il Duomo, can also be climbed. The dome climb is not for the feint of heart – parts of it are quite claustrophobic! The views are so worth it though.
The wait times to get in to the Duomo, either to do the climb or just to look around the cathedral, are insane. It was about a four hour wait by 10am when we were there – in full sun. So we took the cheat option, and paid to do a guided tour. It cost about 30 euro each, but we got to go straight in, both to the climb and the cathedral, and we learned a bit in the process too. There are tour guides touting for customers all around the cathedral, so if you want to take this option, just pick one you like the look of and go from there. You can also go underneath the cathedral and see the ruins of the original baptistery, which is pretty amazing.
Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery
Would any trip to Florence be complete without seeing the iconic Ponte Vecchio? Personally, I say yes, because it is an overrated tourist trap (it’s located at the orange star on the map). Lined with shops selling overpriced jewellery and ordinary but exorbitantly expensive gelato, my recommendation would be to walk across it quickly and don’t look back. I sound like a grinch, don’t I? We got ripped off while we were there so I am a little bitter.
The view of the Arno river from the middle of the bridge is pretty beautiful though.
The Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery are also nearby (the light green star on the map). Outside the Palazzo Vecchio you can see a replica of Michelangelo’s famous David statue (the original is across town in the Galleria della’Accademia) (the dark blue star on the map). In the portico of the Uffizi Gallery, you can see 28 statues of famous Florentines, including Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Pisano, Donatello, Giotto, Dante, Vespucci, Machiavelli and Lorenzo ‘the Magnificent’ de’ Medici. The history of the Medici family saturates the whole city, and it’s completely fascinating, and often pretty dark!
Pitti Palace, Buboli Gardens and Bardini Gardens
Across the Arno river you can find the Pitti Palace, which is full of beautiful artwork and often has several special displays on (the red star on the map). You can pay a combined fee to access the Buboli Gardens behind it, which I would definitely recommend (the yellow star on the map). Because of their height, the Gardens have a fantastic view over Florence, which is in a valley. You can see the Duomo and the Basilica of Santa Croce, as well as a bit of the Arno in the photo below.
A ticket to the Buboli Gardens also gives you access to the adjacent Bardini Gardens, which are just as beautiful and much less crowded (they are located at the salmon coloured star on the map – I was beginning to run out of colours). You can enjoy a light lunch at the cafe situated at the top of the gardens, and look out over Florence as you eat. And speaking of eating…
Where to eat
The food in Florence was pretty great, although there is a lot of ordinary touristy stuff in the main areas. Our top picks were:
Cucina Torcicoda – expensive, but 100% worth it. The wine cellar is fantastic, and the sommelier will help you pick our a perfect bottle in your price range (even if, like us, it’s pretty small!). The food was even better – Mario had a steak with truffles, which he said was the best steak he had ever eaten (I don’t know if that still stands, but he’s a bit obsessed with truffles now), and I had spaghetti with sea urchins, which was so delicious, I can’t even.
Osteria Del Proconsolo – great for a semi-fancy, not-too-expensive dinner that tastes authentic and delicious. The staff were also lovely.
Star Chicken – super cheap, incredible fried chicken. I’m not even kidding. Our Airbnb host recommended it and it was amazing.
Vivoli – Apparently the best gelato in Florence – enjoy testing out this theory!
I hope this has given you some insight into what to check out on your short trip to Florence, or, if you don’t have plans to visit Florence, that you enjoyed living vicariously through my photos (I did). It’s an absolutely gorgeous city, and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of everything there is to do here. I will end with a quick list of Dos and Don’ts. :)
- Walk everywhere, because it’s pretty and you’ll feel good
- Visit all the churches and galleries you can stand
- Check out the leather markets (the light blue star on the map)
- Take guided tours every now and again, because you learn more
- Eat all the food
- Learn about the history of the Medici family
- Visit the surrounding countryside if you have a chance, because Tuscany is so gorgeous
- Watch out for pickpockets and people who are trying to scam you
- Let people pickpocket or scam you
- Get talked in to buying a $500 leather coat/bag/couch
- Eat gelato (or anything really) in the main tourist drag
- Forget to have an amazing time!