Italy’s Renaissance capital: plenty of culture and plenty of wine.
Somehow, we don’t think one sentence travel guides will really take off, but this is Florence in a nutshell. It’s Tuscany’s capital city and it takes itself very seriously as the Renaissance capital of Italy and the world!
When we lived in Umbria it was widely regarded that all other Italians think that those from Tuscany are very proud people and this can be evidenced through the attention and care given to historical sites and how they preserve their language and culture.
It’s no bad thing, in fact the passion that they exude means a trip to Tuscany will enrich your mind and your senses. It will certainly improve your wine tasting palate…
Here is our itinerary for a two day visit to Florence, otherwise known as Firenze.
We arrived by train into Florence’s main train station in the city centre, Santa Maria Novella. It’s one of the busiest stations in the country with trains connecting to several cities and countries across Europe. The name comes from the church opposite the station and inside has the most gorgeous Modernist design and writing on the walls – well worth a look.
From there we had to wait for our Air BnB, so we headed for the Ponte Vecchio bridge and had a nose around the twisty, windy streets of Florence.
Day One: Afternoon and Checking In
The first place we arrived at was the Palazzo Medici -Riccardi which is named after the two families who took up residence here. The walled garden is accessible from the street for free, the courtyard is full of elegant sculptures and 15th century art. Come here for extravagant gold leaf baroque art and the beautiful frescoes in the chapel upstairs by Benozzo Gozzoli, a pupil of Fra’ Angelico.
Tip: Find the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi on Via Cavour 3, it costs €7 for an adult but the courtyard and gardens are free.
Next, we took a walk up to the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge over the Arno River. It’s the only surviving bridge after some severe damage to the city in World War 2. It’s lined with jewellers’ shops that have been passed down from generation to generation. It also takes you to Oltrarno which is the city’s most hipster district.
Oltrarno has some hidden delights that most other tourists miss on their visit to the city. There is Piazzale Michelangelo, a steep climb but it gives you a beautiful view over the whole city and is largely tourist free. If you’re looking for a coffee spot, we were recommended La Cité (a library/café) with organic food, wi-fi and even space for live music and talks.
We then had to head back to our Air BnB to check in. It was located on Via Masaccio which was a 15-minute walk from the historic city centre. Watch out for those tiny backstreets and don’t get lost like we did on the way up! It was a room in an apartment, but it was separate from the rest of the living space – you even had your own fridge and the breakfast set up was amazing. We’ll put a link to it here. (Not an ad, we just loved it!)
It was late by the time we settled in, so it was time for a quick pizza stop in town and a cheeky night cap…or gelato. Ok it was an ice-cream. Don’t judge us!
Our day starts with a queue. We are British and we do love organisation, but if you come in high season you must expect a queue. The winter is better in terms of less people, on a previous trip it was a case of no queues to get in anywhere but ten years later that seems to no longer be the case.
Day Two: Morning
The first stop of the day was an early morning shift, waiting in line for the impressive Duomo which you can see from all vantage points within the city. Filippo Brunelleschi’s red-tiled cupola is the crowning glory on the city’s most recognisable and popular landmark. It’s green and white marble façade must be seen up close to really take in it’s beauty and intricacy. Inside is just as wonderful. This free attraction is worth the queue around the block and don’t forget to look up when you get to the inside of the dome itself.
Travel Tip: You can pay to climb to the top of the cupola, there is no elevator and it’s 463 steps. You can buy a pass for the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Santa Reparata, Giotto’s Bell Tower, Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo priced at 18€.
One vital mistake we made was not pre-booking the Uffizi gallery. This art museum hosts the greatest collection of Renaissance art in the world and it’s where you’ll find the Birth of Venus by Botticelli amongst other great works.
Having been ten years ago though we decided to skip the three hour queue as our time was limited. It’s worth buying a ticket for not only the gallery but also the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens which is situated over the Arno River. You can see another replica of the Statue of David, a box hedged rose garden and more fabulous views over Florence and the surrounding countryside.
Travel Tip: A combined ticket for all three attractions for three consecutive days should cost 18€ and if you go early in the morning you can get a 50% discount (buy the ticket before 08:59 and enter before 09:25). You can also buy individual tickets if like us you only have time for one attraction.
Day Two: Afternoon
From there you can easily make your way to the Piazza della Signoria which is an open-air museum next to the Uffizi Gallery and is a hub of tour groups, cafes and more fascinating sculptures. You can check out another replica of Michelangelo’s David or if you were savvy enough to pre-book a ticket you can see the real deal in the Galleria Dell ’Accademia Di Firenze an art museum on Via Ricasoli.
Travel Tip: There are no photos allowed of the real ‘David’ so your photo opportunities with him are limited to the replica in the main square. Ticket prices for the museum are priced at 16€.
There are many, many churches to visit in Florence. Fans of Angels and Demons can follow a route around the various locations in the book, but the one we wholly recommend is Santa Croce. The official burial site of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and the ‘father of modern science’ Galileo Galilei.
The crowning jewel are beautiful frescoes by Giotto, a nave wall decorated by Donatello and there’s even a memorial to the playwright Giovanni Battista Niccolini which is said to have inspired the Statue of Liberty.
Through a back entrance you will find the Leather School. Florence itself is world renowned for its leather goods, they dominated leather production and today you can buy leather jackets, bags, gloves, belts etc from markets and shops around the city.
If you want to see the craft of making items from leather in action, then visit the Leather School. It is fascinating to watch a skill passed down through the generations and you can get your leather items personalised if you choose to buy something.
Travel Tip: The leather school is worked into the price of your ticket and can be accessed via the church. Tickets are 8€ for both Santa Croce and The Leather School.
Food and Markets in Florence
As our only full day in the city we chose our lunch and dinner spots wisely. After living in Italy, we can tell you put aside at least an hour or two to enjoy your lunch and having wine is not frowned upon.
For an authentic slice of Italy, we chose Baldovino Bistrot. It is situated near Santa Croce and came with recommendations that it wasn’t too geared towards tourists and served up local Florentine fare to a good standard. At the time of visiting they had a deal for a T-Bone steak, wine, water and a starter (bruschetta) for 20 euros and it was all magnifico! We even stayed for digestifs and would go back for the service alone!
Unless you are T-total, it’s a crime to visit Florence and not try some Chianti wine. There are tours you can do which take you to vineyards between Florence and Siena. If you don’t have time just sit back and drink a glass or three with dinner like we did!
During the day the San Lorenzo market is a thriving, colourful place to grab a bargain but not always the best quality so be careful what you purchase! Next to the outdoor stalls is the Central Market, an indoor, two-level food market. It’s all your food dreams come true. Not only does it have a plethora of real Italian fare from cannoli to Chianti, it also has an upstairs food hall/bar area selling world food as well as local offerings which stays open until midnight.
It has a multifunctional space for cookery classes, live bands and music events as well as a buzzing bar area. We got talking to so many people here and had such a great night stuffing our faces, drinking craft beers and luscious wine.
That was our time in Florence. It’s a city with culture coming out of its ears, churches, art, museums. We’ll go back one day to dig a little deeper. It’s easily our favourite Italian city, but don’t tell Rome…