Florence has something for everyone: art museums and architecture, food and photography, stunning landscapes and sunset points, all soaked in centuries of history. The best part: it's a photographer's heaven! You can wander through the streets, camera in hand, and without even planning to, end up with some of the best photographs you've ever taken. Whether you're a professional photographer, or just a regular tourist who wants some good photos for Snapchat, you should reserve a day to see Florence through a lens; its beauty lies not just in the famous sights, but on the paths between them.
Here's a walking route you could follow; I spread these out over my 3-day stay in Florence, but it can easily be condensed into 24 hours:
Stop A: The Duomo at 9am
Before getting started, grab a cup of coffee or some breakfast at Caffe delle Oblate - a laidback coffee shop located on the second floor of a local library, with great views of the Duomo. The food and coffee is delicious and cheap!
Start the day at Florence's main attraction, the Duomo, which usually opens at 10am. If you're living close by (I highly recommend that you do), don't use a map. Just follow whichever route takes your fancy in the moment, and you're guaranteed to end up at the Duomo (well, ask for directions on the way just to make sure you're not completely off!). The streets leading to the Duomo are filled with welcoming stores, selling personalized, embroidered aprons, tin cans of the purest olive oil, and handcrafted notebooks. For me, photographing the walk was even more inspiring than capturing the cathedral!
In all honesty, I wouldn't recommend going inside the Duomo. It wasn't as impressive as its imposing exterior. I ended up wasting a morning, since I couldn't enter the Duomo until 10am. I wish I had just photographed the outside earlier (when there are less tourists) and moved on.
- Aim to spend at least 20 minutes photographing the Duomo; with every new angle and perspective, it takes on a different shape and color.
- Photograph the Duomo by day and night: the colors create a striking contrast. In the day, it's a mix of ivory, olive green and salmon pink, whereas your photograph will look like someone applied a black and white filter to it at night. More photos towards the end of the post.
- Make sure you don't cut out random chunks of the monument. I'm definitely not a professional, but I took one photography course, and one of the things I learned was to make sure the subject you photographed was complete. Especially with a large monument, you can't capture the entire thing in one frame. Make sure whatever portion of the structure you capture is not cut out. For example: if you're capturing the roof of the Duomo, don't cut out part of the dome!
Pick up some lunch to-go as you walk towards Stop B (Ponte Vecchio); there are several panini and pizza shops close to the Duomo (my absolute favorite was I Due Fratellini for the best, and cheapest, paninis). You can also wait to pick something up on the other side of the bridge, but looking for a quick to-go spot there might be harder.
Walk time to next stop: 8 minutes
The most famous tourist attraction in Florence (second only to the Duomo) is also its most charming. Constructed sometime in the 900s AD, this Medieval stone bridge was destroyed by floods twice in the next few centuries, and finally rebuilt in 1345 AD. Ponte Vecchio feels a bit like a well-lit tunnel because it is closed from the top, on either end of the bridge. Dominating the interior of the bridge are jewelry, art and souvenir stores, tightly squeezed into each other; I almost felt like one of them might topple over because of the lack of space!
Before walking through the bridge, make sure to walk along the Arno river and capture Ponte Vecchio's exterior. The chaos of mismatched colors and disproportionately-sized windows makes it the perfect subject for your camera.
- Capture Ponte Vecchio at 3-4 different times in the day. The colors the bridge takes on as the blue sky deepens in color, and the lights from the stores reflect in the river below, are even more impressive than the Duomo on camera. More photos towards the end of the post.
Walk time to next stop: 5 minutes
Stop C and D: Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens at 12pm
Cross the bridge and head to Palazzo Pitti, a renaissance palace that now houses the largest museum complex in Florence, and serves as the gateway to the Boboli Gardens. Set on a slightly sloped gravel surface, the open square outside the museum is a great place to eat lunch in the sunshine, watch locals running their daily errands, and pick up some great street art.
Alternately, you can also picnic inside the Boboli Gardens, a sprawling collection of gazebos, mazes and ponds amongst perfectly manicured gardens. Because the gardens are set on a hill, you get breathtaking panoramic views of Florence.
Walk time to next stop: 35 minutes (Choose this option if you want to walk at a leisurely pace and photograph your route)
Driving time to next stop: 15 minutes (I recommend taking a cab if you're pressed for time)
Stop E: Piazza Michelangelo at 3pm
Built on a hill on the south bank of the Arno river (the same side as the Boboli Gardens), the views from Piazza Michelangelo stretch in all directions, the city scape dominated by the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, and the Arno River. Because the Piazza is circular, you get a 360-degree view of the city! Spend a few hours over here, and try to catch the first inklings of sunset as an antique glow descends on the buildings. Don't wait for too long though - you need to get back to Ponte Vecchio in time for sunset! Check sunset timings beforehand, and give yourself at least 20 minutes to walk back to Ponte Vecchio (probably longer if you're a bit tired, since Piazza Michelangelo is set on a hill). If this means not being able to stay at Michelangelo until the colors start to change, it's fine!
Walk time to next stop: 20 minutes
Stop F: Ponte alle Grazie bridge at 6pm
Cross the Ponte alle Grazie bridge from where you will get a perfect view of Ponte Vecchio as the sun sets, and just keep clicking!
Stop A: The Duomo at 9pm
Make your way back to the Duomo to see how different it looks at night! It looked like a very sharp, pencil sketch to me with its distinct black and white colors!
The difference between day and night is unbelievable:
Are there any other great spots for photographing Florence that you've come across? Let me know in the comments below!