If you are planning a trip to Italy then I am sure Florence must be on your list. While you must have heard about the city in a few passing references, do you know why is Florence so popular? Especially when in Italy, Florence is spoken with a very high regard and is one of the must visit places of the country, Let's see why.
Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy which is known for its landscapes, popular Italian wine, it's legacy when it comes to art and as a birthplace of renaissance which is perhaps the most influential and significant period in human history.
What has it to do with Renaissance
Renaissance with its literary meaning 'rebirth' was actually a time of rebirth of new and modern ideas in science, politics, art, literature, and culture. After a dark period of sickness and devastation, renaissance suddenly saw noblemen who became interested in art and sculpture, common men in science and politics where invention of printing press fuelled the propagation of radical ideas, new trade markets lead to increase in wealth of traders and merchants and nations started to send expeditioners around the world to uncover new lands which later became a contest in colonization.
It is perhaps not misguided to say that renaissance defined the world we live in today and Florence was where it started
How is Florence related
While all the history is okay, but what makes Florence so important?
The answer lies in the fall of Constantinople which was the center of all of the world's cultural and political power till then. Once occupied by the Ottoman Empire, the scholars, historians, scientists, and artists mostly fled to Italy which they had friendly relations with. There under the noble families, they flourished and taught their ideologies to more.
Florence was a once trading hub of textiles and wools which also led it to be one of the most fashionable cities of all times. But it was banking that made the city so important to Europe.
Medici, one of the most powerful families of Florence during the Renaissance was great bankers and had close ties with the Pope and the Vatican. It meant that they had financial ties with all of Europe and then beyond. They did contribute greatly to the art and architecture of the city which you and I enjoy till today.
Tip: There is a Netflix series on Medici now, go ahead and kill some time on Florence.
How to reach Florence
The least popular way is to take a flight directly to Florence International Airport (FLR) since most of the flights that you will find are connecting and you still have to travel from the airport.
The most popular is taking a Train or a Bus to Florence. The connectivity is great and you can travel from Rome (1 hour), Venice (2 hours) and Milan (1 hour 40 minutes) in a super-fast train. Buses may take longer but they would be even cheaper starting from as low as €10.
Best time to Visit
The best time to visit Florence or Italy is during the summers. The weather is pleasant and the cities come to life. It also comes with a lot of crowd since Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world along with slightly higher prices of almost everything. One upside is that the days are really long where sunlight is till as late as 10 pm which gives you more time to move around.
Winters are really cold and there could be some limitations due to cold weather and eventual snowfall. Although there is very less crowd even the tickets are cheaper for many attractions. You will save a lot if you plan to go during the off-season.
A good time to go could be April or October where it is still chilly and windy but not like winters. You may find comparatively fewer tourists around. Don't forget to take a warm jacket and an umbrella too.
How to go around in Florence
Florence is a fairly small city and you can easily get by in Florence on foot. Most of the tourist attractions are located in a small area and the maximum you will need to walk between the farthest points would be around 40 minutes.
Buses are also available at almost all routes along with trams which is a great way to see the city as well. I will not suggest buying a day pass for any of it because you will be covering most of the places on foot only. In any case, a single trip bus ticket will cost you €1.2 to anywhere and you can buy the ticket at a tabacchi (tabbaconist)
Make sure you wear comfortable shoes or you may have to go shopping for shoes as well.
What to see in Florence
Like many other popular Italian cities, there is a lot to see in Florence and if you are willing to see most of them then a day will definitely not be enough. You can still do a day trip by picking 2-3 popular places and having a great time by planning ahead but if you want to experience Florence's history in depth, take at least 2 days in the city. Add another day if you want to take a day trip to the beautiful Tuscany countryside and enjoy a little rural life.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or Duomo di Firenze
The Cathedral of Santa Maria is a large and beautiful church which forms the center of activity for Florence and is mostly known for its size which was the largest in the world when built in the 15 th Century and took over two centuries to complete. It is located on the Piazza del Duomo which is also a place you must spend some time as you can visit the major buildings of Florence in close vicinity - Cathedral del Duomo, Campanile di Giotto and Battistero di San Giovanni.
Italy at that point of time was ruled by city-states which always had rivalry between them. At one point of time, the measure of a city's prosperity was seen in the greatest buildings and work of art done in them and Florence proved their dominance with the Cathedral of Santa Maria.
The most puzzling part of the construction was the dome which baffled the local architects for a long time since its size was so big and was later resolved by Filippo Brunelleschi giving the dome its name as well. It is a great sight to watch and can be seen by climbing up the dome through its 463 steps which give a glimpse of the city.
Timings : Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday: 10 am - 5 pm Thursday: 10 am - 3:30 pm (depends on the month)Saturday: 10 am - 4:45 pm Sunday and public holidays: 1:30 pm - 4:45 pm
The Cathedral's opening hours do not coincide with the opening times of the dome. Visitors can climb the dome every day from 8:30 am until 7 pm (On Saturdays until 5:40 pm). It is closed on the bank holidays.
Cost: Ticket starts from €18 which includes the entrance to the Cathedral, the Dome, the Baptistery, Crypt, Campanile di Giotto and the Museo Dell' Opera del Duomo and can be bought online on the official website
Tip: I will highly recommend reserving the ticket online in advance and going there early in the morning as soon as the entry starts. The area becomes extremely crowded during mid-day and you will end up spending a lot of time in lines
Note: Dress appropriately if you want to visit the cathedral because sleeveless t-shirts, dresses, shorts or anything above the knee and off shoulder are not permitted.
Also check out: Caffeteria delle Oblate is a great place with a view of the cupola and is located on roof terrace of Biblioteca delle Oblate, a public library very near to the cathedral.
The Uffizi Gallery & Galleria Del'Accademia
You may not be a great admirer of art and I can understand that but you must visit at least one of the two most popular galleries of Florence or even Italy. The Uffizi Gallery houses art from the most famous painters of the renaissance period like Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo, and Giotto. 'The Birth of Venus' by Botticelli is the most famous of all along with a few early works from Leonardo da Vinci as well.
If you are an art enthusiast you can spend around 2-3 hours here. If you are not, I would suggest read a little on the internet on some of the artworks and have a go.
The most famous work in Galleria del Accademia is the sculpture 'David' by Michelangelo which is a magnificent work of art and makes you wonder of the inhuman skills of the sculptor. Although if you are short on time you can skip this and instead see a replica of David at the Piazza Della Signora next to the Uffizi Gallery.
Timings: 8.15 am to 6.50 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday.
You will have to book the tickets specific to the timings as per availability and reach there around half hour before.
Cost: Price of ticket from March to October is €24. Price of ticket from November to February is €16. Concession for Children and students applicable and can be booked on the official website
Tip: The tickets to the museum must be booked beforehand and if you are willing to pay more you can check for skip-the-line options. You can also opt for an audio guide once inside which is €6 per person. It's perhaps not the best but it will still give you some perspective on what you are looking at in the museum.
Also Check out: Piazza Della Signora is like an open-air museum that hosts many famous sculptures along with many fine restaurants and café with a great view. Beware of the cuperto (service charge) though, they charge extra for the view if you sit down at any.
Do you think I will only talk about colorful drawings and nude statues? Well here is something important. For a great lip-smacking lunch you can head to Mercato Centrale which is the most popular food market in Florence. You may end up missing it while walking though since it looks like a warehouse from the outside since it is not open air.
On the ground floor, you will find vendors selling fresh fruits, wine, cheese, meat, spices, oil, and other local produce. However, if you are looking for something ready to eat head to the top floor for a busy food court where you will find stalls with all kinds of dishes available. We had a Florentine steak which again along with Panini is a popular local delicacy.
Timings: Monday to Saturday from 7 am to 2 pm. Additional timings on Saturday from 4 pm to 7 pm.
Ponte Vecchio is the symbolic bridge of Florence which is also the oldest stone bridge in Europe although it has been reconstructed several times. The bridge connects Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti and is a must visit spot in Florence.
The bridge is lined with a number of jewellery shops on both sides which is once said to house butchers which were removed after the request from Ferdinando I de'Medici complaining on the smell of their most important passageway.
You can also take a boat trip to Arno River if you get a chance and get to see the bridge from a completely different point of view
Timings: Open at all times
Cost: Free of Cost
After all the walking around inside Florence, you must reward yourself with the greater picture. And if you are still wondering how the heck people take those damn lovely photos of the city you must head to Piazzale Michelangelo. The Piazzale is a vast public terrace meant to give people a view of the whole city but it may be a bit of an effort to reach here. The evening is a great time to catch the sunset here.
The best way to reach here is walk. Florence is again a city best explored on foot and if you are walking from the heart of the city to the Piazzale you will see the most and the best of Florence including the Arno river and Ponte Vecchio. If you are tired you can take a bus (number 12 and 13) from the train station or the taxi stand. A cab would cost you around €15
Timings: 9.30am to 1pm and from 3pm to 7pm. Sundays - 3pm-7pm
Cost: Free of Cost
In case you are fed up with the crowd and want to experience Florence in a "quieter" mood you can head to the Oltrarno Area which is on the left side of river Arno and relatively farther from the main tourist area and most of the tourist don't choose to visit the place if they are visiting Florence for only a day. The area consists of Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and Santo Spirito square. Pitti Palace is yet another example of Florence prosperity which took around 4 centuries to complete and housed three dynasties. In the end, the palace and more than 500 pieces of art were handed over to the government by the last heiress of the Medici family.
Timings: Monday to Sunday: 8: 15-18:00
Cost: A full price ticket is €16.
And then there are the Boboli gardens which can only exemplify the luxury segment in gardens if there is one. Apart from the foliage and the botanical segments, it is decorated with many sculptures, fountains, and pavements. I wonder how fun it would be to design this. Choose a cooler time to visit if you in Florence in summers although you may still find it crowded.
Timings: Tuesday to Sunday 8.15am - 4.30pm (in winters) to 7.30pm (in summers). Do check the timings for the month you visit. Last entry is one hour before closing.
Cost: A full price ticket is €10.
Again, a quieter spot away from the bustling tourist area Piazza Santo Spirito is a local favorite. It is lined with the local market in the morning and with pubs and restaurants in the evening. After a visit to the gardens in the evening, why not choose to have dinner here as well before heading back to the other side.
Places to Eat
If you have been in Italy for any amount of time I am hoping that you have had gelato till now. But a good gelato place can make your day and a bad can make you hate it for quite some time. Usually, the ones near the tourist areas should be avoided since they may use artificial ingredients to make gelato more colorful and creamy.
Vivioli Gelato is a great place in Florence to check out some, they have been around since the 1930s and are still very popular.
Well now that we are done, I hope you have a great time in this lovely place but again don't forget to extend your stay for a day trip to Tuscany for there are Italy's best secret villages.