Florence is one of those cities that allow you to fully escape into a world of ancient architecture, exquisite art and magnificent views.
Take a wander through the historic centre and marvel at the Duomo. Trek to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo and glimpse this extraordinary city from above. Stroll through Palazzo Pitti and be transported into a world of beautiful gardens, ancient statues and powerful water fountains. Indulge your sweet tooth with creamy gelato that melts slightly in the Mediterranean sun.
However you decide to spend your time in Florence, I can promise you that it will be a trip full of escapism, art, culture and fantastic food. I’ve written this mini-guide to Florence for you so that you can gain a few ideas about what to see and where to eat. So, sit back, relax and let me fuel your wanderlust for Florence…
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella is a slightly lesser known church within Florence, but as it’s a very short walk from the main train station here; visiting this church is a good start to your time of exploring Florence.
The church itself (built in the 12th Century) is one of those ancient landmarks you will want to see in Florence. The style of building itself is so iconic to other architectural works you will find during your trip – with the terracotta roof, intricate details in the windows and doors and a flush white front. Be prepared to get used to this style of building as you’ll be seeing it a lot.
Inside, you will be greeted with a Gothic style – think high arches, ancient stonework and intricate details. With plenty of religious artwork, cloisters and even a garden area to explore, it makes sense to budget for a couple of hours here. And at only €5 for entry, this church is also good value for money to explore.
Outside, is a splendid park area, which is just perfect for people watching. My recommendation would be to arrive at the church early morning and then spend some time drinking coffee and eating pastries by mid-morning.
Duomo and Baptistry
Okay, so the Duomo is the most iconic image when thinking about Florence. Any guidebook about Florence you will find would most likely have the Duomo on the cover and, being so large in size, it dominates the Florence skyline like no other building.
When viewing this extraordinary building from the outside, you will instantly be reminded of the church you’ve just seen. Once again, you’re viewing terracotta roofing, bright white paintwork and intricate details. Like I said, get used to this beautiful style.
Insider Tip: There are many sides to the Duomo and with all of its splendour, you will want to see every glimpse of this building as you can. Spend some time just walking the full circumference of the Duomo and bathe in all its glory.
If heading inside, expect long queues but it will be worth it once you enter. You will be amazed at the marble work, ceiling paintings and fantastic views across the city. And with free entry to the Duomo, you will definitely not be disappointed.
Piazza Della Signoria
There are quite a few picture perfect sights waiting for you in this square, from the Fontana di Nettuno to the ancient Roman statues lined up under archways and the replica of the ‘David’ statue.
Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune’s Fountain) is an attractive piece of stonework, which you will want to admire for a few moments. Built in 1575, this fountain encompasses ancient Roman legends of Neptune and his admiring Nymphs.
In addition to the fountain, you will notice that this square is a good place to see impressive statues. A series of Roman statues (possibly of Emperors) can be found across from the fountain within a magnificent building (the Loggia dei Lanzi). There are several archways and entrances leading to these photo worthy statues.
You will also notice the replica ‘David’ statue near to the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, which symbolizes triumph over tyranny. Did you know that the original ‘David’ statue stood here until 1873? The original can now be found within the Galleria dell’ Accademia on via Ricasoli.
Palazzo Vecchio is also a magnificent building to see whilst you’re exploring all that Piazza della Signoria has to offer. Above the palace entrance is an embellished frieze, complete with golden lions, intricate stonework and the words “Christ is King” (inscribed in Latin). When walking through the square, I must admit that this frieze is really quite striking to the eye (especially when the gold glints in the sunlight).
Moving on from Piazza della Signoria, now would be a good time to take a short walk towards the River Arno. Astride this wide river is Ponte Vecchio (quite literally Old Bridge), which just so happens to be the oldest surviving bridge in the city (built in 1345).
My recommendation would be to take a stroll along the river and over the bridge – take in all the sights around you and breathe in the fresh breeze that will drift along the river towards you.
Walking from Ponte Vecchio to Piazzale Michelangelo takes about 30 minutes or so. In itself, it’s a beautiful walk allowing you to see lesser known areas such as the Piazza Nicola Demidoff (a small public garden with an impressive statue in its centre), as well as those all encompassing views of the river.
You will also spot some ancient ruins along the way, which will help to remind you just how ancient this beautiful city really is. This walk gives you the opportunity to see so many hidden gems in Florence and I really couldn’t recommend it enough.
Not only that, but you will also find little seating areas, complete with fountains, which will just be calling out to you to sit here in the sun; to watch the world go by or enjoy a good book. Why not even take a bit of rest here and then continue on your way?
Once you arrive at Piazzale Michelangelo, you will be greeted with some tremendous views across the Florence skyline. This is what will make your visit to this square totally worth it. As I mentioned before, you will certainly notice the Duomo dominating the skyline.
Up here, you will also find various souvenir trucks as well as those selling food, drink and gelato. My recommendation would be to take some photos of the views from up here and then order a coffee to drink whilst you sit on one of the benches overlooking the city. Take your time up here – you will love it!
Where To Eat
For lunch, why not grab a bite to eat at Zoe Bar? This is one of the cafes lining the river that you will spot on your way to Piazzale Michelangelo. Zoe Bar offers sandwiches with succulent Italian meats, coffees and teas as well as fresh fruit juices. With canopied seating outside and a great view of the park opposite; this will be the ideal place for a quiet bite to eat.
Dinner should be eaten at La Bottega Del Buon Caffe near to Piazzale Michelangelo. This restaurant will offer you an Italian gourmet dining experience and it has a typical Florentine decor inside, that will amaze you whilst you enjoy your meal. Although a little pricey, it would be rude not to eat here whilst you’re in Florence. With dishes such as Fiesole Pigeon and Casentino Pig on the menu, you really will be treating yourself!
Palazzo Pitti & Giardino Di Boboli
This palace and gardens are absolutely remarkable to see and explore. When faced with the palace itself, what strikes you is the slightly modern feel the outside of the building has (vastly contrasted with some of the other sights you would have already seen so far). But don’t let this modern feel fool you – the palace is actually over 600 years old!
The palace is a marvel for any art or museum lover. From the Palatine Gallery displaying masterpieces by legends such as Titian, Veronese and Botticelli; right through to the Royal Apartments housing fantastic pieces of 17th Century furnishings and magnificent decor. Within the palace, you can even embrace the sparkle and lavishness of various pieces of Roman glassware, ivory, crystal and works of gold.
Venture out to the Boboli Gardens behind the palace and you will find even more treasures. From working water fountains to ancient stone statues to cypress trees, you will be amazed by all that there is to see here. Spend some time walking around these vast gardens and just feel any stress or worries ebb away from you.
There are plenty of benches dotted throughout the gardens as well as vast green spaces – just perfect for catching some sun against your skin. Feel free to bring a picnic and book along with you so that you can spend most of your day exploring the palace, gardens and still get some time to relax in the sunshine. This woman had the right idea!
You may even glimpse a Florentine lady using the free drinking fountains to put out bowls of water for stray cats that roam these gardens. At least I did when I was there – she even showed me how to use the drinking fountains myself. As a note, they require the perfect amount of pressure against the spurts of water to direct it to your mouth – just in case you don’t find someone willing to help you out! Once you do figure it out though, this becomes a great place to fill up some water bottles to keep you going throughout the day.
Entrance to the Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments in the palace costs €8.50. If you did want to marvel at the silverware and porcelain galleries as well, then this would be a further €7, which also allows for entry to the gardens. Therefore, to see it all, expect to pay in the region of €15.50 for your whole day.
Where To Eat
After picnicking in the Boboli Gardens and exploring Palazzo Pitti, my best advice would be to spend your evening at Palazzo Tempi for traditional Italian dishes, good wine and great service.
All of the pizzas are handmade and stonebaked for that special smokey taste that works perfectly with soft pizza dough, mozzarella and your choice of pizza toppings. Other traditional Italian dishes such as various pastas and fish are all presented marvellously on the plate. And the desserts… oh, the desserts! From creamy gelato (of course) to juicy tropical fruits, you’re bound to want to spoil your sweet tooth here too.
Plus, as it’s so close to the River Arno; you can help walk off those extra calories from an evening stroll along the river… perfect!
I hope you have a fantastic time in Florence – I’m sure you will! Is there anywhere else you’re thinking of visiting during your time in this beautiful city? Have you got any questions for me about my time there? Or have you been already and want to share your memories? Jot down a few notes in the comments section below…
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