“You may have the Universe if I may have Italy!” — Giuseppe Verdi
Florence, Italy is hands-down one of my favourite cities in the world. The history, the art, the food, the wine, the streets, the gelato, the people! I could go on and on. So to celebrate my birthday this year (the Big 4-0) there was only one place I was going to go. I relished five days in Florence with my Mum before heading to the hills of Tuscany with more family and friends.
There’s so much to do in Florence for art lovers, citylovers, foodies, and history buffs. If you’re going to truly indulge in this city, give yourself time. Don’t over plan your trip or try to cram a lot into a short timeframe. (But, hey, if you only have 48 hours – go for it! 😊).
Mum and I stayed at Hotel Spadai Firenze, a fabulous boutique hotel just two minutes from the Florence Cathedral, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Italian: Duomo di Firenze). Opening our windows to the Florentine hustle and bustle below and listening to the cathedral bells was magical.
On a previous trip to Florence we focused on visiting museums and art galleries – which in itself can take days! For this visit, we decided to explore nooks and crannies of the city and head to places we hadn’t yet seen. My advice: ditch the car and hit the pavement with some very comfy walking shoes. You will put in some miles!
Here are some of the spots we walked to (with plenty of stops for coffee, gelato, and Aperol Spritzes along the way):
- Santa Maria Novella – church containing some of the most important pieces of religious art in Florence.
- San Miniato al Monte – exquisitely decorated church high on a hill south of the city. Get ready for the large number of steps to get to this church!
- Piazzale Michelangelo – stunning views of Florence, plus bustling stalls selling arts, crafts, clothing around the plaza and a short walk from San Miniato.
- Ponte Vecchio – the oldest bridge in Florence and the only bridge not to be bombed during WWII. Theories differ on why the bridge was spared, including that German military leaders spared the bridge because it was so beautiful…and there was a number of silversmiths on the bridge!
- Boboli Gardens – created for the Medici family after they bought Palazao Pitti in 1549.
- Palazzo Pitti – it became the main residence of the Medici in 1550 and since then, all the city rulers have lived here.
- Streets around the Duomo – if Dante was to visit the area today, he would still be able to find his way around the streets. With its confusing maze of hidden lanes and tiny alleyways, the neighborhood has retained its medieval feel.
- East doors of the Florence Baptistery (also known as the Baptistery of Saint John), near the Duomo – commissioned in 1401 to celebrate Florence’s escape from the plague.
- Palazzo Vecchio – the “Old Palace” still fulfils its role as Florence’s town hall.
- The Uffizi Gallery – with its huge collection of Italian Renaissance art, this is one of the most-visited art museums in the world.
- Leonardo Di Vinci Museum – museum where you can experiment with some of Leonardo’s inventions. Great for kids.
- The streets around Basilica di San Lorenzo – a large market filled with leather goods, silk, wool, and cashmere surrounds the streets where awnings almost conceal the various statues and buildings. A poignant reminder that Florence always has been a city of merchants.
- Giardino delle Rose – a fabulous rose garden with gorgeous sculptures and stunning views of Florence.
- Ospedale degli Innocenti – designed by the architect of the Duomo and now a hotel, this building was originally an orphanage where children could be left anonymously at its doors.
- Cruise on the Arno River! We boarded the “Florentine Gondola” at dusk. With a glass of prosecco in hand and accompanied by our trusty gondolier and an excellent guide, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset. This is an excursion not to be missed.
Bits and Bobs:
- You may know that you can summit the dome of the Duomo, Giotto’s Bell Tower or the tower of Palazzo Vecchio for amazing views. Skip the lines and head to the many hotels, bars, cafes and even big department stores that have rooftop views.
- Don’t leave without eating some gelato (or in my case, my body weight in gelato.) My favorite flavor… vanilla bean 😊
- If you plan to go to the major museums, get your tickets online in advance. This will save you a lot of time and aggravation in long lines.
- Wine is cheaper than water! (Seriously. Some inexpensive, but delicious, Chianti costs less than filtered water.)
- Many sights are closed on Monday.
- Italy uses the Euro.
- Don’t forget your European electrical adaptor. Many places use the two-pin, round-pronged plugs.
- Tipping – a service fee is included in restaurant prices unless otherwise stated, but tourists are expected to tip. I typically tipped 10% in restaurants and kept some coins available to tip porters and cab drivers.
- Feeling like you can’t move down the streets because of all the tourists? Just turn left or right and head down the street parallel to where you want to go. Voila, you’re there!
- Use Visit Florence on Instagram and Visit Florence Website for inspiration on what to see and where to go.
- Mosquitos are in full effect during the summer. Don’t forget that bug spray!
Some Amazing Eats and Drinks:
This was as major focus of our exploration! Rather than going to spots we’d heard or read about, we usually just ventured down a small street when we got hungry and chose a restaurant that looked especially enticing. We were never disappointed.
But here are some spots we loved:
- Trattoria Cammillo
- Eataly in Florence – also great spot to buy gifts, and stock up your Italian supply cupboard back home.
- Donnini 1894
- Ristorante Brandolino
- Every gelato café shop in Florence. (Have I mentioned how amazing the Gelato is? 😊)