Colorful buildings, tile roofs as far as the eye can see, and a river that meanders through the city. This is Florence. A city built up, where nare a single story building is found. Weaving through the narrow, cobblestone streets through the tall old buildings, you get the feeling that these walls and streets have stories beyond compare. Stories of history, of love, and of art. Florence captivated me, and left me feeling I had walked through a little bit of history.
Top sites and activities
The Duomo and Baptistry
One of the most beautiful buildings in Florence, the Duomo is an architectural masterpiece. Completed in 1436, the dome was built and designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, and was constructed without scaffolding. The whole church, the dome especially is a site to behold.
Basilica of Santa Croce
This lovely church is also known as Temple of the Italian Glories, due to all the memorials inside of some of the most well known Italians. Among them are Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini. Beautiful frescos adorn the walls and it’s a site not to be missed in Florence.
Home to the original David (the fake one now stands in it’s place), this is the Florence city hall and an area with a beautiful outdoor sculpture gallery. Stunning palazzo worth a visit for the fountains, sculpture, and history that abounds here.
This small museum was originally a school where Michelangelo, among others, came to learn their craft. If you are a Michelangelo fan, this is definitely a place to see. Housing the original David, as well as some other sculptures of Michelangelo’s, it’s a quick, maybe hour long visit, depending on how long you want to look at the art. Buying tickets before hand is a must, as standing in line to purchase tickets there can take hours out of your day.
Another must for art lovers, top sites are Botecelli’s Venus and Spring, and Michelangelo’s painting of the holy family (a favorite of mine). The inside of the museum is beautiful as well, with views of the Arno and Ponte Vecchio on the too floor. My husband and I had a lot of fun wandering around looking at the art, some of which is quite gruesome. One painting we came across looked just like Jon Lovitz in the wedding singer.
Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy
My ultimate, favorite thing we did in Florence was visit this pharmacy. Established by Dominican monks in 1221, this is one of the oldest, still working pharmacies in the world. They concoct their own soaps, lotions, candles and apothecaries, and they even still carry a perfume created just for Caterina de’ Medici. It’s a beautiful place and a top site for sure!
Located on Via Della Scala, 16; it’s right down the street from the Santa Maria Novella church.
Gelato and a break in a cafe
With the dinner hour in Italy being well beyond that in America (restaurants don’t open until 7 or 7:30), taking an afternoon break for some gelato and a pancetta sandwich is a must. Our favorite little cafe to people watch was right off the Ponte Vecchio bridge on Via Pontevecchio, 57, it’s called Cafe Pontevecchio.
Florence has some of the most FUN shopping, and there is something for everyone. Paper stores (yes, I was in heaven especially in the one pictured above. Located along the Arno, opposite the Uffizi. Cross the Ponte Vecchio and make an immediate left, it’s at the end of the street), leather shops, high end designer stores, Florentine pottery and everything in between. One of the days we were there we wandered around shopping, heading into stores that looked unique and fun. We had a marvelous time enjoying Florence, without having to feel like we were rushing around to take in all the touristy attractions.
Where to stay
This historic hotel, located just steps from the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, was built in the 1200’s by the Buondelmonti family, and served as their palace and home. One of the coolest things about this hotel, is it has one of the oldest, privately owned towers in Florence, accessible to hotel guests. (Pictures below see the stairs to climb the tower, and the view at the top!) The views from this tower are unsurpassed, and topped any views we experienced anywhere else (top of the Duomo, Boboli Gardens, Piazza Michelangelo). It’s 360 views in the heart of the city. They serve drinks on the tower from 6-10 every night, and it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset.
We reserved the only room they have with a private terrace and it was incredible. Although, admittedly, we didn’t spend a ton of time in our hotel room, it was a perfect jumping off point, and a perfect place to come back to at night to rest our aching feet, sitting on the terrace and taking in the sounds of the city. The tower alone makes this hotel worth it. Besides the location, as well as the history, it’s my top choice of places to stay while visiting the city.
Where to dine
We ate at so many restaurants while we stayed in Florence, and they were all divine. Here are our top picks:
Location: Lungarno Archibusieri 8
Our absolute #1 meal in ALL of Italy took place at this charming trattoria. Not only because of the absolutely amazing, authentic food, but because of the people and the service here. Located along the Arno, right off Ponte Vecchio bridge, just before you get to the Uffizi.
It’s owned by a husband and wife who immediately make you feel as though you have walked into their home for a meal. The husband waits tables and the wife is the hostess, making sure you are comfortable and happy with your experience.
The cooking is done upstairs with doors and a balcony that hang over the main dining room. Every once in a while the chef peers out to make sure everyone is enjoying their food. We ate two meals here. Dinner one night, and then loved it so much we came back for lunch the next day. Lunch was the solidifying experience. I ordered Spaghetti Carbonara and my husband ordered a Wild Boar Meat Sauce with Noodles. Since we both take bites of each other’s food, our waiter, the owner, must have taken note the night before, for they split our orders right down the middle for lunch so we got an equal portion of each! Details, it’s all about the details. Besides that, we had a florentine cake (pictured above) here that was to die for. Literally the best dessert I have ever eaten in my life. These people know service, they know about creating an experience for their guests, and they know about making delicious, traditional Italian food. I would fly to Florence just to eat here again.
#2 La Giostra
Location: Borgo Pinti, 12R
Another top meal in Italy, and certainly Florence. This restaurant was recommended to us by a client of mine, and with good reason. Traditional Italian food with a twist of the unique. Definitely a place you want to make reservations at, as it’s very small and it’s very busy!
The atmosphere is all candles and low lighting, so it’s quite romantic. We were brought an appetizer on the house, a special the chef had concocted that night. Additionally we ordered the grapefruit with cheese which was delicious. For our main course, my husband had pasta with spiced meats, tomatoes and basil, which was delicious (pictured below). I ordered the Pear Ravioli (pictured above). Unlike anything I have eaten before, there is really no way to describe this dish, only that it ranks among one of my top in Italy, and it’s just something you have to experience for yourself!
Location: Piazza Pitti 9
After exploring the Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace, we stopped here for lunch. It’s a delightful restaurant, with beautiful old but trendy atmosphere and the food is divine. I had the Risotto al radicchio rosso & scamorza, which was incredible, and my husband had the Ravioli all’ortolana, which was also very delicious. A great stopping point if you are visiting the Pitti Palace, as it’s located right across the street.
By and far, Florence is a walking city, with everything easily located within a few minutes walk of each other. There are a couple other modes of transportation though, which are as follows.
Taxi: Not wanting to haul our luggage from the train station to the hotel, we took a taxi on this occasion which was worth it. Another place you will want to take a taxi is to the airport, as it’s about a 20 minute drive. They have a set fee for driving you to the airport. When we visited it was 30 euros.
Bus: There are a couple bus lines that run through the city of Florence. Although we didn’t use the bus, it can be helpful in getting you from, say the Accademia down to the Pitti Palace.
Walking: As I said, Florence is a walking city. People walk in the middle of the streets and cab drivers have to go slow and honk at them to move. Also, some streets are pedestrian only making driving a tricky situation if you don’t know the area. Our ultimate mode of transportation was walking and it served us well. Just remember to take comfortable shoes!
– Disclaimer for climbing to the Duomo dome: it’s more than 300 steep steps in an incredibly confined area. About half the way up you have to share this space with the people coming down. The only cool thing is you get to see the ceiling frescos up close, as well as the inside of the dome structure. So in essence, you get to see the inner dome and the outer dome at the same time, which is cool if you’re into the architecture of it (which I am).
– If you’re looking for jewelry, stray away from the shops on the Ponte Vecchio. A lot of these shops are owned by the same person, and a lot of the jewelry is made in China and marked way up in price. Instead, head over to the San Croce area where you’ll fine authentic Florentine jewelry shops that sell pieces hand made by jewelry artists right in Florence.
All pictures by Zenadia Design.