Your Guide To The Best Of Italy – Florence (Part 1)
Italy certainly is within the first few destinations that come to mind when you start planning your next holiday. Isn’t it? So much history, beautiful beaches, little authentic villages, wineries, pizza, you name it … the Italians probably got it.
I love Italy and I somehow keep going back for more. I’ve been to Rome, Milan, Venice, Trieste, Genoa, Capri and Amalfi but my last trip definitely stands out so if you’re wondering where to exactly, this guide will save you some thinking and will get you to the best of Italy.
|Table of Content
2. Santa Margherita & Portofino
3. Cinque Terre
First stop: Florence
Start your trip in Florence, or Firenze if you wanna be a true Italian 😀
1.1. Getting there
Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola keeps the city well connected with flights from most major cities. The main train station Santa Maria Novella is also conveniently located right at the heart of Firenze so getting to the city is actually quite easy. The option that I took (because it was even cheaper) was to fly to Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport. This airport is the smallest you’ll probably fly to (no joke 😀 ) and even better, it’s walking distance (about 2.5km) to Pisa’s central train station at Piazza della Stazione where you can easily get a train to Florence for about €8. A train journey from Pisa to Florence is around 1 hour and 20 min.
As a budget traveler I always do a comparison between Airbnb and Booking.com. That way I could easily see that in the case of Florence and Santa Margherita Airbnb was a much better deal. So I booked my stay through there and you can do the same here. I strongly recommend staying in the center of Florence especially if you only have a few days. Everything you’d want to see is nicely clustered in the center and in the heat (if you go in season, i.e. Jun-Aug) you’ll appreciate not having to walk or queue in the sun for hours before you get into all the other stunning sites you’ll want to visit. Alternatively you can stay somewhere off the center and rent a bike from Florence by Bike. I haven’t personally used them but I’ve read a lot of great reviews about their service and bikes 🙂
1.3 Must Do’s
There’re a few places (among tons) you must visit when in Florence.
Opera Duomo Museum
I must admit to you, I’m not a huge museums fan who needs a whole day to jump go from museum to museum but this one, I quite liked. The museum is home to the original sculptures and all preserved art which used to make up the interior and exterior of the religious monuments that still stand opposite the museum: the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the “Duomo”) and Giotto’s Bell Tower. What I found impressive was the original door to the Baptistry that is now standing in the museum, covered in its extreme detail in gold from top to bottom and the panoramic view from the museum’s terrace. You gotta go through all three floor and get to the top to get the closest you possibly can to the Brunelleschi’s dome. This is the only place in Florence you can see the Dome only a few meters away. It’s remarkable and just that in itself makes the museum a must visit site.
Baptistry of San Giovanni
You can’t go to Piazza del Duomo and miss the Baptistry. It’s a beautiful octagonal building comfortably sitting just in front of the cathedral. The people of Florence believed that the baptistry was an ancient building dating back to the Romans time, a pagan temple converted into a church. When you enter the Baptistry, your eyes will be immediately drawn to the beautiful mosaics in the dome but before that … look at the East door of the Baptistry. This is the door that Michelangelo called the Gates of Paradise as the Baptistry was believed to be the link between the people of Florence and the Cathedral (this is a copy of the golden door you’ll see in the Opera museum).
Giotto’s Bell Tower
This is another important monument on Piazza del Duomo. 84.7 meters tall, this remarkable Gothic structure was designed by the famous Giotto who in fact lived to see only the first part of the tower being built. Nonetheless his design was carried forward so today we can admire what Giotto believed the tower should look like. You must climb the 414 steps (no elevators) to get to the terrace to see the view of the Brunelleschi’s Dome and the city.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo
The Florence Cathedral is the third largest church in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London) and has the most amazing external architecture I have ever seen. The combination of white, red and green marble is absolutely stunning and really leaves you breathless when you stand in front of the cathedral and look up. You’ll be wow’d! The cathedral is a Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata, the remains of which you can see in the crypt. Entrance to the actual cathedral remains free (within the few things still free in Florence) but if you want to go in and have a good look around it, be ready to queue up. One thing you don’t wanna miss when you get in is the giant clock just above the cathedral’s front entrance. Dating back to 1443, it works backwards and has been used to indicate the end of the day which was believed to come with the sunset.
Filippo Brunelleschi’s Dome
The Dome was my highlight! It’s an experience you’ll remember for a very very long time. The Dome was built between 1418 and 1434 by Filippo Brunelleschi who literally created a masterpiece by erecting the Dome so high up, you’ll have to climb 463 stairs (no elevators) to get to its top to see the views of Florence. This is the most amazing thing you’ll experience, honestly! You’ll be going up between the two structures that make up the Dome the way it stands today and the feeling of climbing over something that was built so incredibly well so many years ago, is absolutely incredible. Not only that but you’ll also get the chance to see the interior of cathedral as the route takes you through the 3 terraces in the cathedral that go around it. You’ll see the Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes beautifully painted all over the cathedral and the Dome. And once you get to the top, you’ll be blown away! The panoramic view of Florence from the top of the Dome is remarkable, unobstructed and at 360 degrees. You cannot leave Florence before you see this view.
This is the oldest bridge in Florence and is the only one that the Germans didn’t destroy during World War II. Ever since the 13th century (incl. today), the bridge has been home to different shops ranging from butchers and fishmongers until 1593 when Ferdinand I from the Medici family decreed that only gold jewellers be allowed to have their shops on the bridge and this still holds true today. Not far from the bridge on the side of the Cathedgral, you might wanna go look for Porcellino, the bronze fountain of a boar. If you want to come back to Florence richer, give it a rub, throw a coin in the fountain and make a wish 😀
Piazza de Michelangelo
Another fantastic place to look over the city and it’s stunning views! Most people recommend to get to the Piazza just before sunset to take some good snaps but the views are so incredible it almost doesn’t matter when you’ll go up the hill. I went both in the morning and at night and I loved it. So grab yourself some gelato and go indulge in the views, for free 😀
Other sites you might want to check out:
- Uffizi gallery – If you’re a gallery fan, you’ll love this gallery. One of the most famous museums in the world, Uffizi Gallery is home to the works of great Italian artists such as Botticelli, Giotto, Cimabue, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello with the key masterpiece that you can see in there being the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. To save yourself some queuing, book your ticket for €10 before you travel at http://www.uffizi.org/
- Palazzo Vecchio – I visited the palace, home to the city council but it wasn’t really one of my highlights. I guess if you haven’t seen any palaces in your travels already, you will enjoy going through the palace and seeing where you could find the Medici family back in the days. Just in front of the palace you’ll see a copy of the famous statue of David by Michelangelo (the original is in the Accademia Gallery). You will also see The Fountain of Neptune and you can even go up the Arnolfo tower for a combined ticket that’ll cost you €14 (for the palace and the tower) but again, buy your ticket before you travel. Get it from here.
- Palazzo Pitti & Boboli gardens – I didn’t visit the palace so I can’t talk from experience but I do know that this is the largest museum complex in Florence, built by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1457 which was later sold to the Medici family to become its primary residence. The complex has 5 museums with a rich collection of paintings, sculptures and household treasures of the Medici family so if you’ve got spare €€€ check it out. And if you can, don’t miss the Boboli gardens. They are the one thing I regret not seeing but sadly they were closed when I was visiting. Next time! Note: be careful when you buy your ticket as every museum and the gardens have separate entrance fees so can end up a bit expensive.
1.4 Tips before you travel
*** The End!***
Off to your next stop in Santa Margherita and Portofino. Get the planning out the way by reading Part 2 of this guide here
Looking for related articles on Italy?
- Your Guide to Cinque Terre
- Your Guide to Santa Margherita & Portofino
- 4 Things to watch out for in Pisa