Florence. Firenze. Or as I like to call it, ‘my happy place.’
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany with just under 400,000 occupants. I challenge you to visit this city and not fall head over heels in love with it. I hold special places in my heart for the various travels I have been on, most notably Amman, Jordan but there is something about Florence. It has a small dose of the hustle you feel when you’re in Rome but the laid back, tranquility one would expect from Tuscany.
The good news about Florence is that it is one of the most walkable cities I have ever encountered to date. Everything that you will want to see is just about a 15-minute walk from virtually everywhere you would stay within the city limits. So, here are the million dollar questions: where do you go? Where do you stay? Lucky for you, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s the low down on Florence:
Those of you who have been following my blog know that I am a big fan of using Airbnb. And no, I’m not being paid to say this. I genuinely love this for exploring new cities. I stayed in a lovely apartment with views of The Duomo for under $100.00. Any additional money that can towards my other love when I travel, food, is a huge win for me.
Before we get to where to go, let’s talk about how to avoid something most of us dread when we travel to a location during peak tourists season: lines. The Firenze Card will cost you 72€ and is good for 72 hours from the moment it gets activated. The Firenze Card is a front of the line card and will be one of your greatest resources to battle long lines for entry. These cards may be purchased in advance online, but you need to have access to a printer to print out your voucher. Your other option is to buy the card from one of many Firenze Card issuing offices throughout the city. TIP: This card acts as a front of the line pass for everywhere except anything related to The Duomo (Baptistry, Dome, Bell Tower, Opera del Duomo Museum, and Crypt).
» Baptistry of St. Giovanni: Built around the 4th – 5th century, take the time to see this. When you arrive at the structure, pay particular attention to the doors; there are three bronze doors to note. The doors as you see the on the structure are replica’s with the originals just across the street in the Museo Opera del Duomo. When you arrive inside there’s a lot of to take in; The tondo above the apse represents Christ surrounded by scenes of The Last Judgement, the opposite side contains stories from the Life of Joseph and Christ, as well as stories from Genesis. TIP: Arrive here just before this opens during the week to avoid lines and feel as though you have the place to yourself. While this is not particularly big inside, don’t rush your time. Enjoy your time inside without dealing with the crowds.
» The Cathedral: Located just around the corner from The Baptistery (literally) sits the Cathedral. There are no tickets required for the Cathedral, so patience and timing are of the utmost importance. When you enter, you may be tempted to scoot quickly down the left aisle but pay attention to the frescos that are on the wall, most notably Dante and the Divine Comedy by Domenico di Michelino. TIP: Much like any other place of worship you visit anywhere in the world, there is a dress code. A good rule of thumb: no knees, no shoulders, no hats. Follow that, and you’ll be a-ok. Don’t follow it and you may find yourself standing in line for a considerable amount of tie only to be turned away at the entrance.
» Palazzo Vecchio: Construction began on this in 1294 as a palace-fortress for the residence of the Priors, allocate a few hours to stroll leisurely through here. If you are unsure of where to purchase a Firenze card from, there is a desk to buy the card within the same area as tickets for Palazzo Vecchio. Walk the courtyards, second floor, as well as the mezzanine areas and absorb it all; art, sculptures, and views of this beautiful city. I would have to say though, out of all the rooms you will see, my favorite is Salone dei Cinquecento. Believe me; you will know this room as soon as you enter it. It is 170 feet long and 75 feet broad. Once again, sensory overload. It is also within these halls that you can see Dante’s death mask.
TIP: Don’t rush through this one! Allocate two solid hours to walk through the various rooms and halls to be sure you don’t miss out. If you’re a fan of any of the Davinci Code books/movies, test your “eye spy” game while you’re in Salone dei Cinquecento to find Vasari’s hidden message in his Battle of Marciano piece.
I know, I know, there’s A LOT of information but here’s the thing; seeing something and experiencing something are not the same. At least not to me. And here’s the other thing, not everyone loves going to museums. Here’s the scoop on experiences that will make you fall in love with Florence:
Climb The Duomo→Once you have seen this masterpiece from the outside, been inside of the Cathedral; there is one thing left that must happen before you leave this city; climb to the top of “The Dome.” There are 463 steps to the top, and there is no elevator. Climbing to the top is the only way to see the fresco’s on the inside, top of the dome, as well as spectacular views of Florence. Be sure to book your reservation for this in advance at Il Grande Museo Del Duomo.
See the city from Piazzale Michelangelo→Seeing most major cities of the world from above usually etch the memory of what that looked like within our minds for eternity. Seeing Florence from above truly is a different experience that will leave you speechless. This outdoor park allows you to sit, see, and relax naturally. The walk to the top of The Piazzale isn’t terribly hard, and it is equally as beautiful. While you make the journey to the top be sure to stop now and then and look behind you. The views get progressively better the further you continue.
See Davide→Located at the end of the Hall of Prisoners inside Galleria dell’Accademia sits Michelangelo’s, David. Trying to articulate what this sculpture looks like will do it no justice. Seeing this will surely be one of those moments in your life where your reaction may not be as you expect. I say this because there are replica’s of this sculpture all over the city. After seeing these, you may be inclined to think that the real thing will be anti-climatic; it will not be. Those of you who purchase The Firenze Pass, this is where it is worth its weight in gold. During peak tourist season the line for entry will be wrapped around the block. Use your pass to avoid this and to make the most of your time in the city.
Stay Out Late→The one thing I noticed almost immediately when I began traveling outside of The United States is how early American’s do things! The first time I went to Europe, I could not believe how alive everywhere was despite the time. I didn’t feel like the real fun began until after 9:00 pm. Embrace this! Make a late dinner reservation, then stroll the streets. I was privy to a great, live concert in the Piazza one block from where I stayed in Florence. It was well past midnight but many people were out, sitting, dancing, enjoying the music, you would have thought it was early evening. The actual value in travel comes when we let go of what we know, and embrace the culture around us.