Out of everywhere we went, Florence was my favorite (despite the fact that it was ridiculously hot). Walking down the streets of Florence felt like walking in the Renaissance. We stayed in a private room in an apartment where the our hosts had the most amazing view of the Duomo. We were only there for two days, and so while there is so much to do in Florence, we wanted to concentrate on soaking in the feel of the city rather than making our way through all the museums.
The Florence Duomo is one of the most incredible buildings I have ever seen. The green and pink marble on the exterior is stunning, and the way the Duomo completely dominates the skyline of Florence is amazing. Going through the pictures I took, I just have the same pictures of the Duomo over and over again because I could not get over it and I just kept snapping photos. While the outside is incredibly extravagant, the inside, while impressive, is quite simplistic. We had to wait in line to get in, but it only took about 20 minutes. It was worth seeing, but if the line had been much longer I’m not sure it would have been. The outside of the church is what the real attraction is here.
Piazza di Michelangelo
This is a square up on a hill just across the river from the “main” part of Florence (although you could argue that this is also a “main” part). There is quite an uphill walk and many stairs to get here, but once you’re there the views are incredible. You overlook the Duomo, the Arno, and the Ponte Vecchio. We sat up here for an hour or so in the late afternoon with a cold bottle of water (it was hot) and soaked in the view (and the breeze) until we were hungry for dinner.
This was the only museum we went to, and we mainly went to see David (amazing). But it is a great little museum with plenty of other art. And we thought the unfinished sculptures of Michelanglo’s were quite interesting, too.
Tip: Buy your tickets online beforehand. But if you can’t, the time to wait in line for tickets seemed to be late afternoon. When we walked by the museum at around 4 or 5, there was only a very short line.
Called the “Old Bridge” because it was the only bridge not destroyed in WWII, the Ponte Vecchio is full of gold and jewelry shops. And while it’s beautiful during the day from afar, my favorite time to actually walk across it was at night when all of the little shops are closed up like treasure chests.
Going to Fiesole for the afternoon was perhaps one of my favorite things we did in Italy. We took the bus from Florence up the mountain to the small Tuscan town (it takes about 10 minutes) and went to their museum area. There is a large amphitheater built 2000 years ago and where they still have shows and concerts today, and there are some ruins of Roman baths and a temple. The best part though is that the whole area has gorgeous views of Tuscan countryside and the whole area was almost entirely empty. There were perhaps four other people there beside us.
It gets better though. We took a short hike up a street in Fiesole and came out to a vista overlooking Florence with the most incredible view. You can see mountains and other towns in the distance, the Duomo sitting amongst the Florentine homes, and Italian countryside stretching out from the edges of the city. Coming across this view was one of the most magical moments of the trip for me.
Eating in Florence
To me, the food in Florence was the best. Florentine meals are so homey and simple and more hearty than much of the pasta and pizza we got in Rome. Our favorite restaurant was Le Mossacce, a recommendation from our hosts, and we loved the restaurant so much that we ate there twice. It was so authentic, and we sat next to the kitchen and got to watch the cooks cut meat and put salads together. Their white beans were so surprisingly good, my pork loin was fantastic, and I got to have a Florentine steak (which is a must in Florence). (Side note: I also had my favorite gnocchi at Osteria Santo Spirito.)
Also of Note
There is so much you can do in Florence that we skipped. We decided to pass on the Uffizi. There are also museums about the Medicis and the Pitti Palace Museum and the Boboli Gardens. There is a Dante Musuem. Heck, there is even a Gucci museum. And while I’m sure a lot of this is great (and while I’m sure the best thing you can do is buy your tickets in advance), what we really wanted to do was soak up the feel of Florence by walking the streets and looking at it from above in Fiesole. We wanted to find some Tuscan views and eat really good Florentine food. And while we might missed some of the famous historic gems that Florence holds, I’m glad we went through the city in the way that we did.
One more to go! Coming soon(ish): Cinque Terre.