5 Things you MUST do in Florence


This post has been updated in January 2015.

Earlier this week, I ran a little poll on Facebook & Twitter asking whether you’d like to read another travel post or about one of the cooking classes I took in Italy. Travel won by a small margin, so here is the latest. I promise that the next post will be about Italian cooking, along with a recipe. In my last post, I had written about Tuscany (read Under the Tuscan Sun) so I’ll continue with Bella Firenze. Beautiful Florence!
The capital of Tuscany is considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance. And there is gorgeous art to be seen all over the city. From its legendary museums to its piazzas – you will see beauty everywhere. And you don’t always have to pay an entrance fee to see art; just look up at the buildings as you walk through the city – the artistic and architectural heritage is there for all to see. This post is not going to cover the “usual suspects” in Florence such as the Uffizi Museum, Michelangelo’s David or the Palazzo Vecchio. However, if you do plan to visit all these places and many other museums and touristy sights, make sure you buy the Florence Card – it will save you a lot of money on admission fees as well as the trouble of having to stand in extraordinarily long queues. Plus, public transport is free with the card.

Now, on to my top 5 in Florence!

1) Piazzale Michelangelo
The panoramic view of Florence in both the photographs above was shot from the other side of the Arno River – called Oltrarno. Piazzale Michelangelo is located on a small hill in the Oltrarno district. The climb itself is quite lovely, with lots of greenery to be seen. Then, bit by bit the famous red Duomo of the Florence Cathedral (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) comes into view and the whole city is spread out below. 
The ‘terrace’ is dedicated to Michelangelo and there is a bronze replica of David here. There are a few stalls selling souvenirs and knick knacks. Turn your back to them and look out over the city – you can see many of its landmarks. The Duomo, of course, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, the bell tower of Badia Fiorentina church and the Basilica of Santa Croce.

2) Santa Reparata
Florence’s Cathedral with its massive proportions and the red domes is quite famous and it’s worth a visit (or two). The Cathedral building was completed in 1436 and it was built on the remnants of the earlier church, which dates back to 4 or 5 AD! These remnants were discovered after excavations were done in the latter of half of the 20th century and the Cathedral of Santa Reparata came to light. 
Pay an entrance fee of 3 Euros and descend the steps down to the old cathedral and you will see that parts of it are still intact. The mosaic flooring, frescoes, tombstones of bishops, marble works, and parts of a staircase – all give an idea of the modest church that survived for nearly 1000 years, enduring wars, different rulers and multiple refurbishments.


3) Ponte Santa Trinita
Sure everyone heads to the Ponte Vecchio with its shiny jewellery stores where you can just about look at the prices, sigh & move on! Look to its west and you’ll see the neighbouring bridge of Ponte Santa Trinita (Holy Trinity Bridge) with its elegant arches and Renaissance features. This is the oldest elliptic arch bridge in the world and was built in the mid 16th century. 
The entrance on both sides of the bridge is flanked by two statues – all together depicting the four seasons. The Church of Santa Trinita stands on the Lungarno side of the bridge and on the Oltrarno side is the Gelateria Santa Trinita – another must-visit in Florence! Savour their artisanal gelatos, made fresh every day and you will know what good gelato tastes like. We stayed in Florence for three days & walked over to the gelateria everyday! Read my review on TripAdvisor.

4) Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo
Florence, like most of the major touristy cities in Italy, is quite expensive food-wise and eating all meals at restaurants is just not possible – unless of course you have a trust fund! Thankfully, there are local markets everywhere and you can take your pick from the fresh, seasonal produce. 
Buy some bread, some cheese and some salame and you’re all set. Not to mention the wines, which are quite reasonably priced. The covered Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo area of Florence is one such gem. Here, you can buy fruits, vegetables, meat and fish as well as panini, pizza by slice and so much more. It’s truly a foodie haven!

Update - I visited Florence again in the autumn of 2014 and a new 'food court' has come up on the first floor of Mercato Centrale. Several food shops selling freshly made pizzas, pastas, gelato, the Florentine specialty lampredotto, cheese, local wines and other produce - the place is a must-visit! We spent 5 days in Florence this time around and had at least 3 meals here! Excellent quality of products at a reasonable price - it's one of the best places to eat in Florence. 


5) Piazza della Signoria at night
If you walk into Florence’s main squares, the Piazza della Signoria, during day time (especially in summer), all you’ll see are the surging crowds waiting to get into the Duomo, Palazzao Vecchio or the Uffizi. But go there at night and it’s a different story. 
A few people milling about, the Renaissance-style palazzi all lit up, the statue of David (replica; outside Palazzo Vecchio) gleaming white, the impressive Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) casting strange shadows... 

The piazza is also the gateway to the Uffizi Museum and at night without the crowds, you can really appreciate the beauty of the building itself. One of the oldest museums in the world, it was originally meant to house administrative offices (uffizi means offices). The long courtyard between the two wings, leading up to the Arno, is lined with sculptures of historically important Florentines – Leonardo da Vinci, Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli to name a few. The empty corridors of the museum, strategically lit up, are hauntingly beautiful. 
Sit a while on the steps or on the Loggia dei Lanzi and listen to the melodious strumming of the guitar by a street musician; bring along a bottle of wine and you have your perfect date night!

Have you visited Florence? What would be your top 5? Leave me a comment below.

Did you miss my earlier post on Verona? Read about Italy's romantic, medieval city - it's not just about Romeo & Juliet!

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