What they say is true! Florence (or Firenze to be proper) is beautiful and historic, and the art is pure insanity. The city is very walkable and I found myself traversing the city (mainly on the search for restaurants on my short list) multiple times during my stay. Though the bus is easy enough – just remember to validate your ticket after you board or you can be fined!
I learned a couple lessons in Florence:
- Michaelangelo is the sh*t
- I much prefer touring palaces and churches (and seeing the art in these places where artists usually originally intended it to be displayed) vs. going to a museum
- Grazie (thank you) is pronounced “grat-zee-ay” NOT “grat-zee.” That was a huge aha/”omg I can’t believe I’ve been saying it like a stupid tourist the entire time” moment.
I gained an appreciation for the true awesomeness of Michaelangelo, thanks to a visit to the Accademia (reserve museum tickets online in advance to skip the line – highly recommended).
The museum itself is not big. It’s essentially a shrine to Michaelangelo’s David. But the good people at the Accademia did a great job leading visitors on “a story.” The hallway that leads to David is almost like you’re in Michaelangelo’s studio with multiple unfinished works lining the walls. Seeing the progression from block of marble to the final product was a powerful illustration of Michaelangelo’s genius and skill.
Another museum to book advanced tickets online is the Uffizi (same link as the Accademia). The works in there were great, but it was too overwhelming and sterile.
I really liked Palazzo Vecchio, which is a palace-fortress in the middle of the city (man, those Medici know their art). The stunning craftsmanship in each room and the artwork are breathtaking.
A surprise highlight in Florence was arriving at Pitti Palace across the Arno River just in time for a free private tour. After you walk in, and before you get to the first gallery room, there is a small desk that lists the time of the next tour and has a sign-up sheet. Usually groups are limited to about 15, so sign your name and return at the time of the tour.
When I went, it was a tour of the King’s apartments and royal baths, which was closed to the public. The tour guide was awesome and even let me open some closed-off doors! It was a bit of a reality check/reminder that all these palaces we go to tour used to be regularly functioning residences and buildings. I wonder how those folks would think if they knew hundreds of years later tourists would ooo and aaahhh over things like a bathroom, and simple things like cutlery would be under locked glass.
Random tips and musings to consider:
- Rick Steves guide book and audio tours. Audio tours were great (and free) for all major attractions.
- To get a great view of the Duomo (church with large dome; most cities have one main duomo), climb the adjacent bell tower – Campanile (Giotto’s Tower). Just be prepare to sweat off the calories as you climb the 414 steps! Go early in the day to beat the heat.
- Eat Florence phone app gives foodie-approved restaurant recommendations.
- Try a cooking class as a fun way to meet new people and do something different. The basic dinner class at In Tavola was too simple from a culinary standpoint though. So if you’re a Mario Batali in the kitchen, you may need to research other classes/centers.
- Pack a picnic dinner and go see the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo
- General Florence information:
- The street numbers are designated black or red, so you can have two places that are Via [insert road name] #8
- Most places owned by locals closed for August holidays
Enjoy meandering through Florence! And please let me know of other suggestions/tips.
P.S. Heading to Rome too? Check out this blog post for that city.