I arrived in this Tuscan city with high expectations, still certain it would not match up to the charm of Siena. It took me just a few minutes longer to fall in love with Florence but, in the end, I walked away with romantic notions of studying renaissance art and oil painting in 15th Century buildings. I cannot say it is better than Siena, but it is entirely mesmerising in its own magical way. The city is like a rich tapestry of art, food and history – the longer you look, the more you find.
A lot of Amazing Art
Allowing a good half a day, I was able to fully explore the Uffizi Gallery and feast my eyes on paintings by the masters, such as Leonardo de Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo. Speaking of Michelangelo, I later made my way over to L’Accademia, to check out the handsome and extremely well-proportioned statue of David. By the time I returned to the hotel, I was desperate to find out more about the history of this city and all its artists. It turns out the Medici family had quite an enormous influence on the place, ever since the 15th Century. Starting out as a banking family, they eventually became monarchs, producing several popes and queens.
Medieval Town Squares and Beautiful Bridges
The town square (Piazza della Signoria) in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Town Hall) is a lovely spot to eat gelato and people-watch. I like to imagine it during the medieval times and, if you walk around the area on a rainy night in Winter, it might just be possible to have the place to yourselves. There is a secret passageway 1km long from the Palazzo Vecchio through to the Palazzo Pitti, across the Vecchio Bridge. This was built by the Medici family, who wanted a privileged corridor between the residences. It is said that Hitler was so impressed by this bridge that he ordered it to be saved from bombing during WWII. Unfortunately, the passageway was closed during our visit, or else I would have been there in a shot! The bridge itself is lined with jewellery stores and has been that way ever since the 1500s, thanks to the Medici Family. Apparently, they found the former butcheries far too disturbing on the nose!
Impressive, grand buildings
Near the Palazzo Vecchio, you will also find the Piazza del Duomo, which includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Bell Tower. With a combined ticket, you can make your way into all of the buildings, though even in mid-Winter, there were very long queues for all of the attractions. I am certain that the views from the top of the tower and dome would be impressive and I might try them out next time, if my patience allows!
Magical views from the hill
This is an absolute essential. Follow signs across the bridge and up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. Try to time your visit for sunset and watch the light change over this magical city. It is possible to linger for hours and not get bored. Make sure you take a camera and maybe a few beers to ease you into the evening. This is where I spent my last afternoon of being 30!
Too much good food
I was an extremely gluttonous person in Italy and completely abandoned my vegetarian habits for the week, so that I could fully immerse myself in Italian culture! During the day, you can find an excellent selection of cheap-eats at the Central Markets, which is brimming with international cuisine and excellent coffee. For lunch, try a Panini Toscani – fresh crusty bread filled with pancetta and cheese (or whatever filling you desire). Panini dei Fratellini serves these in abundance! Walking further towards the river, you will come across Venchi, which sells mouth-watering gelato in many flavours.
For dinner, feast your heart out at one of the many restaurants. Trattoria Marione is a highly-rated eatery which is worth booking ahead in advance, due to long queues on arrival. Here, you can find excellent lasagne and Chianti wine! Za Za’s is another quality option, where I spent an evening devouring the famous 1kg Florentine Steak, Tiramisu and a lot more red wine. Follow the meal with an espresso, or better still, head over to May Day, a quirky hipster bar with cosy couches and gramophone players hanging from the ceiling, for perfect cocktails and old-school tunes.
What is your favourite thing about Florence? Any recommendations for next time?