When I asked friends where to visit in Italy, they universally said Florence.
Firenze (doesn’t everything sound more beautiful in Italian?) holds some of the best art and architecture in Italy, arguably in the world. It raised Dante, Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Brunelleschi, and the Medici family. A city with that much history, that much art that much culture, creates some high expectations.
Florence doesn’t disappoint. We loved our time there and didn’t even scratch the surface on what the city has to offer. Here’s our take on the best things to do in Florence, particularly if it’s your first time here!
The number one thing (in my book, at least) to see in Florence is the Duomo. Climbing the dome and exploring the connected buildings can easily take a whole day, so don’t skip that. You can see more about our time in the Duomo here.
Beyond the Duomo, my favorite thing had to be the the Galleria dell’Accadmia. It’s a relatively small art museum, but houses one of the biggest deals of them all: Michaelangelo’s David. There’s a copy in the courtyard outside the Uffizi, but the original lives here.
We did our usual thing of buying timed entry tickets for the opening time. One extra step for this place is that you need to take your home-printed tickets and exchange them in the ticket booth for the “official” tickets. Do it before you get in the entry line.
Once you’re in the building, skip ahead to the David. We managed to be among the first 5 people to see it that morning, and it was definitely worth it.
I underestimated the effect of seeing these famous works of art in person. To stand quietly in front of the David, without crowds swarming everywhere, was mesmerizing. In spite of hundreds of years, it stands tall and relatively undamaged. He’s got cracked ankles, but likely caused by the fact that it stood on uneven ground for 400 years. Its unbelievable that Michaelangelo knew, by physics or instinct, how to carve and shape the marble in such a way that allows this structure to support its own weight for hundreds of years without reinforcements.
I particularly loved the look of half-finished sculptures. It almost allowed me to appreciate the art more, seeing it appear out of the marble as if Michaelangelo called it forth, visualizing what I’d never see in a simple block.
Confession: we didn’t get to check it out because it’s closed on Mondays. We could’ve squeezed it in (and its definitely something I want to see next time we go) but we decided we’d rather have a relaxed pace and save it for next visit.
The Uffizi is full of history. The Medici built it, artists like Da Vinci hung out here, and now it houses some spectacular works of art. Works of Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michaelangelo and Raphael make up just a few of the names you’ll see in here.
Located outside the city, it’s a breath of fresh air. If the cityscapes and medieval streets are getting too much for you, take a break in the Boboli Gardens. It’s right behind the Pitti Palace, which belonged to the Medici family as well and is a worthwhile sight in it its own right. But if you can only do one, check the gardens.
In a similar vein to the Lourve gardens but distinctly Italian, it’s a peaceful place to spend afternoon wandering the paths or reading a book in the sunshine. My understanding is that the plants are pretty seasonal, so in the fall it’s not quite up to it’s usual brilliance. But gorgeous in summertime!
Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence, and you definitely need to see it. It’s got has shops lining the street, and we’re not talking little roadside stalls. These buildings hang off the edges, looking like they’ll fall into the Arno at any moment!
At one point many bridges had shops on them, but nowadays Ponte Vecchio is a bit of an anomaly.
Where to eat:
- Maso – We found this place walking from our Airbnb downtown. It’s a cute little bistro with plenty of outdoor seating. The environment was perfect for a slow lunch, lingering over a glass of wine. The food was good, but the vibe was what drew us. Plus it wasn’t overwhelmed with tourists in a very touristy town, which is a breath of fresh air.
- La Spada – we sort of stumbled on it, but knew we wanted a nice dinner. The food here was out of this world. We each ordered a prix fixe menu, but it turned out that just one would’ve happily fed both of us! The star of the meal was a Florentine steak bigger than my head. The meat was rich and tender and waiter checked in several times if it was cooked to our liking. Go here for a nice dinner, and come hungry!
- Gelateria La Carraia – Best gelato in Florence. Fantastic flavors, both classic and experimental: from pistachio to coconut, frutti di bosco to mango. Five kinds of chocolate, AKA my kind of place. The prices are reasonable and in spite of a line out the door, they moves quickly. Definitely worth checking out once… or every afternoon…
Where to stay:
We did something a little atypical and stayed outside the tourist area. We found an Airbnb just outside the city walls. It had the advantages of a reasonable price and free parking without the hassles of dealing with the usual insanity involved in driving a rental car into a European city center. It was quiet at night but situated only 15 minutes from the Duomo, so it gave us the best of both worlds. If you’re interested, email me at teaspoonofnose @ gmail . com and I’ll pass on the place!
Clearly we didn’t get to everything, and I know we’ll make it back to Florence some day soon! When we do, what else do we need to see??
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