Florence, beloved home of Renaissance art, history and culture. Located in the Northern region of Tuscany, the City is an easy day trip from Rome, Milan or Pisa through train and bus links for those looking to see more of the Country. And how could you not?
Known by the Italians as Firenze, this tourist’s favourite offers a taste of quintessential Italy to everyone who visits its cobbled streets as we soon discovered. Here I will share with you a snippet of our day in Florence and why we threw our maps away to see more of this unforgettable City.
Everyone knows of the famous Duomo as the must-see attraction to have on your Florentine ticklist. As part of the elaborate gothic cathedral giant in Florence’s Piazza del Duomo, the red-tiled dome is clearly visible when reaching the City and it was this icon that we headed to after leaving the station. Trust me when I say that you will not forget the moment you reach the Piazza entrance for your first glimpse of the Cathedral. Constructed from 1296, the sheer size of this black and white marble marvel will catch anyone’s breath. The sun reaching through the clouds onto the dome just as we arrived made the moment of the big reveal all the more poignant for me.
Top tip: If like us, you are hoping to get a ticket a day or two before your visit to Florence I fear you will be disappointed. Tickets were already booked up for the next 3 days when we checked, so my tip here is to book well in advance to see inside the Duomo and be prepared to queue for your tour.
After a trip around the square to take in the beautiful buildings around, we made a pact to return to Florence one day to see inside the Dome and headed down on of the many street lanes and promptly discovered that we knew very little else of the other attractions in the City around us.
But not everything about travelling is about sightseeing. It’s about your experience of the City, getting a feel for what life is like for the locals and the every day. We could have spent the day looking at our phone maps and cramming as many Florentine attractions into the day as possible. Isn’t that what tourists do on a day trip, rush around trying to see as much as they can? Usually this is me, but today we wanted to relax and enjoy our time and so, we threw our maps away. That’s right. Gone, and I’m so glad we did. I can tell you now, this is a City best discovered without a map and by foot.
Following the only other recommendation I had been given to see the bridges, we headed to the river Arno. The riverside views in Florence are a dazzling mix of bridges, tall houses, poplar trees and official buildings – one of the best views in the City to be had. The breeze from the riverside provides a brief respite from the strong sunshine and kayaks can be seen making their way down the river. Admiring the sundrenched scenery, we spyed a tower and tress of a beautiful garden at the top of the hills on the opposite bank. Having no particular direction in mind, we decided to head on over to find out whether we could get inside.
The gardens turned out to be Fort di Belvedere and its open air Summer house on one of the highest points in Florence. The view at the top easily justifies the hot walk up, with a panorama of the City on one side and the rolling green Tuscan hills on the other. Amazing! Fort di Belvedere itself was built in the 1500s to protect Florence and the Medici family upon City attacks and has served many purposes since, one of which was an observation point for Galileo during his studies of astronomy. The fort is surrounded by the Boboli gardens, some of the first formal Italian gardens and originally created from the wife of Cosimo I de Medici. Beyond these, the hilltops of Tuscany flood out as far as the eye can see with sunny villas scattered among the trees. Walkers to the Fort will be glad to hear of the Summer house and rooftop bar there, offering much needed refreshments to the sun-frazzled. Sculptures also feature around the fortification grounds as part of a current exhibition, topping this off as our number one recommendation for an all around good experience in Firenze.
After exploring the grounds and taking in the sights with a lemon soda, we found we had a choice. We could either take the path back down that we had arrived on or go down the winding road to our left. You already know where one path leads, what way would you go?
Much of our day continued like this and all of our discoveries were made in this random way. The winding path led us down to the Ponte Vecchio bridge lined with jewellery and trinket shops, leading to one of the shopping districts. This bridge is alive with bustling people taking photos and looking at the Florentine scenery. Following this we found the Piazzale delgi Uffizi and the Galileo Museum, church squares, the statue of David and the Palazzo Vecchio. The list goes on. Everytime we finished looking around a location, we saw something of interest, a building, some colour, a spire and detoured in that direction. We swapped the wider roads for narrow side streets and found a Florence full of treasures.
This is the essence of travel for me. To explore the unknown, to take a chance on a brand new path and see where it leads you. By going for the lesser known options that day and giving ourselves the freedom to explore, we saw so much more of a City than if we had stood in that waiting line at the very start. It was an unbelievable day and I would not change it for the world.
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Look out for my Florence Factsheet sharing some great locations and information to help you find the very best in Florence, in your own way!