Florence, Italy’s most famous renascence jewel. It is the most famous by its cathedral and in fact by its renascence architecture, art, and literature. It is difficult not to gasp once you stand on the Piazza del Duomo and gaze upon the marvelous cathedral. Hundreds of statues, mosaics, and carvings prove how glorious the Florentine republic was at the time.
Not far from the cathedral is probably the most famous square in the city – Piazza Della Signoria, and a central place of Florentine power, the Palazzo Vecchio. On top of the palace, there are nine coats of arms dating from the medieval period, and the city’s most famous flower – the lily. There is also the Neptune fountain, a copy of the famous David by Michelangelo, and one of the richest galleries in the world by the value of art pieces – the Ufizzi. You do not want to miss a visit to Palazzo Pitti, a former residence of the Duke of Tuscany, very famous for its marvelous gardens.
Arno is the river that flows through Florence, you can take a nice walk on its banks and wonder at the marvelous Ponte Vecchio, a 14th-century bridge that crosses the river. It is the only bridge that survived the bombardment during World War II. It’s just of the many interesting facts about Florence.
If you want the best panoramic view of Florence, head to Piazzale Michelangelo, it is a square above the city from where you can see the entire city.
What to see
First, let’s point out that you should always plan a trip to Italy. The country is so diverse and has so much to offer that going without a plan can leave you with lots of unnecessary wandering and time loss, especially in famous cities like Florence.
Florentine Cathedral – it is the most prominent feature of this city, and its giant dome dominates Florentine’s skyline. Santa Maria Del Fiore is the full name and it was inspired by the ancient Roman Pantheon. Entrance to the Duomo is free, and you can even climb to the dome from where you can see the whole city but they do charge that. The ticket is €18 and it allows you to visit the dome, baptistery, crypt of St. Reparata, and the Museum.
Uffizi Gallery – located inside Palazzo degli Uffizi, it is one of the oldest and most famous galleries/museums in the world. It holds the legacy of Florentine’s most famous and most influential family, the Medici. If you want to admire some of the finest world art by Botticelli, Giotto, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rafaelo, Tiziano, or other influential artists be prepared to wait in a long queue. The museum attracts art lovers from all over the world, good thing is you can buy tickets online as well (it does cost a bit more though).
Palazzo Pitti – beautiful reminiscence palace on the southern side from the Arno river. Owned by the Medici family who enlarged it and included the Boboli gardens with lots of trees, various plants, fountains, and sculptures. The palace has around 140 rooms all open for the public today, and they host galleries, several museums, and royal suites. There is an entrance fee of 12 euros for the palace and another 10 for the gardens.
Piazza Della Signoria – the main square of Florence around which you will most of the city’s attractions like the Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Loggia dei Lanzi (with the famous sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Medusa), etc. It is the center place of the cultural and political life of Florence.
Ponte Vecchio – or the old bridge, is a medieval structure that connects two banks of the Arno river. At the first glance, it resembles a building someone placed above the river. That is due to the many shops that are located on the bridge. Today it’s mostly jewelry shops, while in the past it was butcher shops.
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Like most of Italy, Florence is full of good restaurants. You can opt for a tourist-type restaurant in the city center, or you can research a bit deeper and discover where the locals eat. A great area is the Borgo San Lorenzo, an area between the Cathedral and Bazilika San Lorenzo. You can easily find a three-course menu for 12 – 15 euros.
If you head a bit more to the east you will discover the local atmosphere around the Piazza St. Ambrogio. Head over to La Ghiotta and you will discover magnificent food, and chances are you will be the only tourist there. You can eat great risotto, pasta or pizza for 6 euros.
Also in this area don’t miss the pizza in A Casa Mia. You can order basic pizza for as low as 3 euros and it tastes amazing. It is a very crowded place, you will definitely need a reservation.
One of the features of Florence cuisine is the local steak – Bistecca Alla Fiorentina. It’s quite large, enough for 2 people, and the local vine chianti is the pride of the region. If you are new to Italian cuisine make sure to check the facts about Italian food culture to avoid any potentially unpleasant surprises.
If you become fed up with exploring Italy’s cities why not head up to the coast, and enjoy some sea time on one of the top beaches of Italy.
The main shopping streets in Florence are located between Piazza Della Repubblica and Ponte Vecchio and they are Via Roma, Via Calimala, and Via Por Santa Maria. You will find famous luxury brands here like Gucci, Hugo Boss, Liu Jo, or the more affordable ones like Zara, H&M, Massimo Dutti, etc.
As far as the traditional handcrafts go, you will find many small craft shops, with handmade ceramics, cosmetics, local vine, and local deli products. They are mostly concentrated around basilica San Lorenzo, and the green market (Mercato Centrale).
With all the cultural treasures that Florence has today, you might think it is a very expensive city to visit. Well you’d be wrong, true you will find some of the most luxury hotels in Italy here, but it is not a problem at all to find affordable accommodation in Florence. You can easily find a double room in a hotel for 20 euro per person, while for 35 euro per person you can find a good hotel in a great location. Hostels, private apartments, or bed & breakfast are scattered all over narrow streets in the city center if you don’t need a spectacular view.
Nightlife in Florence
Florence is a student city, with many young students from all over the world that come here to study art, so naturally, you will find good nightlife here as well. These are not cheap however, the entry fee can cost up to 20 euros, and the price of the drink is from 5 euros up. Some of the most popular clubs in Florence are the Yab (40 years old) – not far from Strozzi Palace, Tenax ( a bit far from the city center though), and Meccano in beautiful Cascine Park.
Florence is not a particularly large city but it’s not small either, so you will need public transportation to get from one place to another. And that consists of buses and two tram lines. Buses pass near all the major attractions of the city, while tram conects the airport and the city center.
Tickets are very cheap 1.5 euros, or if you buy it with the driver it’s 2.5 euros. Taxis are more expensive and very scammy towards tourists (like anywhere in the world for that matter), and they are good options to choose during the night only when public transport is scarce.