A visit to Italy often includes a stop in Florence and no matter your budget, travel style or personal interests you will find it a treasure chest of incredible beauty! It must have the highest percentage of significant and exquisite artwork per square foot of any city in the world, and you needn’t be an art collector or architecture scholar to appreciate this. Patience may be required if you visit during the high season, of course, but the people watching can be fun as well!
Let’s take a peek at what a three day itinerary could look like for you. Having returned recently from an early October visit, I will share that the weather was gorgeous and the crowds a bit thinner than midsummer. Our three star Grand Hotel Adriatico, booked through Delta Vacations in order to get great airfare pricing, was well-positioned about a ten minute walk from the rail station and quite comfy for our needs. We found the front desk staff spoke very good English, the breakfasts were awesome in a beautiful room, and the guest room itself was spacious…plenty of storage… with a lovely view from the window of the rooftops and hills beyond. Without a big price tag, we felt quite well taken care of.
We arrived by rail from Poretta Terme in the mountains north (read my recent blog about Emilia Romagna if you would like to know more) early afternoon. As I had not mapped the walk exactly in advance, we made a quick stop across the street to the visitor’s center for good maps and directions before heading over. Ten minutes later we arrived, and one of our 3 rooms was ready, which was fantastic.
One of the museums that is smart to pre-book is a timed entry to the Accademia, the museum where the original statue of David is displayed. Click this link to order your tickets. We didn’t feel a need for a guided trip, so just bought the timed entry. Be certain to leave a little cushion of time, as you must pick up a ticket by showing your printed voucher once you arrive. There are a few interesting pieces here, including a section of antique musical instruments, as well as an upstairs area that is full of amazing religious relics. Allow about 1.5 hours or so here if you love museums, less if you only want to see David in all his glory. And yes, his hands ARE rather large in proportion! Grin. We enjoyed seeing the marble pieces in the gallery that are unfinished by Michelangelo, too.
The evening light is beautiful in the part of the world. One of my favorite memories is of walking down the river just around the corner from our hotel towards the famous Ponte Vecchio. My photo cannot do it justice, of course, but you have undoubtedly seen it before. The next morning our small group of 6 had different agendas, so my friend Jane and I went off to explore across this bridge towards the Pitti Palace. Our goal was to “get lost”, and along the way we stopped into the stunning five star St. Regis Hotel for an impromptu inspection. Wow! If you are able to consider this in your travel budget, DO IT!
Walking across the Ponte Vecchio is interesting and very “blingy” with jewelry shops galore! It’s always crowded, so if you don’t love crowds, then cross on one of the other bridges a block off…but hey, tough it out! It’s really fun people watching, to tell you the truth. It is also the most direct route to Pitti Palace and Gardens, another one of the must-see attractions in the wonderful city. Depending on your stamina, you will want to purchase both the museum ticket and the gardens. I know we missed some of the museum, yet we still spent over three hours exploring the house and grounds.
One of our favorite exhibits was the fashion museum. The house itself went on and on, with important works of art on every wall! The gardens are expansive, and the views from the top reward you for climbing all those stairs, for sure! We were very glad to have packed a couple of power bars enjoyed under the shade of some trees at the top, and then climbed even more up to a stunning view in the back. There’s a little porcelain museum there as another little reward for your legs, too! Hint: Remember to bring a water bottle or two in your day pack for this adventure. It was hot even in October.
One of my favorite discoveries of the stay in Florence was the Santo Spirito Piazza. Jane and I were handsomely rewarded by a handsome waiter! We stumbled upon this lovely piazza by accident as we looked for refreshment after the garden walk. It’s in the next block away from the tourist traps near the palace, and it felt so authentic and perfectly wonderful to sit outside at the Ristorate Ricchi for a cappuccino and snack. Well, I had the vino, Jane had the coffee. Grin. We loved this spot so much that we took two others there the next evening to dine at Trattoria Gustapanino next door (and my handsome waiter was still there…I think he worked BOTH restaurants…or owned them!) If you visit, be sure to peek into the beautiful historic church Santo Spirito.
On this our last day in Florence, nay in Italy, my companions and I were slow in getting our breakfast down. I think we had finally become accustomed to the relaxed pace of Italian living! Having not seen yet the inside of the Duomo and knowing four of us had reservations for a guided tour at the Uffizi Gallery (I suggest you book this on in advance) in the middle of the afternoon, I was decidedly antsy by the time we left the hotel after 11 am. We quickened our pace a bit as we drew nearer to the beautiful Basilica only to learn that just a few months ago they enforced limited and timed tickets to climb the 463 stairs to the top. Whoops! I felt like I failed my group by not knowing this! Be sure you do in advance. Then, as if by divine intervention, a gentleman overheard my disappointment and offered us the opportunity to join his guided group in 15 minutes! Wow. We shared our credit cards quickly to the tune of about $45 per person and off we went.
This Duomo adventure became one of the highlights for me. Yes, the climb is a little strenuous, but we climbed slowly, and at a couple of different levels we stopped to duck inside the dome to view the artwork on the walls and ceiling. Wow…it’s pretty incredible, I have to say. And this is coming from someone who is not a knowledgeable art lover. I do hope that sometime in your life you will be able to see this architectural masterpiece. How Filippo Brunelleschi created this starting in 1418 without scaffolding is incredible. By the way, these stairs were never meant to be opened to the public. They were there for the construction workers.
For our last art experience we bought a guided timed entry into the Uffizi Gallery, and it’s truly incredible! We purchased through Viator, but you can also go to the website above and buy a timed entry ticket to avoid the VERY long lines. Be sure to allow time to find the location of your guided group, as there are a few different entry locations around this building along the river. Most sites of interest in Florence are in a fairly compact area, making at quite walkable if you are relatively fit. I would shy away from driving here as there are lots of one way streets and some are quite narrow.
You will look at the works of art with wonder and awe, just as these children depicted above, I have no doubt. With thousands of pieces on the walls, it was essential for me, the uneducated art lover, to have a guide to help me find those most important and famous works. One of the most enjoyable moments for me was when I walked into a room dedicated solely for those paintings which had been recently restored. It can take many many years to completely and painstakingly restore an important painting. Here is a photo of one such piece…I was stunned by its incredible beauty, literally gasping as my eyes gazed upon it. I feel certain that each of you will have your very own moment of stunned silence and admiration somewhere in this amazing collection of masterpieces. Allow AT LEAST a couple of hours to browse, and DO bring your child-like spirit.
Our Florence stay was much too short, but I am sure that my travels will eventually lead me back to this charming city. We had an early morning flight the next day, so we ended our evening by returning to the Santo Spirito Piazza for dining, stuffed our clothes and prized purchases into our bags, and took a 4 am cab to the small Florence airport. You really don’t need as much time here to get through security…perhaps arrive 1.5 hours in advance or so, as they don’t have enough seats downstairs in the terminal for folks waiting for flights. Refreshing, to be honest, after arriving in the large airport of Venice!
Here is a picture of us in the Paris airport, notorious for long security lines, crowded into a hallway and being funneled down to the single file customs line. That’s my friend Jen waving! We were patient (what else can you do?) and the photo below was the last one of my Italy trip. Warning to the weary traveler: Be sure to leave about a 2 hour layover in Paris if you are connecting there and have to go through customs!
Ciao! I hope you enjoy your Florence stay as much as I did! Peace, Bobbie