“A man, who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see.” – Samuel Johnson
Everyone in this world deserves to experience the iconic masterpieces of Renaissance architecture and art that this citta’ d’arte (a city of art) boasts of. One of Italy’s most illustrious cities, Florence, along with being the capital city of Tuscany, is known to be the king of the Tuscan towns and quite aptly so. AY and I spent three days in Florence during our 16 days trip to Italy in October, 2015.
After spending five loved-up days in Chianti (a wine heaven in the Tuscan region), we were driven to Florence. And, right from the time we step foot in this lovely city to the day we left for Rome to fly back home – we were stoked beyond words and regretted that we only had three days in this beautiful city. During our short stay, we realized that problem with Florence is not what to see, but rather what not to see. So, to keep this problem at bay for you here is my account of the best places to visit in Florence. Go, explore away!
When in Florence, it is just impossible to miss this grand feat of architecture – Duomo – Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. The grandeur and magnificence of the Dome and Cathedral is visible from everywhere in Florence – it is almost like playing peek-a-boo! Having read Ross King’s book Brunelleschi’s Dome, I had the most amazing time exploring the city especially the cathedral. One of the most surprising wonders of this opulent cathedral is the dome which is unsupported and made of thirty-seven thousand tons of marble. The scenes of heaven and hell have been painted on the dome which adds to its brilliance. Brunelleschi’s ingenious behind the marvelous architecture is mesmerizing even to this day. Stunned, already? Wait up, because there is a lot more. After admiring the artwork inside of the cathedral, we climbed to the observation area on the dome to marvel the 360 degree views of Florence and the Giotto’s tower. We were happily greeted by breathtaking views of this Renaissance city. The cathedral and the dome are the highlights of the grandness of architecture in Florence and make it the most brilliant place to see!
A small and an easy hike through Oltrarno (a district in Florence) brought us to Piazzale Michelangelo. This place has got to be the best known spot to enjoy the unobstructed glorious panoramic views of Florence and the Arno River. This spot is the most famous for the jaw dropping sunrise and sunset views of the terracotta painted city against the blue sky. The combination of wine and the views here had me swooning and, we ended up coming here every day during our stay in Florence (sometimes, even twice!)
Piazza del Duomo
Piazzas are public gathering spaces/ public squares in Italian. Piazza del Duomo covers (no points for guessing) the majestic Duomo, Florence Baptistery and the Bell Tower. AY and I spent hours here to soak up the immaculately designed exteriors of these architectural delights. It is impossible not to be moved by the beauty and magnificence of the cathedral from outside. The best part about this place is that there is no entry fee and you can spend hour here admiring its gorgeousness.
It is just absolutely imperative to visit the Uffizi Gallery if you are in Florence. We took a personal guide to understand the story behind every painting and sculpture at the Uffizi Gallery. The Gallery boasts of some of the most important masterpieces from Michelangelo, Botticelli, Gioto, Durer and many more – No wonder that it is the most visited place in Florence! The Gallery stunned us at every point – sometimes with the great artwork and the interesting facts and stories behind them and at other times with the great views that it offers of the famous Ponte Veccio Bridge and River Arno. It took us a little over 3 hours to see it all and we can do it all over again, any day!
The Galleria del Accademia is a very fine art museum in Florence and is home to Michelangelo’s most famous artwork, the colossal statue of David. The gallery houses several unfinished works of Michelangelo and marvelous Florentine paintings by renowned artists but, the statue of David takes the cake and quite deservingly so! We were quite startled to see the meticulous and fine work done by Michelangelo – David’s face, the arms, the legs, the feet, every part of his body is so real, so human! David is perfection beyond words and the crowds come and admire it in awe for hours! The Galleria del Accademia CANNOT be missed – Go, pay your homage to Michelangelo’s David!
Ponte Vecchio – The Old Bridge
The iconic Ponte Vecchio is a bridge that withstood the test of time and now features a number of jewelry, leather and souvenir stores! Our walking tour guide had the most interesting and lengthy tales to tell about how Vasari Corridor, an overhead passageway was created on Vecchio by the most famous and very well to do Medici family in Florence and how all the butchers and fishmongers owning meat shops on the bridge were removed by them. He further told us that during the World War II, Hitler, for his love for history, ordered the troops not to bring down Ponte Vecchio. After our walking tour, we walked the bridge again before heading towards the Riverside. While the people paddle boarded on River Arno and walked past us, AY and I stood at the Riverside for hours watching the dusk taking over the city and gazing at Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, Vasari Corridor and old buildings with a tinge of terracotta from a distance. This is probably when both of us fell completely in love with Florence! Highly recommend to everyone visiting the city!
Boboli and Bardini Gardens
Florence’s much famed Boboli Gardens were created to beautify the backyard of Luca Pitti’s (A Banker) Pitti Palace. The palace was, however, bought by the famous Medici Family later and the gardens were developed even further. We strolled around the acres of these very well manicured and lush green Gardens which are also open-air museum of sorts displaying beautiful fountains and unique worn out sculptures and statues. The hedges and trees add a variety of color green to these beautiful gardens against the backdrop of the cilla and beautiful sky – it was just perfectly romantic for us.
Right below the Boboli Gardens lie the Bardini Gardens. These immaculate gardens not only magnify the beauty of the Bardini Villa but also add a character to this place. AY and I strolled around for some time and found a gorgeous Baroque staircase that led us to the Belvedere Vantage point that overlooks Florence. We had already seen Florence from the Duomo and the Piazzale Michelangelo but viewing the terracotta roofed city from Belvedere was equally exciting. Ah! We absolutely love Florence!
Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is hard to miss when you are in Florence. This public square is one of the most famous ones in Florence and exhibits open air sculptures including the copy of Michelangelo’s David. We paused here to admire the lovely sculptures and take a break from all that walking! There are a flood of restaurants and bars here to nibble on some snacks. Our food experiences in Florence deserve a very special mention and must be devoted to a whole new post sometime in the future!
While there are a hundred more things to do, these are the ones that one should not miss! We loved our quick stay in Florence and can hardly wait to go back again!