While Venice and Rome capture most of the tourist trade in Italy it was out short break in Florence that captured our hearts.
Widely considered the cradle of the Renaissance Florence features more world-class art on its streets than most of the top museums of the world have on display.
Add the views of the Tuscan Hills, mouth-watering food and a cityscape that is second to none, and you will love it as well. But what are some reasons to visit Florence?
Where is it?
Why would you go?
If you are an art lover, or have an interest in history, or just love wandering around beautiful towns that do not live in the shadows of steel and glass monstrosities then Florence is the place for you.
This place has a perfect mix of great Italian food, stunning scenery and all without the noise and pollution of traffic as the town centre is almost entirely for pedestrians only.
How much time do you need there?
A short break will give you a chance to see the highlights of the city and is therefore definitely worth it. But to truly appreciate the Tuscan region you really should find as much time as possible to explore and soak in the atmosphere.
The central city area has more than enough to keep you entertained for a few days with plenty of museums, markets, restaurants, and stunning views on offer within walking distance.
How do you get there?
Plenty of options to get to Florence with an International Airport just 4km from the city centre and direct flights from most of Europe’s major cities. There is also a major train station right in the centre of the city with fast train connections to a number of popular Italian cities.
To truly get the most from this region doing it as part of a road trip would be the preferred method of transportation although you would not have parking available at any of the inner city accommodation.
What are the “highlights”?
The highlight of Florence is really being in the middle of the world’s largest fine art gallery but there is plenty more on offer.
While you may not have the time to hire a car and explore the surrounding countryside there will be plenty to do within walking distance of the town centre.
Some things you simply have to do or see are:
Explore Il Duomo – whether you are wandering around this famous Cathedral, touring the interior, or taking it in as part of the iconic Florence skyline, Il Duomo represents the city in a single structure. Entry is currently free but groups of four or more are required to pay to rent self-guided audio equipment in an attempt to reduce the crowd noise. You may wish to pay the small fee even as a single or couple if you wish to learn more able the history as you explore.
Visit the Uffizi Gallery – originally commissioned by Cosimo de Medici as a grand office building to house the Magistrates, Guild leaders, and Judiciary of Florence. It is now considered one of the world’s great art museums and houses many significant artworks of the masters.
There is an admission fee but well worth the small price for art connoisseurs, although those limited in time or without a passion for art may feel paying for museum entry is unnecessary with so much of it free on the streets.
Take a carriage ride around the cobbled streets of the town centre – taking a horse-drawn carriage ride around any city adds another dimension to your visit but in places like Florence, it just feels like the right way to get around town.
Play Italian “Where’s Wally?” – or “Where’s David?” to be more accurate. Florence is home to arguably the most famous statue in the world but what many people don’t know is that there are three full-sized statues of David spread across the city.
The original is housed in the Accademia and it is somehow more impressive than the clones that have been produced. A plaster copy stands in the original placement outside the Palazzo Vecchio and a bronze version watches over the city from the heights of Piazzale Michelangelo.
Cross the Ponte Vecchio – a bridge has existed on this part of the river for over 1000 years but even more amazing is that this enclosed bridge has supported shops for over 700 of these years.
Originally including fishmongers and butchers creating a foul smell for all using the bridge, things changed in 1593 when Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers be allowed to operate businesses on the bridge.
Take in the views – put on your walking shoes and climb the hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo for the best views across the city and of the Duomo, river, and Ponte Vecchio.
For the best sunset on the Tuscan Hills climb a little higher to the Basilica San Miniato al Monte. The church itself is quite beautiful but pales in comparison with the show Mother Nature offers at the end of each day.
What can you eat?
Sorry for sounding like Captain Obvious but you come here for Italian food. The only acceptable reason for looking at an alternative cuisine would be during a long stay when too much pizza and pasta are definitely enough.
Having said that it may seem strange that I now mention one of the region’s most famous dishes which is neither of the two staples mentioned above. I am talking about Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a massive T-bone steak simply prepared and seasoned and usually cooked over roasting chestnuts for a unique, smoky flavour.
Tip: don’t expect this to be cooked beyond rare.
Expect the standard pasta option but with a twist as the meat sauces usually contain more obscure animals such as wild hare, goose, rabbit, or wild boar. And never forget to include plenty of quality gelato after your meal. Why? Because you can!
Where should you stay?
There are some beautiful and historic hotels right in the centre of town but parking is a real issue if you are on a road trip.
This wasn’t a problem for us on this trip as we came by train and were to leave the same way. The train station is conveniently located and there are quite a few boutique hotels between it and the Duomo, housed in historic buildings.
We stayed in this area at the Hotel Perseo which, as you can see above, had a pretty spectacular evening view. But there are plenty of other choices to suit all levels of budget and comfort.
We selected it because of its great rating, price, location, and facilities. It was spotlessly clean, had friendly staff, a good breakfast, and was perfectly located. We would definitely stay here again if the chance comes up.
How is the walkability?
This is a town that gives you no choice but to walk as it is almost exclusively car-free.
The cobblestone streets may test your ankle strength but you will feel no pain as you wander past stunning artworks. There is more chance of ending the day with an aching neck from trying to take everything in as you go.
The town is built in a valley and so walking is no problem. There is one exception to this and it is something you simply have to make the extra effort to do.
You must climb the reasonably steep hill on the opposite side of the river and experience the iconic views from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Totally worth and at least it’s downhill on the way back!
Although the old centre of town is quite compact there is so much to see you could take days wandering through laneways and stopping to see every interesting museum, market or historic buildings.
It’s just our opinion.
If you want to visit a town that will live large in your memory forever, give you a supply of incredible travel photos and make every one of your friends jealous then this is a place for you.
If you love history and exploring visually stunning towns then this place is for you. If you love Italian food and culture but don’t want the congestion, traffic, and mass of humanity, that you find in Rome then this is the place for you. It currently rates as one of the best places we have visited in Europe.
Have you been to Florence? Or is it somewhere you have just added to your list?