Compared to the hustle and bustle of Rome, and trying to see as much of the Italian capital as humanly possible in three days – Florence was a more relaxed, chilled trip. We hopped on the high speed train from Roma Termini station and got us to Firenze in about 2 hours!! Now as I’m sure you all know by now, I like to summarise my trip to each city using a single word (Berlin. History. Rome. Power.) but usually I need to come back from my trip and after a few months the right word hits me. But with Florence, I knew what that word was going to be from day 1.
Florence has got to be the most beautiful city I have visited so far! Even more so than Bath, England where I did my undergrad degree and I LOVE that city! And for me, the moment that summarises Florence’s beauty is arriving at Piazzale Michelangelo and walking from the roadside to the railings at the edge of the hillside and just this view appearing as you edge closer! That iconic view of the whole city sat in a valley, surrounded by hills and mountains as far as your eyes could see and, of course, those two imposing structures of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore standing tall over the city, commanding your attention! From Piazzale Michelangelo you can admire the classic panoramic view of the city of Florence, the postcard image we all remember.
Views from the Piazzale Michelangelo
So, after arriving in Florence and wandering around the narrow streets to reach our hotel, this is how we spent our first evening. We walked back to the main train station in Florence and caught a bus from one of the many bus stops outside straight up to the Piazzale. When I say many bus stops I mean it, there are loads! And they are on both sides of the road! So if you’re not 100% of your bearings make sure to check both sides. I don’t remember which number bus route we took, but the timetables are very easy to interpret so you could work out which bus you needed for wherever you wanted to go!
We reached the Piazzale Michelangelo just before sunset, which I cannot recommend enough, and experienced the unforgettable sunset atmosphere that encircles the entire city before wandering the streets on the opposite side of the river, grabbing a bite to eat before making our way back up to Piazzale Michelangelo to catch the last bus back into the city. I know I am probably repeating myself, but this is a must do for any Florence trip! It is truly magical!
Our first full day in the city involved more of the traditional sightseeing! First stop! The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore! Now, I was pretty excited to go and see this magnificent structure up close, but not as excited as my boyfriend! Not only is this cathedral an icon of Florence but it is also an iconic view from the Assassin’s Creed games – so guys & girls if you want to go to Florence and the other half isn’t convinced, this little factoid might change their minds 😛
Duomo & Palazzo Vecchio
Unfortunately, the Italians were doing some restoration on the Baptistery outside the Cathedral in the surrounding Piazza Duomo, so we didn’t get to see that in all of its glory, but we could see the huge golden doors it had. Each panel engraved with a different image. The bell tower that stands alongside the cathedral is incredibly tall. Standing right underneath trying to take a ‘cool’ photo looking straight to the top I felt I was falling backwards. But the Duomo itself is astounding! Just looking at the front of it, there are so many panels laced with intricate carvings and carved statues amongst the streaks of pink, white and green marble! How anyone managed to build and design it is beyond me! However, this brings me to my biggest regret of the trip! Entrance to the Duomo is FREE, but there are some conditions. As with most of the churches and other religious buildings throughout Italy, they require you to wear suitable clothing so your shoulders and knees need to be covered. So, me being the unorganised tourist on this day decided to wear a strapless top and some shorts and didn’t even pack the shawl I had bought in Rome for this exact reason! Gutted is an understatement! Not being allowed in, also, meant I could not climb all the way to the top for more fantastic view opportunities. So for me at least Florence still has some secrets and is one of those cities I WILL return to in the future! Then, I will enter the Duomo and I will climb to the top!
So instead we took a stroll around the Duomo! Spotting a bride in a horse drawn carriage, a hoard of buskers, cute little gift shops selling the cutest Vespa mugs and absorbing the atmosphere in Piazza Duomo. In fact, I wandered a little out of the Piazza and, like a homing pigeon, managed to seek out the Prada and the Gucci shops! And like the magpie I am, I spotted the most sparkly, glitzy and probably most expensive of all the shoes!!
Day 3 in Florence and the weather took a turn for the worse! Instead of doing my sightseeing in shorts and sunglasses, the raincoat and the umbrella were out! Today, we took a different route from the hotel to the sights we wanted to see, and walked along the River Arno all the way along until we reached the Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio. We walked through the Uffizi gallery first to reach the Palazzo Vecchio past street performers who would pretend to cut your heads off for photo opportunities! Yes, I know! It was strange! But then something even weirder happened! In front of the Palazzo Vecchio is a replica of the statue of David. Obviously there were people everywhere taking photos of the statue and posing in front of the statue. But then one couple in particular caught my eye! The reason behind this, I still have no idea why but I found it hilarious! Outside the Palazzo Vecchio, a man was crouched down taking a photo of his wife with this statue of David. Now, they were obviously going for one of those perspective shots – like the ones people take with the Leaning Tower of Pisa where they make it look like they are holding it up! But, as the husband was directing his wife, I noticed that her pose was not a conventional one! But instead in one of this couple’s holiday photos is a picture of this lady looking like she was holding the testicles of this statue! Maybe I was missing something and it was one of those things tourists do in Florence, or maybe it was simply an ‘in-joke’ for that couple. But I was confused, and if anyone can shed some light on that for me I will be grateful.
But next came another unforgettable moment for me about my trip to Florence! We headed back towards the River Arno and saw the Ponte Vecchio – the oldest bridge in the world! It was simply beautiful! But as we got closer to walk across it, and as I’m sure you can see from my picture of the Ponte Vecchio – Florence was hit by an almighty thunderstorm! The sky became black, the lightning flashes were incredible bright and the rain was so torrential that we could barely see the buildings the opposite bank of the river anymore. It was like a thick fog at descended! And in the middle of this chaos, I was huddled under my umbrella just watching and listening! I can’t really describe how I felt! I was mesmerised by the power of the storm I think, but still in some sort of trance because it was beautiful and magical at the same time! A moment I will never forget! We were stuck in the storm for about 15 minutes and it stopped as suddenly as it has started, but now we ventured on and crossed the oldest bridge in the world! It was covered in jewellery stores but had those old wooden shutters with the black iron hinges! It was like stepping back in time for a moment!
On what was probably the hottest day we spent in Florence, we returned to our standard trip to watch a football match when travelling. Florence is the home to ACF Fiorentina so we hopped on another bus that took us to the North-eastern part of the city where we would find the Stadio Artemio Franchi and watch Fiorentina take on Genoa. Now the last time I went to watch a football match on holiday was in Berlin – we watched Hertha in the Olympiastadion (check out my Berlin. History. blog to find out more about that trip! But compared to that, the Stadio Artemio Franchi was a little underwhelming to look at compared to the vast, imposing Olympiastadion in Berlin. In fact, the stadium itself was not much to behold at all! But it was what we experienced inside that made it special.
We got hold of some tickets from the ticket office across the road. Quick tip – if you fancy going to watch Fiorentina, make sure you bring your driving license or passport or both! As the staff need some identification and put your names on the tickets! Now just before we left to head over to the stadium, the girl that had served us explained that we had seat numbers on our tickets, but we weren’t going to have a seat! This was a little confusing but soon after we discovered what she meant! We had chosen to sit with the home fans and after finding the stand we had been allocated, there were no seat numbers! You just chose wherever you wanted to sit! So we climbed to the top so we could see more of the pitch and waited for the stadium to fill up. There were staff wandering around with those boxes that you would see at American sports games where they sell food and drink. So, it was a new experience when we realised we could drink alcohol whilst watching the football! We were soon amongst a sea of purple in the stand and there were people sat everywhere as well as in the aisles and about two rows of people stood at the back too! It was quite something, especially as the players came out and there were flags waving, scarves being held high proudly and purple flares being let off! It was amazing behind amongst these passionate fans in amongst a purple haze! I tried to capture this on camera number 2! It’s my smaller camera that I can do colour drains on! Obviously here, I drained all colour except the purple as this was going on and tried to capture the moment, which I think I managed! In fact, it is one of my favourite photos from the trip!
Now, Italians are known for zipping around on their Vespas and other mopeds. But I was not prepared for what we saw on our way back into the city after the match had finished! Being near the top of the stand we managed to get out from the stadium quite quickly before the rest of the crowds, and so started heading back to the hotel! On route we noticed that there were an obscene amount of mopeds parked around, but it wasn’t until we were trying to cross the river back to the city centre that we realised the scale of it. There were mopeds everywhere! And I meant everywhere! Thousands of them! On both sides of the road! All trying to go in the same direction! And the noise from the engines was deafening! But cars were forced to stop due to the sheer volume of mopeds coming at them! It was a sight and sound I will never forget!
And that was that! The finale of our time in Florence! We spent our time visiting other things and trying out other foods but I don’t want to bore you with every detail, just share the most memorable of experiences that might inspire your trip. Every aspect of this city was beautiful to me. From the tourist sights, the food and the mountains of gelato, to the weather, the Fiorentina fans and those panoramic views! Simple. Effortless. Beauty.
Top tip: Use the trains to travel Italy. I’ll be honest. The thought of using public transport in a foreign country did scare me initially. But I look back now and wonder what the hell I was worried about. The trains in Italy are straightforward to use and on time. That is both regional ones and the high speed ones, and you get to see the beautiful Italian countryside – especially if you travel through Tuscany like we did! We had no problems understanding what to do or simply in general. But DON’T FORGET to stamp your tickets before you travel. This validates your ticket and without a stamp there could be serious consequences from my understanding.
Also, my boyfriend was studying his Masters with a guy who studied in Florence. He recommended that we try out this restaurant: La Beppa Fioraia. And I could not agree more. It is not the easiest place to find if you are not familiar with the city but a quick google search before you head out and its simple enough. There was a gorgeous lawn area outside with small white tables and chairs and lit with chains of small fairy lights covered in paper lanterns! It was really cute! But the food! That was the best bit! Proper authentic Italian food from Florence! So if you ever get the chance! I do recommend it to – and I would probably try and book!
Finally, I know I have talked about the Piazzale Michelangelo a lot and obsessed about how amazing the view is (but it really is!). I would recommend going in the daytime/at sunset and then go back at night. Yes! It’s the same view but it looks so completely different! All the lights along the river and throughout the city just illuminating those landmarks even more! It’s quite magical!
And once again, I leave it to you. I would love to hear from anyone that has been – especially if you weren’t an idiot like me and went into the Duomo and actually climbed to the top!
How do you define Florence in one word? 🇮🇹