The Fire of Firenze
We’re about to embark on a journey to our favorite city in one of our favorite countries in Europe – F L O R E N C E. It is one of the art meccas of the world, housing numerous museums full of pieces from the greats during the Renaissance and beyond. We have had the opportunity of visiting Florence twice, which is pretty unusual for us. Both experiences were fun and unique in their own way, although the second time around was a whole lot busier than the first. Florence holds a special place in our hearts and I don’t know that either one of us can necessarily pinpoint the exact reason. It just has this magic to it, an air that breathes life into its old stone buildings and orange roofs. Maybe it’s the history, maybe it’s the art, maybe it’s just because we ate our weight in gelato – but we hold a love for this city unlike any other place we’ve been. Down every alleyway is something new to discover, new history to unfold. Walking the streets of Florence, you can imagine and feel what it was like walking around during the Renaissance and you can see remnants of that era everywhere in the city. The influence of the art culture here is unreal and one of the coolest parts of the city is seeing how the Renaissance molded the architecture, the art, and the people of Florence. This has got to be on your list for your next trip to Italy!
There’s a fun travel-related giveaway with GPSmyCity at the end of this post! Don’t forget to enter!
Florence is very accessible from all modes of transportation, although we recommend the train since it’s so easy and fun. The Santa Maria Novella train station is a great starting point to head straight for the tourist attractions or onward into your neighborhood. There are two airports within the area, the closer one serving flights mainly within Europe and its budget airlines. The one further away is the one that most international flights come in from, but both have options for getting into the actual city by bus. The city itself is extremely navigable and highly walkable. We have never had to take public transportation in the city – mainly because at all hours of the day this place is too gorgeous to not walk and take in the views at a slower pace.
when to visit
We experienced two totally different sides of Florence between our two visits and we were extremely grateful to have our first experience in the off season. It was three times as busy the second time around, and it wasn’t even the height of high season yet. We recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons, from March-late April and September-early November. We experienced really great weather in early April and we felt like we had the whole city to ourselves. The lines to most of the attractions were pretty non-existent and the vibes of the city were so much more chill. In our opinion, it’s almost not even worth visiting if you can’t come in the shoulder season because it is so much more crowded – which takes away from the magic of what Florence is!
where to stay
The neighborhood we’ve stayed in both trips to Florence is one of our favorite in the city. Just across the Arno River, you’ll find the Oltrarno neighborhood, where all of the artisans and craftsmen of the city reside. This neighborhood is super accessible to everything we wanted to do and gave us a more local glimpse into life in Florence. We stayed in both a hostel and an Airbnb across the river, both great experiences and fun in their own ways. Hostel Santa Monaca was where we stayed the first year and got all the perks that come with a hostel stay – a good map of the city, meeting new people, and a schedule full of events to get out in to the city if we wanted to partake in a more guided experience. Our Airbnb, which was a private room in a cute apartment was great because we got to feel like a local and do what the locals do in a sense. We recommend trying both options since they yield such different ways to see a city.
what to do
We would recommend giving yourself at least 5-7 days in Florence if you really want to get the most out of the city. Altogether with both trips, we spent about 5 days and we could’ve spent 5 more exploring. Give yourself adequate time to see the museums and monuments you want and make sure to spread those visits out so you can actually experience Florence! That means giving yourself a day to wander and finding your own hidden gems. One of our favorite ways to get to know a city is just getting lost and seeing what we find. Here’s some of our top recommendations for on and off the beaten path activities while visiting this magical place!
Climb the Bell Tower +
Catch Views of the Duomo
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo, is one of the most recognizable attractions of Florence and no stay is complete without a visit to it. The whole Duomo complex consists of the Church, the Baptistry, and the Bell Tower – along with a crypt underneath the main cathedral. The Duomo, which just means church, is most notably known for its Dome – an important and innovative work of architecture by Filippo Brunelleschi. You can ascend the Dome and explore the cupola of the Duomo but we decided to see the Church from the Bell Tower. We ascended the 414 steps to the very top of the bell tower to take in the sight of the Duomo and the 360 degree views of the city. We bought one ticket to see all 3 monuments, the Church, the Baptistry, and the Bell Tower for €18 at the entrance of the tower. Although it’s considered free with your ticket inside the Duomo, reservations are recommended to ascend the Dome since it gets really busy, especially during high season. The second time around in Florence, we looked at the line wrapping around the back side of the Duomo and felt so grateful we got to see it our first time in low season.
Explore the Uffizi Gallery
This was the number one reason we came back to Florence since we missed the Uffizi Gallery the first time around. It is one of the most important and extensive art museums in the world and houses some of the most well known pieces of Italian art. If you have time for only one museum in Florence, make it the Uffizi, even if you don’t know that much about art history. You’ll surely recognize some of the great Florentine artists – such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Botticelli, to name a few. Make sure to buy your ticket in advance, because the queue for trying to get a ticket the day of will be insane, especially in high season. Save yourself the time and plan accordingly so you don’t have to miss it, like we did! Make sure you know the opening hours and date closures, like the museum being closed on Mondays so you don’t find yourself in a bind the day you’re trying to visit.
Walk through the Ponte Vecchio Bridge
That isn’t a typo up there, we know you usually walk across a bridge. However, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge is actually more of an open air but covered, shopping mall. It used to be a sort of market area for the locals, even including butcher shops. Now you can’t buy your meat while crossing the bridge but you can buy jewelry, trinkets, and souvenirs as you walk to the other side of the Arno River. Surprisingly, it was the only bridge in the city to survive WWII and has gained a title for itself as an iconic monument in Florence. Make sure to check out Ponte Vecchio at night for a quieter, more peaceful look at the bridge.
Eat Gelato at Night in a Piazza
At this point, ya’ll should know we LOVE hanging out in a city at nighttime. Florence was probably our favorite place to enjoy the calmness of the evening in one of the many piazzas throughout the city. Our favorite one is the Piazza della Signoria, right in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. You can find the fake David here, the fountain of Neptune, and the Loggia Dei Lanzi – an open air gallery of other famous Renaissance sculptures.
Watch the Sunset at Piazzele Michelangelo
This is another Traveling Tavener favorite – watching the sunset anyplace we travel is an evening well spent and a memory made. We had this on our list for Florence round 1 but never made it so we put it at the top for round 2. Piazzele Michelangelo offers panoramic views of both sides of the city, but you can find it across the river in the Oltrarno neighborhood. It’s a bit of a trek up some fairly steep stairs if you’re arriving by foot, but we promise the views are worth it! Plus, it’s completely free which you know is something we can get behind.
Get Lost in your Neighborhood +
Find a Boxing Match
Every time we think about this experience, it makes us laugh. We happened to be wandering around our neighborhood and came across a piazza we hadn’t been in yet. We turn the corner into the piazza and see a crowd of people and a boxing ring. There are people cheering and intensely watching the match going on in the ring, so of course we get closer and partake in the action. We think it was actually a couple local gyms coming together to compete and got a kick out of watching the matches go on. This experience just solidified why we love to stay in the more local areas, so we can get a glimpse into another culture’s daily life. And a lot of times these experiences are the most memorable because they are unplanned and without expectation. We still don’t know what the square was called but it will always be a fun memory for us.
where to eat + drink
◊ Archea Brewery – This gem in the Oltrarno neighborhood is the other reason we journeyed back to Florence. We have visited it all the days we’ve been in Florence, so we’re 5/5 days at Archea. Not only does it hold a special place in our hearts because of the ambience but the beers are on point. Make sure to try the Melyssa honey golden ale and the dopplebock – two of our favorites!
◊ Caffe dei Fossi – This little cafe serves up some good espresso, but more importantly doubles as our favorite gelato cafe. Much like Archea, we may or may not have visited dei Fossi EVERY SINGLE DAY in Florence, both visits. And we are not ashamed of it. Maybe it’s the nostalgia or the sweet taste for the gelato, but we can still taste that lemony goodness in our mouths! While you’re at dei Fossi, give a try to an affogato also – a scoop of ice cream topped with espresso. Yum factor x 100. You can find our favorite spot close to the main train station, but we recommend also finding your favorite gelato place while in Italy.
◊ Ditta Artigianale – This has got to be on your breakfast/brunch list while in Florence. It’s probably the hippest coffee shop we visited while we were in Italy and has some of the yummiest breakfast food! Make sure to try whatever the special pancakes of the day are, especially since they top them with fresh fruit and pair it with your cup of Joe.
◊ Off the Hook – We randomly happened upon this joint when we were wandering the city on our second stop to Florence. We were the only two in the bar for a while which was a nice, quiet reprieve from the busyness of the day. Grab yourself a Belgian beer and relax in between museum visits – something like a Barrel Aged Cornet or a Steen Brugge Tripel, a Tavener favorite.
◊ Brewdog Pub – This trendy pub reminds us of some of our favorite pubs in Reno. It has a wide range of beers, all craft brewed in Scotland from the Brewdog Brewery. It’s got a great food menu to pair with the beers and has a really fun atmosphere for a night out in Florence. Grab yourself a Punk IPA, a burger, and a table outside for all those Florence vibes.
◊ Beer House Club – Keeping with our beer trend, we found ourselves here for dinner one night and we were pleasantly surprised by how big their beer menu was and how appetizing their food was. If you need to find a good place to drink and watch a game, Beer House Club is your place – it’s one of the only pubs that has TV’s that we’ve found in Europe.
◊ Oibo – This was our first experience with the Italian aperitivo or happy hour, a real special thing about the Italian culture. Basically, between 3-7ish (hours depending on the restaurant) you buy yourself a drink and feast on an all-you-can-eat spread of appetizers. Each restaurant is different in their choice of food, but you can pretty much feed yourself on aperitivo’s as a meal. Oibo was a great place to start our aperitivo journey and had an amazing array of food set out for us. Make sure you get there early though, this place can get really busy!
things we missed
Given our limited amount of time both times around in Florence, we had to choose our top pick as far as museums go. Since that was the Uffizi for us, it means we missed some other well known museums. Most notable, we missed the Accademia Gallery – where the famous sculpture of David stands. We just didn’t plan accordingly to make it happen and also had seen enough museums with amazing artwork that we decided not to go out of our way to see David. One day, maybe we’ll visit again and make it to see a couple of the other famous sculptures housed with the Accademia’s walls!
Can you guys tell how much we adore Florence? We love it so much that you might find us exploring these streets again, sipping brews from Archea.
Is there a place you keep traveling back to because you’ve fallen in love and just can’t get enough? Or anything we missed that we absolutely must see in Florence the next time around? Let us know in the comments below, which also enters you in our giveaway!
GPSmyCity is a really cool app that feature self-guided city walks in over 1,000 cities around the world. Each walk contains from a few to over a dozen attractions in a city and is fitted with a detailed route map. The app virtually turns a mobile device into a personal tour guide, allowing YOU to explore on foot the best local attractions at your own pace. GPSmyCity is offering 10 of our readers an annual subscription to the app free of charge! An annual subscription normally costs $18.99 at the app store but 10 of you can get it for free – just in time for your next adventure. That means you get an entire year of tours and exploration in new cities, how cool is that?! You can check out some really cool ones for Florence here to get an idea of how it works. All you have to do is answer one of those two questions above or tell us where you’re adventuring to next. Good luck!
til next time,