Oh, Florence, you charming little city.
Words can’t do this magical place justice – it’s a feeling I hope you experience soon (if you haven’t already). Although a major tourist destination, Florence hasn’t lost its luster, and it’s managed to preserve its “old city” feel. It is best traveled on foot, so ditch your map and embrace the cobblestone streets and winding sidewalks. Lounge in the lively piazzas. Sip an espresso at the bar. Taste every Tuscan wine you can. Marvel at the beautiful churches and look up at their magnificent domes. Wander the world-class museums. Toss your worries over the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Relax. Clear your mind. Be in the moment. This magnificent city deserves it. You deserve it.
Don’t miss it
The “Big Boy,” as our tour guide so eloquently said it. Don’t leave Florence without a trip to the Accademia to gawk at the Big Boy. Many say that Michelangelo’s masterpiece is the “perfect man,” but you will learn that he is far from perfect. I highly recommend taking a small group tour (or downloading an audio guide) so you’ll have much more insight into the creation of David. You will learn why David isn’t so perfect after all (spoiler: Michelangelo knew what he was doing), and that David was sculpted from one piece of white marble.
It’s incredible how intricate he is — the veins, toenails and muscle. He is crafted in such a way that you feel his eyes still gazing at you as you walk around him. Once you’re finishing eyeing the museum’s star attraction, wander through the other exhibits, as there is much more to see than David.
Florence is home to many beautiful churches. The Santa Maria del Fiore is undoubtedly the most well-known and iconic cathedral, as its massive dome and bell tower dominates the city skyline. From far away, the pink, green and white marble facade could pass as a backdrop on a movie set. But up close, the intricate details come alive. It is free to enter the church, so spend some time inside. The interior dome is a painting of the Last Judgment, which was designed and painted in the 16th century.
The Santa Maria del Fiore deserves every bit of glamor and attention it receives, but I’d also recommend visiting the Church of Santa Croce, which has a neat story behind it’s beautiful marble facade. It is also the burial place of Michelangelo and Galileo, among many other well-known Florentines and Italians. If you participate in a free (read: tips-based) walking tour of Florence, you’ll likely visit both churches.
Must try food/drink
The Italians know food. Every meal was delicious – from pizza to pasta to meat dishes. Truffles are in many signature dishes. I nearly ate my weight in bread, as the oil olive is so delicious. And the Chianti – oh, the Chianti – delicioso! Take a break from exploring the city with a glass of vino and a cheese and charcuterie plate. And just as you should any other town in Italy (say, Ravello on the Amalfi Coast) be sure to end each day with some gelato. I don’t discriminate when it comes to gelato, but the mango gelato at Grom was one of my favorites!
One of my favorite Italian dining experiences was at L’Osteria Di Giovanni. The service is absolutely outstanding – it truly was an experience.
For a relaxing and budget-friendly evening, pick up a bottle of wine and hang out in one of the squares, such as Piazza della Repubblica.
Wish I had more time for
The vino, the vino! It’s simply delicious in this region (and really, all of Italy). Although we enjoyed more than our fair share of incredible wine (like at Cantinetta Antinori), I would have loved to visit a Tuscan winery. With limited time (and a mother who broke three ribs a few weeks prior), we stayed off the vespas and within the city of Florence. To visit nearby wineries, you can rent a car or a vespa. There are also dozens of bike and bus tours.
Here’s some hints
- It can be a long wait to get into the Accademia for David. Even with our “skip the line” tour pass, we waited for 30 minutes. Go early. Join a formal tour. Buy a coffee. Wait. It. Out. David is worth it.
- Rub that little piggy’s nose! Legend has it, if you rub the pig’s nose, you’ll return to Florence one day. It’s located beside the New Market (Mercato Nuovo). Side note: It’s actually a massive, bronze wild boar statue (but I wish it was a cute little piggy).
- Florence is known for its high-quality leather products (jackets, wallets, purses, shoes, etc.). Leather shops are everywhere. If that is your thing, check out the Leather School (Scuola del Cuoio).
- Carlo Lorenzini, the author of Pinocchio, was born in Florence. You’ll find Pinocchio souvenirs all over the city!
I am so grateful to have stayed at the luxurious NH Collection Firenze Porta Rossa while visiting Florence. It was a very nice upgrade from the 12-person hostel dorm rooms we were used to on our three-month backpacking trip. This boutique hotel is rumored to be the oldest hotel in Italy. The location can’t be beaten – located in the heart of the city and minutes away from some of the city’s most iconic locations.
I rubbed the pig’s nose and hugged my parents goodbye before heading northwest to Cinque Terre.
Like this guide? You may enjoy:
- What to Pack for a Long-Term Trip
- How to Plan Long-Term Trip Abroad
- Ravello, Italy: A Detailed Planning Guide
- Weekend Guide to Rome
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