Florence, Italy

Wow, summer breezed by really fast!  I’ve been traveling and shooting photos, but I haven’t been keeping up with the travel blog.  Now that it’s cold and rainy, it’s time to go back to the blog.  Let me bring us back to Italy and recount our experience in Florence.

Florence (Firenze) is the capital city of the Tuscany (Toscana) region of Italy.  Florence is probably among Italy’s three most visited cities (along with Rome and Venice).  It is an old city – dating back to Roman times, and full of Medieval and Renaissance-era buildings.  Central Florence is full of tourists, yet it feels cozy, vibrant, and charming.

Travel & Accommodations

We rented this beautiful loft apartment in central Florence for four nights.  The price and location were perfect.  We were just blocks from the river, the food, and the major tourist attractions.

Florence is a great city, well worth the visit by itself.  But if you have the time, you must also check out the other towns in Tuscany.  The countryside is beautiful, and the towns are interesting and unique.  Tuscany is also home of Italy’s wine country – so you definitely need to sit down and enjoy food and wine.  We ended up dividing our four days: 1-2 days (part of the group split up) in Florence, and the remaining days visiting other towns. In this article, I’ll only write about Florence.  The next article will feature the other towns we visited.

Il Duomo

Towering above Florence, the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore – aka Il Duomo – is perhaps Florence’s most well-known building.  It’s the fourth-largest church in Europe.  Like most major cathedrals in Italy, it comes in three parts: a cathedral, a campanile (clock tower), and a baptistry.

I didn’t have time to go inside the cathedral.  You have to pay an admission fee, plus you have to climb a whole bunch of steps to get to the top of the dome.  Luckily some of my friends did spend the time to visit.  The photos to the right and below were taken by Lily.  The view of Florence from the top of the dome is amazing!

Uffizi Gallery

Florence is perhaps most well-known for its Renaissance art and architecture.  In fact, Florence is regarded as the home of the Renaissance.  The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most famous and significant art museums in the world. 

Getting tickets for the gallery was a bit interesting.  By now, we had learned that Italy isn’t very good at communicating instructions clearly.   When we arrived, we saw a very long line for tickets – probably over an hour wait.  I noticed this the last time I was in Florence too.  But we also noticed another door for tickets, so we walked in.  We found that for just another 5 Euro or so, you could buy tickets for later in the day (1pm, 2pm, etc.) – and you didn’t have to wait in line!!  Thanks for telling us, Italy….

Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take photos of the art, so you’ll just have to visit it yourself.  Another major museum in Florence is the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses the famous sculpture David.  I didn’t have time to stop in.

Il Palazzo

It seems that every city in Italy needs a Palazzo, and Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio (“old palace”) does not disappoint.  It’s located in the heart of Florence, at the Piazza della Signoria.   The Palazzo is a cool-looking brick building of Romanesque architecture.  It has a replica of the statue David at its entrance (which was enough for me – didn’t need to see the real one haha). 

The Piazza della Signoria seems to be where all the action is in Florence.  Not to mention, it’s where all the tourists congregate as well.  It makes sense though – the Uffizi Gallery is next door, and the Ponte Vecchio is just two blocks away.  Oh yeah, the Uffizi Gallery has a cool cafeteria that gives you a great view of the Palazzo (no, Kristine doesn’t come with the view):

Basilica di Santa Croce

Italy has no shortage of churches!  The Basilica di Santa Croce doesn’t look that fancy from the outside, but there’s neat stuff within.  First of all, it’s actually the world’s largest Franciscan church.  But its claim to fame is that it is the burial site of some of the most famous Italians in history: Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Rossini.

If you aren’t into admiring dead dudes, you can enjoy another great feature: the beautiful frescoes on its walls:

Ponte Vecchio

My favorite attraction in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”).  Florence is situated on the Arno River.  The heart of the city sits on one bank, and life spreads across to the other bank. The Arno brings peace and charm to Florence.  There are a number of bridges that span the Arno, but the Ponte Vecchio stands apart, probably due to all the shops that were built on top of it.

The Ponte Vecchio is located right next to the Uffizi Gallery and Il Palazzo, which means that you can find hordes of tourists on the bridge during the day.  It was nice to check it out and see the shops, but I actually didn’t enjoy walking on the bridge that much.  It was way too crowded and way too touristy.

If you walk a little further down the banks of the Arno, however, the tourists disappear very quickly.  Now you just hear the flow of the river and feel the warmth of the Tuscan Sun.  I could see myself walking along the banks of the river and gazing at the bridge every morning and every evening.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for rivers and bridges??

A Sunset in Florence

After walking around and breathing art, architecture, and history, you should definitely top if off with viewing a romantic sunset.  There’s a great spot for it, at the Piazzale Michelangelo.  The piazzale is just a large parking lot near a church, but every evening, you’ll see tourists flocking to it.  It’s about a 20 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio (on the “other” side of the river), with includes going up a hill.  From this perch, you can see the bridges, the Palazzo, the Duomo, and of course, the sunset.  It is breathtaking.

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