Florence or Firenze is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The capital of Tuscany is the birthplace of Italian Renaissance and High Art. With its contribution to the world of art and some of the biggest masterpieces home to Florence, it has always been on my list.
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Fun Fact: Florence was the capital of the then newly created Kingdom of Italy, for 6 years in the mid-19th century.
I visited Florence in spring which is the best time to visit this beautiful city. My friend and I decided to spend a couple of days in Milan, a day in Florence and 3 days in Rome and it was one of the most epic trips if my life. I learnt how to see the most of Florence in one day without knocking yourself out. The journey from Milan to Florence is mesmerising and so beautiful it is almost impossible to take off your eyes from the window. The olive groves and vineyards that expand till the end of sight and with the spring sun heating up the earth sweetly, the whole countryside feels like it is waking up after a winter hibernation state.
How to go from Milan to Florence?
The best option to travel between Milan and Florence is a train. It is quite cheap, affordable and in very good condition which was a surprise because public transport in Italy is a bit of a nightmare even in big cities. We had bought our tickets before leaving and the train service absolutely blew our minds, well done Italy! Best high-speed trains ever! The wifi comes for free and doesn’t work but who needs wifi when you can see the beautiful Italian countryside in spring?
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All Things Florence
It is absolutely and almost impossible to think of Florence without Medici name (Med-ee- chi). This influential and powerful family have Florence the stature and status it has today. Medici family started as the bankers in the State of Florence because Italy was divided into 10 small states fighting with each other and in those days coming from Milan wouldn’t have been that easy because the Duke of Milan and the rulers of Florence were not friends in any way.
Throughout Florence, you will see the beautiful shield with of Medici family with 6 round balls. Medici were bankers to the Pope and because of that, they were called Bankers of God which was the height of prestige in the Middle Ages. Because of them, Florence was the banking capital of Italy.
Now, this paints the picture of a boring power-hungry family that had a lot of money. (I just heard a tiny voice in my head says Trumps, which is funny because I would have thought of Game of Thrones otherwise) but this is incorrect. Medici were the patrons of art and artists like Michelangelo, Botticelli and Brunelleschi. It was because of the patronage of Cosimo Medici, Italian Renaissance started in Florence and Firenze became the centre spot of High Art; a term used for art by renowned artists accessible only to the elite.
Again this is not the full picture, Florence today is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world along with its ties to the financial world and banking, arts and culture and it has a special place when it comes to fashion. Throw in delicious wine and great food and it becomes irresistible beyond belief.
When I visited Florence, it was part of a three-city trips; Milan, Florence and Rome and we spent only one day in Florence, arriving in the morning and leaving later in the evening but honestly, I look back and I feel like it was a mistake. Despite seeing pretty much everything on our list, I still feel like I should have spent at least another day to really take in the air of Florence, next time….
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Florence has beautiful Osteria spread around the old city on both sides of the river that serve delicious food with great Tuscan wine. Osteria refers to small establishments with traditional home-cooked food but obviously, it doesn’t work like that anymore but they still have a homely environment.
I liked the restaurants opposite the Pitti Palace. We were wandering around in the streets and in this beautiful little square next to Church of Santo Spirito we found Osteria Santo Spirito and fell in love before even tasting the food. It was a weird telepathic connection and the food tasted as amazing as we’d thought and the crockery was so beautiful I just wanted to clean and take the plate with me…
If I’d stayed I would have loved to watch the sunset on beautiful Florence with a glass of wine around here, don’t miss the chance..
I don’t think a city card is more relevant anywhere than in Florence. The Firenze Card gives you access to pretty much everything you need to see in Florence with priority access. It is valid for 72 hours and you can buy it online here. You can also buy it in front of the train station from the Tourist Information Office.
Warning: You will still need to book your time for Cupola (the dome of Cathedral of Florence) which you can’t just walk into anymore, make sure to reserve your spot.
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The ancient style of football in Florence is a big event. It will be unfair to call it football because it is a violent mix of football, handball, wrestling, boxing and rugby. It is violent and you will see blood and some ass-kicking and it happens in Piazza Santa Croce. There are only 4 teams and there are only 3 matches. The matches happen in summer only and you can get more information here and book your tickets in advance. It is quite a popular event with locals and you will get to see the spirit of Florence.
Florence has the honour of hosting the first gay disco in Italy back in the 1970s but since then the scene hasn’t expanded much. There are however really friendly guys around the city and we met a friend I had made through Scruff for drinks at Piccolo Cafe which is quite central. The cocktails were good and the environment was amazing. I am pretty sure Medici would have approved, after all, they were patrons of famously gay men/artists of the day ;).
The other places happen on regular weekends or set days but there isn’t much of a choice other than that in Florence.
Tip: The guys are more liberal with showing their faces if you tell them you’re a tourist because Florence is small and we all know small cities mean smaller scene which means big gossip. 😉
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You can spend a lifetime in Florence and the artwork won’t end for you to enjoy and marvel at but if you are around and want to see the most important stuff related to Florence I followed the itinerary given below. It covers the main spots including Uffizi Gallery, Cathedral and Vasari Corridor as well as other important things like David and birth of Venus.
Mercato Centrale –> Galleria dell Accademia –> Medici Palace –> Medici Chapel –-> Duomo –> Piazza della Signoria –> Palazzo Vecchio –> Basilica Santa Croce –> Uffizi Gallery –> Vasari Corridor –> Ponte Vecchio –> Basilica de Santo Spirito –> Palazzo Pitti and Giardino di Bolboli –> Piazalle Michelangelo
Central Market (Mercato Centrale)
We started our day with some local Tuscan street food outside and inside the Central Market which opens around 10am. You can see the life that still goes on in the heart of this beautiful city and how the locals come together. Food was delicious and gave us much needed energy and we headed to see the beautiful, beautiful David.
Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell Accademia)
Located in a narrow street, the building doesn’t look like it holds one of the most beautiful and famous sculpture in the whole world but you walk in and the only thing you can look at is David. It is so absolutely perfect standing in the middle of the circular room at the end of the hall. You cannot take your eyes off, you cannot focus on anything else but this perfectly proportioned sculpture.
All around Florence you will see massive replicas of the statue and I have seen hundreds of photos but not a single one of them does justice to its beauty, its grandeur and magnificence; took me 15 minutes to come back to my normal self and take some photos and move on to next stop. Somewhere inside I just wanted to sit there the whole day at just stare at its beauty without any worry in the world.
Fun Fact: The statue was made from a discarded block of marble and this 5 meters tall statue was supposed to be placed in the Duomo where it would have appeared smaller. Additionally the sling and trunk were covered in gold leaf which washed away with time because it was placed outdoors.
Medici Palace (Palazzo Medici Riccardi)
A palace fit for Medici! It looks like a massive fortress cum palace which holds a certain mystery and intrigue that the Medici brought to the fold. The central courtyard is spacious and the high arches all around make it look grand. The house was occupied by the Medici initially but once they rose to power and Cosimo became the grand duke, the palace was used by a lesser member of family. Don’t forget to check the ridiculously beautiful and equally daring chapel frescoed showing a Procession of Magi. It shows the family members and wealthy patrons joining the processions almost in a way which portrays them equals to the Biblical figures, very daring for their day!
Fun Fact: Medici Family produced 4 Popes, giving them the title of Bankers of God.
The beautiful Medici Chapels were built to honour the Medici family and the smaller chapel’s dome was designed by Michelangelo. It is quite a beautiful sight. The chapels are part of San Lorenzo basilica. It just gives the sense of grandeur, privacy and the power of this one family which just changed the face of Italy and Florence.
Florence Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Naria del Fiore)
No matter whichever direction you look at, especially from the higher points around the city, the Duomo is the most beautiful and powerful structure in the city of Florence. Located in the heart of city the massive imposing structure has such a presence you view everything as its shadow and I think that was the intent behind its construction.
The Duomo or the central cathedrals in the Middle Ages showed the associations all the Italian states had to the religion as well as the display of power and wealth. The bigger, the more decorated the cathedral the more the prestige! That’s why pretty much every big city in Italy has a Duomo, more stunning than the last one you see.
The story of Florence’s Duomo is quite intriguing. The main cathedral was built in 13 Century but because of lack of funds, the dome was left incomplete for 140 years and it remained incomplete till Cosimo Medici held a competition for the design and picked Filippo Brunelleschi for the construction of the dome, who destroyed all the blueprints once it was complete so for centuries no one knew how it was built. It is a double Octagonal dome with an inner dome called the ‘Vault to Heaven’ and an outer dome, which can be seen miles away.
Fun Fact: To this day, the dome of Florence’s cathedral is the biggest brick dome in the world, even bigger than St Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s in Rome (Vatican).
We got in after a small queue and oh my! my jaw almost fell to the floor. The cathedral truly represents Florence, not only from outside but also inside. The patterns on the floor to the decor on the walls are all incredibly detailed and mesmerizing and then we headed to the just-wow part of the cathedral; the duomo.
The layered dome painted with biblical figures and the pattern on the floor underneath it created this beautiful illusion that made me want to never move from there. This was probably one of the most profound moments I have had in a cathedral and trust me I’ve seen quite a few.
Signoria Square and Vecchio Palace (Piazza della Signoria & Palazzo Vecchio)
A few moments of absolute amazement in the duomo and it was time to see the Vecchio Palace; the seat of government for the State of Florence. The beautiful Piazza Signoria outside the palace has a presence of its own. With all the artwork around you do get the purest of feelings about being in Florence. The fountains, the statues, the beautiful spring sun, life couldn’t be better…
We sat in the sun enjoying Gelatto, which Florence does amazing and then headed to Palazzo Vecchio or the city hall. It is one of the oldest functioning administrative buildings in the world. It houses the ancient parliament house of sorts; The Hall of 500. Florentine nobility used to come here to make decisions of Council and government was run here. The ceiling of the great hall is ridiculously beautiful; it makes you wonder how these people would plan for battles and plot murders under this absolute masterpiece…
Basilica Santa Croce
The walk from Vecchio to Santa Croce takes you through the streets of Florence and I kept wondering where the Medici might have set their feet, it makes you feel the connection with this ancient family, almost in a way that gives you a sense of your contribution to the beauty of Florence.
The church has the beautiful line and circle Carara marble facade and the square next to it adds to the grandeur of the beautiful Basilica. It is rather simple inside but the reason for the visit was not the interior or exterior but what the church holds; it is the burial place for some of the world-famous Italians. Under this beautiful roof are resting names like Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini and Foscolo and many others that gave Italy the fame and place it deserves in the art world. This beautiful Basilica is also called Temple of Italian Glories and you know the reason now…
Fun Fact: While the architect of labour of this Basilica is Italian, the bill paid for the restoration and decoration of Facade was paid by an Englishman Francis Joseph Sloane.
After paying homage to the masters we headed back towards the beautiful Uffizi Gallery. The building was constructed as administrative offices under Medici rule because Palazzo Vecchio wasn’t enough but it was later turned into an art gallery. It holds some of the most important and famous pieces of art that draw people from around the world. The beautiful main hall, the corridors, the interior and most importantly the exterior with the beautiful status are part of an incredible complex the Medici created. Now you must be thinking it was because of their good nature but actually it was created to not mingle with the common folk. They deeply feared for their lives and the farther away they remained from the public, the easier it was to rule, not so noble eh?
If you need to cut your visit short and see some important pieces don’t miss Botticelli room for ‘Birth of Venus’ that changed the face of Renaissance art and one other piece that people usually ignore; Dante’s Death Mask. You can see the deep sadness that gave birth to the Hell we all still believe in.
Fun Fact: In middle ages, people used to put a plaster over the recently deceased person’s face to create an impression called the death mask.
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The real genius of Medici and THEIR Florence! They built a corridor-wide enough for a carriage to travel on top of common Florentines. The watchful eye of the governor and his family over Florence kept through this passage designed by Vasari stretching from Uffizi all the way to Palazzo Pitti (the later residence of Medici) and Boboli Gardens Via the Vecchio bridge. It holds numerous works of art today and you can enjoy the view of Arno river and the Tourists hordes below like we did…
Fun Fact: The Vecchio bridge used to be a meat market but the smell was terrible and the Medici moved the market and in its stead, the gold market was established on the bridge which is glittering at the bridge to this day.
Tip: You need to book the access to Corridor with a group. You can do it here. We had to come back for this as well.
Vecchio Bridge (Ponte Vecchio)
The most famous bridge of Florence is all bling and a good reflection of all that glitters is indeed gold. Lined with Gold shops on both sides, it is a glamorous affair but we crossed it rather quickly because the restaurant was on the other side and it was time to load a lot of food before the tour of Vasari Corridor started.
Basilica de Santo Spirito
After a delicious meal and some more gelato, we had some time to visit Santo Spirito because it was right next to the restaurant. Without much of a facade, this is probably one of the biggest surprises in Florence. The facade is devoid of any decoration and we almost skipped it, had I not done some research. The moment I walked in, everything changed. It is a beautiful example of early Renaissance architecture inside and so beautiful and peaceful, we sat quietly almost in a mini coma which was partly because of food and partly because of the elegance and beauty…
Pitti Palace & Bololi Gardens (Palazzo Pitti and Giardino di Bolboli)
After the tour, we were left at the and of Boboli Garden and Pitti Palace. This was the later residence of Medici and it has that look of a formidable, impenetrable castle. We sat around with coffee, giving our legs some rest but honestly there was a sense of beauty about Florence that makes you not care about you. I just wanted to get lost as part of this beautiful city but there was one last thing to do, to see the sunset on Piazzale Michelangelo. I couldn’t think of a better way to end this memorable day…
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We got a taxi and arrived at this beautiful viewing point. You can see the panorama of Florence here with a copper statue of David. I felt the magnificence of Duomo, traced the street we had walked through and then watched the sunset on this beautiful city. A precious day came to an end but in a beautiful way which makes you feel like you have actually lived it, Carpe Diem people Carpe Diem…
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