Welcome to part two of my recap of my trip to Florence! If you missed part one, read it here. Pretty soon I’ll have posts about our shorter trips to Rome and Venice, but two weeks in Florence was too amazing to contain to just one post. We spent Week Two doing a lot of the “big” things people think of when they come to Florence, so hopefully I can help you figure out what’s actually worth doing and how best to do it. If you’re looking for information specifically on visiting the Duomo, check out my separate post here.
Places to Visit
If you’re looking for somewhere to explore but still have a little down time, Florence and the surrounding area has plenty to offer.
Situated directly behind the Pitti Palace (which you can visit, although we decided not to on this trip), the Boboli Gardens were once part of the Medici family’s grounds. It costs €10 to get in, but you could easily spend all day or afternoon here if you wanted. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy wandering the expansive 16th-century garden with its meandering paths, gravel avenues, and swaths of green meadows. Statues dot the landscape, including the Fountain of Neptune centered in a pond favored by ducks and even a heron, at least when we visited.
One of the most remarkable parts of the gardens is its magnificent view of the city. The gardens and the Pitti Palace are located across the Arno River from much of the city, and from the tops of the hills in the gardens you can see Florence and the hills of Tuscany beyond it. This openness was unusual for gardens of its time, and the lavishness is a bit strange as well, since the gardens were never used for entertaining or parties, and no one outside the Medici family ever visited them when they were first built.
On our last Saturday in Florence, we decided to visit Fiesole, a small town tucked away in the hills above Florence. We took a cab (about €20-30) but you can also take the #7 bus. If you buy a ticket for the City Sightseeing Tour buses they also go up here, which is where we got the idea. Originally an Etruscan village, Fiesole still has an archaeological site with remains of an Etruscan temple, and the entire site is actually surrounded by a stone wall that was originally built by the Etruscans in the fourth century BC. By the first century, the Romans had come in and took out the Etruscans, so the archaeological site also includes a Roman theater, baths, and temple that was built over the original Etruscan one. Tickets to only the archaeological area are €7 full priced, but if you want to visit the museums in the area it’s €10-12, which still isn’t bad. I definitely recommend exploring the area if you decide to visit Fiesole. Once you arrive in the main square (where any bus or taxi will drop you off) it’s just down the street past the Cathedral of Fiesole (the one with the bell tower. You can’t miss it). If you feel like walking, follow the Etruscan wall around to the left, and as it curves you’ll get some wonderful views of the Tuscany hills on the non-Florence side of Fiesole.
For lunch, we ate at Blu Bar, a restaurant that overlooks Florence down in the valley. It wasn’t very busy, so we took our time and enjoyed the view and the weather. It’s a little pricier than where we normally ate, but really only about €13-15 on average for a meal so still not terrible.
Piazza della Repubblica
Unlike the many towns in the hills surrounding Florence that began as Etruscan settlements, Florence was actually founded by the Romans. The Piazza della Repubblica marks the spot of the original Roman forum, the center of the Roman city. Today there’s not much that remains of the Roman period, but it’s still a fun area to visit and imagine what it might have been like, especially if you’re already in the area visiting the Duomo or Uffizi. When we were there, there was a carousel that was only €2 to ride. I’m not sure if it’s there year-round, but you better believe we rode it and had way more fun than any of the kids.
Things to Do/See
There is plenty to do in Florence, and we did as much of it as we could while we were there. Especially if you go in tourist season (June through August) I recommend reserving tickets ahead of time for as much as you can. It’s well worth paying a few extra euros to not spent half your time in Florence waiting in lines!
Officially this church is called the Florence Cathedral or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, but it is mostly commonly known as the Duomo (pronounced “dwo-moh.” And, contrary to popular belief, it means ‘cathedral’ in Italian, not ‘dome’). It is what Florence is known for, and it dominates the skyline of the city. On our first full day there, we decided to wander and explore the city, and we suddenly turned a corner and it was just there, huge and soaring and also beautiful in the intricacy and detail of the design on its facade. It was simply breathtaking. From that moment, the Duomo was my absolute favorite part of Florence, and my love for it only increased when we spent a full afternoon doing basically every activity it offers. It was a pretty full day, so I decided to create a separate blog post for visiting the Duomo, which you can read about here.
Another popular spot is Galleria dell’Accademia, commonly referred to as the Academy. This is where Michelangelo’s statue The David is located. And that’s pretty much it. There are some other rooms with Renaissance-era paintings, and lots of plaster models for other statues, but the David is definitely its big draw. You can buy tickets ahead of time, but when we got around to it there were no spots left. So we showed up before it opened to wait in line. We got there around 7:30, and the museum opens at 8:15. We were about the third group in line, and got in with the first wave of people. They let in about 20-30 people at a time since it’s small, starting with the people who have reservations and then those of us who are in the regular line. It’s €12 full price to get in, plus €4 reservation fee if you buy online, so I recommend just getting there early and avoiding the fee, since you’re really just visiting one statue. But boy, is it worth it!
Another place Florence is known for is its art museum, the Uffizi gallery. The primary reason to visit is the Botticelli room, including his masterpieces The Birth of Venus and Primavera. Other than that, it’s a lot of Renaissance art. I still definitely recommend visiting at least once, but if Renaissance paintings aren’t your thing (me), just know what you’re in for. (I know, I’m a museum person bashing one of the most famous art museums in the world. Not sorry about it). The collection also includes Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished work Adoration of the Magi, which he sketched but never finished painting. It’s a fascinating look at his process, and the room also has a video about the museum’s undertaking to restore the drawing. Again, you should definitely visit while you’re there, but this is a place where it’s worth buying tickets ahead of time to avoid the loooong lines that inevitably await you.
A note on buying tickets online: I’ve tried to link to all the websites to buy tickets in this post, but in case you lose track of the post and decide to just Google to website of a museum or monument, be wary. There are dozens of websites that look like the official site of a museum, but are actually third party tourist sites. The tickets will be legit, but they will charge you an extra fee if you purchase them through this site. I typically just Googled the museum, went to the Wikipedia page, and then found the official website in the summary section under the first picture on the right.
Where to Shop
We bought many of our souvenirs at the markets located throughout the city. These include Mercato Centrale (Piazza del Mercato Centrale – Via dell’Ariento), Mercado di San Lorenzo (Piazza del Mercato Centrale), and Nuovo Mercato (Loggia del Mercato Nuovo), all pretty close to the city center. This is where we bought leather purses, wallets, and even keychains. Be prepared to haggle! Otherwise you’ll definitely get overcharged.
Where to Eat
Finisterrae (Piazza di Santa Croce, 12)
If you’re looking for some delicious pastries, this is a great stop. Located on Piazza di Santa Croce, we had some trouble with service when we sat down for breakfast, but just stopping by and ordering from the counter is totally worth it to try their delicious pastries.
Obiò (Borgo de’ Greci, 1)
Also located near Piazza di Santa Croce, we ate here once for lunch and once for dinner. Their lunch menu is pretty limited (although I did cave and get a burger, and it was delicious). For dinner they have a buffet for only €10 that includes a cocktail. When we went they had salads, bread, pasta, and some casserole options. It wasn’t a massive buffet, but it was a good price if you’re looking for a cheap way to sit down for dinner and make sure you get your money’s worth.
Pizza Man (Locations throughout Florence. We went to Via dell’Agnolo, 105/107R)
Okay, okay, I know this sounds like a cheesy American restaurant, but it’s actually super delicious oven baked pizza that’s super cheap. You can get a pizza big enough to split or eat for two meals for just €7. You can sit down, take away, or they even deliver. It’s not hard to find good pizza in Italy, but this was one of our favorite spots!
And that was our final week in Florence! Planning out your time is highly recommended–there’s too much to do and see if you just wing it day by day. There’s plenty of things we didn’t have time for, but I’m so glad we had time to do all of the “big” things in Florence. Some (like the Duomo) I would definitely do again if I get to return. Others (like the Uffizi) I might not, but I don’t regret doing them once.
What do you think? Did we miss anything you think is a must-do? Did you visit any of these spots and think they were spectacular, or less than stellar? Let me know in the comments!