Firenze, a Tuscan city of abundant beauty, art, food, and culture — a “must see” when it comes to exploring Italy. Growing up in a New York, Italian family, I was always curious about Italy and where many of my ancestors came from. Most of my great grandparents on my mother’s side of the family were born in Italy before coming to America. My mother would tell me stories about them (they all passed before I was born), how they spoke mostly Italian at home, and passed down their traditions and heritage. Italy was always on the top of my bucket list, and it ended up being my first trip to Europe. Florence is a city I will never tire of. I made my first visit there in August, 2015 with my now husband. I returned the following summer with my mom and brother, and loved soaking up the city again, through their eyes. Recently, my husband and I took a day trip to Florence (it’s easy to get there by train from Bologna, Pisa, and Rome, so if you are visiting one of those cities, it is definitely worth the detour!). Almost immediately upon exploring Florence, you are greeted with views of the Duomo, as all roads seem to lead towards that direction. The Duomo, also known as Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, was completed in 1436. The famous “dome” was designed by Brunelleschi and you can climb all 463 steps to the very top! The Cathedral is absolutely stunning with pastel pink and green hues in the marble on the outside, and I highly recommend the tour inside and climbing the steps to the top. You will be rewarded with views of the city, not to mention the tour of the impressive cathedral. It’s always a good idea to prebook excursions in Italy, and sometimes you have the option to “skip the line” (which is well worth it in my opinion).We booked our tickets for the Duomo through the website:
Up close view of Brunelleschi’s Dome. If you look closely, you can see the people on the top.
Another “must see” in Florence is Michelangelo’s “David”. The statue and other magnificent works of art are on display at the Galleria dell’Accademia. I recommend booking online ahead of time, so you skip the line (or queue, as the Brits say). You can book a ticket for a specific entrance time on their website. My mom and I went when it first opened and then had the rest of the day to explore Florence. Keep in mind when planning your visit, that the museum is closed on Mondays.
If shopping is your thing, you will be very happy in Florence! In addition to high end shops such as Gucci, Prada, Tiffany, Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, Armani, and dozens of other stores and boutiques that I can’t afford but love to browse! If you are on a normal budget, like myself, there are still plenty of options, particularly if you are looking for a new leather purse! The Mercato di San Lorenzo is your best bet for purses, belts, leather goods, and various other gifts and trinkets from Italy. In addition to the market, there is an assortment of gift shops and souvenir shops, as well as the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge shop!
You can’t go to Italy without drinking wine, right? Right. Finding the perfect “wine experience” for you will take a little planning and research, and depends on your interests as well as the amount of time you have in Florence. There are all day, and even multi day winery trips available, that take you out in the Tuscan region. There are shorter options, such as a half day tour or even a city wine tasting. Each time we’ve been in Florence, it’s only been for a day or two. On our first trip to Florence, we combined wine with biking — two of my passions, it was perfect! We booked a half day bike tour (ie: about ten miles on a mountain bike, no cycling gear required) that stopped at a local vineyard in Tuscany. Not only did our ride out of town spoil us with amazing views of Florence and the Tuscan countryside, but our stop at the local vineyard included a tour, and wine and food pairings. It was the perfect day for us as we wanted to visit a local Chianti vineyard, but also love to be active and didn’t want to spend an entire day drinking wine. Side note: we discovered we LOVE Chianti, particularly Chianti Classico while on this trip.
Of course you can’t visit Italy without talking about the FOOD! I come from one of those Italian families that you see in facebook memes where the table is covered in food (and someone is always telling you to eat more). I thought I’d tasted authentic Italian food before in NY, but nothing compares to the homemade pastas, sauce, and desserts in Italy. As with any tourist city, the closer you are to the action, the more touristy the restaurant. As a general rule, do not eat in a restaurant right next to a main tourist attraction or on the main Piazza. The best restaurants are found in the small alleys, and certainly do not have people standing outside trying to usher you in. In Florence, if you cross over the river, you will find many delightful trattorias and cafes where local Italians enjoy eating. On all three trips to Florence, I’ve enjoyed eating in Piazza Santo Spirito – my favorite being Osteria Santo Spirito. This place is always busy and booking is recommended, particularly if you are there during the busy summer season. If you can’t get in Osteria Santo Spirito, I’ve also had a great meal (and great charcuterie plate) at Ristorante Borgo Antico. After you’re done eating, be sure to wash it all down with gelato! There are so many places to choose from, do yourself a favor and eat gelato at least two a day. I’m a sucker for Hazelnut, but I did have a pear and marscapone gelato that was literally the best sweet thing I’ve ever eaten.
While there is so much to see in Florence, it’s also important to pencil in a few hours for aimless wandering and soaking in all the marvels the city has to offer. The architecture, the culture, the views — all will leave you wanting a second (or third) trip back! Enjoy some scenes from Florence!
Sooooo, when are you heading to Italy?!?