Ah, Florence. My beautiful, romantic city. Florence will always hold the special place in my heart of being my first European city to visit. And it was stunning. There are so many things I love about Florence, but I'm making myself stick to 10. My Top 10's are going to be a recurring series with, obviously, different cities/countries each time, so you can definitely expect more!
If you're traveling to the birthplace of the Renaissance, there are a few things you MUST do. I've compiled a list of the most important so that your trip planning can be a bit easier!
1.) Sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo
If you want the absolute best view of the city, along with a killer sunset, you need to make the trek to Piazzale Michelangelo. Expect quite a few steps and ramps up to the Piazzale, but I'm telling you it is SO WORTH IT! It is really busy at sunset, but it's the perfect opportunity to view the entire city and get a magazine-worthy picture. Trust me. Go.
2.) Michelangelo's David at the Accademia
I know you may think you really don't care to see it or wait in line (buy a ticket for a designated time and then come back--so much better), but this you have to see. It is so much bigger in person, and after alllll of the artwork and statues that you see in Europe, you can definitely tell that this statue is a cut above them all. I can't express fully in words the majesty of this statue. Note: there are many Davids around Florence, but the Accademia houses the real deal. Michelangelo is a genius, and seeing his artistry (that's hundreds of years old, by the way) up close is breathtaking. The detail is astounding, and he is extremely smooth. Make sure you circle around the back. You can see David's sling slung over his back (never knew that's what was there) and also, his butt. (teehee) Make time and go see it!
3.) Ponte Vecchio
This famous bridge is famous for a reason. It's incredible! The stores and houses were built ON the bridge. And the upper hall of the bridge was built so that the Medici family could get from their home to work without being stopped on the street. How ridiculously extra is that? This bridge is a must to walk on, and there are so many good photo opportunities on the bridge itself, and off the bridge (to get the structure itself in a photo).
4.) The Duomo
Duomo is actually the Italian word for cathedral, but in Florence if you say "duomo" there's really only one place with the title. The Duomo in Florence is absolutely spectacular. It is striking from every angle, and you must, must, must see it. It is enormous (a gross understatement) and you could easily spend a few hours just gazing up at it. I highly recommend seeing it from a few different angles. Also check out The Baptistery, the oldest religious building in Florence (dating back to 4th-5th century AD) and the bronze doors built by Andrea Pisano and took 30 years to make! If you want to save time and money on a tour, download Rick Steve's Europe app and take a few of his walking tours. They are very informative, free, and you don't have to wait in any lines! Tip: download the tours you want to take before you leave your room. He actually says on his tour that the inside of the Duomo is a little underwhelming and not worth going in (save that for St. Peter's Basilica).
5.) Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace
The Pitti Palace was built in the 15th century and was home to the Medici family. I'm pretty sure the King of Italy (back when there was one) stayed here for a few years when Florence was the capitol city. It's a commanding building with many museums on the inside, but one of the gems is in the back: the Boboli Gardens. This day in particular I was very tired and decided to take some rest time at the apartment, so I didn't physically go here myself. However, my inlaws went and raved about it! We love going to gardens (I'm a huge nature lover), and these were just incredible. If you love gardens, and royal ones at that, visit Boboli.
6.) Museo di Palazzo Davanzati
This museum is extra special, as it is a palace that has been preserved to look like the 14th century! In Florence, you are surrounded by stunning history (especially the Renaissance) and being able to see what a house back then would have looked like is a really neat experience. I'm pretty sure you have to schedule a time so that you can see all the floors, so make sure to do that.
7.) Cappuccino + Croissants at Cafe Mingo
OK. So this was my favorite part of Florence, no lie. First, we stayed right next door so having a cafe right downstairs was EXTREMELY convenient. Second, this was a real, authentic Italian cafe. I don't think I saw one tourist in there the entire time we were there (and we went every day). Third, the cappuccinos are so wonderfully creamy and delicious. But the croissants. THE CROISSANTS! They were completely handmade every morning (you can tell the difference between this cafe and others). The plain ones have a delightful honey drizzle on top, but my favorite was the croissant with blackberry jam in the middle. And what is great about their pastries is that they aren't overly sweet like they are in America. You order anything in the USA with jam on the inside, and it just punches you in the face with how sweet it is. In Italy, there is just a wonderful little dollop of jam in the middle. Not too much, not too little. Oh gosh, I'm drooling as I type this. *sigh*. This is the perfect cafe to grab a quick bite, and did I mention it's really cheap? It is located just behind the Uffizi Gallery, on the corner.
8.) Piazza della Signoria anytime of day
This piazza is great during the day, but it is soooo romantic and dreamy at night time. Musicians and artists line the Uffizi Gallery area before you enter the piazza (if coming from the river). A replica of David stands in the square along with a hall of other famous statues and an imposing fountain. Grab some alfredo at Il David restaurant while you sit outside and take in the scenery. Yes, this is a tourist spot, but the alfredo is sooooo delicious. I ate it twice. Not only that, but our favorite gelato place is in this piazza as well. I cannot remember the name to save my life, but it's on the corner across from Fossil, right next to a place called Furla. It's a small gelateria with great gelato, pastries, coffee, sandwiches, and people! Grab your gelato after dinner and set out on a stroll while listening to the music and taking in the art of Florence.
9.) The Leather Market
The leather market is a great place to grab some souvenirs for yourself and for loved ones! Some might say that you get fake stuff, but who has the funds to drop $200 on each souvenir? And not all real leather was that steep. I bought some lovely lamb leather money pouches for my sister and mom. They are the softest things I have ever felt, and my girls love them. I found Italian silk ties for the boys here, and a beautiful Italian leather purse for myself. Many people tell you to be ready to haggle for a price, and you should, but honestly every vendor I met haggled for me. They would say one price, I would think for a minute, and then they would lower it 2 more times before I said yes! Sometimes just waiting will do the trick! The Leather Market closes at 5 or 6 (I really think it's 5) so get there before then! It is located on Via Calimala. When you see H&M, you know you're close.
10.) Shopping on Via de Calzaiuoli + Via Calimala
If you want to get some shopping done on your trip, take a trip to these two streets! The first is more high end, while Calimala is more affordable. Great little shops, restaurants, and gelaterias line these streets, so you have everything you need! Take time to wander through some streets as well. One of my favorite nights was spent just wandering around through all the little side streets with Jamison. It was magical!
Other Things to do:
-take a stroll down the Arno river
-Take a cooking class and learn how to cook some authentic Italian dishes
-go to the Leonardo da Vinci museum
-check out Piazza Strozzi
-Seek out art stores to get some famous handmade, Florentine paper
I'm in love with Florence, and I cannot wait to return one day.
If you're traveling soon or have any questions, drop a comment! I'd love to help or chat!