The cradle of the Renaissance, home to art & artists; Florentia as they call it is an energetic city filled with churches, monuments, and buildings displaying the best in architecture. You don’t have to visit a museum to experience amazing art in Florence, it’s all over the city.
We bid farewell to Lucerne & continued our journey into Italy. We were to stay in Florence & Rome when in Italy. Travelling to Italy from the Swiss Alps was a sudden change in culture. You realise you cease to be in a country of luxury, and the first thing you notice is the tall 5-6 storey buildings all close to each other, fighting for space. But then I shrugged, it was the Swiss Alps you were coming from and this country had a lot in store for me in a different way.
We took the TGV (a super-fast inter-country train) from Platform 10 at Lucerne to Milano Centrale. The train passed through Arth-Goldau. This is where you alight if you were to go visit Mount Rigi in Switzerland. This train passes through one of the longest tunnel routes started just 4 months back. A tunnel as long as 57 kms called the Gothard Bassis tunnel. The train takes you through the most scenic route in the mountains, passing through stations like Bellinzona, Lugano , among others, and the last one being Como SG, after which we reach Milano. We had to take the next train to Florence from Milano at 01:20 pm from platform 14. Milan central station was a crowded station although good infrastructure and the trains made the difference. Trentitalia trains run in Italy and the trains in order of their speeds are respectively called frecciarossa, frecciagento and frecciabianca. Every day over 140 frecce trains bring Rome closer to Milan, Verona and Venice, while more frecciarossa 1000 trains are speeding across Italy. The frecciarossa speeds at 300 kms/hour.
Tip: When in Italy, be prepared to lug all of your luggage down cobblestone streets and up stairs when you get to your hotel. Most hotel do not have a lift.
A walk into this historical WORLD UNESCO place is beautiful and enriching. You would have hardly come across such balconies, cobbled streets full of enthusiastic tourists, and breathtaking architecture so impeccably packaged.
Our stay was booked at a hotel which was a 20 min walking distance from the city centre. Our Hotel Rapallo was a 15 minute walking distance from Firenze station and closer to a green park in a friendly neighbourhood. Stay at the Rapallo was comfortable, breakfast was great. They even offered high tea for guests who could make it at the hotel around 4.00 pm. There are multiple lanes in Florence and thus suggestively there are multiple ways to reach your destination, all you need to know is the direction of the city centre and any of the ways will lead you there. There are multiple restaurants for dinner & lunch; most of them offer Italian favourites – pizza, pasta, panini, wine and more.
Among other things, buy the Florence Pass/Firenze Card, but remember it only works for 72 hours, so group your activities accordingly. And remember to start early as many of the monuments are not littered with people so early.
What to see at Florence:
Florence Cathedral & the Dome:
One of the main cathedrals in Florence, this medieval red domed Cathedral stands tall in the city centre, with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The Cathedral is named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore. The mosaic pavements are certainly its main attraction within, along with its exterior made up of pink, white & green marble. Entry is free, although most times you will encounter a long line. If history interests you, take an audio guide and know more details on the legends and curiosities within. Once you’ve seen the interiors of the dome, it is a must to climb up the 463 steps to the cupola that takes you by the interior of the dome where you can admire Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment up close. It also offers a panaromic view of the city of Florence.
Giotto’s bell tower:
Another beautiful bird’s eye view of the city can be seen by climbing up the Giotto’s bell tower. Here again there is a huge line most times, since they let get inside in groups only. There are 3 levels in the tower leading up to the terrace. Each level offers a unique view and details are mentioned on each floor. From the terrace you can see the top of the Dome, where people stand for the view. Remember the Duomo OPA pass includes all monuments in Florence: climbing the Duomo, as well as the bell tower, the crypt, the baptistery and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. It is valid for 48 hours, which starts from the first monument you visit, although it is not possible to skip the line. The Duomo also has a similar view but the Giotto’s bell tower has 3 levels and not just the top view.
Home to several works of art by artists like Michelangelo and Da Vinci, the Uffizi gallery is one of the oldest and most famous art museums of the Western World. It lies adjacent to the Piazza della Signoria. On any day, be ready for a long queue to enter the museum. The only way to avoid wasting time on queues is to book tickets well in advance, as per your time of convenience.
The Gallery of the Academy of Florence, is well known as home to Michelangelo’s sculpture David. It also has a collection of Renaissance paintings and art. You can book tickets in advance here to avoid standing in long queues.
The Palazzo Pitti is famously known for the Pitti Palace. There are 2 tickets to be bought here. Each offers 3 unique places within the Palace. It is located at a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio and houses several museums. The Pitti Palace and the Boboli gardens house the Palatine Gallery, the Silver Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Costume Gallery, the Porcelain Museum and the Museum of Carriages. Each of these would take some time to visit, so plan your visit accordingly. The Boboli Gardens, which are attached to the Palace, are among the finest gardens in Europe, don’t think of skipping this place.
Piazza Della Repubblica:
Visit this market after dusk. Gorgeous architecture, landscaped with people walking around, sampling food from the various food stalls available. You can also buy cheap handbags from the many street vendors around. For kids there is a large merry-go-round, beautifully lit at night. Artists perform to a cheering crowd. Don’t forget to try the regional specialities here.
One of the city’s most illustrious landmarks, the Ponte Vecchio or the Old Bridge on the river Arno, houses wooden-shuttered goldsmiths’ shops that line both sides. Pedestrians walk the bridge teeming with musicians, portraitists & other entertainers.
The octagonal Baptistery stands in both the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza San Giovanni and is opposite the city’s cathedral, the church of Santa Maria Del Fiore. Inside the baptistery, the precious mosaics in the dome draw your attention. It is believed that the Bapistery was built over the ruins of a Roman temple, dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war.
Fountain of Neptune:
Neptune was the god of freshwater and the sea in Roman religion. The fountain of Neptune is situated on the Piazza Della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. The place is best visited at night with all the statues (and buildings) tastefully lit up.
Il Porcellino – The mascot of Florence:
One of my favorite statues in Florence is Il Porcellino in Italian cinghiale which is the local name for the bronze fountain of a Boar. The legend goes that you need to place a coin in the mouth of the boar and if the coin slides down with the water into the drain below, you return to Florence. The statue is situated in Market of Porcellino.
Eat & Drink:
- As the capital of Tuscany, Florence has remarkable wines, most notably the deep red wine Chianti Classico. The place is also known for its vineyards. Some wines that you should try include: Bianca Toscana (white wine), Lambrusco Dolce, Morellino, Bolgheri, Brunello and Avvoltore (Red wines). For a more enjoyable experience, visit a wine cellar for a delightful wine tasting or winery tour inside a wine bar. You can also buy the wines at the many wine shops around the city.
- Eat at the Ristorante Casa Del Vin Santo. We tried the Insalata Capresse Di buffalo a starter and Crespella Alla Florentina as the main dish.
- If you want to have something local and want to eat where the locals do, try the local cuisine with eggplant, rice & salad and the delicious blueberry cheesecake for dessert at Il Vegetariano – Via delle Ruote 30-red, Via Santa, Reparata. This is a local restaurant, where only the owner can converse properly in English & is a self-service joint.
Places around Florence:
For a day’s visit, Bologna & Venice are best bets.
To say that the city of Florence is magnificent is a massive understatement. The king of Italy; I was attracted to this great Tuscan capital like a moth to a flame.