Whilst I’m not a believer in any kind of love at first sight, this city might be the exception. Florence is, without a shed of doubt, my favourite city in Italy and it wouldn’t be pushing it to extend that to Europe or even the big wide world. If you like places that will envelope you in art and culture at every corner then this city will steal your heart like it has stolen mine. I had the pleasure of spending a summer near this incredible city so I have spent a lot of time sitting on these streets sipping coffee, reading books and just generally watching the world go by and this is an activity that I would highly recommend. But, obviously Florence has got a lot on offer for you to see so here’s what I’d suggest you do if you manage to pull yourself away from your delicious coffee and biscotti.
Train it or bus it. You’ll be happy to know that Florence does indeed have an aiport.
Walk. Walk. Walk. The only way you’re not going to miss every single detail of this city is to explore it using your own two feet.
What to do
If you like Italian art, we’re talking the likes of Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffaelo, then this museum literally can’t disappoint you. It’s absolutely massive and steeped in paintings and sculptures mostly from between the 12th and 17th centuries. Buy your tickets in advance, about 13 euros, to avoid the queues and get an audio tour otherwise this will be an overwhelming experience. As with all museums, it will take as long as you give it, but this is one that I would dedicate some time to.
Top tip: If you do get bored of the real deal behind this art then you can initiate my personal favourite game of making up complete rubbish about it with whoever is standing next to you and delivering it as if you’re an expert. It passes the time.
Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze
Piazza della Signoria This piazza has been the centre of Florence’s political power since the 14th century and here you can discover a lot about the city’s political past – particularly the Medici dynasty who are responsible for Florence’s reputation for Renaissance art. From here you can see, and visit, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Loggia dei Lanzi, an outdoor sculpture gallery, and of course the copy of Michelangelo’s David
This is the oldest bridge in Florence. (If you speak Italian then this will be instantly obvious given its name.) Its sides are steeped in overpriced jewelry stores and it crosses the narrowest point of the Arno river.
Top tip: For a better view of it, and to avoid shuffling over it with the crowds, cross one bridge west (Ponte Santa Trinita).
Piazza del Pitti and Boboli Gardens
The Giordani di Boboli are the largest gardens in Florence and, for want of a better word, stunning. Strolling around these gardens you will see an array of beautiful sculptures and the beautiful Fountain of Neptune. If you head up to the Knights Garden to the Casino del Cavaliere, you can see great views of the rolling olive groves of Tuscany.
Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
This square has the best view of Florence. I already knew that I was falling for Florence before arriving at this spot, but watching the city descend into darkness through orange pink skies for the first time was definitely the moment I knew I was in a long term commitment with it. This sunset will not disappoint you. Take a bottle of wine up there, grab a spot and take it all in.
Piazza di Santo Spirito
After a beautiful sunset it’s time to hit one of Florence’s coolest squares. This square has all sorts of boho bars and cafes for you to venture into on an evening.
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
Florence’s Duomo is truly an architectural masterpiece. It’s the 4th largest Duomo in the world and absolutely breathtaking. Fortunately it’s free to enter, although you’ll have to queue, and 8euros to go up in the dome.
Piazza del Duomo, 9, 50122 Firenze
Florence is littered with gelato shops. This one is pretty good.
Via del Campanile, 2, 50122 Firenze
You can’t visit Florence without popping in to say Hello to David.
Via Ricasoli, 58/60, Firenze
Piazza della Santissima Annunziata
This is quite a pretty square, albeit more rundown than others that you might stumble upon. If you go between June and September then this square hosts a free jazz show every evening – well worth it.
If you have the time to explore the rolling hills of Tuscany then do it without a second thought. Some of my oldest and fondest memories as a child are set with this as a backdrop, munching on peaches in Italian orchards, eating huge bowls of spaghetti at baseball matches and late night trips for gelato in Arezzo. (As you can see my heart lies with food as much as it lies with Italy.)
Make sure you munch on
Panzanella – Bread salad
This is basically stale bread mushed up with fresh tomatoes, onions, tomatoes and olive oil, basil and vinegar. It’s bloody lovely.
Vin Santo and Cantuccini
Vin Santo is an Italian dessert wine. Dip your cantuccini in to soak it up, find a nice piazza and just absorb Florence.
Bistecca alla Fiorentine
Obviously, you can’t go to Florence without having a steak.
Up there with the best bread you’ll ever taste – drizzled in olive oil and with a sprinkle of salt.