Ciao Italy: Florence Sites and Sights

Florence: Sights

As I was going through my photos of all the things I did in Florence, I realised that I had done much more than I thought in the month that I spent there! In spite of this, there is still so much of Florence left to explore, and I’m sure that I’ve left some real gems off of this list. All I hope is that this list gives an idea of the sheer number of things to do and see in almost every corner of this beautiful city.

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Santa Maria Del Fiore (Florence Duomo)

I put this in its own category because it is THE landmark of Florence. It’s almost impossible to go through the city without catching sight of the Duomo. I had the pleasure of passing by it every day on my way to the train station.

Going through the doors of this impressive church is actually free! From the ground, you can see people making their way to the cupola and the very impressive fresco on the dome. However, the actual space is much more sparse than you would expect of a church this grand on the outside.

The ticket to the Duomo gives you access to the cupola, baptistery, bell tour and museum. Climbing the cupola is the quintessential Florence must do. Rows and rows of stairs come up above you almost endlessly, and just when you think you can’t go on anymore, you walk through a door and are face to face with the gigantic rooftop fresco. It was impossible to capture the sheer scale of this work with my camera. You can’t stop for too long though because another set of stairs will lead you to the dome itself and a view of the outside.

Although climbing the duomo may be more iconic, arguably the view from the bell tower is better. This is because you can actually see the duomo from the tower. There’s also a grill over which you can stand and look at the plummet many many floors down. I wasn’t brave enough to put my feet over, but I manage to shakily take a photo!

The baptistery is mostly famous for their golden doors; more specifically the Eastern door which leads to the duomo and was dubbed the gates of paradise by Dante. Personally, I found the mosaic rooftop inside just as captivating as the outside.

The museum is the largest and probably the most underrated part of the ticket. I don’t blame people for giving it a miss, due to its sheer size. If nothing else, make sure you have a good look at the original doors of the Baptistery which are kept and restored here.

Tips
Starting from late 2016 you can now pre-book your climb of the duomo (https://www.museumflorence.com/) I highly recommend this because it took us almost 2 hours of waiting to be able to do the climb! Booking for the other attractions is probably not necessary as getting to the bell tower and baptistery were only a short wait for us.

Markets and shops

Mercato Centrale
Located in the historic centre of Florence, right smack bang in the leather markets, Mercato Centrale is the perfect destination for foodies. The ground floor is filled with various vendors selling the most beautiful vegetables, pasta, and all round Tuscan goods. Whereas the upper level is a little bit more upmarket, with food options that extend beyond just the usual Italian fare. Although there are cheaper meals to be found elsewhere, nowhere offers as much variety in such a beautiful location. It also helps that is open beyond the usual lunch and dinner trading hours.

Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
If you love food this is another market that is worth visiting. Less of a tourist hub and more of a local’s produce market this is a great place to get a feel for what a Florentine would actually eat. If you have a kitchen and are in Florence for a while I highly recommend picking up some Fresh pasta here.

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San Lorenzo leather market
People will tell you that the San Lorenzo leather market is a massive tourist trap and full of pushy sellers all trying to force upon you the same goods as the store next door. Although I’m inclined to agree, I also think that a visit is part of the quintessential Florence experience. How long you stay, and if you buy anything is really up to you and your haggling skills.

Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella
Of all the stores in Florence, this is probably one of the most beautiful and historical. Behind its unassuming facade is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It now houses a tea room and sells various perfumes and other scented things. However, along the walls and in the displays are really wonderful artworks and tidbits of historical information that make a window shopping a real pleasure.

School of leather
This is a more recent Florentine historical institution. At certain times you will be able to see leather craftsmen hard at work in the school. At others, you will only be able to see their goods lining the walls. Most of the leather goods here aren’t cheap, but you’re getting a real assurance of hand made quality. Entry is free, so it’s a good way to spend some time admiring the local craft.

Gioia Chiara
If you’re on a bit of a budget, looking for leather but put off by the dubious wares hawked at a lot of other stores around town, Gioia Chiara really is the place to go. This small store is a family owned business that takes great pride in its products. There’s plenty of reasonably priced wallets, key chains, and bags that would make a great gift or wardrobe addition. I actually bought a beautiful soft brown leather wallet here for my boyfriend.

Bookbinding and Papermaking stores
There is a real variety of these all around the city. The notebooks and bookmarks also make great souvenirs without breaking the bank. You will find Il papiro everywhere (even in Melbourne!), but there are also plenty of other stores to choose from.

Museums

Uffizi gallery
There’s so much to see at the Uffizi it is mind boggling. Sure, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Spring are the biggest draw cards but the hall way of Caravaggio’s and Annunciation by Da Vinci was also incredible. There’s plenty of beautiful lesser known artworks as well. Not to mention, the building itself which is set across 3 different floors is stunning. This gallery is so large that my friends and I had to sit down and take a break little over half way through!

Accademia
Michelangelo’s David serves as a symbol of Florence and you can see the real deal in Accademia. This gallery is of a much smaller size than the Uffizi and for the most part very manageable despite a crowd due to the open space in which the statues are kept. Sitting down and contemplating David, is strangely surreal after seeing him so many times in the news, on books and in popular culture.

Make sure you pay careful attention to the street signs around Florence! There is also a fair bit of quirky modern art that sits carefully with the old. Other modern art exhibitions can usually be found all over town. Palazzo Strozzi will usually host more modern art exhibitions and is also open late in the Summer months.

Tips
Keep an eye out for special days and events that make these places a bit cheaper. We managed to visit Academia on the night of the Museum, a European initiative which made entry a mere euro from 7pm to 10pm. On the first Sunday of each month, state museums are all free. Although I am told that the line to get in is incredibly long.

Unless you happen to be visiting the museums on these fee reduced days, it’s best to book for entry before hand. Queues to get in are notoriously long at all times of the year and easily skipped by booking online for a set time (http://www.firenzemusei.it/) for a small fee of 4 euro per ticket or even better, calling up and getting a reservation for no extra cost.

Churches

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Santa Croce
This church is famous for being the burial spot of Michelangelo and Galileo. It is also a beautiful display of gothic architecture and a place for people watching. At night time, people will spill out onto the piazza from the bars. At others, there will be blockades put up for events.

Santa Maria Novella
Even if you never set foot in Santa Maria Novella, chances are you will hear of it, thanks to the main train station taking its name from this church. Although not the biggest tourist drawcard, Italians are often taught of this church as one of the most important gothic churches in Tuscany. So much so that one of my Italian friends commented that it was strange to see it in real life, as she had studied it so much as a 2d image.

Santo Spirito
Like most of the other famous churches, Santo Spirito faces out into a piazza. The point of difference here is that it is a market piazza that often features students sketching and an array of beautiful foodstuffs to buy. Lining the walls of the garden next door are the tombstones of many fallen soldiers.

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San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo church stands out, not only because it is smack bang in the middle of a busy marketplace but also due to its fabulously incomplete looking facade. This was purportedly meant to be eventually finished with a design by Michelangelo but evidently, that never happened!

There are so many more sacred sites and churches than these few dotted all over Florence. Listing them all would be an absolute nightmare. If you’re ever in need of a short respite or just curious, popping into a church probably won’t ever hurt.

Views and Gardens

Piazza Michelangelo
When I introduce people to Piazza Michelangelo I tell them that it’s really just a glorified car park. I stand by these words. In the middle of the piazza is a giant and somewhat dirty statue of Michelangelo from which it gets its name. The real reason why so many people take the treck up here is for the amazing views of the city of Florence and the Tuscan countryside. Going down the flower gardens are also a bit of a treat.

Ponte Vecchio
This picturesque bridge is beautiful from afar and also up close. At sunset and sunrise, this bridge is absolutely breath taking. When you’re actually on it, it’s a bit squishier, but it’s worth admiring the many fine gold stores built into the bridge. Even when all the stores have been shuttered, the view remains charming and fairytale-esque.

Piazza Della Signoria
A long-standing symbol of political intrigue, these days Piazza Della Signoria is more well known for the many impressive statues lining the square. Whilst I was on exchange, a most intriguing and irreverent art exhibition was taking place, featuring this man on a giant golden turtle!

Piazza Della Repubblica
This is my favourite Piazza in all of Florence. Mostly due to the whimsical carousel smack bang in the middle of the city. If nothing else, it makes for a pretty picture in the day and at night when it’s all lit up.

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Boboli gardens and Pitti palace
The closest I ever got to these gardens was actually sitting on the steep stone incline outside and sunbaking. However, by all accounts, the gardens and palace are incredibly beautiful and worth a full day’s worth of exploration if you’re up for it.

Oltrarno
Technically not a sight, the Oltrarno is Florence on the other side of the river Arno. Some of the places I’ve mentioned on this list are in Oltrarno so, you’re bound to wander into it. However, this part of Florence is worth a bit of exploration in its own right. The windy streets house many beautiful cafes, bars and stores and much fewer tourists. My favourite tea house can be found here. Same for my favourite gelato place.

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Tips
A lot of official Florence tourist places will want to push the Firenze card upon you. The card offers entry to the Duomo and skip the line entry to some museums but it comes at an eye water 72 euro and only lasts for 3 days. I think that it would be almost impossible to get good value for money with the card unlesss you really want to speed through all the museums and exhibits.

As with all Italian cities, there’s a fair share of beggars and pushy sales people. I find it’s best to be careful but firm when people start getting up in your face. As a side note, tt also helps to already have an umbrella when it’s raining otherwise everyone within a 50 metre radius will be trying to shove one in your face.

Florence is a very walkable city. As a result, there isn’t much public transport apart from the small and rather hectic looking buses. I never managed to catch a bus due to how crowded they were and walking proved to be a good excuse to get just another gelato. From one end of the city to the other, it only takes around 30-40 minutes. If you choose to go this route, remember good walking shoes and luggage with good wheels are your friends as the cobblestones are not kind to your feet or luggage.

If you would like to read more about Florence I recommend the following blogs:
http://girlinflorence.com/ A detailed and almost invaluable resource that goes above and beyond the general lists (like this one!) that dot the internet.
https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/florence This is more of a general guide for Florence and other parts of Italy. Handy if you want an overview of what to do, see and eat without or before getting into swathes of information.

To finish this lengthy post off, here’s some extra photos, including the stunning view from the apartment in which I stayed for a month.

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