Florence is far from a hidden gem: it doesn’t need any publicity from me for tourists to go there (and I know, as soon as I visit a city and write about it, the tourists start pouring in) and it will always be famous for its art and in-your-face Renaissance everything. The first time I went, I enjoyed it but it took third place after Venice and then Rome. While I didn’t get to Rome during my time in Bologna, I did revisit both Venice and Florence, and, strangely enough, my thoughts on the two switched. I visited Florence at Christmas on my second to last day in Italy, and really enjoyed everything I saw. I went with three friends from Bowdoin, and it was nice to explore a city with some friends who’d also just studied abroad (in Svalbard and Panama, talk about different experiences). So, without further ado, here are some of my picks:
Food: Yes, it’s Italy, but it can be tougher to find good, non touristy places to eat in Florence and Venice. My first time in Florence my mom and I ate at a lot of streetside cafes on Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Santa Croce, and my friends and I just grabbed a quick slice of pizza for my second visit, so my food recommendations are limited.
- Gelateria delle Carrozze–a great spot for gelato near the Ponte Vecchio with tasty coffee chip
- Frescobaldi–a really nice, Florentine restaurant where you can try Tuscan wines, Florentine steak, and other local delicacies. On the more expensive side.
- Duomo–I didn’t go inside of the church except for when I climbed to the top, which I absolutely recommend. You have to pay, and the line can be long, so be there a little before they open in the morning to beat the crowds (I’m pretty sure we either got there or woke up at 7:45). As you ascend, you pass through the church and get to see the paintings/frescoes of hell and heaven. The view at the top of Florence is spectacular. Not for the claustrophobic.
- Baptistery–Incredible ceiling! Not quite as crowded as the Duomo next door but it’s magnificent, gilded, and awe-inspiring. Take some time to enjoy sitting down and looking up at this domed ceiling.
- Campanile–The bell tower next to the Duomo offers incredible views of Florence and the Duomo. It’s only a little shorter than the dome, and you get terrific views of the Duomo from above, so it’s also worth a climb.
- Uffizi–Huge attraction but another must. Incredible artwork. Take a guided tour because this museum is massive and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Highlights include Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera, as well as many, many others.
- Accademia–Super crowded, but breathtaking work of Michaelangelo (this is the original, not the one in the Piazza della Signoria). Don’t expect to have much intimacy with the artwork, but maybe check out Rick Steves from some crowd beating tips (early morning, lunch time, before close?)
- Piazzale Michelangelo–A great vantage point from which you can see a lot of the city on the other side of the Arno. There are some nice looking restaurants and cafes along the walk, and when you trek up the hill there’s a nice garden which you can walk through.
- Palazzo Pitti–This massive palace was the home of the Medici family and allows visitors to peek inside of the apartments of the “ruling family” of Florence. Incredibly ornate and not too crowded.
- Santa Croce Scuola di Cuoio–For some Florentine leather, check this school out near Santa Croce Square. Here, students can monogram journals and other leather products you buy with gold leaf.
- Palazzo Vecchio–Great to visit at night after dinner (short walk from Frescobaldi). I remember the map room inside being particularly interesting. Not crowded and really cool.
- Piazza della Signoria—A bustling square with lots of sculptures (eg. The Copy of David), the Palazzo Vecchio, etc.
- Ponte Vecchio–made into the gold bridge by the Medici family as they had to cross the bridge everyday and pass by all of the butchers. They didn’t like this, so they got gold vendors into the shops lining this Arno River Bridge. I wouldn’t bother shopping here, but it’s great to walk over and get a view of the city. Take it to get to the Pitti Palace.