When you think Florence , you think Renaissance , Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci , Botticelli, Giovanni , Dante…
Giuseppe Verdi once said, “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet , like diluted wine.
It was after two wonderful relaxed days in Lake Como , my journey in Italy transcended to my third destination which was to the incredible city of Florence. I had chalked out three days here and was pretty sure even those will be less considering there was so much to do . Most may feel couple of days is good enough, but if you are a sucker for art , history and architecture the city will not disappoint you at all.
It’s a must-see for visitors to Italy and one of the world’s most famous cultural cities. The city is well connected by air, rail and roads . I took a train from Como to Milan station where we changed to other for Florence.
Its best to stay near to the Santa Maria del Fiore( the main cathedral ) which is undoubtedly the most iconic sight in the city. Almost all of Florence is walkable from here , so ensure you get a place in the center . My Airbnb apartment was a vintage one here and had one of the most beautiful décor which reflected the cities essence . Here again you will find no lifts in apartments so be prepared with light luggage to tug .
The best way to visit Florence is on foot. Every single street in the center is a piece of history to explore. The town is not so big and once you are located in the central area, you can walk everywhere. However, you can also take one of the hop-on/hop-off buses that will get you between major attractions.
After I plonked my luggage over, I was all excited for the cultural walk that I had booked over for the evening through Airbnb. The meeting point was Santa Maria Novella Church .
Even if churches aren’t really your thing, it’s worth a look inside Santa Maria Novella. With its ornate exterior and strikingly stripey interior, the church is another example of the grandiosity that is Florence. The crowd for the heritage walk was small and we enjoyed going through all the iconic sites with some history pouring in though the guide who had a very strong Italian accent which made us decipher his English with difficulty. But the walk helped us to understand the layout of the city and how to go about the next day.
Florence is chock full of Italy’s finest Renaissance art, history and architecture. It’s a must-see for visitors to Italy and one of the world’s most famous cultural cities. It’s better if you want to catch the main highlights of Florence to buy online entry ticket for these places which will save you from long queue’s .
My next day began with Academy Gallery . If you only visit one museum in Florence, make it the Academy. There’s a reason people from all over the world filter through the doors each year and that reason is to see the perfection of Michelangelo’s David up close and…er…personal. But that’s not all the Academy has on offer so take more than the cursory 5 minutes most visitors sadly give this impressive museum.
Post this the next stop was the Opera Museum . But before that I decided to get a quick bite into my Pizza . A local advised me to try ‘ Mr Pizza’. Between its proximity to the duomo (just to the left when you’re facing the cathedral) and ridiculous name, I didn’t believe it could possibly serve good food but I was wrong. Yes, it’s canteen-style so you have to order at the counter, but the pizzas are fresh, fast and amazing value. Best of all, there are no tourist menus or microwaves hiding out back, which is pretty much what you’ll find everywhere else around the cathedral. (Oh, and gluten-free fans rave about the pizza here.)
So here I was all happy after a good meal to hit my next stop which was the Opera Museum. Tucked away behind the back of the cathedral, most visitors miss the Opera museum in favour of selfies in front of what is actually replica Gates of Paradise on the baptistry. To see the real deal, head to the Opera Museum.
Just across from the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral is the Baptistry. It’s a very impressive octagonal building that most people only see from the outside , inside its dark and devoid of any monument’s.
But rising above all these masterpieces, both literally, and some would argue figuratively, is the colossal Florence Duomo . The enormous red-tiled dome – the biggest brick and mortar dome in the world, is both a product and a symbol of the incredibly fecund creative culture that has defined the city for over 500 years. Today visitors can climb the 463 steps to the tiptop of the dome for sweeping views of the city, but be warned, the Florence Duomo climb isn’t for everyone. The stairs were originally built simply to help workers get up and down the cathedral walls for construction and maintenance; no one thought they would to be used by the general public. Not only are there hundreds of steps, but they are small, steep and narrow. Once you reach the start of the dome you can step out onto a narrow walkway to see the beautiful frescoes that line the inside of the cupola but those afraid of heights beware – just a strip of Plexiglas sits between you and the cathedral floor 130 feet below! The dome has survived wars, storms, and multiple earthquakes. Though frescoes have been retouched, doors polished, and oak supports replaced, Florence’s Duomo has needed very little refurbishment. It’s a testament to the city’s power and wealth and a symbol of the city seen even from afar. I had a guided tour which helped me with the history of the place , and here I was all exhausted post that hike .
And here I had my last stop for the day which was the Uffizi Gallery(Galleria degli Uffizi)
What can I say about the Uffizi? Let’s start with the fact that it’s massive and houses a mind-boggling volume of Renaissance and European art from some of the biggest names in history.
You can take a guided tour around the museum but it’s easy enough to visit on your own with or without an audio guide.
Post all this walking I decided to settle down for a soothing sunset at the PonteVecchio Bridge which is just a stone throw away from Uffizi and you can walk in 5 minutes.
The Ponte Vecchio was designed in 1345 and back in Medieval times, it was filled with butchers and the accompanying stench of rotting meat. These days the bridge is mainly occupied by jewellers, which makes it an all-around more pleasant place. Just go slowly: the crowds can be dense.
The next day I decided to take it easy and make a trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa . It’s an hours train drive from Florence . Not that I was so keen on this , as I think it’s very touristy. It’s a nice pleasant train drive here and there is a bus route from outside the station only which takes you to Pisa site. In Italy bus tickets are normally not issued in the bus, but outside the bus station there is a vending machine from where you need to purchase the same.You can use even your forex card to get the same issued too . As expected there was like a tsunami of humans pushing and pulling the tower for photo ops. So if you just want it as a ticker on the box then it’s worth all the while else you can skip this .
So it was finally the last day to leave from here and the morning I planned to take a photo shoot draped in one of my favourite attire which is the saree. The shoot was scheduled as early as 7 am , and I had hired a professional photographer through Airbnb who was a wonderful guy from South Korea .
The Italian’s walking the road gave me those admiring glances , they were surely not used to see the Indian nine yards on those streets . It was a lot of fun shooting and we ended up walking a lot of place and ended up at Piazzale Michelalangelo where I changed into a pair of jeans to shoot. This place is the most impressive one to end a trip to Florence. You will get the best views of the city from here . Aim for sunset when you can drink in the views and I’ve no doubt make a pledge that to Florence you will return.