Backpacking Italy: A Unique Side To Florence
by Esmée Heath
The plans for my Italian adventure were sparked during a visit to an art exhibition on Italian cities in the early spring of 2015.
You see, before it became easy to discover the world, travelling to Italy was known as something called The Grand Tour. An adventure deemed so luxurious that it was pursued only by the richest of aristocrats and royalty. This meant that for the rest of the population, the best view they got of these beautiful and exotic places was through the art and literature brought home from these tours.
Thankfully, and unlike most of the nineteenth century population, I had savings and time to kill before I started University, so I went on a two month solo backpacking trip across Italy to discover the origins of the paintings I saw in the gallery for myself.
What to do?
Whenever I visit a new city I always spend a few hours of my first morning on a walking tour. Not only are they free (please do tip your guide if you had a good experience though) but they help you get your bearings and figure out where you might want to go back to depending on how much time you’ve got!
Florence has plenty to choose from and they all have their own quirks and provide different types of information. If you’re unsure what tour you’d like to go on you can always find the leaflet board in your hostel and read up on a few different options or ask a staff member for their top tips.
If you’re travelling alone these tours are a great place to meet other solo travellers who have just arrived in the city! During my stay I met a whole bunch of amazing people in my hostel and on my walking tour who I ended up spending a week exploring Florence with.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is probably the most recognisable building in Florence’s skyline. With its huge dome structure and beautiful architectural details, the cathedral was build in the fourteenth century with the aim of fitting all 100,000 people who lived in the city inside. Although it fell short of this goal, the building still remains one of Florence’s biggest tourist attractions and is definitely worth visiting on your trip!
Keep in mind that because entry is free the queue can get pretty long, so make sure you have, food, water and something to cover yourself with if it’s a hot day. Women are also expected to have their shoulders, arms and legs hidden so remember to dress appropriately that morning so you don’t get caught out!
If you’re an art lover then the Uffizi gallery is most definitely worth making time to visit during your trip! Depending on your preference, you can explore the huge number of rooms with a tour guide or by yourself. While entry is a little more expensive than other things to do and places to go in Florence, being able to see pieces of art such as The Birth of Venus and Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus in person is a truly humbling experience that should not be passed up.
Day trip to Manarola, Cinque Terre
Known for its stunning instagram famous pictures of colourful houses and turquoise waters, Manarola is a beautiful town on the stretch of Italian Riveira coastline called Cinque Terre. And, while not in Florence itself, if you have a little more time on your hands I could not recommend spending a day (or two) here more.
If you’re preference is to hang easy and have your day planned for you then I recommend booking onto an organised trip with a tour company for about 50 to 100 euros (probably the same ones you found when you were looking for a free walking tour). If not, you can book a cheap train ticket from Firenze S.M.N and head out there on a two hour train ride whenever suits you best!
(Before I went I was told that Al Pozzo serves the best fresh fish and pasta in the whole town and they did not disappoint!)
If you’re looking for a great panoramic view of Florence and a place to watch an amazing sunset, then look no further. The Piazzale Michelangelo was a statue built in 1869 at the top of a hill just south of the centre of the city.
Depending on how fit you’re feeling, you can either hike your way up to the top or hop on a bus. Either way, the views are incredible and you can sit up there for hours! I took a picnic up there with a few friends from my hostel to see off one of our last nights in the city with cheese, crackers and a wine – divine!
The Red Garter
This is less of a cultured recommendation, but by far the best place to spend an evening drinking with friends! The Red Garter is located in the heart of the city and has great taste in music, beer and chicken wings. Depending on how rowdy you’re feeling there are also various rooms to choose from including a bar, a dance floor and a karaoke stage (if anyone finds a ring near the karaoke setup, I lost mine while singing a questionable rendition of Livin’ On A Prayer and would be stoked for its safe return home).
Where to eat?
Trattoria Pizzeria Dante
I discovered this Pizzeria by accident really, wandering back to my hostel after a long day of walking and sightseeing, but it quickly became a favourite of mine during my week long stay in the city. Not only is the pizza amazing, but the decor was beautiful and the service was lovely (even when I tried to speak in very bad Italian).
Gelateria La Carraia
After stumbling out of Trattoria Pizzeria Dante, Gelateria La Carraia is located about thirty metres away, making it the perfect place to fill up on some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. What could be more Italian than pizza and ice cream, huh?
Il Cernacchino was another accidental discovery of mine after finishing my tour of the Palazzo Vecchio palace, but if you’re looking for a quick lunchtime sandwich while you’re on the move then I could not recommend this place more. The food is all freshly prepared and the flavour combinations were utterly incredible. Years later and I’m still recommending this place to anyone I know planning a trip to Florence!
Planning your trip
When planning your trip to Florence, remember that everyones advice and experience of the city is different! I’ve only told you about a small handful of the things I got up to and encourage you to explore beyond these recommendations and make it a trip to remember forever!
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January 18, 2019
Fantastic article which really brought everything to life. I\'m ready to \"hang easy\" in Cinque Terre. It sounds amazing.