It was September 2012 when I first visited the magical city of Florence, Italy and instantly fell in love with it.
Everything about this city just swept me off my feet! The buildings, the streets, and the people blend together in the most welcoming feeling that I've felt in years.
My first observation about this city was that it is pedestrian friendly. For the few days I spent there, I didn’t even have the need to take any public transportation or a car to go around. The city is not small, but it is such a pleasure to walk around and discover its gems around every corner.
Whenever I travel, I usually start with the city center and take it from there. There is no doubt that Florence has some amazing churches, beautiful museums and breathtaking landscapes that are worth the trouble of walking around for days.
As inconvenient as it may sound, but I suggest waking up early and start the adventure.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is in the heart of Florence and is considered the main church in the city. Its marble facade which is a mix of green and pink with white borders is a masterpiece.
If you don’t mind climbing hundreds of stairs and move in a narrow path, I would highly recommend you go to the top of the Dome. I won’t lie, it’s not easy, especially if your relationship to physical activities are limited like mine. The stairs are narrow and high, and at some points, it is used for both ways (up & down) and you might have to stop or even go down a bit to let others pass. But once you get to the top, you’ll understand why it’s worth it!
The dome provides a 360 view of Florence from highest spot in the city, trust me when I say it’s breathtaking!
Also, don’t miss the looking at the dome’s ceiling while going up. The drawing which is called Fresco which represents the Last Judgement
Your next attraction should be the one and only “Uffizi Gallery”. Even if you’re not a big fan of art, the gallery itself is amazing. Taking into consideration it was built in the 1500s, it’s very well preserved and its walls reflect the history behind it. Some might say it’s a maze of its connected rooms and wide halls. The gallery hosts some of the world’s masterpieces from Leonardo Da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo and many others. Just make sure to book your tickets in advance as the queues are quite long and tickets are limited. You should also check out The Statue of David at the Accademia Gallery. It will surely blow your mind.
San Lorenzo Market
Here’s a tip for shopping lovers. If you’d like to buy some nice leather bags or wallets, don’t let Piazza della Republica be your first option. Even though it’s a very rich market and you can find everything you dream of from a variety of top-notch leather products, you can find the exact same products and more at the San Lorenzo market, which is close to the Accademia. And remember, you can always negotiate the prices. The more you go deeper in the market, the prices will be cheaper.
Now crossing the Arno river, Piazzale Michelangelo is another spot for a magnificent view of the city. It is a pretty exhausting and plenty of stairs, so be ready for some cardio 🙂 The Piazzale is a square with a panoramic view of Florence, and it’s a historical site that the architect Giuseppe Poggi intended as a showcase for the masterpieces (at least copies) of Michelangelo. There you will find a group of bronze statues replicas such as David, and it gives you the opportunity to take amazing photos.
Basillica di Santa Croce di Firenze, Ponte Vecchio, Basilica di San Lorenzo and Palazzo Pitti should also be on your list, as these are considered amongst the main attractions of the city, but while at it, just enjoy the streets of the city. Indulge in some delicious Italian coffee at random cafes, try the mouthwatering Tiramisu with vanilla ice cream in the filling and finger-licking pizza.
You can also visit another main landmark in Tuscany. Just an hour train ride from Florence, you can find the splendid leaning tower of Pisa. Just hop on a train from Santa Maria Novella station in Florence and had to Pisa. When you get there, you should look for the buses that go towards the tower. It is not a short distance, so don’t try to walk. Piazza dei Miracoli is the name of the square, which hosts some beautiful architectural landmarks such as the Pisa Baptistery, the tower and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). You can also find a big square at the entrance where you can buy some souvenirs and nice merchandise, bit they are a bit expensive as well.
Sadly, there isn’t much to see in Pisa apart from these landmarks, but you can head to another hidden gem in the heart of Tuscany, San Gimignano (pronounced San Gimi-nia-no). San Gimignano is a medieval town that is very well preserved and is simply breathtaking. Take another train from Pisa Central station towards Poggibonsi, where you can find buses that go towards the town. It’s a 30-40 minute ride, but you will be able to witness some beautiful scenery of Tuscany.
Once you get to the town, you will be able to see the walls around it, protecting it from the dangers for centuries. With its small allies and small shops, San Gimignano is a dream come true for all Romanesque and Gothic architecture lovers. The town has a dozen of towers that are surrounding it and it has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. While you’re there, you should definitely try the white wine (Vernaccia di San Gimignano) produced from the ancient variety of Vernaccia grape which is grown on the sandstone hillsides of the area.
There aren’t enough words to describe the beauty of this region. Nature and the history form a combination that is rarely found in other places. It’s true that I've only been to Florence a couple of times, but it left such an impression that makes me want to go there as many times as I could.
Have you visited any of the cities I mentioned? What was your impression? Let me know if you have any questions.