Solo in Florence: Exploring the beauty of Italy

January 1, 1970

by Rachael Malstead


After more than thirty hours of being in transit, with next to no sleep, I got off my bus, exhausted but exhilarated to be in Florence, Italy. A few hours later, my sister and I were gazing up at the massive green and white marble dome of the Duomo, sipping red wine and nibbling dark chocolate. It was paradise, one of those moments you want to last forever. The twilight was full of murmuring voices as people strolled around. Somewhere on the square a musician took up a violin and added sweet strains of music to the falling darkness.

Exploring Florence with my sister at my side would have been lovely, but I arrived right when her study load skyrocketed with the approach of midterm exams. She was busy studying through the week, so I ventured out each day alone. I find that traveling solo yields all sorts of splendid things, and is something I encourage everyone to do at some point. Take in Florence at your own pace, and tailor your adventures to what you enjoy most, whether it is finding the best view of the city, sketching the Duomo from the library, or wandering through museums, lingering over your favorite paintings for as long as you wish.


Art at the Uffizi Gallery

Visiting the Uffizi Gallery is a must do in Florence. Found in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw from the edge of the Arno, the gallery is home to paintings of incredible beauty and renown. Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ and his ‘Allegory of Spring’ live in the Uffizi along with works of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and a few Michelangelo paintings and sculptures, to name but a few. Walking it’s long corridors, ambling slowly through room after room to gaze upon piece after marvelous piece takes you to a different time, perhaps a different world. Upon witnessing that level of sophisticated artistry I began to comprehend in a new way the immense skill and knowledge each artist possessed. The way they poured their lives into their work, their paintings and their sculptures, with such unrelenting dedication to mastery, impressed me deeply. Everything I saw in the Uffizi gallery was on a grand scale; the colors, the depth and contrast, the meanings and the emotions captured and portrayed, the detail and size, and on and on. It was awe inspiring, dizzying. The experience took me to another time. I was still myself, in my own body, with my own history, but also seeing and feeling the thoughts and lives of the artists whose work adorned the walls around me. I caught glimpses of what it was like to live life through their eyes.


I wandered around the streets afterwards thinking of nothing and everything. Faces and details flashed before my mind’s eye, haunting me in the bright sunlight. I recommend finding a quaint little cafe beforehand and preceding directly there after your time spent in the museum. Treat yourself to some coffee and a pastry. It’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed after witnessing so much art. Give yourself some time to let it all sink in. As it happens, Italian coffee is an experience in of itself: rich, strong and smooth, the perfect beverage to bounce back with.

The David at the Accademia Gallery

The Accademia gallery is home to the world’s most awe-inspiring sculpture: Michelangelo’s David. Due to the David’s immense popularity, the lines to enter the museum extend all the way down the sidewalk and around the corner at times. If you’d rather not wait in line for several hours I would suggest finding out what time of day the lines are shortest, which changes due to season and day of the week. Typically lines are shorter around four in the afternoon, but if you are a morning person, get there bright and early at eight o’clock to skip the long wait. With only an hour left before the museum closed, I finally managed to reach the doors, buy my ticket, and enter. Seeing the David in person is wholly different than any words or photographs can depict. The perfection of humanity that Michelangelo brought to life from flawed marble is breathtaking.


Piazzale Michelangelo

Florence is as enchanting up close as it is from above. Once you have wandered the streets and raised your eyes to the arcs and towers of the cathedrals and palaces, head up to the Piazzale Michelangelo on the south bank of the Arno to take in a panoramic view of Florence lying sumptuous and enthralling below. I wound my way up the hill on a breezy autumn day, and passed through the rose gardens as I followed signs towards the top. I found myself gazing out on a Florence bathed in shafts of sunlight piercing the blue-grey clouds that hung low in the sky overhead. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.


Oblate Library

Sipping hot chocolate on the covered terrace of the Oblate library while reading a well loved book happens to be one of my favorite Florentine memories. Now and then I would glance over the rooftops from where I was sitting and admire the  massive dome of Florence’s Duomo. Built at the end of the 14th century, the library was originally a convent and hospital. Now the Oblate melds modernity and historicity to offer a beautiful space with free access to education; books, and multimedia. The library is a place for Florentines and internationals to meet and converse over coffee and wine.


Streetside bakeries

Wherever you go in Florence, artisan gelato cafes are never difficult to find. Strolling along the cobblestone streets with a deliciously heaped gelato in hand is a glorious way to spend a few minutes of your time. Fragrant bakeries and patisseries are scattered throughout the city as well, and are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the taste buds. Fresh breads, pastries and other sweetmeats are displayed in such an inviting, aesthetic way, that you’ll walk away with as many photographs as you do treats. Such is Florence, a wonderfully layered melange of art, history, and culture, a delicious experience for every sense.


Rachael Malstead

By Rachael Malstead

My name is Rachael Malstead. I am currently taking a gap year traveling around Europe. I volunteered in different places in France in exchange for food and board while I learned the language, had a whirlwind taste of Paris, found myself solo in Florence, fell in love in England, and am soon headed to Germany to become an au pair for three months. I aim to make it to many more European countries before I leave to go back to the US to continue my university education. I want to write about the things I have learned along the way. I have been exposed to so many different ways of life, so many new perspectives and challenges. Traveling solo as a twenty-year-old woman, across countries that I had never visited before has widened my horizons, and left me with a rucksack full of stories I would like to share with others. I want to inspire my readers to go out there and create their own memories, and perhaps learn from some of the mistakes I have made along the way. Over the past few months, I have been blogging about my experiences. My site is:


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