Dripping in history, Firenze (as the Italians say) is one of those cities where you can end up feeling a tad overwhelmed. It’s fairly small as a whole, but it feels as if every street has a story to tell. Of course, some stories are more famous than others. There’s the Ponte Vecchio, with the once-secret & mysterious Vasari corridor stretching high above it. And the Duomo, the city’s most iconic landmark that dominates the skyline.
The cultural sights and experiences are everywhere, so I set about tackling a few of them…
The Uffizi Gallery
The most popular museum in Florence, it houses much of the art originally commissioned and owned by the infamous Medici family. This includes works by Botticelli, Caravaggio and Da Vinci. It’s huge, spreading across multiple rooms and corridors, all situated high above the city streets.
Top tip: Get there late to avoid the masses. I underestimated just how busy this place gets, so when I naively rocked up at 11am I was met with queues going around the block (and that was just to buy tickets; entry to the museum was the same again). I came back at 5pm and walked straight in – and still had two hours until closing time, which was enough for me.
Galleria dell’ Accademia
A small art gallery home to the biggest of names – this is where you can see Michelangelo’s David, and it’s even more magnificent than you’d think (being the first piece of art to actually take my breath away). It’s worth the €8 entry fee just for this, but the museum features a collection of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures too, as well as many paintings and instruments.
Top tip: Don’t be drawn in by the ticket touts outside. They offer tours with sip-the-queue privileges, but at around €30 a head I don’t think it’s worth it. I queued for not much longer than 30 minutes during a peak time, and with a book on hand to read while I waited it felt like less.
Lying behind the Pitti Palace, these majestic gardens contain centuries-old sculptures and fountains, as well as beautiful flora and greenery.
Top tip: Arrive early via the rear entrance. It’s incredibly peaceful in the morning, and I spent a really content couple of hours here making my way through the gardens without interruption, before exiting onto the vibrant Piazza de’ Pitti – perfect for a coffee and a bite to eat.
A few thoughts on my overall feel for the city…
- It’s a magnificent place to be outdoors. I know the fortunate weather will have helped, but even with all the churches and museums to visit I think I enjoyed myself the most just out and about, walking and taking it all in. One of the highlights was heading up to Piazzale Michelangelo south of the river for the most incredible panoramic view of the city. I spent a couple of hours up here, reading in the surrounding parks and really just appreciating what was around me – how can you not?!
- Still on the subject of being outside, I took my trainers with me and managed to get a couple of runs in while I was there. I got out early, around 7am, when the streets were quiet and the air was cool – the feeling of running alongside the river Arno, through Cascine Park and back again as the sun starts to shine through the clouds was just brilliant. And I felt completely safe. Despite being in a strange and unknown area, I found the city very easy to navigate, and I never once felt at risk on my own as a woman. I was especially aware of all this during my runs, where I was equipped with nothing but my key and my iPod.
- Florence is friendly. There’s no other way around it, it’s a city that welcomes everyone – and that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it. Even as one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, it didn’t feel worn out or tired of visitors – quite the opposite, while still managing to retain an almost quaint charm. But Florence isn’t simply cute, or pretty – it’s also really fucking cool. An endless stream of innovative restaurants, bars, clubs, a thriving and youthful community. Inclusive, not exclusive. Somewhere I really want to be again.