Top 15 Experiences in Florence
Having arrived for your Florence holiday, you will venture to the usual places; the Duomo, Santa Croce Church, Ponte Vecchio, The Uffizi Gallery and The Pitti Palace, however, how well do you know Florence outside of these main attractions? Below is a list of experiences that must be sampled in the region, which will truly make your Florence holiday fulfilling.
1. Sampling the local gelato (ice cream) – Whilst all of Italy excels at quality, quantity, and sometimes inventive(!) ice cream flavours, Florence goes one step better. Popular local choices include honey, rose, salted caramel, ricotta and figs, pistachio, almonds and candied orange slices – beyond doubt something for everyone!
2. Head to Piazza della Signoria for some people watching – This is especially interesting as you have wonderful artwork surrounding the square. There is also the “David” replica standing at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio, which was once the Medici family home. Lastly, for those who enjoy their gory history, find the circular marble plague in the middle of the piazza, which is where the monk Savonarola was burnt in 1498 at the stake.
3. The Duomo Square – If you have not had your fill of people watching outside the Piazza della Signoria, head to the Duomo Square where you can view the beauty of the Baptistery from the outside. The doors that face the front of the Duomo were designed by Ghiberti and Michelangelo in the early 1400s, and are so beautiful they could be the Gates of Paradise.
4. Look down! - Don’t forget that Florence has some incredible views! Climb either the Duomo dome or Giotto’s Tower to fully appreciate the views over the city. If you love design and architecture then opt for the dome, but make sure you read “Brunelleschi’s Dome” before your Florence holiday, and then this climb will have real meaning to you! It is worth being aware however, that both activities do charge a fee, and that they are not for the fair hearted – those suffering from vertigo and/or claustrophobia might find the climb very daunting.
5. Ponte Vecchio in the morning or at dusk – This will be one of the most crowd-heavy experiences, but for a real reason. There is nothing like watching the morning sun or at dusk from your viewpoint beside the bridge. You can just imagine the Medici going along the corridor over the bridge from their palace to the offices all those years ago. The rowing club is also nearby so the chances of seeing them rowing down the Arno is quite likely.
6. Visiting Florence’s famous graves – Florence is known for being the birthplace of the Renaissance, and as such can boast some famous graves. A trip to Santa Croce Church houses the elaborate sarcophagi of Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Ghiberti and Michelango, whilst the Medici Chapel, although less famous contains the treasured members of the family who made Florence what it was/is. Not to be missed is a visit to the Laurentian Library in the Medici Chapel complex, as the grand staircase was designed by Michelangelo, who the Medici sponsored.
7. Sculptures at the Bargello Museum – For something a bit more off the tourist path, take a stroll to the Bargello Museum where you can see some of Michelangelo’s early works, including the fantastic but little known “Bacchus.” There is also Donatello’s recently restored bronze “David.” Lastly and not to be missed are the two entries in the competition for who would design the doors for the Baptistery – you can decide if you agree on the winner!
8. View from Piazzale Michelangelo – After viewing the Ponte Vecchio, either take a stroll or a bus (if the climb is a bit too steep), to Piazzale Michelangelo, located in the hills about the Oltrarno. If the weather is on your side, the views are amazing. You can also take the bus up the hill and enjoy a leisurely wander down.
9. The Leather Markets – Whether you love shopping or not, you cannot have a Florence holiday without wandering through the leather markets in the city. There are several, however, the one by San Lorenzo Church is also close to the Mercato Centrale where the indoor food markets are held. Also a must do experience!
10. Visiting the Vasari Corridor – No tour of the Pitti Palace is complete without walking along the Vasari Corridor. This corridor joins the Palazzo Vecchio and the Pitti Palace and was built for Cosimo I de Medici so the duke could walk between his offices and his home, without having to mix with the locals. You will need to book this tour beforehand as places are limited and the tour is popular.
11. Sampling La Cucina del Garda cuisine – Whilst Florence is hardly limited in its choice of fine dining, this restaurant has wonderful food with a great atmosphere. The owner is local and charges fair pricing, and the location is in Via San Zanobi, which is near to the Duomo. You will need to book, but make sure you request a table in the “Painted room” to really experience the atmosphere of the place.
12. Visit the Perfume house – This is something most guide books will not mention, but Florence has a centuries-old pharmacy, herbalist, perfumery, which is well worth the visit. It is part of Florence’s cultural heritage and free to visit. The rooms are all flawlessly decorated and house many historical objects used in the production of medicines, perfumes and natural creams. For this reason it has been known more as a museum. Located behind Santa Maria Novella Church, don’t move on before you visit!
13. The Palatine Gallery – You probably think that you have seen all the art that Florence has to offer, however, avoid the crowds with a stroll to the Palatine Gallery, housed within the Pitti Palace. This gallery contains works by Caravaggio, Rubens and Titian.
14. The Pazzi Chapel – Few people know about this chapel, which is a shame as it has some of the best Renaissance architecture in Florence. Brunelleschi who built Florence’s dome also created the Pazzi Chapel. It shows off his vision which was geometric shapes and spatial harmony. Situated adjacent to the church of Santa Croce, it is worth adding to your schedule.
15. Serenity! – After all the mileage of the above visits, along with the main sites, head to the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace for a wander through these beautiful scenic gardens. Enjoy the fountains, statues and grottos, including Buontalenti’s Grotti as you wander around. You can use your Palatine Gallery ticket for free access. If you feel you still need more time away from the hustle and bustle of the city, head to the Oltrarno quarter for the Bardini Garden. This is little known but is a lot quieter and has some breathtaking views over the city. There is a restaurant if you need refreshment.