If I was given the choice to return to only one Italian city in my lifetime, I’ll pick Florence.
To be honest, I’d never heard of Florence until my sister added it to our travel itinerary. As an English Lit graduate, I’ve always been more of an Anglophile, so Italy is never on my radar. But my sister, an Architecture student, heard of the Brunelleschi’s dome and wanted to see it.
All it took was one day for Florence to steal my heart.
My sister and I traversed the entire city by foot – no complicated metro or bus tickets involved. With Google Maps and Yelp, exploring Florence was a breeze. A welcome change from living in the suburbs of California, where you usually have to drive from shop to shop.
We arrived bright and early via train from Rome at 9.51am. We dropped out luggage off at our Airbnb with lovely host Giulio, a Florence musician before running off to explore the city.
My first impression of this Neo-Gothic masterpiece is that I had stepped into a dystopian sci-fi movie. The marble, contrasting black lines, and geometric features made it look very futuristic. Or maybe it’s just me. I thought it was a very interesting work of architecture, and of course it was my archi-sister’s dream.
I’m so glad my sister insisted we wait in line for 2 hours to climb to the top of the Duomo. This was how our conversation went:
Me: “463 steps?! Ha-ha. Pass!”
My sister: “You have to climb the Duomo when you come to Florence!!”
Since she was in charge of the itinerary, I had no choice but get ready for the workout of my life.
The wait was going to be 1.5 hours (there were markers along the line indicating wait time), which gave me ample time to rush back to the Airbnb, unload stuff, change into shorts to prepare for the climb, and then buy tickets. I didn’t want to lug a 10-pound backpack up 463 steps.
As we started the climb, I felt like I was being pushed onto a Six Flags rollercoaster ride. My heart rate quickened, my palms sweated, and I felt like I was climbing towards my doom. I was overreacting, as usual. Turns out the climb was separated into several stops, so despite my dreadful stamina, I survived.
Halfway up the Duomo we found ourselves along this narrow platform with a stellar view of the interior ceiling of the dome:
The climb really wasn’t that bad. The only exercise I’d done in the past few months was going up the short flight of steps to my condo, so my stamina wasn’t the best. If I can do it, you can do it.
To give you an idea of what the stairways look like (right photo: the final stairway up to the surface):
After 20-30 minutes of climbing, we finally reached the top, huffing and puffing, to claim the ultimate prize:
We spent a good half hour at the top. Despite the sun beating mercilessly on us, we had a great time taking
way too many pictures and admiring the view. We were really lucky to have arrived in Florence on such a beautiful day. (Early September is a good time to come!)
If you still have energy after climbing 463 steps, your Duomo ticket also allows access to the adjacent clock tower , from which you can take this iconic photo of the Duomo that graces almost every guidebook:
See that white tip at the top of the dome? That’s where you will be when you climb to the top of the Duomo. My sister took this gorgeous photo. I was wiped out and couldn’t get past the first (insanely long) flight of stairs up the clock tower. I wish I did climb to the top though, because according to her it wasn’t much of a climb past the first flight.
Gosh those mountains.
At the top you will find this (heavily-graffitied) bell:
Climb the clock tower! It’s worth it.
Accademia – Statue of David
After we got 2-week’s worth of exercise, we decided we needed more and trekked over to the Accademia to admire the famous statue of David.
David, aka Renaissance Man, was carved from a single block of marble by Michelangelo. No one knew what to do with the block of marble, but they wanted to make something from it. Thank goodness for Michelangelo, or David might still be hidden in a block of marble.
His back is just as beautiful as his front.
I never thought I’d have my breath taken away by a statue. As we rounded the corner and were greeted by the high-ceiling, columns and of course, David, I couldn’t believe how perfect this statue was. And to be carved from a single block of marble? Amazing.
The Accademia itself is impeccably beautiful; the perfect housing for such a perfect statue. There is also a small exhibition area where you can view intricate casts of other sculptures.
Fun fact about Florence: expect to see parts of David’s anatomy all over the city. To show you what I mean:
David is everywhere. And people love it!
Another delightful thing about Florence: talented street artists converge around tourist hotspots like Duomo and Uffizi Gallery. Each artist has their own style, and they’re usually painting live. I splurged and sank €25 on a hand-painted watercolor piece. No regrets!
The world-renowned Uffizi Gallery spans art history from ancient Greek sculpture to Renaissance art to 18th-century Venetian paintings. Even if you’re not much of an art person, there’s plenty in here to impress you. Again, we got lucky and didn’t find a 4-hour line waiting for us. Maybe because it was a Thursday and close to closing time.
The Uffizi Gallery houses many famous paintings like the Birth of Venus or Spring, but because I often go against the grain, my favorite painting was neither of those. Instead, it was this one:
BOTTICELLI, Alessandro Filipepi detto (Firenze, 1445-1510)
Calumny of Apelles, 1494-1495 c.
This work is inspired by the famous painting of Apelles described by greek writer Lucian. The scene illustrates King Midas on the right, being badly advised by Suspicion and Ignorance, Anger portrayed as a hooded man with beard, Calumny with a torch that fascinates the slandered, Fraud with Peril behind her, Penitence as an old woman in ragged clothing who observes nude Truth with her eyes raised to heaven. Restored in 2003.
I love how it tells such an intricate story.
After a few hours of art appreciation, you may find the cafe on the roof enticing. If you need to use the bathroom, you’re in luck – the gallery has by far the cleanest, most beautiful bathrooms in Italy:
It was so beautiful and so clean that I had to photograph it.
Tickets: My sister and I got lucky and there was no line to enter. It was late August, a Thursday, and we arrived at around 3-4pm. However lines can get crazy (according to Lonely Planet it can be up to 4 hours), so it would be wise to reserve tickets beforehand.
Arno River/Ponte Vecchio
Next we took a stroll along the Arno River towards the Ponte Vecchio. From this point on it was free-and-easy and we just soaked in the lovely, relaxed Florence atmosphere.
The Uffizi Gallery is right next to the Arno River. Prepare to be greeted by phenomenal views of the Arno River, the mountains beyond, and the classic houses along it:
This is the Ponte Vecchio, built in 1345, and the only bridge in Florence saved from destruction in World War II. Thank goodness, because it’s beautiful and one of the best landmarks in Florence.
Fun fact: You will only find jewelers on the Ponte Vecchio, and there is a reason for that. In the 16th Century, Ferdinando I de’ Medici was sick of the town butchers tossing leftovers into the river, and so ordered jewelers onto the bridge to replace them. Since then only jewelers have graced the bridge.
I really envy the shop staff, because they get to enjoy the sunrise and sunset like this every day:
Does that not take your breath away?
It was so beautiful we hung out on the bridge for a good hour. Yup. We parked ourselves by the wall taking
too many pictures again and watched the sunset. As the sun went night-night, street musician came out to play. And they were glorious. My sister and I stood perfectly content as the cool summer breeze caressed our faces and soothing Italian music wafted around us.
It was completely dark when we finally left. Summer is the perfect time to visit Florence because you can stay out late without freezing your butt off. And you want to stay out late in Florence. Ponte Vecchio is breathtaking at sunset.
After that we wandered aimlessly again and came to this cute piazza, complete with more street musicians, a shopping complex, and a classic merry-go-round. Right out of a dream!
- Main Mode of Transport: Foot (the best!)
- Highlight of the Day: Ponte Vecchio at sunset
- Food: Cannoli, the BEST Gelato in Italy, sandwich from All’antico Vinaio, Boba (yup, Boba in Florence)
- Accommodation: Airbnb
The above links lead to Yelp, which we used to find cheap, good eats, and even a Boba tea place in Florence when my sister had a very sudden Asian craving. Who would’ve thought there would be a Boba tea store in Florence?
We enjoyed Florence so much, and we both agreed Florence was one of our top destinations of our 2-week Europe trip. If you’re visiting Italy, take care not to miss Florence.
I will be back, Florence. Till we meet again.
What was your experience in Florence like?
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This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)
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