Why Florence, Italy is a Must-Visit (Europe 3/14)

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View of the Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

If I had to choose only one Italian city to go back to in my lifetime, I have my answer in 0.0001 seconds flat: Florence.

Firenze, Italia, home of Renaissance art and architecture, the best views (from the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio), best gelato (I think so) and easiest transportation system (your feet.)

It’s funny. I’d never heard of Florence until my sister plonked it to into travel itinerary. I’ve always been more of an Anglophile, but my sister, who studies Architecture, studied the Brunelleschi’s dome and wanted to see it.

In one day, Florence stole my heart.

Arrival

Our Airbnb was delightfully close to the train station – a whopping 5 minute walk! Our host was lovely –  a Florence musician who didn’t balk at helping two struggling girls with their overweight luggage.

Duomo

florence duomoA Renaissance masterpiece. The marble, contrasting black lines, and geometric features seem awfully futuristic to me. Maybe it’s just me.

Now I have a very important piece of advice.

Ready?

Climb the Duomo.

I said it. Climb the 463 steps for 2 hours and get to the top.

However, ignore this if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of heights. The walkways/staircases are narrow, and it’s really high up.

I am by no means in shape. I start panting walking in the parking lot if there is so much of a 5 degree slope. Stairs are the bane of my life. So my conversation with my sister went a little like this:

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 Italy itinerary, I had no choice but get ready for the workout of my life.

Handy markers along the snaking line informed us the wait was going to be 1.5 hours. In preparation, I dashed back to our Airbnb, unloaded my backpack, bought tickets, and rushed back just in time.

Then we started the climb!!

Starting the climb felt something like 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, so I survived. And you will too!

Halfway up the Duomo we were rewarded with a view of the dome’s interior ceiling:

To give you an idea of what the stairways look like, here is a photo of me climbing, and the final stairway up to the surface:

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climbing-duomo

After 20-30 minutes of climbing, we finally reached the top, huffing and puffing, to claim the ultimate prize:

florence duomo viewflorence-4

It was so beautiful, we spent a good half hour at the top despite the sun’s merciless beating. We had a great time taking way too many pictures and admiring the view. We were lucky to be in Florence on such a beautiful day. Early September is a good time to come!

If you have more energy to burn, your Duomo ticket also allows access to the adjacent clock tower. I also recommend this, because then you can take this iconic photo of the Duomo that graces almost every guidebook:

florence

See that white tip at the top of the dome? That’s where you will be at the top of the Duomo. Photo credits to my sister, because I was wiped out and couldn’t get past the first long flight of stairs up the clock tower. I wish I did; my sister said it wasn’t much of a climb past the first flight.

Gosh those mountains.

At the top you will find this graffitied bell:

Climb the clock tower! It’s worth it.

Graffiti is an issue in Italy, though it seemed less so in Florence. An iPad sits in the middle of the clock tower with an app that you can doodle on and “leave your mark” with. Be responsible tourists. Don’t vandalize!

Accademia – Statue of David

After 2-week’s worth of exercise, we 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. We rounded the corner and were greeted by the a soaring ceiling, intricate columns and of course, David.

I couldn’t believe how perfect he was.

Stand in awe for a bit. Soak in in. You are staring at the world’s most beautiful statue.

The Accademia itself is impeccably beautiful; the perfect housing for such a perfect statue. In the corner, you will find a small exhibition area with casts of other sculptures.

Fun fact about Florence: expect to see parts of David’s anatomy all over the city.

Related Post:   A Magical Day in London

statue of david

David is everywhere, and people love it!

Uffizi Gallery

Another delightful thing about Florence: talented street artists converge around tourist hotspots such as the 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!

Next on the itinerary was world-famous Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s top art museums.

uffizi galleryThe world-renowned Uffizi Gallery spans art history from ancient Greek sculpture to Renaissance art to 18th-century Venetian paintings. There is plenty here to impress even if you’re not artsy-fartsy.

The Uffizi Gallery houses many famous paintings like the Birth of Venus or Spring, but because I like to 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 a 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 wonderful that I had to photograph it.

Tickets: We 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

Time for a stroll along the Arno River towards the Ponte Vecchio. From this point it was free-and-easy and we simply soaked in the lovely, relaxed Florence atmosphere.

Prepare to be greeted by phenomenal views of the Arno River, the mountains beyond, and the gorgeous houses along it:

The Ponte Vecchio - the world's oldest bridge
The Ponte Vecchio – the world’s oldest bridge

Behold: the Ponte Vecchio. Built in 1345, it was the only bridge in Florence saved from destruction in World War II. Thank goodness, because it’s beautiful and offers phenomenal views!

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Fun fact: only jewelers are allowed to set up shop on the Ponte Vecchio. It’s not because the people owning the bridge are snooty. You see, in the 16th Century, town butchers were tossing yucky leftovers into the river. Ferdinando I de’ Medici got sick of it, and so ordered jewelers onto the bridge to replace them. Since then, only jewelers have graced the bridge.

I  envy the shop staff. They get to see this every day:

I don’t know if anyone can get sick of this view. 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.

Florence is thriving with excellent street musicians

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.

Florence by night (and my sister)

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!

florence

Overview
florence-food

  • 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

Future To-do List: Visit the Boboli Gardens, as well as the Galileo Science Museum.

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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Lydia lives to eat, travel, take photos and write. She loves finding the answer to: “So what is the story behind this?“ She lives in California, USA with her husband and 3 fluffy mongrels (cats). In her free time, she enjoys daydreaming about traveling the world, and working hard on turning it into reality. Read more about her here.
  • LC

    I haven’t been to Florence and I’m writing that with a tonne of regret – looks like such a pretty city.

    • Lydia Pflieger

      No worries LC, there are plenty of opportunities to visit later! 🙂 It truly is beautiful!

  • dolceandmasala

    Florence is such a beautiful city. I discovered it through Italian literature class 🙂

    • Lydia Pflieger

      It is, isn’t it? My sister discovered it through Architecture class. Thank goodness for school 😀

  • Never get tired of going to Florence. Love your photos. They reminded me of so many nice moments. And I see that you are a gelato lover like me LOL

    • Lydia Pflieger

      Thank you so much! Yeah my sister and I had gelato everyday, sometimes more than once a day! 😄

  • Melissa

    Gorgeous pics! I did the Duomo climb too…so many steps, but that view! Florence really is such a fun city 🙂
    http://www.mapsandmerlot.com

    • Lydia Pflieger

      Thanks so much! The Duomo climb was so worth it! I can’t wait to do it again!

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