Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance…timeless, elegant, magnificent!
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
I have visited Florence several times, most recently this past spring after a much-too-brief visit 4 years ago. This visit was almost 5 days…but visiting Florence is like peeling layers of an onion…the more you see, the more you realize how much more there is to see!
After all, Florence is also attributed to being the birthplace of the psychosomatic disorder referred to as Stendhal Syndrome, an illness characterized by dizziness and faintness brought on by overexposure to museums and art.
Well, I didn’t’ faint or swoon, but to deny that my heart fluttered upon seeing Michelangelo’s David again or that I felt almost lightheaded while gazing upon Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” or …or … or…I could go on and on…well, I think you get the point!
There’s so much to see, experience and enjoy in Florence. You can read about all of it in the travel books. So, I just want to highlight and share some personal “not to be missed” favorites:
(Warning! You will see the word “masterpiece” repeated many times.)
- Accademia Gallery (Galeria dell’Accademia): David David David!Yes, see the copies in the Piazza Signoria and Piazzale Michelangelo…but do NOT under any circumstances miss seeing the David in the Accademia! Gaze upon this iconic masterpiece … be humbled by its sheer beauty chiseled from an imperfect piece of marble at the hands of genius 29 year old Michelangelo. (Also: Allow time to see some of Michelangelo’s unfinished pieces <incredible> as well as the adjoining Salone della Toscana.)
- Uffizi Gallery (Galeria degli Uffizi): Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Ghirlandaio, Rafael, Lippi, Giotto, Caravaggio, Vasari… The list of masters included in this collection of masterpieces is mind boggling! Considered the world’s oldest museum, it can also boast being home to many of the greatest works of the Renaissance. Keep in mind that you are visiting what was once the private offices of and home to the private gallery of the Medici family. Famous patrons, they commissioned and acquired an extraordinary art collection (which was bequeathed to the city of Florence by the last Medici). Arrive early, get the excellent audio tour and allow several hours to adequately enjoy this fabulous collection.
- Santa Maria del Fiore ( Duomo), Giotto’s Campanile, the Baptistry with its Gates of Paradise, and the Duomo Museum ( Museo Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore): The famous Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore not only stands as a proud symbol of the glory of Florence, but as a tribute to human engineering. The incredible story of its construction, Brunelleschi’s dome, is a story of vision and determination.The Duomo itself is free to enter, but you need to time it around masses. Enjoy the quietude (hopefully) and sheer scale (it can hold up to 20,000 people!). Be sure to visit the tomb of Brunelleschi downstairs where he is buried beneath his beloved duomo.
Be prepared for long lines to climb Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) or to retrace the 463 step climb workers top daily to the top of the dome. ( For both, you will have to get in line and pay an admission fee.)
- The Gates of Paradise by Ghiberti and the Baptistry: Named by Michelangelo, the Gates are reproductions ( the originals are displayed in the museum across the way). One must remember it took Ghiberti and his workshop over 25 years to complete the 10 doors. The detail and workmanship is truly beyond description.
- Duomo Museum ( Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore): The word “opera” in Italian means “works” so when you see a museo opera, it’s not a museum about what we often think of as the opera. Rather, it houses original works removed from the Duomo. (To enrich your visit, their interesting and informative guided tour is definitely worthwhile.)
- Piazza della Signoria, Loggia del Lanzi, Palazzo Vecchio: Piazza della Signoria has been (and remains) a hub of activity. As you step into the piazza, one can’t help but imagine the level of pageantry and spectacle that took place here over the centuries. The Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) is still functioning as the town hall of Florence. The Piazza’s impressive and imposing fountain and statues (including a copy of David), along with the Loggia del Lanzi (lined with ancient Greek statues), provide an extraordinary sight…(uhoh, do I feel the onset of Stendhal Syndrome symptoms??)
- Santa Croce Basilica e Museo dell’Opera (& Scuola del Cuoio): Dante, along with Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Ghiberti, and other renowned sons of Florence are entombed here. The reverential quietude is certainly fitting. Allow time to walk through the museo, the lovely grounds, and the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School).
- Ponte Vecchio: Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), once home to butcher shops, provided a safe and secret passageway from the Medici offices (uffizi) to their palace (Pitti Palace) on the other side of the Arno. Now Ponte Vecchio is famous for its dazzling gold jewelry shops. Crowded? Si! A must? Si!
- Medici Chapel Cappelle Medicee): TheMedici family church, San Lorenzo, is a magnificent home to the Medici tombs, especially those by Michelangelo. (Definitely worth visiting even though there is some renovation under way at this time.)
- Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti): Crossing the Arno, as the Pitti Palace comes into view, if you still haven’t quite grasped the extent of the Medici family fortune and influence, this should do it! (Because of the sheer scope and size of the palace and its collections, you will want to arrive early and invest in a tour guide or audio.)
- Piazzale Michelangelo: A must! Iconic view overlooking Florence, where David holds court…and rightfully so! Magnificent!
- Piazza della Repubblica: Underneath your feet lies an ancient Roman forum. Once a market, now a lively piazza lined with cafes and tempting shops…Sit a while…enjoy the view! (Great people watching!)
OK, I wax poetic…now…back to practical matters…
- Arrange for a private (or join a small group) introductory walking tour of Florence: Worth every euro!
- Get to major sites EARLY to avoid long lines.
- Pick and choose! My feet hurt just writing about all of this…and we haven’t even begun shopping yet!
- Have a general game plan before you get there. Prioritize what you really HAVE to see and what might have to wait until the next time. I know I know…this is painful, but it’s important…
- Don’t try to “squeeze” it all in. Allow more time than you think it will take to see/do what’s on your “MUST” list. Really enjoy what you do see…
- Start your day with one major site/museum. Enjoy meandering, have an espresso, a snack or some lunch…then maybe another smaller site/museum. Then take a break…do a little shopping, maybe even take a little nap, plan dinner, then enjoy the evening. Florence is lovely in the evening…
- Florence Card (Firenze Card): If you’re going to be in Florence more than 3 days or so, I highly recommend the Firenze Card. For 50 eur you get a 3-day pass which admits you to all the major sites (including the Uffizi, Accademia and P:itti Palace galleries where the lines are longest). The best feature: you go right to the head of the line without a reservation – no waiting, no muss, no fuss! Go to www.Firenzecard.it for details.
Yes, there’s more…much much more …
OK, you’ve had enough history and sight seeing…don’t forget to budget time and euros for some other quintessential Florentine pastimes and attractions:
First, a Warning! Be prepared for crowds, LOTS of walking, uneven walking surfaces, an irresistible urge to wear leather, an unexplainable desire to buy something with David’s image on it (I bought a purse mirror!)… and, yes… a touch of Stendhal Syndrome!
The antidote? Sorry, there is none…this is Italy after all!
- Mangia Mangia Mangia! (Eat Eat Eat!): Really? You need to be told to enjoy eating in Florence, Italy??? Follow your nose, ask locals for suggestions, look for places where locals and/or Italian tourists are dining…Enjoy!
- Save some energy to come out during the evening: Stroll along the Arno, wander through the streets and piazzas, window shop, enjoy the monuments in the glow of nighttime.
- Salute! Enjoy a spritz, a bubbly prosecco or glass of vino at a sidewalk café.
- Grab a gelato and stroll… anywhere… everywhere!
- Shop shop shop!!! Mamma Mia! Leather jewelry fabrics leather fashion leather leather leather! The myriad of enticing shops, markets at San Lorenzo, the Straw Market, everywhere you turn…temptation!
- And more Shopping…Gorgeous stationery and papers, exquisite fabrics, local art, and did I mention leather? Purses, jackets, gloves, shoes…accessories…
Still have time?
No worries, consider…
- Bargello Museum (Museo Nationale del Bargello): With its interesting history, including once being a prison, the Bargello is home to a fabulous collection of sculptures and other minor arts.
- Galileo Museum (Museo Galileo): The title says it all. His telescopes and inventions are here…even if you’re not the scientific type, impressive.
- Medici Riccardi Palazzo: If you have time, more eye popping grandeur and art; the Medici family surely knew how to live!
And if you’re museumed out, there’s always more shopping, eating…
To those of you who have been and I left out your favorite, my apologies…Florence is too grand a topic for a blog.
You will LOVE my video, ” Florence the Magnificent”…
Click here or on either of the YouTube links on this page.
Turn up the volume, sit back, and enjoy…
(Then keep scrolling…there’s MORE!)
My FavoriteZ: Florence reads & resources. All available HERE!
Brunelleschi’s Dome, Ross King
Galileo’s Daughter, Dava Sobel
The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie
The Passion of Artemisia, Susan Vreeland
Artemisia: A Novel, Alexandra Lapierre
The Medici – Godfathers of the Renaissance(PBS)
Visions of Italy (Acorn Media)
guideZ & mapZ:
Eyewitness Travel “Top 10 Florence & Tuscany” : user friendly, small enough to carry, includes a pull-out map & guide, excellent overview of major sights
Eyewitness Travel – Florence and Tuscany: A more in-depth and detailed travel guide with outstanding historical information, colored photographs and maps. Excellent resource. I copy pages to take with me.
“Streetwise Map – Florence”: Streetwise maps are laminated, easy-to-read and easily fit into a purse or pocket.
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Please share your experiences, favorites, insights with us!