Ponte Vecchio – Florence, Italy
On my honeymoon, my new husband and I stayed in a tiny mountain town about 40 minutes north of Florence by train. We were enchanted with the town-we would have liked to stay permanently! However, one of the wonderful people we met there was a native of Florence, and to her, the little mountain town could never compare to the city she was born in. She told us she cried when she had to move away, even though she didn’t move very far.
As much as we loved the mountain scenery, I can definitely see why she felt that way. Florence is magical — a jewel of a city. Even when it’s is crowded with tourists, the blend of Italian Renaissance beauty, modern conveniences, excellent food and friendly people is something you have to experience to understand. There is so much to see and do in the city that it can be hard to pin down a doable itinerary. With that in mind, here are 10 places you absolutely must visit while you are there!
Although you will find replicas of Michelangelo’s David in other places around town, this is the home of the one and only original sculpture. The statue depicts David holding the stone, contemplating his move against the giant Goliath. Every muscle is carved with such fluid grace that you almost expect the statue to start moving. His calm, thoughtful expression and Olympian physique embodies the Renaissance belief in human potential. The Galleria dell’Accademia always has a line to get inside. Although it generally moves much faster than the line for the Uffizi, it’s still best to get tickets in advance if possible. Find museum tickets here.
The Duomo is on every Florentine visitor’s itinerary for several reasons. The building itself is simply beautiful-the facade is embellished with alternating colors of local limestone. The baptistery outside features the “Gates of Paradise” by Ghiberti-a fabulous example of bronze relief sculpture. Then, of course, there is the dome-a feat of engineering that helped put Florence on the map during the Renaissance. Brave the long lines and the steep steps to climb the stairs to the top-you’ll be glad you did! The views of the city are breathtaking. While you climb, make sure to check out the fresco of the last judgment-the demons of hell have some very interesting punishments for sinners that involve flaming sticks…I won’t go into anymore detail than that in order to keep this post rated PG!
This charming bridge across the Arno dates to 1345. The shops along the bridge have housed goldsmiths and jewelers ever since 1593, when Ferdinand di Medici threw out the more “common” vendors. As you would expect from such a long tradition, these shops are home to some incredible artisans who produce some amazing jewelry. Even if you can’t afford to buy, window shopping is definitely worth it! Cost: Free
The Palazzo degli Uffizi houses a superb collection of paintings, featuring work by artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, della Francesca, and many others. Also, unless you really, really like the idea of spending half of a vacation day in line, buy tickets ahead of time! What appears to be a relatively short line from outside can and will end up taking hours to go through. It costs a few Euro more to book in advance, but it’s well worth it! Find museum tickets here.
Piazza della Republica
This piazza marks the site of an old Roman forum, but the current neoclassical construction dates back to 1865. Studded with caffes, it’s a great place to grab a bite to eat. Also, it borders the Mercato Nuovo, home of the “Porcellino.” Put in a coin in this statue’s mouth, and if it falls through the grate below, the legend says you will have good luck.
The David may be the most famous Renaissance sculpture in Florence, but it’s certainly not the only one. The Bargello has work by Donatello, Michelangelo and Cellini, among others.
Located in the cathedral of Santa Maria del Carmine, this chapel features frescoes by Giotto and Masaccio that demonstrate the new techniques of the Italian Renaissance: perspective and chiaroscuro, or shading. To see the difference, compare the work by Giotto and Masaccio to older work by Cimabue.
You’ve never truly experienced ice cream until you’ve had gelato! Gelato is richer, thicker, and simply better than its American counterpart. If you’ve climbed to the top of the Duomo, you can even indulge guilt-free! Address: Via Isole delle Stinche 7r. This shop is considered by many to have the best gelato in Florence. Why not go and judge for yourself?
There’s a lot more in Florence, too. So much that you’ll never have time to see it all! Even so, you might want to take a break from the city and visit the nearby hill town of Fiesole. It makes a nice variation from the city hustle and bustle.
You can also visit Florence as part of a larger trip through Tuscany. One advantage is that a tour can get you out to see the countryside and small towns in addition to Florence itself. You’ll find plenty of options for visiting this scenic area – it’s beautiful!
Above all, whatever else you do… Make sure to leave yourself some time for just strolling along the banks of the Arno, and relaxing at sidewalk caffes. Those leisurely relaxing moments can be the most enjoyable of all!