Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy. It is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy. If you are one of the ten million or so people throughout the world who say, “I want to go to Florence” each year and actually do so, then make the most of your trip by getting yourself oriented before you go. Otherwise, there is so much to see and do in Florence that you could end up wasting half your trip just deciding where to go on any given day.
If you are arriving by air, you have a few options. Recently upgraded, Amerigo Vespucci Airport now services over 2 million passengers every year. It only services direct flights from limited European destinations, though. International travelers need to get a connecting flight from Rome. Yet another option is to land in Pisa and take a short train ride into Florence. Amerigo Vespucci Airport (also called Peretola Airport) is only about 2 miles southwest of the city center, so transportation into Florence from the airport is both quick and cheap. There are taxi stands just outside the arrivals area that will whisk you to your hotel within about 15 minutes. If you prefer, there are also regular shuttle bus services to the central railway station of Santa Maria Novella.
Unlike in America, trains are a major mode of public transportation in Italy, including Florence. If your plane lands in Rome, for instance, you don’t need to worry too much about train schedules, since there are 52 trains per day from Rome to Florence. However, bear in mind that not all train trips are alike. If you want to save money, then take an “IC” or “Inter City” train. It will take about twice as long, but will also be much cheaper than the “E” or Express train. Neither the “IC” nor the “E” trains require reservations, but the “ES” or Eurostar Italia first-class train does. Depending upon which service you choose, the ride from Rome will take between 1 1/2 hours to 3 hours.
A good place to find information about how to get to Florence Italy by car, train or by air is from the official Dipartimento di Sistemi e Informatica website. It only gives the basics, but also includes links to timetables and other valuable independent information. Another good source of information about everything Florentine, including how to get there, is the aptly named Visit Florence website.
Where to Stay in Florence
Once you have arrived in Florence, your next hurdle will be finding a place to stay. That in itself is not a problem, since there are hundreds of places to choose from – everything from cheap backpackers lodges to 5 star hotels. Start by choosing your price range and then explore your options. If you ask a taxi driver, he is likely to try to take you to his preferred accommodation (the one that pays him a commission). Then again, the majority of online accommodation sites also work on a commission basis, so you should avoid most of those as well. So where do you look?
If you are looking for a hotel room, a good source is the official Florence Hotels Association website. This site includes many price ranges and also includes a number of B&Bs. If it’s a backpacker’s hostel you’re after, check out Backpackers World. While we’re on the subject: backpackers hostels have a reputation for being for young travelers only. They’re not. Some of them can be noisy party hostels, but others have quiet single rooms for budget prices and even dorms for families.
Getting Around in Florence
On foot is the best way to see Florence, because it is such a beautiful city. Be sure to keep a business card from your accommodation with you. Then, if you get lost, you have something to show people when you ask for directions. If you happen to have a GPS device, you can download a Florence map and find directions from wherever you are to wherever you happen to want to go. Failing that, consult Google maps before you set out on your journey and take notes. Then there is the ever-popular Lonely Planet guidebook. Finally, there is the option of just getting temporarily lost and discovering all the ancient streets and alleys of Florence with no particular destination in mind.
Now it’s time to unpack your bags and start exploring the city. This will be your biggest challenge. Give up on the idea of seeing and doing everything and focus on getting oriented first. One way to do that is to go to Piazalle Michelangelo. Every panoramic photo of Florence you have ever seen was taken here. Getting there is a no-brainer, since it’s the highest point in Florence, everyone knows where it is and there is plenty of public transportation to get you there if you don’t want to walk.
If you’re feeling up to it and happen to be in the vicinity of the Arno River, which bisects the city, a great walk up to Piazalle Michelangelo is “via” (Latin for “way” or “road”) Via di San Niccolo. It’s not a direct route, but it is only half a mile and you shouldn’t be in a hurry anyway. Another nice thing about this route is that there are numerous bars and cafes along the way. Any way you approach it on foot will finally lead to Via Piazza Poggi. This winding road bears the name of its designer, Giuseppe Poggi. who also designed the Piazalle Michelangelo.
If there is one must-see gallery in Florence, then it has to be Uffizi Gallery. Give yourself plenty of time and be ready to be swept away by the magnificent works of art by the superstars of the Renaissance. These are guys like Raphael, Da Vinci, Rubens and Botticelli – and that’s just for starters. Words can’t begin to do it justice. Just go. It’s on the opposite side of the river from Piazalle Michelangelo. One nice way to get there is via the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which is lined with fashionable shops. If you’re looking for a new Rolex or some gold “trinkets,” this is a good place to go.
How to Get to Florence
There are so many sights to see in Florence that you can’t possibly take them all in. A much better idea is to choose a few and savor them. The Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore), the Bargello National Museum and the Accademia (where you can see Michelangelo’s David) all rank high on any “must see” list of Florence sites. Instead of trying to cram them all into a day, take them one at a time. Afterwards, spend some time savoring the city itself. Let it seep into you. Then, when you finally have to leave, Firenze (Florence) will stay with you forever.