Florence (aka Firenze) is a city of history, art and culture. I absolutely fell in love with Florence and I am hoping that I can give you a taste of this incredible city.
We traveled to Florence from Rome by train on Sunday evening. It took about 2 hours on the high speed train. Luckily, our hotel was only a 5 minute walk from the train station. We stayed at Porta Faenza and I highly recommend this hotel if you are visiting Florence (walking distance to everything & very friendly staff).
After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to celebrate my Mom’s birthday with some shopping and an adventure to Tuscany! Our hotel helped us to sign up for a wine tasting tour with Ciao Florence. After an hour bus ride, we were surrounded by the rolling hills and vineyards of wine country!
Our tour included two tastings at different vineyards. At the first, my Mom got her birthday wish and met two (handsome) Italian brothers who gladly took a picture with her after our tasting. The second wine tasting was in an old medieval fortress (Monteriggioni) where the owner informed us that all Tuscans drink wine with their breakfast!
Overall the tour was well worth it. We had a few good laughs while learning all about the famous Chianti wine. We were also offered samples of 20 year old balsamic vinegar (SO good), truffle oil and a shot of Grappa (a strong brandy made with grapes). You can say we were feeling pretty good by the end of our tour (and we all took naps on the bus ride back to Florence).
The following day we took another trip, this time all day, to Cinque Terre. Stay tuned for a separate post about our day visiting the five towns along the Mediterranean. After our trip, we were able to meet up with a few St. A’s students (friends from my club soccer team) who were studying abroad in Florence.
Our last day in Florence we were up early to visit Santa Maria del Fiore Basilica (also known as the Duomo). We bought our tickets to climb to the top of the Cupola (it opens at 8:30 and I recommend going in the morning before there is a long line). The tickets costs 15 euros, but it also gets you into the Bell Tower, the Crypt and the Baptistery. (Be aware that the ticket office is across from the Baptistery entrance, so stop there before getting in line!)
It is 463 stops to the top of the Duomo, and unlike St. Peter’s there is unfortunately no lift. Although the views are incredible, if you are claustrophobic or afraid of heights, this might not be for you. I am afraid of heights and although I was able to successfully climb to the top of St. Peter’s, I found the Duomo a little more daunting. (For example, there is only a short fence at the top).
After a lot of climbing, you arrive to this small pathway along the inner part of the Duomo. You can see down to the Cathedral (hence why it’s difficult for people who are afraid of heights) and also up at the beautiful paintings depicting The Last Judgement by Giorgio Vasari. After a short time here, we continued our climb up a very narrow and steep staircase to get to the top of the Duomo.
Although I am afraid of heights, I am very glad I made it to the top to enjoy the red rooftops of Florence. It was very windy the day that we went, but it was worth it. Finally we descended the 463 steps and made our way out. Mark and I climbed part of the Bell Tower to snap a few pictures, but our legs were too tired to make it all the way to the top.
After we finished all of our climbing, we decided to visit the inside of the Cathedral, which is free to the public. It opens later than the Duomo, at 10am, so plan accordingly! You can also visit the Crypt (tombs under the Cathedral) with the same ticket you used to climb the Duomo. We only spent a short amount of time inside Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral before heading to our 11:15 appointment at the Galleria dell’ Accademia. We were able to purchase our tickets online and skip a very long line! It worked out perfectly. Although the Galleria offers many magnificent pieces of art, the reason you must visit this museum is because of Michelangelo’s David.
The David was sculpted between 1501-1504 out of a solid block of marble. The statue was displayed outside in Florence until 1873 when it was brought inside the Galleria. It is the most incredible piece of art I have ever seen in my life (and I’ve been to a few famous museums in my travels). The statue depicts biblical David (according to scholars) after he has made his decision to fight Goliath but before the battle has taken place–which is why he appears pensive and tense.
After gawking at The David for almost 30 minutes (and then checking out the other works of art) we decided to grab lunch and head towards Ponte Vecchio. There are a few bridges that cross the Arno River in Florence, but Ponte Vecchio is the oldest in Florence. Originally the shops that lined the bridge were occupied by butchers and other craftsman, but now it is home to some very expensive jewelry stores. It was the only bridge in Florence that was not destroyed during WWII.
After crossing the river, we bought a bottle of Prosecco and made the trek up to the famous Piazzale Michelangelo. Although our original plan was to visit this area of Florence for sunset, we opted to go in the afternoon (which lucky for us, meant less people).
This was my favorite part of Florence. The panoramic views overlooking the city are incredible. You can see the Duomo and the Arno river! In the distance you can see the rolling hills of Tuscany.
After finishing our drinks and taking in the incredible view, we decided to head back down the hill. As a last minute decision, we chose to visit the Basilica of Santa Croce, where many famous people happen to be buried.
Inside, you can find the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. Although Galilelo was condemned by the Catholic church for heresy and was not permitted to be buried in the church, his body was later moved into Santa Croce in 1737.
You could spend a long time exploring Santa Croce, since it also has a small museum and garden area attached to it as well. However, after an hour or so, we needed to go back to the hotel and grab our bags before catching our train to Venice. Florence is an incredible city and if you are ever planning on visiting Italy, it should be at the top of your list. You can find almost anything in Florence: history, art, shopping, quaint backroads, great food, better wine and stunning views. Ti amo Firenze! I will see you again someday.
We hope you enjoy our video blog about Florence!