I fell in love (apple of eye meaning) again. Honey, I love you… but it surprised me, swept me off my feet, I wasn’t expecting it …I have to be honest and tell you the truth ! It’s Firenze!!
That is the perfect description how this city makes you feel, in love. Butterflies and all. Everything you see; architecture, art, cathedrals, museums, streets, brings you back to Florence’s medieval and Renaissance age. It overwhelms you. If you can see only one place in all of Italy choose Florence! Not Rome, Venice, Napoli….it has to be Florence. Actually you should see it more than once (Mr.G. hint, hint ).
Choosing the right time (killing time synonym) of year to see it is unnecessary. Every time is a perfect time. Or maybe if you are trying to save some money keep your eyes open for that one week of the year (usually some time in spring) when admission to state museums is free of charge. It changes every year so it is hard a plan a trip. One date that does not change is 18 February (in honour of the last of the Medici family, day that Anna Maria Louisa died). On that day all state museums are free.
I would also recommend getting a Firenze Card (www.firenzecard.it €50). It’s valid for 72 hours, it covers admission to 33 museums, villas and gardens, and unlimited use of public transport (which you will not need because you’ll walk and feel the city). One thing about this card that I didn’t like is the fact that it only allows one admission per museum. Some of the places are just (definition just in case) impossible to see in one visit, like Uffizi Gallery. Or you can see it in a day but then you only have 48 hours to see everything else and there is sooooooo much. There is also Friends of the Uffizi Card (www.amicidegliuffizi.it ; adult €60 or for a family of 4 €100) which is valid for a year, and it covers 22 museums and unlimited entries. You might say; why should I get a card, I’m not going to see all the museums, gardens or cathedrals. Entrance for Il Grande Museo del Duomo is €15, Boboli gardens €10, Uffizi gallery €12.50, Santa Croce €8, Santa Maria Novella €7.5 ….so you do the math. Depending on what you want to see, choose your card and save some money.
Firenze is small and best way to see it is on foot. All the major sights are within walking distance. Avoid using a car because Italians are crazy drivers (don’t get mad but you are) and parking is an impossible mission. There is some private parking garages (€20/day), and check with your hotel if they offer a parking spot. Santa Maria Novella train station is in the city centre, 10 min walk to Duomo!
I researched what to see and where to stay weeks before our trip and I would change my mind daily because I didn’t want to miss anything.
We stayed at Hotel Croce di Malta (www.crocedimaltaflorence.com ). We choose it because its decorated like works of art from the 15th and 16th century, for its location (between Arno river and Santa Maria Novella railway station) and a beautiful panoramic rooftop terrace (open in spring and summer). Before you book any hotel based on a terrace check if its open. This was a second time I didn’t do that and of course we again kissed the closed door. But it didn’t ruin our stay because everything else was immaculate, service, breakfast table, cleanliness. It also has a swimming pool, free wi-fi, restaurant… Prices for a room are around (find a way around) 100 €/day.
When it comes to places to see we decided on :
Uffizi Gallery – be prepared to wait in the line for tickets, sometimes for hours (we did 2) and take an audioguide. Four hours of cruising through amazing art collection arranged in 45 rooms. Yep, a lot of masterpieces. Botticelli Room, Leonardo Room, Michelangelo…..Don’t miss the view of the river Arno and Ponte Vecchio from the short glassed-in corridor on the second floor.
Duomo – the city’s most iconic landmark. Gothic cathedral with green, white and pink marble. It took 150 years to complete and just the architectural beauty of it and the colours ….wow! Climb the spiral steep staircase if you are not claustrophobic or in flip flops. I mean that! You will have to make a reservation when buying tickets to climb Dome because they only let few people at the time. When you start climbing you’ll understand why. Even I got nervous at one point and a guy in front of was panicking. When you reach balustrade at the base of the Dome pause and look at the amazing seven round stained-glass windows. At the top of the climb you will be rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view. Take some time to admire the one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Also at the Piazza del Duomo check the oldest building in the square, Baptistery of San Giovani (octagonal form). Three sets of bronze doors illustrate Biblical stories. Santa Reparata, Giotto’s Bell tower and Opera del Duomo Museum are also a must.
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and its Museum has some amazing masterpieces. Cloister of the Dead is very impressive.
Ponte Vecchio – first documentation of a stone bridge here dates from 972 ! Floods swept it away in 1177 and 1333 so the bridge that you see now was built in 1345. Lots of jeweller shops which reminds of Venice and Rialto bridge.
Giardino di Boboli – behind Palazzo Pitti there is this lovely example of Tuscan garden. Great place to have a picnic or get lost in beautiful alleys.
We wanted to see the Basilica di Santa Croce, burial place of many famous Florentines like Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli… Unfortunately it was closed do to some unfortunate circumstances (as we found out a Spanish tourist was killed when a piece of the ceiling fell on his head).
Piazzale Michelangelo has spectacular city panorama view. After 15 min of uphill walk through serpentine paths from Arno, you’ll reach a square with copy of David statue and full of souvenir stalls. To me, it wasn’t a very nice or well maintained square, but it was worth it for the view.
Where to eat
First thing I say to everyone asking me where to eat is; AVOID TOURISTY PLACES !! Yes, I know they might be cheaper or convenient but the food really usually sucks! Try something local, something that says Firenze, you can have pizza or a sandwich at home. Here you have to try Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak). It’s not cheep but biting into a huge 1.5 inches of soft, tender, full of flavour beef is just heaven. We tried it at Ristorante Buca Poldo near Piazza della Signoria.
I also recommend Trattoria Mario; historical restaurant that follows the tradition, no advanced reservations and no credit cards.
If you are in the mood for fresh homemade pasta try Le Fonticine. As equally attractive option as many restaurants is enoteca – wine bars serving tasting platters of cheese, cold meats, salads and desserts. We found a great one La prosciutteria, near Uffizi Gallery. It’s like being invited to a locals house for lunch; lot of people having fun, yelling, eating great food and having a glass of good wine.
As they say, for Italian ice cream is an art, so find Amorino. Not only it looks amazing, it tastes amazing.
I’m still in love with Firenze. I think about it every day. I count the days to see her again. Oh my love…..