Chances are you could cross the gates of any given city in Italy and think it was the most beautiful place in the world. There’s just something about The Boot: it’s classy, cultured, antiquated, and possesses a certain gravitas that one supposes must come from founding the entire Western world as we know it. On top of that, the food’s not bad either. Oh, and the weather’s pretty good. But out of all the dream Italian destinations vying for your attention, the jewel of the crown has to be Florence, the nucleus of medieval Europe and the esteemed birthplace of the Renaissance.
It’s hard not to feel that romanticism as soon as you touch down in Florence’s narrow, tangled streets. The high stone buildings consistently invoke the Middle Ages, despite being reimagined and reinvigorated as various establishments. For every modern doorway, there’s a gothic arch; for every department store, there’s an austere medieval church. One of Italy’s charms is that it’s slow to change, and the Italians are maestros at combining the contemporary with the antique. Unlike Rome, with its historical layers all spiraled and jumbled together, Florence has proved adept at maintaining its unique identity. It never feels claustrophobic, or anything less than completely authentic. Hop on to BUCKiTDREAM and discover which other intrepid travelers have had the joy of discovering Italy’s beloved Firenze, then get inspired and start jotting down some ideas in your own handy BUCKiTDREAM planner!
Here’s our rundown of the top things to do in the old imperial Italian capital!
Ascend Il Duomo Dominating the Florence skyline from any angle you care to look at it from is Il Duomo, the masthead of the Florence Cathedral, and one of the largest domes ever built. If you’re brave (not to mention fit), and fancy a stunning vista of the city, you can climb all the way to the top. From the inside, not the outside, obviously.
Call Over To Dante’s Florence’s most favored son (retroactively, as they ruthlessly exiled him back in the day) and scribe of The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri, once resided in Florence’s old town. There’s a brilliant museum about him and his works on the sight of his old gaff.
Peruse The Ponte Vecchio Florence’s, and perhaps Europe’s, most famous bridge, the unusual-looking Ponte Vecchio is still lined with shops and merchants, as it was in ancient times.
Have A Gaze At David Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture, David, is housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia. If you want to cheat, though, there’s a replica you can look at for free, right in the center of Piazza Della Signoria.
Wander Through The Uffizi Second only to the Louvre in terms of art-world renown, the Uffizi Gallery is one of Florence’s signature buildings, and houses works by heavy-hitters Botticelli, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio, as well as numerous other plate-faced Madonnas and crucified Christs.
Prowl The Vasari Corridor While you’re in the Uffizi, you can get yourself a private tour of the legendary Vasari Corridor, a walkway which runs from the gallery, over the Ponte Vecchio, and into the Pitti Palace. It was built and used by the Medicis, the famous family that unofficially ran Florence, so they didn’t have to mix with the common riffraff.
Take A Trip To Fiesole About a twenty-minute drive outside of Florence lies Fiesole, an ancient town with more than a few Roman remains contained within. It also gives you a fantastic panoramic view of Florence, as it’s located high up in the surrounding mountains.
People Watch In Piazza Della Signoria There’s a fantastic little viewing point directly under the right wing of the Uffizi Gallery where surrounded by dramatic statues, you can watch the natives and tourists of Florence come and go.
High-end If you want to do Florence in style, book a few nights at the stunning Four Seasons Florence. With all the lavish trappings and villa-esque grounds and gardens, you’ll feel like you’ve flashed back to times of Renaissance luxury.
Medium Your best bet for a medium budget stay in Firenze is a self-catering apartment, of which there are many in and around the city. Even the reasonably priced ones are usually located very centrally, and you can enjoy the freedom of having your own little slice of Florence all to yourself.
Budget A cheap and cheerful hostel will see you setting up camp in the center of the city and keep you well under budget. You’re not going to be spending a lot of time holed up in your room anyway, so why not save the money and invest in discovering the city?
Everyone knows the legends of Italian food, and Florence does not disappoint. The Italians specialize in pizza, pasta, ice cream and pastries, the sum of which can form your three meals of the day, with a salad or two thrown in there for good measure. Trouble is, with Italy’s reputation, a lot of folks are looking to cash in, which can lead to some cheap knock-offs of the real deal, especially around the main tourist routes. Generally, if a place has a lot of locals in it, then you can count on it being good; and if you ever see a couple of priests eating somewhere, view it as the Italian equivalent of three Michelin stars.
For pizza, the best joint in town is Il Pizzaiuolo, a cozy, no-frills affair that concentrates solely on blowing your mind with some of the most divine pizza you’ve ever tasted. On top of all that, the prices are wonderfully low, meaning you could essentially have two pizzas for your main and still save some cash compared to other pizzerias in town.
Meanwhile, for pasta lovers, right off the main shopping street of Via Por Santa Maria is a beautiful little family-run eatery called Trattoria Nella, which serves up some exquisite homemade dishes while providing that quintessential, ever-endearing Italian atmosphere.
Despite its austere facade, Florence has quite the party town reputation. Thanks to its centrally-located university, the city comes alive at night, with a mix of native and international students, all looking for a good time. Space Electronic is one of the most popular clubs in the city, with a ‘warehouse party’ kind of vibe, while Kitsch is a cool, trendy bar to grab a few drinks in before you hit the clubs.
Also, as this is Italy, it’d be criminal not to recommend the two signature Italian beverages, wine, and coffee, both of which Florence does extremely well. Espressos fly out practically every minute of every hour around the city and if you want to blend in with the locals, stand at the bar to drink them.
Tips and Culture
The native Florentines are well used to tourists, so you don’t need to speak fluent Italian to make yourself known. They are proud of their language, though, so will almost certainly appreciate a few simple words, such as ‘please’ (‘per favore’) and ‘thank you’ (‘grazie’). (As a side-tip; pronouncing an English word with a fiercely extravagant Italian accent will get you through most situations.)
Speaking of tourists, Florence is riddled with them. They come from all corners, and it’s not unusual to find your path blocked by a horde of Japanese guided spectators. To that end, the best times to visit Florence are the late spring and early autumn. Especially October, where you can wring the last few jacket-less nights from summer, and count on an ever-decreasing number of overseas visitors.
If you go for dinner at seven, your dining partners will be mostly comprised of fellow tourists, with a few Italians grabbing a late lunch. Fall in line with the Florentine, and indeed Italian, way, and discover the virtues of going for dinner at half nine and beyond.
Don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon. It’s exclusively a morning coffee in Italy and as they invented it, it’s probably best to conform. At best, the waiter will silently think of you as an uncultured snob and at worst you could get point-blank refused.
The city is so beautiful that the must-see, in this case, is practically Florence itself. It’s more than the sum of its parts, with everything combining to create a romantic, cultured and stunning place to visit.
The best view of the city can be found at Piazzale Michelangelo (and yes, the square comes complete with another recreation of Florence’s favorite statue, David). An hour’s walk or a short bus trip will get you up there. If you can make it up to the Piazzale for sunset, you’ll be rewarded with a mesmerizing view of the city, dominated by the unmistakable Palazzo Vecchio and the trademark shape of Il Duomo.
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is inspiring and relaxing in equal measure. Just being within the city’s walls makes you feel as if you’re experiencing a part of history; in terms of dream trips, it doesn’t get much better than this. Hopefully, you’ve packed your BUCKiTDREAM planner with ideas and plans for your own visit; so what are you waiting for? Florence might not have changed much in the last eight or so centuries, but that doesn’t mean you should wait around!