We’ve been to Florence many times. We spent part of our honeymoon here, came back by ourselves, came back at least four times with our children, and arrived most recently with Noah for Bob’s 60th birthday. In fact, it’s Bob’s favorite city in the world – he would move here tomorrow (if we could only afford the apartment he’s picked out).
As an American who has lived in New York, Dallas, and Detroit, the biggest surprise upon entering Florence is its scale. Like many European cities built before cars and other forms of public transportation, the city is rather compact. You can walk across it – from one of the ancient gates to another – in less than half an hour. The amount of art, history, architecture, green space, culture, music, food, silks, and leather goods that you’ll find in this relatively small amount of real estate is simply amazing.
That being said, one posting cannot do this city justice. So, I’m going to use this post as an introduction. I will delve into the best aspects of the three most interesting areas – the City Center, Santa Croce, and Oltrarno – in separate postings:
- You can easily spend 3 days in the City Center, depending upon how many museums, churches, plazas, and stores you wish to visit. It’s where most of the “must see” attractions, such as the Duomo and Uffizi are located. (More on these just below.)
- The area across the Arno is known as Oltrarno, or left (south) bank of the river. With a more relaxed pace, it’s where the locals hang out or go when they want some space and greenery. (Want get some exercise? You’ll have more opportunities over here, as well.)
- Santa Croce is a relatively untraveled area for Americans – which, as you’ll soon find out, is a shame.
Here’s a map of Florence that includes the 3 areas described above. (Click on the map for an enlarged version.) Starred items are key points of interest. The names in black are the primary attractions. Those in brown are favorite restaurants, cafés, and gelaterias.
I’m only going to talk briefly about the three main (and frankly mandatory) attractions in Central Florence: the Duomo, the Uffizi, and the Galleria dell’Accademia (home to Michelangelo’s David). Much has already been written about these sites, so let’s stick to very practical advice regarding your visits there:
- Avoid very long waits by booking tickets online via these links for the Uffizi and Accademia. There is no charge to enter the Duomo, so you’ll simply have to show up and stand in line.
- However, you will need to buy a €15 ticket to access the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome. The ticket will also get you into Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata and the Opera Museum. The view from the top of the Dome is spectacular, and the climb is incredibly educational and also physically taxing. (Note to the faint of heart: The paintings on the Dome ceiling, only visible on the way to the top, are graphic illustrations of what Hell is like. They are not for the squeamish, prudish, or young children.)
Because Noah has accompanied us so many times, we’re delighted to add his perspective regarding favorite Florentine spots. Of course, these will include the best gelato places in each of the three areas of the city. (He also has some surprisingly fun ideas and insights that your kids will enjoy, too.)
Did you know: Florence was the capital of Italy from 1865-71.
Masthead photo: The Duomo (Bob)