Florence: what to do
When I visited Florence for the first time I was charmed by the historic, picturesque sights. You honestly can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed at first by all the impressive sight you bump into everywhere you turn. Now, I have chosen to spend my gap year in this city and I have discovered that there is so much to see and do. This city is a treasure chest full of historical and cultural elements left by the Etruscans and Romans as well as the people of the medieval and renaissance times. There are beautiful landscapes if there is the need to escape the busy city. To top things off there is the sensational Italian food that no other country can compare to.
Basic knowledge of Italian history is a valuable asset when visiting a city that is filled with historical sights throughout the city. This goes back to the Etruscans who settled in Italy. It was Julias Caesar who established the city we now know as Florence. It fell into the hands of the Medici during the 1400’s and they allowed the city to flourish in all cultural aspects. They have left many marks in this city that can still be seen today. One of my favorite
historic remains is the Ponte Vecchio. Like many other places, Florence too became a victim of WWII. As the Germans retreated, they blew up all the bridges except for one, the famous Ponte Vecchio. This is now a beautiful place to stroll across from one side of the city to the other. The bridge we can admire today is the one that remains from when it was built in 1345. As it was ordered by the Medici in the 16th century, this bridge is still occupied by jewellery shops. As you stroll along the bridge don’t be shy and let your eyes catch the twinkle of these treasures. A definite must-do if you visit the city during the summer season is to visit the bridge in the evening. I loved listening to live music that different musicians produce each night while enjoying the view along the river as it becomes dark.
- Ponte Vecchio
- Il Duomo
- infinite numbers of beautiful churches!
Florence is the most incredible place to immerse yourself in Italian culture. Florence is the heart of an immense art collection. Various museums display the works of Italian artists and through these pieces of art the culture of the past has been expressed. For art lovers, this is the place to be. Days could be set aside to discover all the art that Florence has to offer. For others, just a few hours in one of the various museums like the Galleria Academia, The Uffizi is enough to gain a fair impression of the art that is gathered in the city. Two copies of the David, a marmer sculpture made by Michelangelo, can be found in the city. One is on the Piazza Della Signoria and one is on the Piazzale Michelangelo. The real one however, can be admired in the Galleria d’Academia among many other beautiful pieces of art. There is a little hidden secret on top of the jewelry stores along the Ponte Vecchio, this is the Vasarian Corridor. This not-so-well-known passage houses a collection of self portraits that are part of the Uffizi museum. Florence is known for its leather production. If you go to the city you will definitely see many leather shops, too many to keep track of. I ended up asking owners the strange question of whether it was all real leather as it was hard for me to believe that tourists weren’t going to be fooled by shops claiming to sell real leather when it wasn’t. Their answer was simple: Florence is the heart of the leather industry and so all the shops and stalls offer products from real leather. In other words, when you visit it is worth taking a look around at some of the great products on display.
Other cultural activities that are worth visiting are:
- Palazzo Strozzi
- Palazzo Vecchio
One of the things I remember from my first city to Florence very well is the view from the Piazzale Michelangelo as the sun was beginning to set. Take the chance take a walk just outside of the city and up the steps to this large square that overlooks the city. You are sure to be amazed by the unexpected size of Il Duomo. I can never get enough pictures of this view. After lots of historic and cultural information being bombarded at you in this city, the boboli gardens can also be a great place to relax and see some of the beautiful landscaping that the Medici’s did back in the day. I have had the chance to see the surrounding areas of the city as well and you don’t have to go far to see some of the cute little towns surrounding the city as well as beautiful areas in the hills. If you have the chance it’s very easy to bike or drive out of the city and see the beautiful scenery that surrounds the city in the hills. This can give some beautiful views of the city as well.
One tip I can definitely give out of experience is that there is no way you can possibly visit this country without falling in love with their kitchen. To start of the day, Italians make a stop at a bar to wake up. This can be done throughout the day as well. What I noticed to be very different is that if you want to act like an Italian, you drink your espresso or coffee while standing at the bar and you leave. There is no chit chat over a nice cup of coffee in Italy. Another thing, a big cup of coffee with milk is not okay after lunch. It is considered as a meal on its own. Delicious pasta’s and tasty panini’s for lunch are the typical way to join the Italian traditions. What I think everyone should try at least once is stopping by a typical Italian osteria that sells panini’s among other things. You’ll know it’s a good place when there is a queue along the street to enter. Il Mercato Centrale is another experience you don’t want to
miss out on. On the ground floor there are many stalls offering various different types of food. In my opinion, the best part is upstairs. Enjoy a tasty meal of any kind in this Italian market. Then, an aperitivo before dinner is a great way to start off the evening and there are many great drinks typical for this region. There are many bars along the river that provide a picturesque view of sunset along the Arno. The city starts thriving later at night when people go out for dinner. The well known dish served at this time is pizza, but there are many more Florentine dishes that the city has to offer. Giving some of them a try is definitely worth it. I could go on about Italian food forever but there is one more important thing to know. Italy is known for the gelato. At all the touristy places there are many gelaterias that sell “fake” gelato. When you come across a gelateria that keeps there ice cream in mountains that come out of their tin, keep walking. If you follow that tip then the gelato is a feast. My advice, enjoy this culinary sensation while you have the chance!
- Pasta, pasta and more pasta
- Il Mercato Centrale
- Italian dishes for dinner
Florence is a city where you will find endless numbers of visitors all year round. The best time to go is, however, in spring or summer when the weather is great and you can be out enjoying the city under the Tuscan sun. You would be smart to buy your tickets online before visiting a museum or other monument as I can tell from experience that queues can get dreadingly long. Another tip to keep in mind is that on every last Sunday of the month, entry to many museums is free. If you ever get the chance, enjoy the Florentine experience!