In Florence, or Firenze in Italian, it’s all about the art!
From what I picked up, Florence really was the birthplace of the Renaissance. The Medici family sponsored and commissioned Da Vinci and other famous artists to uplift their city, and boy did it work! The city itself is quite a work of art, to say nothing of the magnificent pieces it contains. On top of that, the city also contains Roman ruins, as do most cities across Italy.
A two-day trip to Florence turned into three days simply because I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t make it into the world-famous museums there due to a recent price increases, but simply walked around town. Spending hours atop the cathedral dome and bell tower and watching one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in my travels was good enough for me.
Luckily I didn’t lose a travel day getting to Florence. I caught the first train out of Rome and by 1 PM I was in Florence. I dropped off my bags at the hostel (once again only two blocks away from the train station) and started exploring the city.
First I’ll mention the hostel, Archi Rossi. As I said, it was only two blocks away from the train station. After that, it just got better. The rooms were very spacious, each bed had a secure locker (the first time I had a locker which could fit my full 85-liter bag), a private bathroom and not too many beds in each of the dozens of rooms. The hostel also came with a free breakfast (a luxury in a country that doesn’t eat breakfast) and free walking tours. If you’re in Florence, I would definitely recommend this hostel. They have literally hundreds of beds, but somehow I think they also often run at max capacity. Probably because they’re the best deal in town!
After dropping off my bags, I immediately set out to explore the city. As I mentioned, Florence is world-famous for its museums. The Uffizi Museum is one of the largest and most impressive art galleries in the world, and the Galleria dell’ Accademia has the David. Altogether there are 72 museums in the city, not including the magnificent churches, palaces, parks and Renaissance art sitting directly on the streets (including a full-scale replica of the David). Sadly, I didn’t actually go through the museums myself for two reasons. First of all, the prices of the two key museums I wanted to visit (Uffizi and Accademia) doubled the day before I arrived due to new exhibits in them. Second, the lines for the museums were a couple hours long. Not that they would have stopped me, but it would have cost even more to get a pass to skip the lines.
If you are going to Florence for more than a couple days, have a little extra money and like museums, I definitely recommend getting the Florence Card. The card is like any other city card, costs €72 for three days, and gives you free access to all the museums and attractions, and also allows you to skip the lines (which can be very long!). If you are there for at least three days and have the money, it is more than worth it!
The attraction that I did pay for and visit was the Florence Cathedral. As far as churches and cathedrals go, it is my favorite so far in my travels. It is not necessarily the biggest (that goes to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome), the most impressive (I’d have to say the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City), nor the most famous (the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona gets that). But you can climb up to the top of the dome with a view of the city that is unsurpassed, and the bell tower next to it is equally fantastic. The line to climb the dome can take a couple hours, and the climb is long and in some cases single file in one direction at a time (passages in the walls of a church are very narrow), but once you get to the top there is no time limit to how long you can stay. I stayed plenty. About two hours. I also challenged myself and ran up all 414 stairs in the bell tower, since it was a little less crowded and afforded me the room.
Another fantastic part of my trip to Florence was the sunset. The last day I was there, I went out to the River Arno and Ponte Vecchio to see if I could get some good pictures at sunset. What I wasn’t expecting was an amazing sky which went through different hues for almost an hour. I took a LOT of photos, some of which are the best I’ve taken in my travels, and the likes I’ve received on Instagram and Facebook would seem to agree.
As mentioned above, my hostel came with free walking tours. I really liked that they had two of them, each covering half the city. The way they worked is by alternating, one tour covering the center of the city one day and the other covering the south bank the next day. Both tours are really good, but of course I say that about all the walking tours I do. I know there are other walking tours in Florence, but these were the first ones I’ve done that were provided by my hostel. Just one more reason to stay in the Archi Rossi hostel. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil these tours either. You’ll have to take them for yourself.
And then there was the food. Just like Barcelona, Florence has a central market. Downstairs are all the stalls with the local produce, meats, nuts, etc, and a few places to eat meals. But upstairs is the goldmine. There are a couple dozen eateries, all with local ingredients or meals cooked from scratch, such as pizzas and pastas. I found the place on my first day in Florence, and I ended up eating nearly all my meals there. Not only was the food incredibly delicious, but the price was also better than anything else in town. It is truly where the locals eat, although there were quite a few tourists too. The difference is that it is oriented for the locals, not the tourists. Personally, I had a cannoli made fresh in front of me, a ragu arancine, fresh-pressed juice, a plate of fries, a pizza made from scratch, a sandwich with all-natural and fresh ingredients, and more. And all of that was less than €20.
Another attraction the central market featured was the Lorenzo de Medici Cucina Cooking School. I really wish I had the money for one of their classes, which occur nearly every day. They looked fantastic, and if there’s one thing I could take with me in my travels, it would be advanced culinary skills. Someday I’ll just have to go back to Florence and take one of the classes, along with some connoisseur training.
I also found two gelaterias similar to the one in Pisa, with all natural ingredients and the gelato kept in closed containers. One of the two was really creative and drizzled chocolate fondue over the gelato, which made it interesting as these natural flavors already melt faster than regular gelato or ice cream. My favorite flavor was ricotta con scorza d’arancina e mandorie caramellate (in English, ricotta with orange peel and caramelized almonds).
But the best was All’antico Vinaio. They had easily the best sandwiches I’ve eaten in Italy, and in all my travels for that matter. They were huge, made from fresh ingredients (the bread was straight out of the oven and piping hot), contained lots of meat and veggies, and each one was really more than a full meal. I ended up going there twice, and they were actually the only meals I had in Florence outside of the central market.
In the center of Florence is Il Porcellino. That’s Italian for piglet, although it is a bronze statue of a boar. Legend has it that if you put a coin between the jaws and let it fall out into the grate beneath, and then rub its polished snout, you will ensure your return to Florence. I dutifully did so, and thus I will be back to Florence someday. I still need to visit the museums, take a cooking class and make one more trip up to the top of the duomo.