Florence, or Firenze to the locals, is well-known for being a mecca for art, fashion, and food. Arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, there are plenty of things to see in Florence, a city of 380,000 people. You can enjoy viewing world famous works of art at its museums and galleries or sampling the wine and food that is so revered that products will purposefully advertise “made in Florence” as a signal of good quality. With its strong emphasis on Renaissance art and culture, it is easy to see why it was listed as one of the most beautiful cities in the world by Forbes.
After hiking the Cinque Terre, Florence was the next stop on my friend Gloria and I’s Italy tour. Before arriving at Florence, we decided to make a pit stop at Pisa because it was on the way. If you want to do this, you can take the train from Monterosso in Cinque Terre to Pisa for 9 euros and 1 hour 10 minutes via Trenitalia.
Once we arrived at the Pisa Centrale train station, we stored our luggage at the train station luggage room, which cost 3 euros for 12 hours. Then, we got on the LAM Rossa bus to head towards the sight that Pisa is most famous for, the Leaning Tower! The bus ride took about ten minutes to get to the “Torre” stop and cost 1.2 euros.
Once you get to the Tower, you have to check in any bags/backpacks at their storage facility. After you do this, you can choose to either stand in line for a chance to go up the tower or you can commence with a mini photo-shoot outside of the Tower. Before proceeding up the 296 stairs to the top, a guide will provide you with a brief history of the Tower. Once getting to the top, it is super windy, but it’s beautiful to see all of Pisa spread out below your feet.
Another sight to see in Pisa is the Pisa Cathedral. This is located right across from the Leaning Tower so it’s easy to do before or after you visit the Tower. The cathedral had one of the most beautiful ceilings I’ve seen so I had to take a picture. I like how the white marble lies in stark contrast with the ornate, gilded artwork on the ceiling. That, combined with the black iron chandelier, was a great visual representation of the careful balance between lavishness and restraint.
After exploring these two venues, Gloria and I bussed back to the train station and took the train from Pisa Centrale to Florence for 9 euros in 45 minutes. We headed to our hostel, Backpackers Florence Central, which cost $53/night for a double bed. We had our own room and bathroom, which was a luxury in itself, making it more of a hotel rather than hostel experience. After dropping off our backpacks, we headed outside to explore and came across the beautiful Basilica of Santa Croce.
One thing I noticed while traveling in Italy was that many of the plazas are used as impromptu soccer fields. Talk about playing with a view! Also, another thing that Florence is known for is its Florentine steak. After a quick Yelp search (Yelp in Italy is pretty useful, if you yelp “Florentine steak” in Florence, Italy, it turns up multiple restaurants with 100+ reviews), we decided on Trattoria Pallottino. This steak was large enough to feed multiple people. Personally, I’m not a huge steak person but I still thought it was pretty good!
On our second day in Florence, we visited the Duomo, the Santa Maria del Fiore. This domed cathedral is arguably the most famous building in Florence so you don’t want to miss it! It is very different from the Duomo in Milan, but it is equally as beautiful.
It is one of those places that are hard to capture in a single photo because it’s so massive, so this Wikipedia photo will have to suffice. As you get closer to the building, you can better spot the facade’s intricate white, green and red marble designs.
After visiting the Duomo, we headed towards something a little less massive, but in my eyes, just as beautiful, the city market! The San Lorenzo markets consist of the Central Market and the outdoor market. Inside the Central Market, you can find a variety of food, from local produce to bottles of olive oil. The outdoor market consists of stalls selling leather, clothing, and souvenirs where you can flex your bargaining muscles.
Something that surprised me while grocery shopping in Florence was how cheap the wine was! I remember seeing boxed wine in little juice boxes for 0.79 euros, which is perfect for people trying to travel on a budget while still enjoying the local vino.
Florence houses the Statue of David, which some would say is one of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures, if not the most famous sculpture. By this point, we were pretty museumed out but we were determined to see the sculpture, so we headed to the Uffizi Museum. After going through all of the rooms, we still couldn’t find him, and disappointed, we walked outside. And then we spotted him, chilling on the square outside of the museum! Upon closer inspection though, we realized this wasn’t the real David but was, in fact, an imposter. The real David was located at another museum, the Accademia Gallery. Fail. But sometimes, travel is like this no?
After visiting the Uffizi, we wandered outside towards the River Arno and Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). Ponte Vecchio is well known for its stores that are built directly on the bridge. A fun fact is that it is the only bridge in Florence to have survived World War II without damage.
Close to the River Arno is a delicious gelato place called La Carraia. Some say that it’s the best gelato place in all of Florence, which, in a city that prides itself on its food, says a lot. Thanks to the abundance of gelato shops in Italy, our one gelato a day habit was still going strong.
One of the great things about Florence was the hospitable and friendly local atmosphere. The summer of 2014 was the World Cup and on our last night, there was a game. In honor of the game, the locals took over a park and projected the game onto a screen as locals, tourists, and expats all mingled with plastic cups of wine and beers. It was very nice.
After spending 3 days and 2 nights in Florence, our next stop was Roma.
Side note: As a planner, something that kept me sane throughout this Asia/Europe trip was creating an itinerary and packing list. The itinerary helped me keep track of all the dates, cities, flight times, housing, and relevant transportation information and the packing list ensured that I would have everything (like bug spray in Cinque Terre) so I wouldn’t be caught off guard. If you also like being prepared, making these lists could be useful! Planning ahead can also help you travel cheaper and fly cheaper.