Florence, Italy aka: Firenze

Just one hour from Camp Darby.  Airports at Pisa and Florence.

“A day in Florence…” 

If you’re starting out your trip like this, you’ve already missed out.  Florence is worth seeing if only for an hour, but the beauty, art, and culture that fills this city is so much more than even the most disciplined tourist can see in a single day.  Narrow your interests and it may be possible.  If, for example, you only care about Michaelangelo, then a day might be enough, but if you love architecture and history, art and culture, food and really incredible shopping, then a day will barely brush the surface.

That being said, I had 9 hours.  Tragic.

Parking:  The main train station across the piazza from the Santa Maria Novella is easy to find and a convenient place to start your day with a tourist office just across the street, but it’s also the most expensive parking lot in town.  For more reasonable parking, go to one of two lots by the Fortezza da Basso or the one at Ex Stazione Leopolda.  There’s another by the Piazza della Mercato Centrale that is closer into the tourist areas.

i = Tourist Office:  I don’t usually utilize these information centers, but if you’re limited on time, it’s a valuable stop. The staff are friendly, informative, and can help tailer your day to your interests, schedule, and pace according to your group size.  They also know the best places to eat and can draw you a self-guided tour on one of the complimentary maps they provide.

Bathrooms:  Italy is not known for the cleanliness of their bathrooms.  Florence is no exception.  Hand sanitizer, toilet seat covers, and a package of tissue or wipes would be helpful and comforting in those situations when you really have to go.  Nice restaurant does not necessarily equal clean bathroom or even proper toilet.

A 9 hour Loop
horribly tragic

Santa Maria Novella
Hours: Daily 0900-1400; Closed Fridays
Cost: ~5Euros/person
This 13th Century church is literally directly across from the train station between the Piazzas Della Stazione and Unita Italiana.  The perimeter is lined with intricatlely carved shields, each one different as is the courtyard where the entrance of the church and ticket office resides.

The Cappella Filippo Strozzi is open to the public for free as a place of prayer accessible on the east side of the church.  To see the church you must enter the courtyard at the front of the church and buy a ticket. The museum entrance is to the left of the main entrance.

Though beautiful, if you’ve only 9 hours in Florence, this is one to skip.

Santa Maria Novella

The Infamous “Pharmacy” at Santa Maria Novella
Via Della Scala 16
It isn’t often that someone tells you to check out a really pretty pharmacy, but this is Florence where everything is pretty.  More a seller of soaps and perfumes than a medical themed pharmacy, it’s definitely worth a stop if not to buy just to look and smell some of the perfumes created from recipes nearly as old as the building.

Random Churches
There are a ton of tiny little churches that don’t even make the tourist map, but sometimes these little ones can be just as pretty.  If the door is open, then it takes just a moment to peek in and see what treasures you may find.  This one, on the Via de Cerretani is a nice example of romanesque architecture lacking the heaviness of the Gothic. Some columns are adorned with frescoes. The inside of this little church is actually prettier than the Duomo.

Via de Cerretani
This street leading towards the Duomo is full of shops and bakeries.  There are several nice shoe stores here.

The Via de Cerretani opens into the spacious Piazza de San Giovanni and Piazza del Duomo where the impressive Duomo and Baptistry stand.  There’s a waffle stand on the left with quick food if you’re in a hurry (I don’t recommend the bathroom).  For a clean bathroom during normal business hours, there is a WC to the left near the clock when facing the Duomo.  It costs 50 cents, but is worth it.  Sadly, it’s closes in the evening.

The Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore and Baptistry

It saddens me that I wasn’t able to see everything.  It’s just not possible with limited time, but do look this up ahead of time or carry your guide with you.  There is a lot of art and beauty in and around this church complex that gains meaning when you realize what exactly you’re looking at.

The Church:  There are long lines leading to the front door of the church, but it is free to enter and the lines move relatively quickly.  If someone will hold your place in line, it’s a good time to walk around and take in some of the incredible details of the facade that you don’t notice until you’re close up.  The inside of the church is relatively plain compared to its exterior and other local churches, but the Brunelleschi’s frescoed dome is impressive.

The Baptistry:  Possibly the oldest building in Florence, it sits facing the Duomo in the Piazza.  The bronze doors by Ghiberti are on the East side.  $ to enter.

The Dome is the tallest building in Florence, so the views should be astounding.  It has it’s own entrance behind the Campanile and costs to enter.

The Campanile:  Lines are shorter here, so this is what I elected to climb.  It does cost a small fee to climb the over 400 stairs up to the top.  The bidirectional stairways are narrow as you climb so that there are lines forming at each level to go up or down waiting on people in the stairways.  DO NOT go if you are claustrophobic.  DO NOT go if you are grossly overweight.  If you are afraid of heights, you may be ok at the first and second levels since they are screened in.  The top level is open (fantastic photo ops).

Duomo Santa Maria di Fiore

Behind the baptistry, the Via Roma leads down a path of tempting cafes and patisseries to the spacious Piazza delle Repubblica which was once part of the cities ghetto.  It now holds restaurants, vendors selling beautiful leather purses and a carousel.  The area through that arched doorway is a great place to walk, shop, and eat.

Piazza della Repubblica

Once a silk market, The Loggia del Mercato Nuovo is home to a nice outdoor market full of souvenirs and pretty leather things.  On one side sits the famous Florentine boar.  Legends say if you touch the nose of Tacca’s “Il Porcellino,” then you will either return to Florence one day, have good fortune/luck, or if you make a wish and the coin you put into his mouth falls into the grate, then your wish will be granted.  These legends have bring crowds of hands to pet this pig’s shiny brass nose.

Birthplace of the Renaissance, art is everywhere and as we near the Piazza della Signoria, there seem to be more street artists.  It’s impressive.  These aren’t the jugglers entertaining crowds in other cities.  In my 9 hours, two girls sat quietly, intently blending chalks to create these beautiful masterpieces.

Chalk artist and her work near the Mercato Nuovo

Walking into the expansive Piazza della Signoria was one of those “awe” moments for me when I pause speechless calculating where I’ll start.  It’s no wonder that this space has been the pulse of political and social life for so many centuries.  Of all the beauty in this city, this open square embodies all that is Florentine in its grandness, pomp, and art.

Loggia dei Lanzi

On one side The Loggia dei Lanzi is an open market styled building with columns, arches, and steps leading into a mini art gallery filled with beautiful statues including Cellini’s original bronze Perseus holding Medusa’s head.

Though a few of the piazza’s many statues are copies with the originals tucked safely away in museums, quite a few originals remain.  It’s incredible to see these valuable pieces of art just sitting there out in public including the massive Neptune’s Fountain at one corner of the Palazzo Vecchio.  The first couple rooms of the Palazzo Vecchio are free and void of lines, so even on a quick trip, it’s worth stopping in especially to see that beautiful first of three courtyards.

Font Neptuno

To the right of the Palazzo Vecchio lies the sprawling Galleria Degli Uffizi, one of Italy’s greatest art galleries housing mostly paintings (for sculpture go to the Bargello).  A pedestrian road runs down the center of the building that rises up with columns on either side.  An arched entryway leads to the Arno river and the Pont Vecchio just beyond.

Just outside the Uffizi at the river’s edge is a thick iron chain covered in locks.  Like the bridge in Cologne, these are left by lovers to attest to the permanency of their love.

The short walk between Uffizi and the Pont Vecchio is an arched tunnel of shops with columns on one side and places to peak out and take pictures.  It’s charming as is the Pont Vecchio which reminds me very much of Venice’s Rialto with high end jewelry shops lining both sides. 

Pont Vecchio

16th C. Fountain in teh Piazza de’ Frescobaldi by Buontalenti

Turn right at the end of the Vecchio walking along the Borgo S Jacopo where you’ll find little shops and restaurants.  A large circle around the Santo Spirito indicated that this was the best place to eat.

There’s an entire block of restaurants lined up on to side of the church to choose from.  In Italy, you have to eat before 3 or after 7 if you want to enjoy a sit-down dining experience.  By 3, many restaurants will turn people away.

Borgo Antico
Piazza S. Spirito 6r
50125 Firenze
Serving up huge portions of delicious hot pasta for very reasonable prices, we really enjoyed a relaxing meal here even at the end of the lunch hour with great service in a quirky atmosphere with no rush for us to go even as they were cleaning up.  Child friendly and helpful, I’d eat here again. 

If you’re vacationing in winter, then this is about the time that you have to race to the hill at Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset over the Arno.

It’s an easy walk past the Piazza dei Pitti the host of several great museums that could fill days.  Opposite and along the Via Guicciardini are some fantastic shops albeit a little high end.  The leather shops are very nice and the pottery is nice to look at only due to museum-like prices.  Artists line the end near the Vecchio here selling paintings and sketches of Florence.

Piazza dei Pitti

Follow the Arno to the Ponte Alle Grazie.  From here you can turn right and follow the signs from De Bardi to Via Del Monte Alle Crosi to the Piazzale Michelangelo or you can follow the river to the Piazza Giuseppe Poggi and take the series of stairs that leads up the hill.  Bus 12 and 13 will get you to both the Piazzale Michelangelo and the Monte alle Croci which sits higher on the hill.

Copies of Michelangelo’s statues line the upper balcony, though the view is so stunning at sunset, that I barely noticed them.  Snack trucks and souvenir sellers wander this area and there’s parking if you have a car and would like to drive.

View of the Pont Vecchio and Palazzo Vecchio from the Piazzale Michaelangelo

Santa Croce closes at 5 as do most of the Florentine churches, so if you want to see them all, you must have more than one day.  There simply isn’t enough time unless you’re on a bike and just run in to each one to see it.  The Santa Croce isn’t far from the Ponte Alle Grazie at the bottom of the hill from Michelangelo’s Piazzale.  This area seems a bit more local and residential than the areas around the Duomo and Signoria.

Santa Croce

It’s a 15 minute walk from Santa Croce to the Synagogue and Jewish Museum through mostly quiet residential streets.

Great Synagogue of Florence

Via Luigi Carlo Farini, 4
50121 Firenze, Italy
+39 055 245252 ‎ 

The Synagogue lies just outside most tourist maps, but is only a 15-20 minute walk from the Duomo.  It’s surrounded by Kosher shops and restaurants in a quiet neighborhood.  The website is more than just a portal for the synagogue and museum.  It leads you into the small, but welcoming community that provides a lot of tourist information for the area.

The Synagogue and Jewish Museum of Florence on Via LC Farini

Just a couple blocks away is the lively Via Pietrapiana lined with shops and little piazzas.  At Piazza Dei Ciompi there are rows of stalls selling antiques and bric-a-brac. At Piazza Salvemini 2 sits Serafino, a gelato shop serving up generous scoops of really delicious gelato.

Pietrapiana turns into Corso B.Go Degli, both full of great shops from stationary and gifts to shoes and fashion.  I especially love Signum with a beautiful collection of papers, pens, notebooks, maps, prints, and metal initials with colorful wax sticks.  

B.Go Degli Albizi 54r

If you are lucky enough to complete this loop in 9 hours or if you are lucky enough to have more than 9 hours to spend in this marvelous city, stop at the Mercato Centrale on your way back to the station.  It’s just a few blocks from the Santa Novella and is open with vendors until 1830.  If time allows, stop and see the Santo Lorenzo just a block away.

Mercato Centrale
Della Riento and Via S. Antonio

See?  One day is practically criminal.  There’s an entire area of art just north of the Duomo that there wansn’t even time for.  With another day, and some luck from the Florentine boar, I’ll come back and explore the area around the Piazza San Marco and the archeological museum.

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