Husband and I visited Florence years ago B.S. (before Son). I remember a mad dash from work on a Friday to catch the flight for a long weekend in the city. We arrived promptly, the luggage did not. Cue a sweltering weekend in totally unsuitable clothing before an exciting reunion with our suitcase on the day we returned home. This time no such hassle, we kept a firm grip on our baggage on board the train from the Cinque Terre. Despite the fiasco I loved Florence last time and hoped this would not change. It didn’t. We all adored this magnificent city crammed with marvels (a supply of fresh clothing does help). Last time we winged it, this time I went into planning overdrive and found it a bit overwhelming. In the end a decision was made to take it steady, not do everything and spend most time out of museums, just wandering and soaking up the atmosphere. This totally worked for us. Son fell in love with Florence too, the beauty of this Renaissance gem was definitely not lost on him and we all agreed this is a great city for kids.
No doubt about it Florence is completely overrun with tourists, but then it has been for centuries. I couldn’t help but feel a bit dismayed by the crowds as we emerged from the station, my heart sank and for a fleeting moment I thought we should have gone somewhere else. I got over that pretty speedily. It’s not too tricky to see why people flock here. In a relatively small area there are so many Renaissance art treasures on the streets. The entire old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and running through my head was the fact these streets were once walked by Michelangelo, Boticelli et al. As well as all that good stuff you get great shopping, wonderful Tuscan food and stunning countryside a stone’s throw away.
We took a relaxed view and decided to skip the museums. The city centre is traffic free with wide streets perfect for strolling, so that’s what we did – a lot! There are oodles of interesting alleys, colourful markets, beautiful squares and no end of gelato opportunities. You can walk from one end of the historic centre to the other in half an hour easily. We walked everywhere and loved it – no cars but you do need to become adept at dodging mopeds, cyclists and masses of fellow tourists.
Our best bits of this beautiful city were:
The Duomo And Those Views
Climbing to the top of the cathedral is not for the faint hearted – it is tough, tough, tough. There are so many steps, winding staircases, narrow spots and a few tight squeezes but wow what a view from the top – the best one in (and of) Florence. The city in the foreground spread out before you, the hills and gorgeous villas in the distance and a sense of how massive the Duomo is – this is reward and more for all that strenuous exertion.
Santa Croce Church
This beautiful church was a first for us, we hadn’t visited last time in Florence but I was so glad we found it now. Quiet, not many tourists and a very sacred and special atmosphere. We found the tombs of Michelangelo, Gallileo and a host of other Renaissance heroes – a special place indeed.
Strolling Around The Streets
We loved strolling, wandering and soaking up the city both during the day and in the evening. As dusk falls the street performers start to appear – something to suit every taste it seems. I remember especially a violin duo, a classical guitar player and a rock star performing at night on the Ponte Vecchio. Leisurely walking after dinner with a gelato in hand listening to the music is marvellous.
Exploring the Boboli Gardens
No flowers here but stunning formal lawns and a lovely place to lose yourself away from the crowds and hustle and bustle of the city. We appreciated the more relaxed pace, enjoyed seeing a bit of the Pitti Palace (Medici HQ) and got some amazing views of the city from a different perspective.
The Ponte Vecchio
Last but most definitely not least the Ponte Vecchio was one of our Florence favourites. The oldest bridge in the city, it is interesting by day but I loved it so much more at night. The shops are closed, the crowds have thinned and you get great views as the sun sets over the city. Add to that an amazing street performer in the middle of the bridge, a great mix.