Florence - the birthplace of the Renaissance and the capital of stunning Tuscany, could keep anyone occupied for years. But, if you only have two nights, what all can you fit in?
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*Post updated, June, 2019
How long will you have in Florence?
Florence is an easy overnight from Rome (which is what we did), or it could easily be the highlight of a longer trip across multiple cities in Italy. The easy answer on timing is - get there as early as possible! But, in reality, we left Rome for Florence in the late afternoon. It’s a relatively short train ride and we were in Florence in time to split a bottle of wine in one of the cafes around the Duomo (incredible). We visited in late September and crowds were manageable (and the weather was lovely!)
Taking the train to Florence from Rome
Florence is an extremely easy train ride from Rome. We splurged on business class tickets which got us two adorable glasses of prosecco and a seat next to a sweet 70-year-old Italian businessman who eavesdropped on my excited rambling with a contented smile and made me happy to be a tourist.
Where to stay in Florence
I struggled with this one. There are a number of luxurious hotels slightly outside of Florence, in addition to a selection of high-end establishments in town. I was in hot pursuit of somewhere deeply historic and I am happy to say I found it. Palazzo Niccolini al Duomo is the hotel I’d draw up for myself, if I had the option. Historic beyond belief, yet comfortable, and small with an attentive (but very personal) staff, I can’t think of a better option. It was a bit pricey, but, in my opinion, completely worth it. Our room was absolutely beyond belief - my husband and I continually said that we felt we shouldn’t have been allowed to sleep in there (with unprotected 17th century frescoes). With an honor bar and included (delicious) breakfast, the hotel has everything you’d need (including good AC), not to mention a splendid history (the palazzo is still owned by the Niccolini family - into which it came through a dowry in the late 19th century). They offer early payment and pre-payment discounts, so keep that in mind. When I couldn’t find availability through their website, I actually ended up booking through Tripadvisor.
Where to eat in Florence
Florence is full of excellent restaurants. For my money, you can't beat the restaurant recommended by our hotel, Cantina Barbagianni. Tiny dining room, attentive service, off-the-beaten path, I'm not sure what more you could want in this beautiful city! I highly recommend the lamb shank (though I'm sure the menu changes daily).
Sights you don't want to miss
Florence is incredibly compact and easily walkable. We never saw the need to hire a car or take a cab, and thus only walked during our two days in the city and I would recommend doing the same. The city packs a massive punch in a minuscule area, and around each corner is a new, small street you didn’t know existed.
Visiting The Duomo
Obviously, the #1 item on your list will be to visit the Duomo. Though all of the other exhibits surrounding the Duomo require a ticket, like many churches, the Cathedral itself is free (and no ticket is required). All you need to do is hop in line (we went first thing in the morning). That said, the line gets very long and there seems to be little reason behind why the line does/doesn’t move. Don’t get out of line - just stay in the line. They let people in in very large groups. But, luckily, the Duomo is massive and of course they have more experience than I in knowing how many people can comfortably fit inside.
Take your time both inside and outside the Duomo (the green and pink marble is phenomenal). Climbing to the top of the Duomo is another story and, unfortunately this is not the blog for you on that regard - I am pseudo-afraid of heights/small spaces, so the rickety staircases of major European sights have never really appealed to me.
The Basilica of Santa Croce
Once you've finished at the Duomo, take the quick jaunt over to Santa Croce, built in 1294. Far less crowded than the Duomo, pop into Santa Croce and take in the beautiful church and surrounding cloisters. Visit the graves of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo, and a significant memorial monument to Dante (though Dante is not buried there). Warning -with the lack of crowds, you may even feel yourself start to relax a bit! A ticket is required (8 Euros), but in September, we were able to walk right up and buy our tickets without a line at all.
I cannot reiterate this enough. Buy tickets in advance, from the Gallery. Florence is filled to the brim with people on short stop-overs. They have a quick list of things to see and this is on everyone's list.
And of course there's a reason it's so crowded- housed in the former Medici offices, it's an absolute behemoth. It's gorgeous. And you won't see it all. See as much as you can, and when you think your feet are going to fall off, or you aren't enjoying yourself any longer, move along.
As with the Ufizzi, buy your tickets in advance (also beware of fake website trying to sell you tickets at inflated prices). It is a very small gallery and there is not a huge amount to see. Do not waste more time in line than necessary. In addition to the David, there are a number of rooms showcasing gorgeous works of sculpture - depending on the crowds, and your interest in sculpture, take a peek around. We spent approximately 45 minutes here.
Shopping in Florence
Though small, Florence is home to some of the best shopping in the world. From the luxury on the Ponte Vecchio to the birthplace of one of the finest luxury leather brands, Ferragamo, dedicate some time to spending a few. For me, a big purchase at the castle-like Ferragamo headquarters was a must - the service was incredible and it felt like a natural shopping experience (not like an ordeal on the Champs-Elysees). And, of course, if you're looking for their products in the US, they're readily available, though not in the same quantity, and with an import cost. Really, this can fit into any of the days of your visit, though let's be honest - you'll know you'll start shopping the instant you arrive.
Visiting the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens
We started our final day in Florence with a trip across the Arno River to the Pitti Palace, home of the famous Medici family. On an almost unimaginable scale, the stunning palazzo seems to go on forever. The original building was built in 1457, though now it's heavily surrounded by centuries worth of gilded expansion.
Grab yourself and audio guide and get walking! For an additional charge, the Boboli Gardens expand beyond the palace. The museum also contains a nice first-floor cafe, if you're feeling hungry after all that exploration!
I could write about Florence all day - and I'm sure it will earn many more blog posts in the future. Happy Travels!
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