Florence is a city you need to gear yourself up for before visiting. With so much to see and only three days to see it in, we needed a plan. A jam-packed, slightly exhausting plan, covering all key sights.
By far the easiest way to by-pass the long queues at some of Florence’s top museums is to buy a Firenze Card. This handy pass costs 72 euros and gives you access to major museums for 72 hours. It also allows you to join the express queue, so there’s no waiting around in the heat, slowly burning to a crisp. The card also gives you access to wifi throughout the city and free access on public transport!
Our highlights (and possible low lights) in Florence:
1) Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
Perhaps the most iconic spot in Florence is the famous Florence Cathedral and Duomo, top of most lists when arriving in the city.
Before visiting, we had read in our trusty Lonely Planet guide that if you’re claustrophobic and scared of heights (yes and yes) then it wasn’t best to climb this particular dome. Nodding vigorously, I (Claire) took this information seriously and concluded that it was probably best for me to stay away. I was organised, I was well informed and I was acting responsibly. We’d already climbed the Palazzo Vecchio tower, which gave great views of the Duomo, so I was happy enough to sit this one out. Unfortunately for me, however, the universe had other plans.
Entering into what I presumed was a side entrance, we immediately took a left and started climbing some narrow, winding stairs. After a minute or so, I started to panic as it dawned on me that we were almost certainly climbing something dome like. Sensing the worst, I froze and decided the best plan was to just simply go back down the stairs, apologising profusely. Unfortunately for me, and the people surrounding me, going down was not an option. It was one-way and by this point there was at least 50 people behind me. The ordeal that followed is something (alongside the Siena Sick Saga) that I never want to repeat again.
After climbing the stairs for what felt like forever, I was becoming more and more confident that our escape to the top would be imminent. But suddenly, the long line of sweaty climbers stopped and came to an abrupt halt. In a very small winding staircase, with no window and no view up or down, I was dying (literally, I thought I was dying). At this point I’d like to thank the kind Chinese lady who fanned me with her city guide and patted me on my sweaty back. Apparently, there’s a general disregard for health and safety in Florence. As it turns out people were having to queue to get up, whilst other people came back down, squeezing past each other in tiny passages. A death trap.
After what felt like a century, we were on the move again and finally climbed up a ladder to the top. Jubliant that I was finally free, I burst out of the little hell hole and staggered into the light. I was placed on a bench and given a water bottle. The way down was slightly less eventful, apart from the odd American man who decided to sing ‘Rule Britannia’ to me the whole way down.
2) Boboli Gardens
If you’re looking for a traditional, formal Tuscan garden to gawp at, then make sure you visit the Boboli Gardens, tucked behind the Palazzo Pitti. On a hot day this was a lovely place to come and seek some shade whilst admiring beautiful views out over Florence and the surrounding countryside. The gardens are extensive, so make sure you bring some water/food along with you!
3) Ponte Vecchio
Of course, you can’t visit Florence without taking a walk over the beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge, which is equally charming both by day and by night. We took a late evening walk over the bridge, looking into the windows of the glittering jewellery shops. There was also a live band, so we decided to have a sit down and soak in the summer evening. Bellissimo! My favourite thing about this bridge was its secret corridor – the Vasari Corridor – which connects Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo with Palazzo Pitti. This corridor, which can only be visited by appointment or with groups, is adorned with over 1,000 paintings. I tried my best to peer into the windows above, imagining some kind of secret Harry Potter world inside. Magic!
4) Accademia Gallery – Michelangelo’s David
Dave, Dave, Dave. You can’t come to Florence and not see this breath taking sculpture of David by Michelangelo. What immediately struck me is how huge this sculpture is, probably an obvious thing, but David is big, really big (but interestingly, not so much his manly parts!) Standing to his left, David looks like a young man with a soft body and face, but as you work your way around the sculpture, he gradually becomes a man with veins in his arm and a stronger face. It’s amazing and I ended up sitting and studying the sculpture for far longer than I expected.
5) Palazzo Vecchio tower
Looking for the perfect shot of the Duomo? Scamper up the Palazzo Vecchio Tower for amazing views out over the city and that famous dome. The Palazzo Vecchio Museum is also worth a look around (free with your Fireneze card). I really wanted to do the tour of the secret passages of the old palace but alas we ran out of time (thanks Duomo).
We also completely ran out of time to visit the famous Uffizi Gallery, which should probably be high up on anyone’s list. Housing the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art, this gives us an excellent reason to go back!
My final tip whilst in Florence? Eat plenty of gelato! Florence is an amazing city, and to be honest, I think you could be there for weeks and not see everything. For me, this was a perfect taster to the city. I want to return in slightly cooler months so my preoccupation with finding fans that sprayed out water isn’t such an issue. Florence, you were beautiful.