Things to do in Florence
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in the world! We travelled there for a wedding 30 minutes outside Florence in Pontassieve. Set out below are a few of the best things to do in Florence:
Half a day trip to Pisa
We travelled to Pisa on Ryanair from London Stansted (2 hours). If you book in advance you can get some cheap deals – our flights in September were around £100. If you fly directly to Florence it works out a lot more expensive because it’s a small airport. Another airport that is convenient for Florence is Bologna.
We stayed overnight in Pisa given our late flight. Luckily the airport is only around 3km from the town centre and a taxi at 11.30pm was only €14. There is also a People Mover, which is a five minute shuttle from the airport to the train station in Pisa. You can also travel directly to Florence by bus / train from the airport. We stayed by the lovely river!
Before I visited Pisa everyone said that it really was just the leaning tower to see. I can confirm that is pretty much correct although the leaning tower is far more spectacular than I imagined! If you enter from the south side through The Knight’s Square, you miss all of the tourist markets!
The Leaning Tower
The square with the leaning tower is the Piazza dei Miracoli (translated as square of miracles). It is an important centre of European medieval art and a gorgeous complex containing Pisa Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Campanile (the leaning tower).
You could spend a couple of hours wandering around the square, which is free to enter. If you want to climb to the top of the leaning town make sure you book in advance (€18). There are also entrance fees for the other monuments. It seems to be compulsory to have a shot of you pushing against the leaning tower or pointing at the top. We couldn’t resist and even had a yoga photo shoot!!
There are various restaurants and bars surrounding the leaning tower but try and go down a side street if you can. The other main part of Pisa is the road leading up to the train station which has more restaurants and shops. If you have time in Florence, travelling to Pisa is under €10 on the train and is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon.
Day trip to other areas of Tuscany
We spent a couple of days in Pontassieve for a wedding staying in the beautiful Fattoria Lavacchio. The area was absolutely stunning with vineyards and farms which produce organic food and wine on site. You know the food is good when it is growing on your doorstep. The land is a large estate with a number of villas which have private pools and outside space. They are traditional and rustic but still very homely. Including breakfast it was €80 per person per night.
There is a gorgeous deli on site where you can buy basic essentials and, of course, wine! The food is absolutely delicious – fresh meats and cheese, vegetables and potatoes overlooking the vineyards. We also would have loved a day trip to Luca or Siena but it will just make us come back!!
Florence Walking Tour
As you may know from my other blog posts, I love a walking tour! It is the best way to get your bearings around a city, learn lots of facts and visit places off the beaten track. We signed up to Free Tour Florence which is a company that offers free guided tours and you tip at the end. There is no obligation to do so but I am not sure how someone can just walk away from a 2 hour tour without doing so!
Our tour guide was the lovely Julia who grew up in Sardinia and has since travelled around the world ending up in Florence! She was extremely knowledgeable and engaging throughout the tour. Julia gave us an introduction to Florence and split the tour into four main categories – History, Art, Anecdote and Food. All very important ingredients for a great tour!
I hadn’t realised that Firenze (the name of Florence) means flowers and the River Arno means life. Sums up Florence! It is also one of the most important cities in the world for renaissance art – think Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Brunelleschi. It is all thanks to Anna Maria Luisa Medici who wrote out the “Family Pact” which left its citizens and all who visit Florence the extraordinary legacy of art the family had accrued over three centuries. Her will stipulated one thing – none it was to ever leave Florence or the state of Tuscany!
Sights on the tour
We started off the tour at Piazza Santa Maria Novella which was constructed in gorgeous green and white marble. Artists found inspiration in ancient Roman and Greek art so it may resemble a Roman temple to some. As we wandered the streets of Florence, Julie told us about the Wine Windows! They were connected to noble palaces and served left over wine to the public. You just knocked at the window and the wine appeared. There are still a number around Florence and you can read the roman numerals for the opening and closing times.
The walking tour also took us to the Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza Della Repubblica and Piazza Signoire, the political centre of Florence and where the copy of David sits. We walked through the markets and stopped off at the wild boar foundation (Il Porcellino) near the Uffizi Museum. Visitors to the fountain put a coin into the boar’s gaping jaws, with the intent to let it fall through the underlying grating for good luck. You then rub the boar’s snout to ensure a return to Florence!
We finished our tour at Santa Croce, which was the perfect location to head off to San Michelangelo for the view point (see below). Thanks so much to Julia for a fantastic tour!
Mercato Centrale / San Lorenzo Leather Market
We arrived at lunchtime so could not resist visiting Mercato Centrale, a large food market with a number of traders serving fresh authentic Italian food. It reminded me of Borough Market and Mercato Metropolitano in London! See my posts on restaurants in Florence for further information!
Just outside Mercato Central is the San Lorenzo leather market with a variety of traders selling very similar things! You can find bags, purses, belts and more and give haggling a go! I actually bought a bag that I have purchased four years ago in Florence for exactly the same price (€25) As well as the stalls, there are also various leather shops (some more expensive than others).
One thing to book in advance is the art galleries. There are two main ones in Florence – the gallery academia and the Uffizi gallery (in the Piazza Della Signoria). We booked our Gallery Academia in advance for €14 to avoid the queues to see Michelangelo’s David. It appeared on the day that you could actually buy tickets for €8 and the queue at 5.30pm was not that long.
Now I am no art fanatic but the statute of David statue is so impressive. The detail is absolutely stunning and he genuinely looks like a Viking! David was built between 1502 to 1504 in marble and as Giorgio Vasari says “nor has there ever been seen a pose so fluent or a gracefulness equal to this or feet, hands and head so well related to each other with quality skill and design.”
At the end of 1501 Michelangelo obtained the permission of the Opera Del Duomo to work a block of marble which had been abandoned in the courtyard of the cathedral of Florence. David has been the subject of debate among scholars whether he is represented before or after his victory over a Goliath. His sling is barely visible as though to emphasise how David owed his victory not to brutal force but to intellect and to his innocence. When his statue was placed in front Palazzo Vecchio, it became a symbol of liberty and of civic pride of the Florentine Republic In 1873 the statute was brought to the gallery which was built expressly for it and only in 1908 was substituted in Palazzo Signoria by the marble copy still there today.
There are other pieces of work from Michelangelo within the gallery but there is not much else to see. You could be in and out of there in 30 minutes!
We did not book the Uffizi Gallery but were told that it contains over 2000 paintings (longer than a 30 minute visit!) and is €20 entry or €24 if you buy in advance.
The Duomo, Campanile and Baptistery
You can buy a combined ticket for €18 to visit these three monuments and two museums. It is very good value if you remember to book in advance to climb the cupola of the Duomo and access the rooftop. Sadly we were a couple of days too late…
We did however manage to climb to the top of the Campanile at around 10am without any queues. The climb is around 440 stairs and it can be quite narrow at times! Thankfully there are 3 stopping points off as you go to admire the views. The sights from the top are absolutely stunning and you are so close to the amazing Duomo. It is certainly worth the climb to the top although it is a shame that it is barrieried off.
The cathedral is free of charge so unless you go early, expect at least 40 minute queue. The inside of the cathedral is rather underwhelming compared to the beautiful exterior. The interior of the cupola is stunning but the rest is quite bare. Make sure you use your ticket to visit the museum downstairs where you can see the parts of the Roman city that have been excavated. There are some beautiful and surprisingly intricate mosaics!
The baptistery is next door to the Duomo and also had a stunning cupola!
San Michaneglo – Views of the City!!
The walking tour ended in Santa Croce which is conveniently located to walk over to the viewpoint at San Michaneglo. You will walk through the Oltarno neighbourhood and be guided by signs pointing towards Michelangelo.
There are a number of steep stairs to climb but it is not actually that strenuous, especially compared to the Campanile! It is totally worth it when you are rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of the city. There are ample selfie opportunities at different levels and a few stalls and cafes in the area or a rest bite.
When I visited in 2014 I climbed up for the sunset which was phenomenal! As rain was forecast for the evening we decided not to risk it. Climbing to San Michelangelo is one of my biggest recommendations in Florence
On the way back, go via the beautiful Ponte Vecchio and where you can admire the stunning views from the ground!
East London Girl: Things to do in Florence