When I was eighteen, I lived in Florence for 2 months to learn Italian. It completely fell in love with the city and the language. Ever since I’ve been telling people to visit Florence.
But coming back there, 8 years later, I was disappointed to find how much the city has been spoiled by mass tourism. It was always a popular destination, but now, in summer, the streets are crawling with noisy, sweaty and rude visitors from all over the world, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the beautiful buildings, posing for pictures and queuing for hours. I could hardly recognize the city I once loved, like seeing an ex again after years and finding that they’ve not aged well.
But still… something stirred inside me as I was walking those familiar streets. Underneath all the tourist traps and overpriced goods, still lies that spark, that charm, that beauty. Deep inside, Florence is still one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. And I still think you should go and see it. Just don’t do it in July or August.
If you do decide to grace Florence with a visit, go in the early spring (April) or late fall (October), when the crowds are thinner, but the weather is good.
Here are a few things you absolutely must see when you visit Florence:
De Medici Free Walking Tour
As anyone who follow this blog knows, I love Free Walking Tours. They are such a great way to explore a city while learning more about the history. Sure, you could walk around by yourself but you would have no idea what you are looking at. I like the context that a tour offers, but don’t like to pay a lot. Free Walking Tours run on tips, so the guides are very motivated to make it a fun and informative experience.
One of my favorite Free Walking Tours that I’ve been on was in Florence. Florence Free Tour offers a daily Renaissance and a Medici tour, which cover two of the biggest aspects of Florentine history.
The De Medici’s were once the most powerful family in Europe. They started out as bankers and through strategic alliances, trade and marriages worked their way up to Dukes, Popes and Queens. Their patronage was hugely influential to the development of Florence as a center for business, art and culture. The Medici Free Walking Tour will teach you all about this fascinating family and show you the literal marks they have left on the city.
Climb to the top of the Duomo
The Duomo of Florence rises up over the city, providing a beautiful point of orientation. It lies at a short 10-minute walk from the train station. The white and green marble building is striking, with the Baptisterium and bell tower next to it.
The inside of the Duomo is ornately decorated with a mosaic floor, art, frescos, and gold. The dome of the cathedral was designed by Brunelleschi, and the intricate design means that you can actually climb to the top of the roof. The steep climb of 463 steps is not for the faint of heart, but it allows you to see the frescos on the ceiling up close and offers an incredible view of the city from the very top.
Marvel at the Galleria Degli Uffizi
Initially the offices of the local government, the Galleria Degli Uffizi is one of the most famous museums in the world. Filled to the brinks with incredible paintings and sculptures, the Uffizi warrants at least a full day visit for art lovers.
The highlight of the museum is undoubtedly Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, but there are plenty of other masterpieces to admire. You will have to reserve your ticket ahead of time, weeks even in high season.
Walk across the Ponte Vecchio
One of the most famous bridges in the world, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest permanent crossing of the Arno river for citizens of Florence. The original Roman structure was made of wood, and the current stone version dates from 1345.
The bridge itself is filled with jewelry shops that hang over the sides, but that wasn’t always the case. During the time of the De Medici’s, the bridge was a meat market. Butchers had their shops on the bridge and waste dropped directly into the river. You can imagine that wasn’t the most pleasant smell. Because the De Medici’s crossed the bridge every day (by an overhead walkway, to avoid the pesants), they deemed this smell unacceptable. So, they replaced the butchers with jewelers instead.
Please keep in mind that it is absolutely forbidden to place a lock on the bridge! Plenty of people try it as a romantic gesture, but the weight of all the locks damages the bridge and the keys pollute the river water. So, just don’t.
The Ponte Vecchio takes you to the south side of the Arno and straight to…
Visit Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti was the palace of the De Medici’s biggest rivals, the Pitti’s. In 1549, the building was sold to the De Medici’s who built a walkway connecting the palace to their old residence, Palazzo Vecchio. Inside Palazzo Pitti, you can see plenty of beautiful artwork as well as the reconstructed apartments that shows how the wealthiest family of Italy lived.
Have you ever visited Florence? And did you love it as much as me? Let’s chat about it in the comments.
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