Florence is the city that encapsulates the height of the Renaissance. It is a place of architecture, masterpieces, and ingenuity. Sciences, arts, and politics flourished in this city making it a History lover’s dream.
We spent our trip to Florence engulfed in the art and sciences of the city.
Where We Stayed:
Tourist House Battistero
Located on the first floor of an antique 15th century building. It was perfectly central to everything we wanted to do. We walked with our luggage from Santa Maria Novella train station just 7 minutes away. The Duomo (Cathedral) just a few feet away, the Uffizi Gallery is just a 10 minute walk. We were able to visit all the famous monuments and attractions easily and quickly.
Take the elevator or stairs up to the first floor and check in. The room had a private bathroom, TV, and mini kitchen with pans and utensils if we wanted to make our own meals. They also offered a discount breakfast at a local restaurant.
We slept with the windows open and was not bothered by the sounds of tourists. We were however bothered by mosquitoes, no screens on the windows, so be careful.
What We Saw:
Duomo translates from Italian to Cathedral, so Florence is sprinkled with lots of duomos. But the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore with the enormous red-tiled dome is so iconic that it is simply known as the Duomo and everyone will know what you mean.
The site is COVERED with tourists at all times of day, so it is best to come by in the morning for some quiet reflection. Luckily our hotel was practically next door so we got to see the beautiful Duomo many times as we walked back and forth from the hotel.
The history of the Duomo is interesting and sorted with record breaking ingenuity. Today, the massive dome of the Duomo is still one of the largest in the entire world. It’s even larger than St. Peter’s dome in the Vatican City. It has survived wars, storms, and frequent earthquakes. I watched quite a few documentaries about the history of the Duomo before our trip and this one from Nova was my favorite.
You can climb to the top of the domes base for views of the city. We opted out of the climb as it is 463 steps, up stairs that were originally built to help with maintenance and not the general public. The steps are small, steep and narrow and the walkways is narrow with just a strip of Plexiglas between you and a 130 feet drop! I had a massive knee pain while in Florence and was afraid of slowing others down struggling to climb, but I encourage everyone to take the climb if they can. Instead we walked around the duomo admiring the frescoes and the Duomo Museum with the Baptistery’s original bronze doors.
Santa Maria Novella
This is one of Florence’s prettiest churches. The façade is a lovely example of Renaissance shapes (except for the Gothic influence of the very bottom, which was built first). The church is full of art– notably by the famous masters from Ghirlandaio’s workshop including teenage Michelangelo.
Church tickets: €3.50, museum tickets: €2.70.
I highly encourage you to purchase your tickets ahead of time to join the shorter entrance lines into the museums of Florence. It’s still a bit of a wait, but much better than those that did not have tickets. Purchase the tickets directly from the official Florence Museum website to avoid additional fees. Print your vouchers and collect all your tickets for all your museums in Florence at the ticket office opposite the Accademia museum as your first stop.
The Galleria Accademia
Even if you are not an avid lover of art, the Accademia is one museum you do not want to miss. Most notably for it’s most famous resident:
He stands all alone, with a sea of people beneath him. The statue of David is larger than most people imagine, almost three times the size of an average man. He truly is beautiful. Take a moment after your obligatory photo to sit and admire the craftsmanship. Zoom in and try to see he eyes shaped like hearts. But don’t stop with just David! There are lots of other works of art and sculptures at Accademia Gallery. There are many paintings depicting religious imagery, gorgeous status, beautiful tapestries …
Also, don’t miss the Gipsoteca Bartolini. Museum visitors can view plaster casts by Lorenzo Bartolini, one of the great sculptors and brilliant professors of the Academy.
Total time spent: 3 hours
The Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi is a huge undertaking and magnificently rewarding. If you are short on time or want to make the most of the visit, you want to consider planning ahead. With hundreds of art works, the Uffizi Gallery can be overwhelming, but the more you find out about the Uffizi, the easier your visit is going to be. Know the layout of the museum, especially if you are traveling with someone elderly or with physical limitations. The museum is visitor friendly, but huge and crowded. Here is a link to their services.
Here are a few options if you need a more guided tour: focus on the masterpieces, learn about the influence of the Medici’s, even the Uffizi by touch.
Seeing the works by Boticelli were the highlights for me, my favorites are the Seven Virtues.
I also Love, love, LOVED the crazy ceiling on the second floor. I spent an hour looking at it. Please do not miss, it is great!
The museum has the best collection of Italian Renaissance artwork in the world, so there’s a lot more to enjoy. Definitely a must-see if you visit Florence!
Total time spent: 4 hours
The Museo Galileo
The Hubby needed a break from nudes and paintings so I arranged to visit the Galileo Museum. It’s got everything from Galileo’s original instruments to even the middle finger of Galileo’s right hand! The museum is filled with scientific instruments from all centuries as scientists pushed the boundaries of medical, astronomical, nautical, microscopic, illisional sciences and more.
Tickets cost €8 adults, €5 for children aged 7-18 , free for children 6 and under.
Total time spent: 2 hours
Museo San Marco
Museo San Marco is a smaller museum that provides a more quiet experience to the religious art of Florence. The museum is build inside an old monastery. You can view frescoes inside of monk’s cells walls.
Total time spent: 1 hour
The Bargello National Museum
The Bargello is one of Florence’s best museums but is sometimes missed by tourists who are not aware of how important a museum it really is. The building dates from 1225 and used to be a prison.
Inside you will be treated to a great collection the best sculptures of the Renaissance, including of course Michelangelo and Donatello.
Total time spent: 2 hours
Walk along the Arno River and see Ponte Vecchio
Right outside the Galileo Museum is the Arno River.
Walking along the Arno River is a wonderful way to spend time in Florence. Go down as far as you can up or down the river and get away from the crowds. The bridge gets packed with tourists, but it is something wonderful to experience. Sit by the river and relax, you may even see members of the rowing club “Canottieri Firenze” going down the river.
What We Ate:
Cappuccino in Italy is so good that even if you’re not normally a coffee drinker, you should give it a try. If you need to take a break, have a seat, but, remember that standing up at a café is cheaper than sitting down.
This nice little hole in the wall was a wonderful respite after a full day of walking the art galleries. They specialize in “slow fast food” with delicious healthy dumplings and sticky rice. They also make their own tea in house with fun flavor combinations.
We actually ate here for at least one meal every day we were in Florence. The food was incredible and the service was friendly. Prices were fair and food largely portioned. Many locals came here to dine on the lentils and chicken biryani, they even provide a complimentary snack while you wait. Was very nice to have authentic Indian food so far from home and have a nice break from the Italian food.
Not to Miss
Walking around Florence you can really get gallery fatigue. So much beautiful art to see, crowds to get through, all in so little time. I started noticing some fun street art where masterpieces of the museums were adorned with snorkels.
We’d walk, turn a corner, and again there would be another one, until I figured it wasn’t random. It soon became a fun mission to find all the free masterpieces on the street all over the city. The Artist “Blub”, even has a following on Instagram. #blubfriends
View all the places we stayed and visited on our European Tour.