After a magical lunch in Modena, we continued by train to Florence. The first thing we did was stop by the visitor center just outside the train station to purchase our Firenze Card which would allow us access to over 70 attractions for three days, as well as the city’s WiFi. More importantly, this pass permitted visitors to enter the priority line to the most popular museums without needing reservations which would optimize our sightseeing time.
Our hotel was across the city so we got a great preview of the major tourist destinations- including the majestic Duomo– as we made our way to check in. I was in love with Florence! A short walk across the Ponte Vecchio led us to Hotel La Scaletta where we were shown our modern room- we were very pleased! I think our favorite feature was the location- it forced us to cross the Ponte Vecchio at least twice a day- so magical.
Excited to start exploring, we dropped our bags and ventured out into the city. Still full from lunch, we grabbed gelato at Gelateria Artigianale Caffe della Carrozze. A noted difference for Florence’s gelato is that it is more expensive, more prevalent, and with more elaborate displays. At the tourist spots the gelato is piled high with decorations of the flavors throughout the large mound. For authentic gelato, stay away for the gaudy presentation shops- delicious is simple.
We walked along the Ponte Vecchio, through the Uffizi Gallery courtyard and entered the Piazza della Signoria where I can honestly say I was stunned. The Piazza is surrounded by huge replica sculptures of artwork that can be found in the various museums in the city- my first views of artwork I learned about in high school. And to top it off, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio was a full orchestra was playing for the crowd! Yep, I adored this Piazza.
Before turning in for the night, I wanted to get a full view of the Duomo. The size of the entire Duomo is hard to measure since it towers everything else in the area. The outside facade looks unreal, maybe due to size, but also the pattern incorporating a green and pink color. It was hard to process it all but it was an amazing sight. I could not wait to get a peak inside over the next few days!
With our Firenze Card in had, we were ready to conquer as many museums as possible! An 8AM start got us to the priority access line for the Uffizi Gallery. We spent roughly two hours admiring the famous pieces that reside here, including the Birth of Venus.
The climb up to the Cupola inside the Duomo was next on our list. I have to say, it was quite an experience that definitely had me realize a slight fear of heights! From a cardio perspective, it is not strenuous because there is frequent stopping on the way up- there are portions that are one person wide for bi-directional traffic- but there are 463 steps with no lift (so keep that in mind). What got me weak at the knees was the portion where you walk in interior perimeter of the dome with a glass wall for a full visual of the church below. An incredible view that had me simultaneously sweating in a mild panic. Once you reach the Cupola, you climb what resemble attic stairs onto the perch where you get the most expansive view of Florence and the surrounding towns.
Working up an appetite, we grabbed lunch at Il Fratellini for sandwiches and wine. Since it is a small shop, everyone crowds around standing the the street while there are small shelves for your drinks. Simple sandwiches with fresh ingredients- I got tomato and mozzarella and Kevin got the prosciutto and mozzarella.
Checking with our time, the Museo Galileo was still open for a half hour so we made our way through the museum. We loved seeing all the discoveries in science, mapping, space, and medicine.
The Cupola climb gave us a preview of the interior of the Duomo, so we went back to get a peak. The inside was actually more simple and modest than I would have predicted given the impressive exterior. We wandered around the church admiring the multiple paintings and sculptures that filled the space before heading down into the crypts. The lower level of the church displays the groundwork of the original church the Duomo sits upon. The Baptistry was unfortunately closed for renovations and we skipped climbing the Bell Tower, another 414 steps.
We headed back across the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti where the Boboli Gardens are found. The gardens are huge- it is refreshing to see so much green hidden away in a city that is full of burnt sienna. If you want to see all the gardens have to offer, make sure to set aside a few hours to explore.
There is a gallery inside the Palazzo Pitti that showcases the apartments and their lavish decor, including a peak at Napoleon’s rooms during his stay- even his bagno (bathroom!).
Exhausted from all the walking and climbing we did today, we took a pit stop at Borgovino wine bar and shop. We sipped on glasses of Chianti as we browsed the expansive wine collection and spoke with the owner. We even found the balsamic vinegar from the family we visited in Modena! The owner shared that this balsamic vinegar is always rated one of the best in the Emilia Romagna region. And just because, we grabbed gelato next door at Le Botteghe Di Leonardo for our walk to dinner.
We were the first arrivals for our reservation at Antica Trattoria da Tito, which was a bit farther out of town in exchange for authentic Florentine cooking. It is difficult in major cities to navigate the tourist destinations so it was helpful to read reviews ahead of time- reviews from the locals are key- not just from vacationers. We started our meal with the house red wine, Chianti of course, along with grilled octopus with potatoes. For entrees, Kevin ordered the pappardelle al cinghiale (parpardelle with wild boar ragu) and I ordered the ravioli, served in a Florentine ragu- both were homemade, and you can tell from the delicate and flavorful pasta. Homemade desserts included panna cotta for me and tiramisu for Kevin. We were so delighted with our meal. To our surprise, we were greeted with shots of limoncello as we paid for our meal. The place was completely packed when we left around 9PM- glad we made reservations!
As we made our long walk back to out hotel- passing the Duomo, crossing the Ponte Vecchio- we heard microphoned voices at the end of our walk. Kevin (of course!) was eager to investigate so we wandered down a side street following the sound of the noise and stumbled into a poetry contest! The piazza was packed with people surrounding a stage with three judges and while we may not have understood everything the final performers were saying, we cherish these local finds.
Looking back, I really cannot believe how much we were able to accomplish this day!
Another jam packed day planned for Firenze! We got an early start to the Academia Gallery and experienced a slight set back trying to find the correct line for priority access due to the overwhelming number of tour groups saturating the ticket area. Once inside, we searched for the main attraction and there was no mistaking where to find it. Once you make a turn down a hall way, David is there at the end. It was far more impressive and massive than I was prepared for! Besides spending ample amount of time gazing at David, one of my favorite parts was leading up to David. The hallway was lined with several unfinished Michelangelo sculptures that showcased the artistic process. Otherwise, the Academia was much smaller than the Uffizi and we were done here in under an hour.
After a quick breakfast of espresso and croissants, we entered the Basilica di San Lorenzo which had a good balance of simple and ornate with a sprinkle of Medici influence.
Since we were ahead of our schedule, we decided to loop around and explore the Medici Chapel and it was one of our biggest surprises sightseeing. You start by entering an enormous octagon chapel (Cappella dei Principi) that houses the sarcophagi of the Medici rulers (and their crowns!).
Then you are lead into the room for Michelangelo’s Sagrestia Nuova for the famous sarcophagi of “Night and Day” and “Dusk and Dawn”.
The lunch mission was finding tripe for Kevin, and not just any tripe- tripe from L’Antico Trippaio. Even though we had it marked on the map, it felt as if we spun circles with no luck finding it! Starving, we abandoned finding the store front that seemingly vanished from the map and instead popped into Maledetti Toscani. Looking back, this was one of our best accidents as we were treated to authentic and incredible paninis. I got prosciutto and pecorino with a mushroom spread and Kevin got salami and mozzarella with an anchovies spread both on fresh made focaccia bread. The spreads elevated these sandwiches to another level- so amazing and so simple.
As we left Maledetti Toscani, L’Antico Trippaio magical appeared not even a block away- twist of irony but no regret here. We took a break from sightseeing and dove into an escape room with Adventure Rooms Firenze. Since it was only the two of us, we didn’t escape but it was a fun interlude for the day.
Our next stop on the church tour was Basilica di Santa Croce which housed the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo – so cool!
We were told the best view of Florence was atop the hill at Piazza Michelangelo. To help with the long climb, we got gelato at Il Gelato di Filo which in my opinion was the best “fondente” (dark chocolate) flavor I had on the trip. When we reached the Piazza, it was clear the exhausting climb was worth it. Breathtaking views and wide landscape as you gaze upon the city below and the surrounding towns. Behind the Piazza and up more stairs we found San Miniato. With the sun beginning to set, it was obvious why this place is so perfect for Florence.
With all out sightseeing complete for the day (phew!) it was time to focus on food- aperitivo time! Our first stop was Tamero Pasta Bar where we sat outside enjoying the people watching with a glass of Chianti and multiple dish offerings- including a vegetable rice dish, risotto with vegetables, what I can only describe as puff bread balls, and two types of penne. Even as we paid they were still bringing out new dishes- aperitivo is the best!
In an attempt to continue our aperitivo hopping, we were distracted by the sound of church organs on a small street. We snuck in and sat in the back as we listened to an organ concerto in this small church- absolutely perfect. After another wine bar, we decided to settle in for dinner.
Trattoria Anita was recommended by our Italian teacher (thank you, Ryan!) and it was fabulous- family owned, we were able to practice our Italian, and delicious food. Along with house wine, I had ravioli in a rose sauce and Kevin ordered a caprese salad and the largest stalks of asparagus I have ever seen.
Knowing this was our last night in Florence, we took the long way home walking (passeggiare!) purposefully through my favorite Piazza della Signoria and spent a few extra minutes crossing the Ponte Vecchio, sitting together and taking it all in. I am so surprised how much I really adored this city and I cannot wait to visit again.
An early morning for us as we checked out of the comfortable hotel and made our way to the meeting point for our day trip to Chianti for wine tasting!
For more food recommendations and festivals, read our next trip to Florence!
For the full Italy itinerary, click here!