Out of Cornwall

Italy Adventures: Exploring Florence

In sequel to my previous post, where I reviewed mine and my husband’s recent trip to Pisa, here’s the lowdown on our trip to Florence. Prepare yourself for photos of beautiful scenery, art, and my honest opinions on the city. Nosey on down to experience Florence with us.

We travelled to Florence from Pisa by train which only took an hour. Taking the train is a great way to get around Italy. If, like me, you aren’t brave enough to drive on the other side of the road, this is a convenient and affordable alternative. We bought our tickets directly from the station (although you can also use The Trainline app). If you aren’t confident purchasing from the manned ticket desk, most stations have electronic machines you can use to browse train times, purchase and print tickets – all in English, too – making the whole process easy for tourists.

Our hotel was a 5-minute walk from the station which was ideal. As in Pisa, we went straight there to drop off our suitcases before exploring the city. We had 2 full days in Florence, but we really could have done with longer as there was so much to see that we didn’t manage to fit everything in. Also, places were more spread out in comparison to Pisa where everything was central and compact.

Our hotel was well-located – only a 10–15-minute walk to Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (the iconic, red-domed cathedral), and a 10-minute walk along the river to Ponte Vecchio (the medieval bridge full of jewellery and art stores). The hotel itself, the Grand Hotel Adriatico served as an ideal base for our adventures: the reception staff were great at recommending things to do, sights to see, and places to eat; the room was comfy and even had a kettle so we could make a cup of tea (a rarity in Italian hotels); and a great breakfast (always important).

On our first day, we mainly wondered around the city, taking in all the sights. We found Florence much harder to navigate as the streets are narrower and windier, and we kept getting side-tracked by the many churches, statues and art vendors.

Mid-afternoon, we needed a pit stop. I had heard about the Central Market and was desperate to go. Located in a large building, the ground floor has lots of stalls selling local produce – there were butchers, greengrocers, bakers, wine sellers, pretty much anything you could think of. Upstairs is an informal food court with lots of stands selling fresh food to order. Whether you are after an entire 3 course meal or a light snack, there’s something for everyone. Amongst the stalls are large tables and chairs, not designated to any particular outlet. Once you have your food, it is a case of weaving in and out to find a free space at a table to sit and enjoy. As a communal setting, it has a great friendly atmosphere. The food was exceptional – we shared a sandwich made with focaccia and filled with parma ham, mozzarella and rocket, followed by some deliciously flavoursome beef dim sum. Eclectic! My only regret is that I didn’t take any photos at all as the experience was quite overwhelming: the market was heaving, meaning I was clinging to Sal (and my handbag!) so as not to get separated and so wasn’t able to take any photos. You can get a great idea, though, by checking out the market’s Instagram page: click here.

One of my highlights of the trip was walking (gelato in hand, of course) up to Piazzale Michelangelo, a viewpoint which showcases the whole city skyline. It was a fair walk, being over the river and up an incredibly steep hill, but the view was breath-taking and absolutely worth it. You really must do this if you visit Florence.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

That evening, we had a late dinner at Osteria La Bistecca which included possibly the best tomato and basil bruschetta I have ever had. This was followed by a rich, wild boar tagliatelle (Sal) and a delicious salad topped with tuna, olives and mozzarella (me). No judgement please – I was too full for anything heavier and it was a top-notch salad! The restaurant is situated in a busy piazza filled with eateries and outside dining and alive with street performers. It was beautiful to sit in the warm evening, listening to the live music and watch the world go by.

On our second day, we visited the iconic Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. We actually arrived half an hour before the doors opened (poor planning on our part), but we joined the queue which was already forming and were more than happy to admire the building’s exterior whilst we waited. This in itself was a work of art. Every centimetre of the building has been intricately designed. With countless ornate carvings and detailed statues, all decorated with different coloured marble, it truly was a sight to behold. It is unfathomable how something of that scale could have been so delicately created by human hands. It’s clear that a significant amount of thought and care continue to go into the building today as whilst we stood admiring, we noticed multiple workers closely examining and carefully cleaning the marblework.

Once inside (it was free to enter, which surprised us), the interior was somewhat underwhelming as it was significantly less ornate compared with the exterior. It is worth visiting (and queueing to get in), though, for the fresco on the inner dome is spectacular – the scale and beauty of the painting is humbling. Looking back at our photos, they do not do it justice!

We took our time walking across to the Uffizi Gallery, for in the courtyards outside lots of independent artists had set up stalls to showcase and sell their works. It was lovely to wander through, admiring the talent on display, marvelling at all the different artistic styles, and watching them paint, too. We couldn’t come away without a little souvenir, so treated ourselves to two small watercolour landscapes. They will look beautiful side-by-side once hung up at home, and a perfect reminder of our trip.

We bought our tickets for the Uffizi gallery on the door and only had to queue for 5 minutes or so – we went on a weekday in mid-October, I can imagine this would be vastly different on weekends and in peak season. Lots of Tripadvisor comments recommend hiring a guide, but we were happy to wander through without one, stopping to admire the art at our own pace. The gallery is humungous and their collection of paintings and sculptures so vast that you could easily spend a whole day or two inside.

It was incredible to get up-close and admire iconic works in the flesh, those which are hundreds of years old, and read about their history and inspiration. One of my favourites was Botticelli’s“The Birth of Venus” which was so detailed and much larger than I expected! The building is a masterpiece, too, with each room and gallery hosting unique, ornately decorated ceilings. As remarkable as this was, we found the sheer size of the gallery overwhelming – it requires at least 3-4 hours dedicating to it (as a minimum). We left feeling frazzled and, well over 20,000 steps in, decided to take it easy the rest of the afternoon. We wondered back through town, picking up a light lunch at a local supermarket. We were thankful to have had a large breakfast at the hotel which kept us going most of the day. For both sightseeing and the wallet, this was ideal and something to look out for when booking accommodation.

That last evening, we took a leisurely stroll along the river as the sun set, enjoying watching the sky change colour and reflect off the water onto buildings nearby. It was a welcome change of pace from the daytimes spent running around sightseeing. We stopped by a café, Bianco è, to pick up a coffee and some aragostine, small croissant-shaped pastries which are crunchy on the outside and filled with deliciously creamy centres. We chose 3 flavours which we shared: lemon; hazelnut and chocolate; and pistachio. I would happily eat them every day if I could. We wandered along to Ponte Vecchio, a very old and historically significant bridge which is built up on either side with jewellery shops. The town really came alive in the evening, and it was lovely to wander along the bridge, window shopping and admiring all the sparkling jewellery displays, whilst being serenaded by the live guitarist and singer who provided the perfect backdrop to our last evening.

We had a great time in Florence. It had a completely different feeling than Pisa; as a much larger city, it was constantly bustling and busy, and there was always something new to see so the overall experience was much more full-on. We walked our feet off and experienced so much but were nevertheless disappointed that there were many sights we did not get to: the statue of David (Michelangelo), displayed in the Accademia Gallery; Pitti Palace; and the Boboli Gardens to name a few.

There’s so much in Florence that it can’t all be done in 2 days. In hindsight, I wish we had done more research before booking to go, so that we better understood the scale of the city and planned accordingly. I think realistically 4 days would’ve allowed us time to experience everything the city had to offer. We would love to go back in the future to see more of the city, as well as the surrounding areas – we’ve been recommended the nearby towns of Siena and Lucca which look picturesque and would also love to visit Chianti for some wine-tasting…

Have you been to Florence? Let me know your own recommendations below.

All photos taken are our own

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