Florence like a local!
There are only a handful of cities in the world that simultaneously welcome you with open arms and intimidate you beyond words. Florence does exactly that. In a city that housed some of the world’s most praised poets, writers, philosophers and artists, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed walking through the streets. However, just as you feel humbled when standing outside the house of a young, politically influential person who was personally invited to visit the pope (the Palazzo Medici Riccardi where Lorenzo de’ Medici lived, just off the Via de’ Gori), you turn the corner and find a charming little restaurant with friendly staff that is so attentive and warm you’d think they opened just to serve you that afternoon. In a city so rich in so many ways, it can be confusing to know where to start. And here’s where this guide comes in, to shed some light on the beautiful Capital of Tuscany.
Florence has some of the most extraordinary religious buildings in the world, and it would be a crime to leave the city without experiencing a few examples. The Duomo, or Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore as it is locally and historically known, is the most famous. The dome itself is a historical feat of engineering, considering that a structure of this shape and size was physically impossible to create prior to its construction in the 15th Century. The inside of the dome is decorated with the infamous ‘Last Judgment’ by the artists Vasari and Zuccaro, which is well worth a visit. If you’re in good enough shape and feeling a little adventurous, you can hike up the 463 steps to the top of the dome. If you are on a tight schedule and waiting in long queues is not on your agenda for the day, the outside of the building has some interesting points to look at. One example is the bull’s head that is carved into the facade; legend has it that it was put there by a carpenter who was having an affair with the wife of a baker whose shop faced that particular angle of the Duomo.
Another of the most well known places of worship in the city is the Santa Croce. While it is famed for its stunning exterior, the interior is also interesting in that it is very different from a lot of other religious places in the city. It would be smart to visit this particular church at a less busy time, that way you are better able to appreciate all the art on display, as well as the flamboyant detailing carved into the actual walls. Two of the most important things to visit while in the Santa Croce would be the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo.
Another spiritual place that is often overlooked may be the Cenacolo di Saint’ Apollonia, a former convent located within the university campus. Although much less famous than the two aforementioned churches, this is an excellent place to visit after a busy day of walking around some of the more touristy areas of town. The farthest wall of the church is decorated with Andrea del Castagno’s ‘Last Supper’, which sits elegantly within the original walls.
One of the best museums to visit in the city would be the Uffizi. Despite probably being caught in a treacherously long queue, it is definitely worth it to experience some of the world’s most breathtaking pieces. A few examples of the works it houses are Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’, Bandinelli’s ‘Laocoon and his Sons’, and Raphael’s ‘Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals’. On your way into the Uffizi, you’ll walk through the Piazza della Signoria, which is well worth taking a second to look around. It is home to the Palazzo Veccio, the old town hall, with its huge clock tower, as well as the Loggia Dei Lanzi, under which you’ll find famous statues such as Michelangelo’s David (an identical replica; the original one is on display at the Galleria dell’Accademia) and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (it also serves as a great place to sit in the shade for a while; the Tuscan sun can be a killer!). Another highlight of Florence is the Boboli Gardens. To get to the Gardens however, you must cross the Ponte Vecchio, the famous medieval bridge which still houses jewelry shops, as it has done for centuries. Here’s a little bit of inside knowledge that may make your trip just a fraction more magical! Near the fountain of Baccus, right in the centre of the Gardens is the Buontalenti Grotto, which is only open to the public for 5 minutes at exactly 3.30pm, so make sure you get there on the dot to experience a work of art that usually remains hidden from the world!
After walking around these incredible churches, museums and gardens, you’re probably now desperate for a good plate of hearty Italian food! Food is king in Florence, as you have some of the most established chefs in the world at your finger tips. But If you prefer to make your own dishes rather than eat at restaurants, the Sant’ Ambrogio market in the east of the city is a local favorite; it sells all types of fruit and vegetables at very competitive prices. There are also the more famous San Lorenzo markets; however they are slightly more expensive due to the roaring tourist trade, and tend to get very crowded. The local food markets are not the only place you’ll find locals banded together; Italy is famed for its seasonal festivals and Tuscany has some of the best. If you travel to Pisa, about an hour’s drive out of the city, specifically on June 16th, you’ll be in time to witness their Luminara, during which they light over 70,000 candles up and down the main canal, and put on a fireworks display to celebrate Saint Ranieri. Another great day trip would be to Siena, about a two hour drive from Florence, on either July 2nd or August 16th to watch the world famous Palio horse race. It is set within the Piazza Del Campo, which is their beautiful main square. In Florence, the most famous festival would be the Scorpio del Carro (March/April), during which a huge wagon is dragged through the streets by white oxen, after which fireworks are set off to ensure a good harvest!
Florence has, for centuries, been the epicenter of politics, religion and art. This cultural melting pot is not only a historical monument to wander around in awe, but also a living, breathing city, where good food, wine and entertainment are it’s vital organs!