Rome may be the most famous city in Italy, but Florence is often considered the best Italian city to travel to. It is a city of amazing history, architecture, art, food, and shopping.
Florence centers around its famed landmark, the Florence Cathedral, commonly referred to as Il Duomo (the Dome) for its massive dome, which dominates the city skyline. As if Il Duomo’s intricate facade wasn’t enough, there is also the octagonal Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile, a massive bell tower. Together the three buildings create an incredible historic center and tourist attraction. I had the luxury of staying just next door to the beautiful cathedral complex. Everywhere I looked I saw Il Duomo. Step outside? Duomo. Look out the window? Duomo. What’s that in the sky? Oh, it’s Il Duomo.
Like many European cities, Florence has a variety of museums. The two most well-known museums are the Accademia, where Michelangelo’s statue of David is found, and the Uffizi Gallery, which holds Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Both museums are worth visiting. If Venus does it do for you, the Uffizi has a ton of other works that will. As for David, there is no better way to experience his grandeur than to see him in person. But I should leave two disclaimers. First, the Accademia is very small. There are only a few rooms of paintings and sculptures. More or less, you’re paying just to see David. Second, for both the Uffizi and the Accademia, their artwork can get a bit repetitive. Italian renaissance artists were obsessed with the crucifixion of Jesus and the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. So get ready to see the same painting twenty times over.
If you’re looking for a quality museum, that doesn’t get a lot of attention, go to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. This museum contains a lot of the original artwork meant for the Florence Cathedral. There are wonderful statues by famous artists and even the original doors to Il Duomo. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is a more recent museum, so it has a much better sense of display and organization. Everything is placed in such a way that you are always educated and engaged. It also offers a great view of Il Duomo from the roof so you don’t have to crane your neck like every other tourist on the ground. Another cool feature of the museum is that there are several replicas of statues to accompany the originals. That way when you’re looking at the original, you’re free to indulge your curiosity and touch the replicas. I’m not sure how useful that is, but it definitely allows for some funny photos, which I will not share here. 😀
Italy as a whole is a phenomenal place to eat and shop. Florence is known for its leather. If you want a leather handbag, you can find several places to shop. But if you do, make sure to look for the maker’s seal that tells you the bag was actually made in Italy. There are many cheap, Chinese knockoffs that might say it was “made with Italian leather,” but it’s not the same. Be careful. The knockoffs use dye and will start to run if you get caught in the rain.
As for food, I’d recommend a few places to eat, but where would I start? There are over two thousand restaurants in Florence. The majority of which are wonderful. But I have a better recommendation. Take a cooking class so you can bring the Italian cuisine back home. I took a cooking class with the company Cook Eat Italian. Led by the incredibly patient and personable Manuela, you spend three hours making three meals. You choose whether to make pizza or pasta. Then Manuela chooses the recipes and adapts to fit any picky eaters. When all is prepared, you sit down and eat until you can eat no more. And just so you don’t forget, Manuela emails you the recipes. I don’t know what’s better, the food or the experience. Either way, it is totally worth taking an afternoon to Cook Eat Italian.
After filling up on Manuela’s cooking, you may want to take a walk. By American standards, Florence is a small city so walking is no problem. The city as a whole is beautiful, but I would suggest walking over the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge itself is a must-see, and it is filled entirely by jewelry shops if you’re looking to shop more. But you must also cross the Ponte Vecchio to get to the gardens. There are two famous gardens: the Bardini and the Boboli. The Boboli Gardens are bigger. Manicured greenery aside, the Boboli Gardens feature several sculptures, new and old. There is also plenty of space to sit down and have a picnic.
Personally, I found the Bardini Gardens much more enjoyable. Yes yes. There are many beautiful plants, flowers, and fountains. But best of all is the view. Climb all the way to the top and take in the vista. From there you can see all of Florence and much of the countryside too. There’s truly nothing like it.