It certainly does feel like a lifetime ago that we downed tools for the long weekend and headed off to Italy for a few days of magic and adventure. In reality of course it was only a couple of months ago, but with Summer arriving, wedding plans ramping up and new freelance projects beginning, a couple of months can go by in the blink of an eye (and it has).
With all my busyness of late the remainder of my scheduled Italian themed posts got a little way-laid, but I still have a few of our adventures to share and so in the hope that travel blogging isn’t time sensitive, I thought I’d share our day trip to Florence with you today along with some thoughts and recommendations for visiting the city.
Having dreamed of visiting for so long, a day trip to Florence was added to our Italian agenda before we’d even left the British isles, and having checked the weather forecast on arrival and decided that Sunday looked the most promising, a date was set. I have to admit that overall Florence didn’t win over my heart in quite the same way Venice did, and if I’m honest I had expected completely the opposite. Our Florence trip was what we were both most looking forward to throughout the weekend, and although we had a great time and marvelled at the beauty of the town, we both freely admitted that the days of getting lost amongst the streets of Firenze without a plan or agenda in front of us are the ones we’ll probably remember most fondly. That’s not to say Florence isn’t a beautiful, beautiful city but I guess when you’re country girl who’s lived in a city as long as I have, you crave the magic and serenity of something totally different more than you know.
Anyhoo whether Venice or Florence came out on top doesn’t really matter, as it’s all tiny fractions. If there’s one thing I can take from my trip to Italy it’s that, just like the stylish people who live there, every part of the country is immaculately put together – oozing beauty, sophistication and glamour. Florence was the epitome of this.
We set off early and took the train from the central station in Venice. Tip one – book your tickets early if you can, travel in Italy is extortionate as it is but we got doubly stung with it being a Sunday and us booking on the day we wanted to travel. If you’re advised (as we were) not to bother booking ahead as the prices stick at a certain rate, don’t listen. Just like in the UK, the affordable rates are released ahead of time and seats can get filled quite quickly. We ended up having to pay more than we’d planned to but hey, holiday money is there to be spent right? Besides the train journey more than made up for it – it was glorious – if only train travel in the UK was as wonderful as it is in Europe. Large comfortable seats, a clean and tidy interior and the most beautiful scenery on route. Even this small glimpse of the Italian countryside as we traveled, was enough to persuade me that for my next Italian adventure I might just avoid the cities altogether and head for the rolling hills of Tuscany.
When we stepped off the train in Florence and made our way out onto the streets, the artsy scene was obvious from the word go. Florence very much feels like a cool, cultured student town and for a moment I felt like I was back in Brooklyn, with young people in hip fashions soaking up the sun in the parks, art galleries around every corner, market stalls lining the streets, architecture to die for and hip bars serving beers and cocktails to their pavement dwelling guests. Having been in Venice for three days by this point however, probably the most striking change for us was the re-introduction of motorised vehicles to our holiday maker experience – isn’t is amazing how quickly you become accustomed to a certain way of being? – having cars and mopeds zoom past us on the streets immediately brought about those bustling, city vibes and gave Florence a certain excitement and buzz (even if I did repeatedly forget and scare myself silly when a moped interrupted my attempt at the perfect wisteria shot).
We wandered through the pretty backstreets of the centre, and made our way towards the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge which overlooks the River Arno. It’s quite a beauty and as the sun shone the views were spectacular. The favoured bridge in Florence is of course the Ponte Vecchio (which is what you can see in the pic above) which we did also wander along, but this bridge is much better viewed from afar with the camera lens than it is up close. It’s packed full of touts and tat, jewellery stores and tourists and you can barely move while on there, let alone find a space to take a decent photo, so if you’re keen on snapping the iconic view head to the first then wander the second for that all important selfie.
Florence is of course home to some of the worlds most iconic art, and so much of the city is focused around the galleries and museums so if you’re an art lover then the Uffizi gallery and the Galleria dell’Academia are both surely worth a visit, although do remember that there’s an entry fee to every gallery and museum so pick your favourites wisely as it can quickly get quite pricey (we really are so lucky in London to have so many galleries open to us for free). I have to admit that as much as I love art, when I’m on holiday museums aren’t really our bag. I like to think we enjoy the art of the location most of all and one of our favourite things to do is simply walk around, taking in the architecture and soaking up the atmosphere. We chose to save our pennies and just see the sights instead, visiting the Duomo, the Bell Tower, walking down the famed Via dei Tornabuoni shopping precinct (the prettiest of all streets lined with designer stores), grabbing coffee in the most elegant of cafes, and enjoying a beer outside in the sunshine at the Piazza di Santa Spirito (a church square full of hipster cafe’s and bars) before seeking out a traditional Pizzeria for end of the day re-fuelling and wine-fuelling before our train home.
The sun shone on us for most of the morning, making the city incredibly picturesque, even if a little deceiving in terms of temperatures. Tip two – no matter what the weather forecast says, bring more than a thin cardigan with you for a whole day out. With the city being right on the water, the wind was fierce and we spent the whole day freezing our behinds off and running in and out of sun patches and cosy cafe’s to warm up.
Overall I felt like one day was enough for us to see and do everything we had wanted to in Florence so if you are planning a trip (and aren’t necessarily looking for a purely city experience) I’d advise staying outside of the city to enjoy the landscape and just travelling in. Of course if you’re seeking a young, fun and vibrant city with which to dine, dance, and drink then it’s perfect and had we been staying longer I’ve no doubt we would have delved further into the culture of the place and found more hidden gems. Unlike Venice however, I didn’t feel Florence offered the same ability to just wander, get lost and not spend a penny should you not want to. Like every city, it felt like you needed a purpose to be there – a shopping mission, a dinner with friends, a date with Michelangelo – and towards the end of the day as the sun was setting, the cold creeping in, all the famous buildings having been visited and our budget running dry, we felt a little aimless.
My top Florence recommendations…
DO – Climb the Campanile
Entrance to the Duomo cathedral is free but if you’re limited with budget, instead of paying to enter the Duomo’s spectacular (the main dome) I’d advise climbing the Campanile Bell Tower. They both set you back eight euros but entrance to the Bell Tower allows you to climb it’s 414 steps to the top and see some spectacular views of the city.
VISIT – Enjoy a drink with a view at La Terazza
A little hidden gem, we found this rooftop cafe bar after running into a department store (La Rinascente) for some shelter from the cold. Head all the way to the fifth floor and you’re transported out of Italy’s version of Debenhams and into something out of a film. The open air rooftop cafe overlooks the main square and sees you eye to eye with the Duomo and able to marvel it in all it’s glory, as well as look out onto the streets of the city while enjoying an espresso or a glass of champagne. Table service for food and drinks is provided, pigeons flutter around the stone wall edging and Italian locals sip coffee in sunglasses despite freezing temperatures (we had to venture to the indoor part of the cafe after one drink and the appropriate photos as being so high up in such wind was too much for my bare ankled, cardigan only outfit to take).
DRINK – Visit a hipster bar at Piazza di Santa Spirito
A little like Brick Lane but much smaller and without the curry houses, the piazza next to the Santa Spirito church is full of quirky bars which are enjoyable during the day and come alive at night. We visited Pop Cafe, which although not brilliant service and slightly dodgy loos had a great cocktail list and cute outdoor seating right next to the market.
DINE – Eat gelato at Grom
I can’t really recommend many restaurants as we were there for so little time and only had one, pretty average, meal at a Pizzeria, but what I can recommend is a gelato and egged on by the popular queues outside we chose Grom, which had a buzz of gelato eating happy souls lining the street around it. Thankfully the queue went down quickly (they’re pretty efficient) and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying the deliciousness of a tub of the (now I realise) pretty famous gelato combinations. Watch out for their monthly specials developed by the team which can feature everything from Matcha tea to pineapple delight.
Someone take me back? Have you visited Florence? I would love to know what you thought of the city?