We visited Florence for a slow, comfortable pace 4 nights; however those who like to cram as much in could easily do this within 2 days. The city seems much smaller than the tourist map might suggest and is therefore accessible on foot but there is also a good transportation network of buses, bikes, small tourist cars and taxis alike. If you can manage it strap on a pair of comfortable walking shoes and wander the streets, it won’t be long before you come across one of the many points of interest.
You can pre-book the major galleries, however we found it surprisingly cheaper to just turn up and pay the standard entrance fee. Granted by booking before you arrive would allow for fast track entrance, however depending on the time of year you visit this may not be necessary. We travelled in February and found that we queued at most 5 minutes to access both the Accademia and Uffizi Galleries. If you are going to see any form of art but don’t want to traipse around every single gallery then make these two are on your must see list. Michelangelo’s Statue of David in all his naked glory (those of a prude nature be aware, the Renaissance era gave way to many a nude statue or painting, found dotted around the city) at the Accademia Gallery and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery are far more awe inspiring than the colour copies in brochures and books.
For those with a more modern taste in art, head west away from the Piazza Della Repubblica, starting along Via Strozzi and then circling the upmarket boutique clad streets around this area in search of Clet Abrahams Guerilla Art. What was once classed as a nuisance and graffiti in the area has now gained somewhat of a culture following and has spread across other cities within Europe. Look up at the many road signs and see how many you can spot. It became like a game for my partner and I as to who could spot them first. One in particular is that of a stick man hanging off a ‘Dead End’ sign like Jesus crucified to the cross and if you search the artist in Google (or any search engine) then this is one of the most common and talked about sightings.
To capture the best view of the city skip the queue (and save money) to access and climb to the top of the Duomo and walk south of the Piazza, across post card worthy Ponte Vecchio Bridge over the River Arno and head East towards Piazzale Michelangelo (it is worth referring to your tourist map at this point as it can be a little tricky to find). It is a bit of a hike and the many steps did not lend themselves to me in my pregnant state, however the view from the top away from the crowds was worth the huff and puff to get to the top. For those who would prefer to avoid the trek there is a bus service that runs on a regular basis. Looking back across the river you can capture a panoramic view of the city in all its glory, a free souvenir of all the architectural marvels from the Sante Croche on your right to the Santa Maria Novella church on your left and beyond. Visit here late afternoon and be rewarded, weather permitting, with a romantic sunset as you cross back over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.
When abroad we generally use the rule of thumb of eating where the locals frequent and in the past this has always proven both satisfying and cost effective. However on this trip we found a few more tourist orientated dining locations to be rewarding, such as Fuoco Matto located on Via XXVII Aprile (this is quite a popular restaurant so book in advance if you can). The complimentary glass of Prosecco and appetisers whilst reading the menu were a welcome delight and the main dishes did not disappoint. For a break from all the pasta try Alas de Delizie Greche, a Greek restaurant located on Via Cavour. The dishes are authentic, reasonable priced and the service welcoming and homely (it is a small restaurant so again I would suggest booking ahead). For a change to your usual sit down dining try the Mercato Centrale, a food produce market downstairs during the week and upstairs a culinary delight of different dining vendors. Choose your choice of pasta, meat, salad, vegetarian, gelato or even a truffle infused option, have it cooked there and then for you and enjoy along with a drink from bar that runs down the middle of this atmospheric modern style market. Needless to say we visited a few times over the 5 days we were there, mainly for the home made gelato.
Florence can be enjoyed at any time of the year, yet visit in late spring or early autumn and the colour of the buildings, the vibrancy of the local parks and the street cafes really come alive. We visited during the winter and although the weather wasn’t always in our favour we did find that it took minimal time to access the attractions and it didn’t feel too crowded allowing us to explore the city without bumping into other visitors.
During the summer Florence can be accessed from most UK major airports and also as a regular port of call for many cruise lines that dock in Livorno. The winter sees a reduced service flying into the region with most of the flights departing from Southern UK; however Easyjet do offer a service from Manchester during this season. To fly to Florence airport itself you will need to depart from London and is usually served by scheduled airlines such as BA/Alitalia. More often than not the cheapest option is to fly into Pisa airport and then catch the Pisa Mover service to Florence, which runs every 10 minutes. You catch a bus from outside the arrivals area to Pisa Central station and then a direct train into Florence Santa Maria Novella station. This cost us approx. 8 euros per person each way and was an effective and easy to use service. In total the journey time is around 1 hour but offers a scenic hassle free route into the city. Other transfer options can be arranged including a shared shuttle transfer or a private taxi.
We stayed at the 4*Room Mate Luca Hotel, a centrally located hotel on Via XXVII Aprile and only a 10 minute walk from the Duomo and surrounding attractions. The hotel is also within easy walking distance of the train station. We were both impressed with the cleanliness of the rooms, the high standard of friendly customer service, the breakfast options (served until noon) and general value for money. Rooms start from approx. £50 per room per night for a stay based on June. Other hotels, apartments and guesthouses are available including the Kraft Hotel with its rooftop pool (ideal for the summer months) and recently renovated rooms.
If time permits it would be worth travelling out of the city and seeing what else the Tuscan region has to offer. Using the hotel concierge we booked a trip with My Tour to San Gimignano, Siena and Chianti - a full day trip out that allowed us plenty of free time in each location, included lunch with wine and a guided tour of Siena. At a cost of 55 euros each we felt that we gained value for money and would happily recommend to others. As a travel agent we can also pre-book similar tours through one of our ticket specialists. Pisa can be done as part of a tour or independently using the regular train service from Santa Maria Novella station. Other points of interest are Cinque Terra, Lucca, Volterra and even Venice. Mix it up a bit with a Vintage Fiat 500 or Vespa tour, try your hand at Gelato making or combine wine and a painting course and see what masterpiece you create!
Accademia Gallery – www.accademia.org
Uffizi Gallery – www.uffizi.org
Fuoco Matto – www.fuocomatto.it
Alas Delizie Greche – www.facebook.com/alasdeliziegreche
Mercato Centrale – www.mercatocentrale.it
Room Mate Luca Hotel – https://room-matehotels.com/en/luca
My Tours – www.mytours.it
Post by: Laura Knipe - Travel Consultant, Dalescrest Travel, Kirkby Lonsdale