Florence had been on my mind as a must go to place for far too many years. After all, being a bit of a history nut and reading/watching too many doco’s on Italy during World War 2 and learning about the marvellous Medici family, Florence was always going to be a highlight of my recent trip to Italy. Add to that all the wonderful art, shopping, food, Tuscan wine, and Florentine lifestyle I just had to spend some decent time in this wonderful city. So why not stay 6 nights in Florence?
For me, Florence was to be a relaxing chill time in an otherwise busy 3 weeks in Europe (2 of which were in Italy). Call me a lazy traveler, but I did not want Florence to be spent standing in lines in an attempt to see some of the world’s most famous artworks. For me, Florence was going to be all about taking it slow, eating, drinking, getting familiar with the city and living like a local.
Knowing I would be coming back at some stage, I chose to do Florence at an easy pace. Meaning no art galleries, just chill. Absorb the city and all it has to offer.
After catching 3 trains from the Cinque Terre, passing through La Spezia and Pisa, the journey was a long one but in no time, I found myself at Stazione di Santa Maria Novella 15 minutes later and a few wrong turns I find myself out the front of what was to be home for me for 6 nights. Across the river Arno in the Oltrarno area, my apartment housed both a pizza restaurant AND a gelateria: Gelateria La Carraia. Yes, ok I may have chosen this apartment strictly for this reason. Hmm imagine the thought of a late night Gelati. Yes please.
You can read my review on the fabulous apartment I stayed in here.
Getting my bearings after a day exploring on foot, what struck me as really impressive is just how beautiful Florence is. It is walkable and from every vantage point of the city you can see the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (otherwise known as the ‘Duomo’). And let me tell you how impressive that church is. IT IS EFFING HUGE! You see it everywhere, but it is just not like other churches you come across, white marble with blue. You know you’re near it but suddenly you turn a corner in an otherwise busy Florence street and there it is! Just standing there, no build up fanfare. It is simply magnificent. I did want to actually go inside this marvelous building but the lines to get in were over the top, and I had other things to explore.
Obviously, I had conducted a fair bit of research of Florence. One of the first things I did was download Maps.me Medici walking tour. So that was one full day of walking one of which I highly recommend if that is your thing. Another day of walking was up to Piazzale Michelangelo for an amazing view of the city, mountains and surrounding villages. On foot I also explored the Ponte Vecchio, Boboli Gardens, Giardino Bardini, Pitti Palace, Basilica of Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, Basillica of Santa Maria Novella, Strozzi Palace, Basilica di San Lorenzo and just strolling around the River Arno.
Others tours on the cards were:
- Tuscan winery tour (of course)
- Walking food tour (of course)
- Rooftop Aperitif sunset history lesson (of course)
Click on each one of those dot point things to read about each tour. Trust me, mostly all good, some pointers included should you head to Florence and want some ideas. My favourite was the rooftop Aperitivo sunset tour which became a history lesson. While it did happen to be a super rainy evening it was nonetheless, a perfect setting to learn all about Florence and the Medici family.
And then there’s the leather. Florentine leather. There is absolutely nothing like it and it is sold in abundance. I may have splurged a fair bit and managed to squeeze 3 leather bags into my carry-on sized bag. Yes, I did Italy with only carry on sized luggage AND survived with a lot of shopping done. You can read about my carry-on sized luggage for 3 weeks in Europe quest here.
Food in Florence. I may have gone back to the same restaurant twice for a bowl of Tagliatelle Ragu, yes it was THAT good! A delightful bowl of Rapatoni Napoletani De Cecco with tomato and salted ricotta at Trattoria Borgo Antico, Santo Spirito on my first night exploring Florence. Yes, I did sample that Pizzeria out the front of the apartment that I stayed in, twice mind you. Pizza that Australia has only just woken up to in the last few years, simple, deceptively large, yet so bloody tasty. And to eat it? It’s never cut, you just slice off a piece and roll it and shove it in your gob! No strategically cut triangles, just whatever takes your fancy. It was all kinds of amazing and I was more than happy to indulge.
Then there’s Gelati. Well the Gelateria out the front of my apartment. Long lines of people at night, obviously this was THE place south side of the Arno to grab a delightful cone or cup of your favourite flavours. AND sample I did! Why wouldn’t I when it was literally on my doorstep. Each night after dinner on my way home from exploring, I’d grab a medium cup of different flavours to help decompress the day before bed. I mean I DID choose this apartment solely based on the proximity to the Gelateria, the staff there came to know me!
I did not try the Florentine steak. Of all accounts from many people I met on my travels, for a solo traveler who is budget conscious, it would have been a waste. Probably the only thing I wish I had of done but as I said earlier, I will be going back to Florence.
Found quite a few bars in my travels. My favourite bar afternoon was hopping between a few outdoor bars in the Pallazzo Vecchio drinking wine and devouring pasta all while watching some kind of festival/procession and flag waving ceremony was happening. To be honest, it was really enthralling watching proceedings and seeing the locals immerse themselves in goings on… all while I ate and drank wine close to the outdoor statute of David. What a perfect day!
I did frequent an Irish bar a few times after exploring Florence. I know I know, not very Italian, but the staff were pretty awesome and it felt like a local Melbourne bar to me and this trip I was feeling a little homesick, so why not. The beers were good and the Aperitivo was even better. Some afternoons I’d fill up on enough food to not need to have dinner or have a late-night snack *cough, Gelati, cough*! I really did embrace this whole ‘living like a local’ concept.
The Irish bar had some wonderful characters. One in particular was a 60 something man who took quite a liking to this Aussie girl. Offering himself as an Italian sacrifice should I feel a bit ’lonely’ at night. I passed, obviously, but could not get away from him without a kiss on the cheek. Crazy bugger went in for a big grope and I MAY have seen his tongue coming for me. Alas, a firm NO and a few laughs later and I said goodbye to my could-be (definitely-not) Italian lover. Ahhhh Italian men, you do impress me for all that you try, in the name of ‘tourism’ no doubt ;-).
On my quest to not spend my limited time in Florence in lines waiting for entry into the many art galleries, just roaming the streets was enough for me. I mean the whole city really is an art gallery in itself. There simply is art EVERYWHERE. Statutes pop up just around every corner. Bells in churches ring out almost hourly. No, I did not go and see the statue of David, but the one outdoors that was impressive and enough for me.
This trip I just wanted to immerse myself in Florence and live like a local. I really do think that I succeeded in this. I was happy, content and had a very full belly. I may have even got a bit drunk a few times which is something I am mindful of doing while travelling solo, but Florence just seemed really safe to me. Florence at night is Vibrant and beautiful. Most of all, the people are happy and equally as vibrant and to me, that makes for a great place to stay and even live.
My last night in Florence was spent at a small hotel called Parione Uno, a 10-minute walk across the Arno, as I had to vacate my apartment. You can read the review here. I also was happy to have a mix of staying on both sides of the river Arno.
Honestly could have spent a month in Florence and surrounds. I mean I didn’t actually get OUT of Florence, apart from my winery tour. If I had more time, I would have stayed in some of the smaller villages in the Tuscan countryside. How lush! More time meant that I could have actually gone to the galleries and met more people. But for what time I did have I really did love Florence as I knew I would.
6 nights for a first timer is probably enough, especially if you have a lot more of Italy to cover. However, that being said, stay longer. Please, you owe it to yourself. I look forward to my next trip and doing all the things that I missed on this trip.