For many Florence is the most beautiful city in Italy and the truth is that they have every reason to believe it. Its magnificent landscapes, stunning works of art, architecture and incredible charm are the ingredients of an insanely enchanting, incurably romantic and absolutely unique city. I visited the city during a tour in central Italy, and to be honest, I didn't want to leave. So I said to myself that "the most beautiful things don't last long" and I promised that someday I would return to this earthly paradise.
A few words about the city
Florence is located in central Italy and is the capital of the region of Tuscany and the homonymous province, with a population of 400,000 inhabitants. It is crossed by the river Arno, which made the city a center of commerce during the Middle Ages, and from 1865 to 1870 it was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. The legend says that the first people who visited Florence said that "this city is doomed to bloom", which is why they called it "Florentia." No one can judge them, since Florence has written history in the arts, commerce and economics, reaching the cradle of the Italian Renaissance. So I will try to present Florence through my eyes and share with you what I think someone should see, visiting for the first time.
Piazza di Duomo
The square of Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, is the most central and at the same time most characteristic point of the city. In the centre of the square stands one of the most beautiful and impressive cathedrals in the world, the Church of Santa Maria del Fiore. A gothic masterpiece that was built over two centuries to be adorned with elaborate facades, countless colorful statues, the domes of Brunelleschi and an impressive interior, the 143 stairs will lead you up, to admire the splendid "red" view of Florence.
A distinctive part of the temple is the imposing bell tower of Giotto (Campanile di Giotto). A tall building, which was added later and is about 85 meters high. If the view from the Duomo is wonderful, then there are no words to describe the images you will see when you climb the 414 steps of the bell tower.
The Baptistery of St. John (Battistero di San Giovanni) completes the triptych of beauty in this square.It's another Renaissance piece of art. An octagon building dedicated to the patron saint of Florence, known for the gates of Paradise, the elaborate doors designed by Giberti and Michelangelo.
You should know that in order to enter the temple and the Baptistery, you must have booked your tickets online, as they are not sold at the ticket offices. If for any reason you are not able to make it, you can only enter the Bell tower, in which there are separate tickets, but the line is huge. Also don't make the mistake and go straight from one to the other, as the stairs are innumerable, and you don't want to stay crushed in the middle of the building.
Galleria degli Uffizi
The Uffizi Gallery is the most important Museum in Florence, one of the most famous in Italy and probably the whole world. It was created in 1560 during the Medici period in order to accommodate their offices there (hence its name), but gradually some rooms on the third floor were granted to house the first objects of art of their collection. Over the centuries it has reached its present form, a horseshoe-shaped architectural maze, starting from the famous Piazza della Signoria Square and reaching the Arno River. The queues are endless, and I would recommend booking your tickets, which cost 6.50e, online, to save standing and waiting hours. No matter how long you wait, Galleria degli Uffizi will thrill you. In the 45 rooms of the gallery, you will find paintings and statues by artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Giotto, Tiziano, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Botticelli, with the most famous being the "Venus."
Galleria dell' Accademia
The second must-see museum in Florence is the gallery of the Academy (Galleria dell' Accademia). It is the first painting academy in Europe, hosting great works and wonderful gothic paintings, as well as the most famous statue in the world, David by Michelangelo. The huge creation over 5 meters high is considered, together with the Pietà which is located in Vatican city, the most beautiful statues sculpted ever by Michelangelo and tose that gave him the right to be regarded as the foremost sculptor of his time. Its enormous size and the incredible details that seem almost real will make you stare at it for a long time. And here you will find incredibly long queues, so it would be wise to book your ticket (6.5e) online. If you still don't want to spend money and wait for hours in the queue, there are faithful copies of David's statue on Piazza della Signoria and Oltrarno hill.
The pride of Piazza della Signoria is none other than the Vecchio Palace (Palazzo Vecchio). In the past it was the seat of Signoria (hence the name of the square), the legislative body during the Golden Age of the city, then it became the official residence of the Medici, and finally today it houses the Town Hall. This gigantic palace is one of the most impressive in Tuscany, built in Roman style, with classy gardens, dozens of rare art halls and impressive gates. From here begins the famous "Vasari Corridor", a secret tunnel that leads to Palazzo Pitti, which I will mention below. After finishing the tour of Palazzo Vecchio, spend some time to explore the Piazza della Signoria, where you can admire the ornate Neptune's Fountain, and an outdoor sculpture display, including the replica of the statue of David. Entrance to the palace costs 19,5e.
After you enter the Secret Vasari Corridor, you will find yourself at the Pitti Palace. The core of the palace as it stands today, dates from 1458 and was originally the residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker. The mansion was purchased by the Medici in 1549 and became the principal residence of the families who ruled the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It evolved into a real treasure trove, as successive generations piled up paintings, jewelry and all sorts of luxurious artifacts there. At the end of the 18th century, the palace was used by Napoleon as he passed through the city and later became the royal palace of the newly united Italy until 1919, when King Victor Emmanuel III donated it to the Italian people. Today the palace is the largest museum complex in Florence. The main building covers an area of 32,000 square meters and houses many galleries and museums, such as the Galleria Palatina, the Galleria d'Arte Moderna, the Museo degli Argenti and many more. Entrance costs 16e.
The multicolored, multi-layered and well-known Vecchio Bridge is Florence's oldest bridge and one of the most beautiful in the world. It looks like a colorful arch above the Arno River and houses dozens of jewelers and goldsmiths from its 14th century; the paradox is that they are run by the same families even today. Don't miss the opportunity to walk and admire the dazzling views from the main "terrace" of the bridge, the green waters of Arno, the canoes passing and the new town, standing on the other side.
Basilica di San Lorenzo
The Basilica of St. Lawrence is one of the largest churches of Florence, located in the centre of the main market and is the burial place of all the main members of the Medici family, from Cosimo il Vecchio to Cosimo III. It is one of the many churches that claim to be the oldest in Florence, with this one dating back to 393, when it was standing outside the city walls. For three hundred years it was the city's Cathedral, before the official seat of the bishop was transferred to Santa Reparata. The church is part of a larger monastic complex, containing other major architectural and artistic works such as the Old Sacramento by Brunelleschi, with interior decoration and sculpture by Donatello, the Laurentian Library by Michelangelo, the New Sacramento based on the designs of Michelangelo and the Medici chapels by Matteo Nigetti.
Museo Nazionale del Bargello
The Bargello Museum is housed in the Palazzo del Podesta (built in 1255) and by royal decree on June 22, 1865, it became the first National Museum of Italy, dedicated to the arts of the middle Ages and the Renaissance. The same year, some of the most important Renaissance sculptures were assembled at the museum, including the masterpieces of Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Verrocchio, Michelangelo and Cellini, most of which come from the Medici-Grand Duke collection. To understand the importance of the Museum, think of it as the Galleria Uffizi, simply with sculptures. Later, the museum was enriched with other exhibits from the Medici collections, such as tapestries, jewelry, weapons and more. Entrance costs 11e.
Santa Maria Novella
The Santa Maria Novella is a church that is an excellent example of Renaissance style, constructed by the artist Alberti 1420. Located just opposite the main railway station, to which it gave its name, while chronologically, is the first major basilica in Florence and also the city's main Dominican church. Inside you will find one of the masterpieces of the early Renaissance period, the Holy Trinity of Masaccio, which was created between 1425 and 1427.
Like any Italian city that respects itself, Florence is full of beautiful squares. So besides the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria you read above, there are other squares in town worth a visit.
I would suggest that you start from Piazza della Republica, the Freedom Square, which has been the meeting place for the locals for centuries. On the way to this particular square, you will find the famous outdoor bazaar of the city, but also a lot of designer stores to do your shopping.
Another beautiful square that you should not miss is Piazza Santa Croce, the square of the Holy Cross, in the center of which stands the homonymous Franciscan Church. This particular square separates the tourist Florence from the rest, for that reason there you will find plenty of bars and shops frequented mainly by locals.
A good solution to get away from the many attractions is Piazza del Mercato Centrale. In this square you will find the municipal covered market, full of shops and vendors selling everything you can imagine.
Last but not least, I left the side of Oltrarno, that is across the Arno River. Here the tourist "orgasm" relaxes, and you will be able to follow the signs to Piazzale Michelangelo, reach the top of the hill and see Florence once again from above. The square is dedicated to Michelangelo and there you will find, as I said above, another copy of the statue of David.
How to go
Unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Thessaloniki to Florence, and you should therefore take a stopover. The cheapest flight you can find is through Frankfurt, with Lufthansa at 185€ round trip. However, as I've mentioned in previous articles about Italy, the country's rail network is at a fairly high level, so you might want to try finding a flight to another city like Rome, Bologna or Pisa and from there arrive in Florence by train, something that will surely save you both time and money.
Where to stay
Florence is a relatively small town, where everything is located close to its historic centre. So it’s a good idea finding a hotel or apartment, as centrally as possible. Of course, this also means quite a bit of price, as in the tourist season the cheapest you can find is around 100e per night (!). A good and relatively affordable solution is the AlGiglio Bottonato, which comfortable and spacious rooms in the historic center.
How to move
I think even the most skeptical, after a first stroll in Florence, will agree that you have to walk this city. Everything is concentrated in the historical center, which is a shame not to walk inch by inch. If you are one of those who enjoy the route better in four wheels, the city has two public bus companies, starting from the railway station and covers the whole city. Another good and relatively economical way to get around is the taxis, which are very easy to stop either on the road or get off one of the dozens of trails.
What to eat
You are in Italy; what else could you eat besides pasta, pizzas and the famous Italian gelato. If you want to escape a little from the usual and try something that exists only in Florence, try the tripe, which you will not find in some expensive restaurant, but in canteens and shops on the street. This is a cow's stomach sandwich that has a strong taste and is definitely not for everyone. A good choice for food is Tamero’, which is a relaxed restaurant serving mainly Italian dishes and preferred by locals. Finally, for coffee I recommend Caffe Scudieri, which serves good coffee overlooking the Duomo and the Rivoire, located in Piazza della Signoria and has the most delicious chocolate in Florence.
In Italy we travel with a passport or a new type of Police identity card, where the information is written in Latin characters.
In Florence, the language used is, of course Italian, but because of tourism, most know English, and even those who don’t, are willing to help even with gestures.
The currency of the country is the Euro.
Florence is an hour behind Greece (GMT +2).
Take care of your personal belongings as in Florence there is an increased risk of pickpockets and other petty criminals.
Book museum tickets online to save time and money.
The Hellenic Wage Consulate General in Florence is located at Via Cavour 38, 50129 and its phone number is +39 055 2381482.
The transfer to and from Florence Airport is simple, since there is a bus every half hour, which takes you in 30 minutes, to and from Santa Maria Novella train station.
Italy's climate is quite similar to that of Greece, so there are mild winters and hot summers. Ideal time of visit I think it is Fall or Spring.
Recommended excursions→ Pisa, Bologna, San Marino