Florence For First-Timers
When travel writer, Sharon Greaves, joined a shore excursion from the port of Livorno to Florence, she had about 5 hours to get to know the ins and outs of the city. Here’s how she did it…
Start on a high at Piazza San Giovanni
It seems fitting that Florence’s cathedral – better known as the duomo – is most visitors’ first eyeful of the city’s treasures. After all, it’s the tallest and biggest building in the area, and flamboyantly ornate. In between dodging the cyclists and the horses and carriages in the busy square, check out the building’s marble-clad façade, its towering dome, and the 14th-century bell tower. Apart from the patterned marble floor and a fresco depicting the Last Judgment, the inside of the cathedral is slightly less dramatic. If queues and time allow, though, it’s only 10 euros to go inside, if only to climb the tower for great views of the city. And the ticket includes entry to the marble baptistery across the way.
Buy souvenirs in Piazza della Repubblica
This pretty square is a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral and just the job for a quick fix of souvenirs. It’s home to La Rinascente department store for sensible gifts, but it’s also dotted with stallholders selling leather bags and Venetian-style masks. The author of Pinocchio – the world’s most translated book after the Bible – was born in Florence. Cashing in on his memory there are plenty of antique-looking wooden puppets on sale here, too. You can pick one up for a few euros.
Eye up the statues in Piazza della Signoria
It’s then on to Piazza della Signoria. The people of Florence became incredibly rich 6 centuries ago when local families made their fortune through wool, textiles, and banking. Plus, the city was home to the influential Medici family, and artists like Boticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. The scene you see today is the result of their handiwork. The square is like an open-air museum, crowded with statues carved from the Carrara Mountains in northern Tuscany. Among them there’s Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa and a replica of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Gelleria dell’Accademia). Remember to throw a penny in to the Neptune Fountain – guarded by the Roman god of the sea – for good luck.
Watch street artists at work
One side of the square leads through to a narrow courtyard slotted between the 2 wings of Uffizi Gallery, which houses a huge collection of Florence’s art. If you’ve not booked a ticket in advance, the queues to get in are often long, so you might have to save a visit for another day. Instead, there are plenty of artists outside drawing portraits and caricatures of passers-by. Live painted statues keep things entertaining – just drop a coin in their hat to see them move.
Take in the view of the oldest bridge in the city
Ponte Vecchio is a Medieval arch bridge spanning the Arno River. The best photo opportunities and views of it are from the road at the top of Uffizi Gallery. Closer up, you’ll see why locals call it ‘paradise for ladies and hell for husbands’ thanks to the glamorous jewellers and art dealers that have set up shop along it.
Take a break at Piazza Santa Croce
Retrace your steps towards Piazza della Signoria and follow the path directly behind the Statue of Neptune to end up at Piazza Santa Croce, one of the city’s prime leather districts since the 13th century. The bulk of the largest Franciscan basilica in the world stands at one end of the square. Besides it, Finisterrae restaurant is a good bet, with 6-euro Neapolitan pizza and Mediterranean cuisine on the menu. For pudding, traditional Italian ice-cream takes some beating. Sample a few scoops from Gelateria dei Neri on Via dei Neri around the corner. And round it off with coffee at La Rinascente department store’s rooftop café. It’s on the way back to the start point and delivers winning views over the city’s spires.
Finish with a horse and carriage ride
Back at Piazza San Giovanni, there might be time to browse the Gucci and Prada shops, or enjoy a horse and carriage ride. You can expect to pay 50 euros for a 30-minute clip-clop.