In my Tuscany blog series this August, I have shared my experience of staying in the Tuscan countryside, spending an afternoon in Pisa and Lucca. It was the day trip to Florence that I was most looking forward to for this trip, somewhere I had been wanting to visit for quite some time.
I was given the important job of deciding on a sensible itinerary for the day which was not exhaustive; this turned out to be something of a challenge as there are so many wonderful things to see and do in this historical city and I had to postpone some ideas from my list for next time.
We arrived into the train station at 11am, ready to take on Florence for the day. The cathedral, the Duomo, also known formally as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, was a short walk away and we decided to start there. The Duomo is what everyone seems to identify Florence with: the building, with its magnificent Renaissance dome dominates the city’s skyline, and is easy to spot on arriving by train into Florence.
We had chosen to visit Florence in the heat of the tourist season. I would recommend that you arrive as early as possible into Florence to start your day, not only to make the most of your day but also to beat the queues. I’d like to go back to Florence out of season to hopefully experience it with fewer crowds.
The cathedral is free to enter but we had to wait in an exceptionally long queue for 25 minutes. During this time, we were able to stand and marvel at the vast Gothic structure of marble while we waited. Ladies, make sure you cover your shoulders if you decide to go inside the cathedral; don’t wear too many revealing clothes as you will not be allowed in and will have to resort to buying a scarf from the frantic sellers around the entrance, which is something you don’t want to have to do.
The cathedral is a masterpiece on its exterior and we could not help but feel slightly disappointed on the interior which is quite bear to walk around. The decoration on the interior of the dome and the marble floor designs however are very beautiful, but it felt like the long queue was not really worth it if you are just wanting to look around. There is also a separate queue to go up the tower, which we decided not to do. In the crypt, you can choose to buy a ticket to explore the remains of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata which can be seen there, however the tickets were quite expensive so we were reluctant to enter.
I would recommend enjoying the exterior of the cathedral by walking around it, seeing it from different perspectives and taking plenty of photographs! If you are looking for a panoramic view of the city with the Duomo in the distance, scrap the long queue for the cathedral tower and choose instead the nearby Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall, former royal residence and another important historical building in the city that is worth a visit.
The Palazzio Vecchio overlooks the Piazza della Signoria, an important historical and political hub of the city. Outside the main entrance to the building, you spot a copy of Michelangelo’s David statue. The original, now housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia was in fact originally positioned in this very spot. There are also many other statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. It’s a great place to sit and enjoy the sites around you and we chose to eat lunch in a nearby Pizzeria for convenience and to also marvel at everything around us.
We chose to go up to tower of the Palazzio Vecchio as I had researched that it had great views over the city as an alternative to the Duomo, as it was much quieter with fewer queues. I think every tourist in Florence that day must have read that tip online, because we were queuing a grueling 45 minutes in the queue to go up the tower! When we walked past the tower entrance later in the day, there was no queue, much to our annoyance. So here is my tip: yes, do go up the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio as it is worth it, but go up later in the afternoon (4pm) if there is a queue earlier in the day!
The tower has a very small capacity, which explains the queuing. It was one person down, one person up when we were queuing. On a more positive note, it means that there are few people squeezing past you on the tower stairs which makes the experience more enjoyable when you finally get the chance to go up there!
On the way up, you go past various prison cells which you can go into. There aren’t very many safety measures because as a joke, I got locked into one of the cells! The doors can open and close freely, with working locks; so don’t upset any of your companions or you might be locked in. There are staff monitoring the tower so I am sure that your screams for assistance will be heard sooner or later, but they should probably do something about that…
The view from the top is worth the climb and the long wait. Straight ahead in the distance is the Duomo and all of Florence!
I had originally only intended to go up the tower of the Palazzio Vecchio in our itinerary, but whilst queuing for our tickets (forever queueing), James played with the idea of combining our ticket for the tower with the museum which is also inside the building. It was only a few euros extra but it was really worth it and I’m glad we did it. The museum is not overwhelming, and it is easy to climb the tower and look around the museum in under 2 hours.
The museum includes entrance into the royal apartments of the Medici family that once resided there, the impressive and richly decorated Salone dei Cinquecento, the small Studiolo which I particuarly liked and the Stanza delle Mappe geografiche (The Hall of Geographical Maps) where you can marvel at old maps. The one of the British Isles is great because it is totally bizarre:
Florence is renowned for its museums: the Uffizi which houses the Birth of Venus and the Galleria dell’Acadademia which has Michelangelo’s David are two of its most popular. Unfortunately, online bookings on their websites are a nightmare and there is an exceptionally large charge for booking in advance which does not justify the convenience of skipping the queue. For 2 adults, 2 students and a child, we were looking at a whopping 90€, as the online booking system forces you to also buy audio-guides which you cannot opt out of! Queuing for either of these museums on a Saturday in August did not feel worth the hassle, but when I do go back to Florence in the future, I hope to be able to include them in my itinerary.
We stretched our legs after touring the Palazzo Vecchio with a gelato and a walk across the Ponte Vecchio, admiring at the many jewellery shops on the bridge, before circling back to the other side of the river, on a bridge further up.
We stopped to admire the exterior of the Santa Croce church, but by then it was time to head back to the train station to catch the next train and we didn’t have the opportunity to go inside. The chapel is adorned with frescoes by Giotto, and it holds the tombs of some of the most important personalities of Italy, including Michelangelo and Galileo. This is something I’m looking forward to seeing on my next visit.
The day trip was a wonderful introduction to Florence and I am so pleased to have been given the opportunity to go; but as you can gather from this post, one day just is not enough to see everything but it has lived up to its expectations of being charming, beautiful and fascinating. Florence is magnificent.
A presto Italia…