Travel tips and recommendations from our time in Florence, Italy.
Last week we shared our first Italy travel post, Travel Tips for Families with Kids, in a series that might take us several weeks. From here on out every #TravelTuesday I plan to share photos and details on where we went, what we did, and most important… what we ate.
Florence is such a rich city in culture and beauty. I would dare to say there’s not another city on the planet with such a concentration of historic art. From the architecture and fresco paintings on building facades, to fountain monuments, to endless museums packed full of priceless treasures, you can barely take it all in, no matter how long you stay.
We knew there were certain things we wanted to see in fair Firenze, the David, the Duomo at Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Uffizi Gallery. Yet other than that we were at a loss of what to do, and the more I researched the more lost I felt.
Fortunately we found CulturalItaly.com, a travel concierge service dedicated to creating custom trips to Italy that suite your tastes and personality. Cultural Italy worked around the plans we had already made, and tailored the perfect Florence experience just for us. They booked a private tour of Accademia (where the David stays) and downtown Florence, that I highly recommend.
They booked VIP reservations at various chapels and attractions that let us move to the front of the 2 hour long lines, and they set up a fun cooking class the whole family could enjoy! (In hindsight, I could have even passed off booking accommodations to Cultural Italy.)
Of all the things we did, here are the highlights…
Touring Accademia and seeing the David. Galleria dell’ Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s original sculpture of David is a relatively small gallery with one long hall designed specifically to showcase the David, and a couple more halls that feature paintings and other sculptures from the era.
We had a private tour guide with us when we visited the David, which was an amazing opportunity because he was an expert on Florentine history and art. We learned all about Michelangelo’s afflicted history and what led him to make the decisions he did when making his masterpiece.
To see the world’s most renowned sculpture in person, standing underneath David’s 17 foot 6 ton body, that defies gravity in its tall lean form, is something to experience.
Before we walked in, we talked with the kids about naked art… that the human form is God’s masterpiece and people have been trying to copy it all throughout history. It’s not something to be embarrassed about or afraid to look at. I think (hope) this made an impact on how they were able to appreciate it. They had the same surreal experience circling below the mass of David as we did.
(As of 2 months ago you can now take non-flash photography in all of Florence’s museums… i.e. I’m not an international criminal for taking this photo.)
Hiking up to Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato Church. Another monumental day in Florence was making the climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo, the highest piazza in Florence that overlooks the city. The piazza had one of many copies of the David standing in the center and a panoramic view of Florence. The climb will bring on a sweat, but the scenery is breath-taking. This is a great place to see a sunset!
Just above Piazzale Michelangelo is the San Miniato Church and cemetery. The renaissance chapel in open to the public and has stunning frescos of saints all along the walls. Behind the church is a cemetery full of monuments that rival anything you’ll see in a museum. We spent a peaceful hour walking through the cemetery, reflecting, and taking in the beauty.
Visiting the Uffizi Gallery. After seeing the David, if you have time to visit only one more of Florence’s lavish art galleries, this is it. Uffizi Gallery is considered the greatest collection of Italian paintings anywhere in the world. If you’re an art-buff you could spend the entire day here taking in Gothic and Renaissance art at it’s finest. If you have kids… 2 hours, then go get gelato.
Shopping on Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Vecchio is Florence’s only original medieval bridge, over the Arno River, that survived World War II.
It was the bridge on the path leading from Pitti Palace to the Duomo. Shopfront buildings line the length of the bridge on both sides, these shops were once butcher shops. However the royal family didn’t like walking past the smell of the butcher shops, so they kicked them out and invited jewelry shops to come take their place. To this day, the entire length of Ponte Vecchio is lined with jewelry shops.
It’s fun to stroll down the bridge looking at the gold jewelry, high-end watches, and jewels in the window cases that pop open and close down like a jack-in-the-box at the beginning and end of the day.
There are many churches such as the Duomo at San Maria del Fiore, Brancacci Chapel, Medici Chapel and Santa Croce Church that offer amazing art and architecture and are worth seeing.
You could easily spend a week just touring churches. There are also uncountable museums and castles that boast art from every age throughout history. And let’s not forget Florence is a bustling city, meaning there is great shopping. We enjoyed visiting many of these, yet the short list above were our personal favorites.
Eating. Other than touring churches and museums to take in the art, eating well is high on the priority list in Florence.
It’s true that Florence is a little pricey compared to many other Italian cities, but we found that eating well in Florence didn’t have to break the bank. Since we stayed in an apartment, we had a full kitchen and were able to shop at neighborhood markets for simple picnic style meals of fresh bread, cheese, cured meats and produce.
Every couple days we would have lunch or dinner this way, because it’s not only fast and inexpensive, the foods you find in any corner or fresh market are ridiculously good.
The Mercato Centrale, a large market with stalls that sell fresh produce, meats and cheese is a fun place to visit. The lower level market is for grocery shopping and closes by 2 pm each day. The upper level has fun bakeries, a wine shop and various eateries. It’s a great place to get your take-home items and have lunch or an afternoon snack.
Breakfast italian-style is generally a quick social stop at the corner coffee shop. Italians like to have their espresso or capuccino standing at the counter, then maybe grab a croissant or brioche to go.
For lunch we also made the most of local sandwich shops, pizzerias, and cafes. All’antico Vinaio was our favorite sandwich shop… We had to go back twice before we left.
For dinners we discovered quickly that most fine-dining restaurants are for tourists and business dinners. Generally speaking, Italians don’t visit them. We made it a goal to find trattorias that Italians liked to go to.
Our two favorites were…
Trattoria I Due G – We had what was arguably the best meal of our entire trip here. From appetizers, to pastas and green risotto, to the florentine steak, then dessert, this quaint little restaurant left an impact. The Pappa al Pomodoro was so comforting we all nearly passed out after the first bite. And we noticed, in following our theory, that we were the only non-italians in the restaurant. Make a reservation – it’s small.
Cantinetta di Verrazzano – This is another spot we can’t stop thinking about. For being owned by one of Tuscany’s top wine producers, the food was very understated. It’s a wine bar and a full restaurant, so you can order simple snacks to go along with wine-tasting or have a sit down dinner. The platter of varied bruschetta was outstanding.
Gelato. I’m not the least embarrassed to tell you we ate gelato every single day the entire 3 weeks in Italy…. the small cups. I can’t fully explain why it’s so irresistible, but the flavors just seem to bloom in our mouth. Florence supposedly has the very best gelato in all of Italy so we made it a goal to find the best spots.
Here are our picks…
Carapina – This little gelato shop close to the Uffizi Gallery is a complete gem. The flavors are unique and the gelato is so creamy you just want to sink into it. This was another stop we revisited.
Il Re Gelato – This little shop close to the bus station is where Ava and I found what we girls consider the best of the best in all of Italy. We tried the Sicilian Cream (a blend of rich cream, citrus and apricots) and then compared all other gelato to it for the entirety of our trip. That’s saying something. If I could have one more scoop of real Italian gelato, that would be it.
Accommodations. As I mentioned last week, when we travel with the kids it’s nice to have the space and convenience of an apartment. We rented ours through Airbnb.com and had a great experience.
We feel as long as you stay within the circled area, you’ll be close enough to the attractions to walk. Our apartment was right outside the triangle the yellow roads and river make, so we had a few blocks to walk the get into all the action, but that was really pretty nice. It felt like a friendly residental area, instead of a touristy area.
Next #TravelTuesday we’ll be sharing more on our excursion into the Tuscan country side.
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