It’s January and I’ve realized I’ve postponed putting my September Italy trip into words long enough. I’ve hesitated because it’s been an awesome trip – and like all awesome trips lots has happened and therefore there’s a lot to say! I’ve decided to break the trip into two articles for ease of reading (and writing!) and here you have the first part: enchanting Florence, where I’ve spent 3 days.
I’ve stayed at this cozy bed and breakfast called First Class. They actually call it “guesthouse.” As it turns out, Italians have lots of names for lots of types of hotels and B&Bs.
The room was pretty large, for Italian standards anyway, and the location was perfect. Just a minute away from the main Florence attraction, the Piazza del Duomo. The breakfast was another great part. The snug breakfast restaurant called Konnubio, is located a few streets away on a dreamy little Italian street. They serve a hefty continental breakfast with croissants and cappuccinos galore.
The first and most important eatery I have to tell you about is the Mister Pizza Firenze pizzeria that is right in the Piazza del Duomo. It has, hands down, the best, most delicious pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life! We ate there quite a few times during our stay, and we didn’t even stay that long. I’m drooling just thinking about it. It also has tons of types of pizzas to choose from and they also have gluten free options. So if you are ever in the area, this place is a definite GO!
On our first evening, we had dinner at Fiorino D’Oro in the Piazza Della Repubblica where we tried the famed (also huge) bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak), along with the large tagliatelle with duck ragout which was pretty darn good. After dinner, we went for a nightcap across the piazza at the Caffe Concerto Paszkowski where we listened to live music and enjoyed coffee and dessert.
The second night we stopped for dinner at Borgo San Frediano, a very nice restaurant with a very intimate “you are served by the owner who has owned the place for years and does almost everything himself” kind of vibe. The eatery is located two streets away from the Amerigo Vespucci Bridge, but it was fairly difficult to find because (surprise!) A LOT of restaurants are called “Borgo.” We are actually pretty sure that we walked past it at least once. It was definitely worth it though, the food and service were both ah-mazing! We had both the prosciutto and the cheese appetizer plates, the warm salad with beans, potatoes, truffles, and truffle oil, and the ricotta and pear ravioli with white rabbit sauce.
Our third and last dinner was enjoyed in the cellars at Cantina Barbagianni, which is another intimate eatery with great wine and food. We had the Tuscan cutting board with assorted cured meats, pecorino and crostini, which was a delight to the senses, and the spaghetti cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper) with lime and mullet bottarga (a type of fish roe).
Other than full meals, we’ve also had a nice gelato at Santa Trinita Gelateria, just across the Santa Trinita Bridge, along with a delicious gnocchi snack (that I was so looking forward to!) at Caffe Duomo and late night ice cream at Don Nino Gelateria in the Piazza del Duomo.
OK, now off to the fun part!
You can just Google “Florence” and find a gazillion things to do! Thankfully, we did have a short list with things to do and see, and we ended up doing those, and more.
First day | Piazza del Duomo & Pitti Palace
During our first day, we walked around Florence, getting familiar with the city and breathing in some cultural air. We walked through the Piazza del Duomo and surrounding streets, crossed the Arno over the Santa Trinita Bridge, and stopped to visit the gorgeous (and huge!) Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace.
The Piazza del Duomo is absolutely beautiful. And there is no way you could miss the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori and its impressive marble walls, along with its massive dome. We did end up going in, but not until our third day in Florence. During our first day, we took in as much of Florence as we could. We covered a lot of land and by the time we were done, we were super exhausted. We headed back to the hotel & dinner.
VERY IMPORTANT TIP: If you visit Florence during the summer, make sure to bring a mosquito repellant. We got pretty much massacred and ended up walking around with huge lumps on our arms and legs!
Second day | The Leaning Tower of Pisa
You simply cannot visit Florence without also visiting Pisa and its famous tower. And that is what we ended up doing on our second day. We took the train from Florence to Pisa in the morning – the trains run almost every 30 minutes, and walked to the tower through the beautiful traditional Italian streets. We walked for about 25 minutes from the railway to the tower itself.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is located in Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo also called Square of Miracles, along with the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistery, and the Campo Santo Cemetary. I have to say that even though the tower was as magnificent as I thought it would be with its intricate patterns of marble columns, I also thought it was quite… short. Although I bet I wouldn’t think this way if I had to climb its 300 steps to the top! We did not end up going to the top however because there were no more tickets available. That was ok since we weren’t super enthusiastic about climbing up all those stairs anyway.
TIP: If you want to enter the Leaning Tower of Pisa and climb to the top, make sure to purchase your tickets well in advance!
Okay, to be honest, the first thing we did when we arrived in Piazza del Duomo was to grab a bite to eat and have a drink at the Cafe Pasticceria i Miracoli, which is right in the plaza, overlooking the Tower of Pisa. The food was good, but due to its location it is very busy (and pricey) so the service can get pretty slow.
Once we were done admiring the tower, we started taking loads of photos in very weird positions trying to get one of those famous Pisa photos. And we were not the only ones! The entire piazza was full of people trying to get THE shot, which made for a pretty interesting sight, second only to the tower.
The Pisa Cathedral is free to enter, but if you want to visit either the Baptistry or the Cemetery, you will need to purchase a ticket. I don’t remember very well how much we paid, but you can get an idea here. Although all the monuments were beautiful, to be honest, out of the three I was most impressed by the very old Campo Santo Cemetery. I loved its beautiful arches & courtyard, its frescos, ancient wall writings & interesting collection of Roman sarcophagi.
Once we were done, we started walking back to the train station, making sure to get all the cool souvenirs that we could get.
Third day | Santa Maria dei Fiori Cathedral & Uffizi
We were finally ready and able to visit the Duomo or the Santa Maria dei Fiori Cathedral on our third and last day in Florence. Although we knew that the climb to the top was going to be grueling, I don’t think we were properly prepared for what followed. As is turned out though, it was definitely worth it, as the view from the top was SPECTACULAR.
We got our tickets from one of the companies in the square for €150 per person. The tour ticket included entries to the Baptistry, the Cathedral (including the Duomo and the Bell Tower) and the Museum of Florence, all located in the Piazza del Duomo.
We decided to visit the Baptristry and the Museum before we were due to meet our tour and go into the Cathedral. We went into the Baptristry first as we knew it was going to be a short visit, then on to the Museum of Florence. The Museum was not very big, so it won’t take a lot of your time to walk through it, but it does have an interesting combination of history, religion, and art. It is there that you learn about the history of Brunelleschi, the architect, and designer of the Duomo, as well as the funny story of how the Duomo came to be.
We met our tour guide and headed to the Cathedral entrance. It was shortly after that that we were able to walk in, grateful for the short time waiting in line. The Cathedral itself is pretty austere, at least comparing it to the Pisa Cathedral. The most impressive part about it is the Duomo, which looks as magnificent from the inside as it does from the outside. The walk through the main Cathedral area was short, and before we knew it we started to climb to the Duomo.
The climb up has mainly two parts. The first one is relatively easier compared to the second, as it feels like you still have some room the breathe. The second climb gets smaller and narrower and rounder by the second, and you might encounter some issues if you suffer from claustrophobia. It’s also pretty hot there.
The first flight of stairs took us to the Cupola. Here’s to hoping you are not afraid of heights either, as its a pretty long way down. The Cupola is gianormous and it was painted by numerous artists to depict (in excruciating detail) The Last Judgement, along with some other themes taken from Dante‘s Divine Comedy. The most vivid of them all has to be Zuccari’s rendering of Hell. It really stays with you.
On to the last bit of the visit: climbing up to the top of the Duomo. It’s basically all stairs, stairs, stairs until you get to the top and see the incredible views of Florence from up high. And when you are done, try not to think too much that you will be going down the same 450 steps you climbed up.
We spent the second half of the day recovering and visiting the famous Uffizi Gallery, an important art museum featuring many priceless works of art, mainly from the Renaissance period. It is located at about 10 minutes from the Duomo. There are many beautiful pieces in there but the most impressive work of art in the museum has to be the Primavera, from Botticelli.
I lived in Italy for a couple of years when I was a teen. I did get to visit a few Italian cities, but Florence has to be my favorite, by far. I absolutely loved it the entire time in Florence: from the delicious food and wonderful service, the marvelous monuments and works of art, to the dreamy Italian streets!
Once our time in Florence came to an end, we rented a car and drove through the beautiful Tuscany landscape to make our way to Rome! Our adventure there, coming soon…
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