Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: August 2022
Florence is located in central Italy and is the capital city of the Tuscany region. It is regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance and became a major artistic, cultural, political and economic centre in Europe. Florence is home to some of the best art and architecture in the world and contains many museums and art galleries to highlight its history.
Day 1: Climbing Towers
Us Canadians are known for being polite. So when one of my friends invited us to her wedding in Italy, we obviously couldn’t say no. So we traded in our hiking boots for running shoes and planned to spend the next two weeks exploring Italy and Spain … in the middle of summer with the heat and crowds.
We flew into Rome the day before and took a train into Florence. We woke up bright and early in an attempt to get in as much as we could before it got even hotter outside. The forecast was calling for a high of 39°C (and that’s not even with the humidity)! And so we booked tickets to climb the dome of the Florence Cathedral, which is the most iconic landmark in the city, for the first time slot available at 8:15a.m.
Getting to the top of the dome requires walking up (then down) 463 steps. There are a few opportunities to take a break along the way though, including at a walkway within the church that provides a close-up view of the frescoes painted on the interior of the dome. It also provides a nice view of the church below.
We were huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top of the dome, and whatever breath we had left was quickly lost by how amazing the views were of the city below. Once we had a chance to recover and to take some pictures from every vantage point at the top, we had to wait a bit more to climb back down since there was a steady stream of people coming up.
And just in case we weren’t fully awake and didn’t get enough of a workout, we then decided to climb Giotto’s Bell Tower, which is also part of the Florence Cathedral. There are 414 steps up to the top of the bell tower. Along the way there are a few spots to take a break to admire the bells. There are seven of them in total. While the views are very similar to what we saw at the top of the dome in the Florence Cathedral, this time we got to capture the iconic cupula in the background.
Afterwards we checked out the Baptistery of Saint John, across from the Florence Cathedral. The Baptistery has an octagonal shape and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. It is famous for its three sets of bronze doors with relief sculptures along the panels, especially the east door which is known as the Gates of Paradise. The sets of doors in the Baptistery are replicas though as the originals are kept in the nearby Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
We returned to our accommodations to take a break, drink lots of water and eat an early lunch before heading back out in the city to admire more of the architecture and statues. We walked through Piazza della Signoria, a square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall in Florence. We also stopped to explore the Loggia dei Lanzi, an outdoor sculpture gallery.
While it was getting real hot and muggy, we kept going to check out the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge that contains shops built on either side of it.
We booked timed tickets in advance for the Uffizi Gallery, which contains a large collection of art from the Italian Renaissance and is reputed to be one of the best art museums in the world. This turned out to be a good decision as there was a line wrapped around the building for those that didn’t plan ahead. The museum was unsurprisingly jam-packed, but we were thankful to be out of the sun. Some of the rooms even had air conditioning.
From there we walked around the corner to the Museo Galileo, which is dedicated to Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer who made major contributions to the fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics and philosophy. The museum showcases a collection of scientific instruments, including globes, compasses, and telescopes, some of which once belonged to Galileo.
The last stop of our itinerary for the day was at Santa Croce. Besides being a very nice church, it is the burial place for many famous Italians, including Galileo and Michelangelo. Admission into the church also included entrance into the cloisters.
On the way back to our accommodations, we picked up pizza from a restaurant and wine from the grocery store. The pizza was just okay, but the wine (which we paid 2€ for) was amazing.
Day 2: Free Museum Day
We initially planned to spend the day in Pisa. After waiting on the train for 30 minutes, there was an announcement to indicate that we’d have to switch platforms and board a different train that would take us to Pisa. Except the train didn’t actually go to Pisa. Instead it took us to some other train station where we had to get off and then take a shuttle bus. While a shuttle bus came, it wasn’t nearly enough to accommodate even a tenth of the people waiting. The longer we waited, the bigger the crowds got and people were getting angry. There was pushing, shoving and yelling. After missing the first four buses, we decided it would probably be best for us to return to Florence.
While we wasted the better part of our morning, it turns out that the first Sunday of every month is free admission to the museums of Florence. And today was the first Sunday of the month. We made a last minute plan to try to visit as many of the free museums as we could, starting with the National Museum of Bargello, a former fortress and prison which is now an art museum. The museum contains sculptures from famous artists including Michelangelo and Donatello. It also includes ceramics, coins, jewelry, tapestries and other artifacts.
We then went to the Palazzo Pitti, the largest museum complex in Florence. The palace once served as the residence of the Medici family, a powerful dynasty that ruled Florence. It is now divided into five museums which showcase many paintings, furnishings, jewelry and artifacts from the Medici family’s private collection, among others.
Behind the palace are the Boboli Gardens, which was designed for the Medici family and became the model for royal gardens across Europe. The gardens include a variety of plants, sculptures and fountains. There are many walking paths for a choose your own adventure.
We walked back to our accommodations to take a break from the sun and heat and stopped to pick up gelato along the way. We headed back out later in the afternoon to visit the Santa Maria Novella, a nice church known for its beautiful frescoes painted on the interior. Admission into the church also included entrance into a museum and the cloisters.
We then headed to the Accademia Gallery, an art museum which is best known for showcasing Michelangelo’s David, a giant marble statue that is 5.2 metres (or 17 ft) tall. The museum also contains a few other sculptures created by Michelangelo, Florentine paintings and a collection of musical instruments. Since we were visiting close to closing, we didn’t have to wait in line very long to get into the museum.
Day 3: Views of the City
As per usual, we woke up super early to get most of our walking in first thing in the morning when the streets were quiet and it was less hot outside. We walked all the way to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is reputed to provide stunning views of the city and the Arno River. As such, this involved climbing a really big hill.
We walked back through the narrow streets towards the historic centre of Florence and visited the Opera del Duomo Museum, which is located within the Piazza del Duomo complex. The museum contains sculptures, religious relics and the original paperwork and drawings for developing the dome in the famous Florence Cathedral. It also showcases the original Gates of Paradise bronze doors that were once held in the Baptistery.
By the time we finished, the crowds had arrived and taken over. And we were so over it. Instead we hoped for better luck with the train and decided to take a day trip to Bologna.