I opted to visit Florence in the autumn, and I was not disappointed. It was still warm in that I was not shivering like I was back in Amsterdam, and the trees still had leaves on them. It drizzled a few times but I found myself in galleries and beneath shelter easily. I touched the surface here – lazily having tourist hotspots guide my stay here – for the reason that I’m a slow traveller, and I’d like to visit again.
Florence is beautiful. All around I found art, in paintings and motifs. (Matteo: “It is Italy.“) And it was easy to walk here. I suppose the constant influx of tourists have helped cement ancient paths — most of my time here was spent wandering. I stayed in the centre, close to the Duomo, and felt particularly safe in the evenings. It’s a good city to lose your map. In the daytime, I liked the walk up to Piazzele Michelangelo with stunning panoramic views over the river and city. I went back and forth the Arno, over bridges like the much noted Ponte Vecchio, snapping photos along the way. In the evenings, I usually found myself passing through Piazza della Signoria, observing the crowds and taking in the architecture and sculptures.
I booked a few things in advance for this city. First was an early morning ticket to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David and Prisoners. I spent some time here, also visiting the attached Museum of Musical Instruments, and as I watched the crowd numbers swell, I was very glad to have been part of the first group to enter and be able to take my time with the art surrounded by less people. As is plain, David is the pièce de résistance so I refreshed my memory before visiting. The audio guide is nice for the other pieces in the gallery, but I found it a little lacking for David especially because there’s so much to say.
For another day, I booked a late afternoon ticket for Le Gallerie degli Uffizi to skip the looooong queues! I reserved a few hours, took the audio guide (cash only), and made my way through the collections. There are so many must-sees at the Uffizi that it is impossible to list them all, but I thought Botticelli’s Birth of Venus was truly wonderful, and took a few moments to absorb the Allegory of Spring. I fell in love with the works and profile of Elisabetta Sirani, and found Caravaggio’s Medusa in person impressive.
As with most cultural institutions, there are reduced rates for certain groups so check before you book! I think it’s worth it to book in advance, especially during busy periods, and save the time you would be queueing enjoying the peak of Renaissance art. Both galleries are closed on Mondays.
Renaissance art aside, I worked my way through the archives of Marina Abramoviç at the Palazzo Strozzi. The curation here and the design of the gallery, focussing on the visitor journey and experience, was top notch. The palace itself is a magnificent space with major art exhibitions.
For food and drink, Florence has a lot of classics and a lot of variety but I didn’t delve too far into the gastronomy of the city. I was recommended by many people to visit Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. It’s an indoor food market hall — with cheese-sellers, fish-mongers, butchers… After months of craving, I had a ginseng coffee and delighted in looking at all of the delicious food, from dumplings to pizza slices, on offer. You can definitely come here more than once and it’s definitely okay.
Dining at Trattoria Pizzeria San Gallo (Via S. Gallo 4), I was surrounded by an Italian birthday party, a date, and some other groups. Alone, I absorbed the atmosphere – a cosy, casual little place – and made casual chit chat with the super friendly staff. I ate two courses — mushroom risotto and then king prawns in brandy sauce — and was in a food coma for the rest of the trip. The portions were huge. I regret eating here for my last dinner, because I probably would have visited again.
Italian friends will be totally grossed out to hear my next recommendation: Persian bar and restaurant, La Congrega Lounge (Via dei Tosinghi 5). But for casual tourists who don’t mind not eating at an Italian restaurant, I stand by it. It’s a cosy little spot, very close to the Duomo, with a nice indoor/outdoor lounge bar with lovely frescoes. After some heavy Italian meals, I opted for some chicken and rice with pomegranate, a welcome change. (Yes, please don’t judge.)
And even though it was November, I was told to visit La Carraia for pistachio gelato (€1). It was good. I hope to come back in the summer and do a real Florentine gelato tasting tour!
From the city to the airport, the easiest way is catching the ATAF Volainbus (€10 return) at the bus station behind the train station. I thought that was pretty reasonable — though I did miss my bus going back to the airport and had to jump in a taxi (€20)… I shouldn’t have taken it though! The trip is only twenty minutes long and the airport is so small, the “two hours before departure” is very, very generous.
Florence, what a delight.