My Top Ten Things You Must Do In Florence, Italy
Located in Tuscany, Florence is a beautiful city with a lot to offer visitors. Steeped in history, it's a must-see destination for art and architecture buffs, for foodies and shoppers alike. These are my suggestions for the things you have to do while you're there.
Visit the Uffizi Gallery
One of the absolute musts when you visit Florence is the Uffizi Gallery. Book tickets in advance to avoid the queues - you'll have to pay a little extra, but it's worth it. If you have plenty of time then take a leisurely stroll around the different rooms and soak up the renaissance art and architecture. If you're in a hurry, then you have to get a glimpse of Bottichelli's Birth of Venus. After walking up the many stairs and taking in the artistic treasures that line the extensive corridors, take a well-earned rest in the rooftop cafe where you can enjoy the surrounding skyline while sipping a cappuccino. The gift shop has the usual tourist tat but also has a wide range of art books and a wine store, so make sure you have time to browse.
Go to The Duomo
Unless you get there at the crack of dawn, you'll need to queue to get into the Duomo, but believe me, it's worth it. The cathedral is a magnificent example of medieval architecture and both the ceiling and the floor are particularly worth examination as some of the most intricate art is to be found above your head and beneath your feet. Remember that this is a church, so you'll be expected to dress modestly. The first time we went, my daughter wore very short shorts and we had to go back to the hotel so she could change.
The Duomo is spectacular from the outside as well and it's worth taking a walk around - there are some benches at the back where you can sit and soak up the beauty of the square. It will also give you time to consider whether you want to walk the 400 plus steps to the top of the Campanile - the magnificent tower next to the cathedral.
See the Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous bridges in Europe and you'll definitely want to snap the perfect photograph of it, from the banks of the River Arno. This medieval bridge is lined with shops selling gold jewellery and during the day is absolutely bustling with tourists. Sometimes in the evening there's live music and the vibe is really nice. Keep a tight hold on your belongings in the crowds while you soak up the amazing atmosphere.
Pay a Visit to The Pitti Palace
The Pitti Palace was once home to the powerful Medici who ruled over Florence during the Renaissance. An imposing building, it now houses a number of museums. You should buy an all-access ticket to gain access to the various museums, galleries and to the breathtaking gardens. Pitti Palace houses incredible artworks, a museum featuring costume and a museum which houses a collection of treasures in gold, silver and other precious materials. Take a walk up to the top of the Boboli Gardens and you'll be rewarded with spectacular views. When you can walk no farther, take a seat in the courtyard cafe and have a well-earned espresso to recharge the batteries. Palazzo Pitti was not on my itinerary when I first visited Florence, but it was one of the highlights.
See the Sculptures at Piazzia della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria, which is close to the Uffizi Gallery is an absolute must-see. Surrounded by amazing architecture, the square is home to an incredible open-air gallery of sculptures including The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583) and a replica of Michelangelo's David which is a real treat if you can't make it to the Galleria dell' Accademia to see the real thing. There are some nice little pavement cafes where you can enjoy lunch or a quick coffee. There's also a handy water dispenser where you can top up your bottle with sparkling or still water free of charge - a must on a hot day.
Shop At The Markets
Florence has several open air markets where you can buy amazing leather goods, from purses and briefcases to beautifully bound notebooks. There are also beautiful scarves and inexpensive jewellery as well as all the little souvenirs you'd expect to find. One of the best markets is at San Lorenzo. You'll see the same merchandise over and over, but there are some brilliant finds and you'll meet some craftspeople who will personalise your purchases to make a really special gift for someone back home.
Try The Italian Icecream
There are hundreds of gelateria in Florence selling an amazing range of icecreams and sorbets, by the cup or the cone and you probably won't have to walk far to find a flavor that appeals to you. My favorite combination was a scoop of coconut icecream and a scoop of chocolate. Once it starts melting together, you get something really special. It can be expensive (at one place I paid 15 euros for a cup) but allow yourself an indulgence - you won't regret it.
Eat Loads of Pasta
Ok, so too much pasta, especially with rich creamy sauces is probably not going to do your waistline any good, but if you go to Italy on vacation, forget the carb-counting for a few days and sample some of the most amazing cuisine. There are literally hundreds of restaurants in Florence, ranging in prices from - I can't believe it's so cheap! - to upscale places where it's more like - I can't believe I just paid that (but it was worth it)! Try out some of the fabulous restaurants that line the piazzas. They're a bit touristy but you can enjoy some really great food while watching the world go by. If you want to find something really special, ask the staff at your hotel to recommend somewhere that locals eat. Italians don't settle for second rate food, so find their favourite spots and you're guaranteed a great experience.
Walk and Wonder
The historic centre of Florence is fairly compact and the best way to see it is on foot. Take a stroll through some of the side streets and you'll find some great little shops, from high-end designer stores to smaller family run boutiques. There's incredible architecture around every corner and you'll find several charming piazzas, each with their own unique personality. Plus, you'll have the opportunity to walk off some off that ice-cream and pasta.