Welcome to the regurgitation of my heart; the recalling of my favorite pastimes in the city I love. I have been a tourist, a student, and a resident in the city of Florence and know how to show all a good time in a town so many beautiful people call “Firenze.”
Florence is not big, but it’s loaded with life, which is why I separate the historic Tuscan town into regions for a lighter load on the thoughtful traveler. In this article, enjoy browsing options for the Center of the Center and the Eastern side. If you would like to experience the city’s true gems, click here for an article on the Oltrarno district and a one day itinerary for the crazy who thinks 24 hours is all it takes. For suggestions on the Northern and Western parts of town, refer to this article. My best advice is to take one area in at a time and let simmer your enjoyment in the city of expression and beauty. Once again, be prepared for an over-whelming longing to visit Italy’s cultural heart and my soul’s hometown.
The Center of the City Center
One of my favorite places to sit in the city is on the Ponte Santa Trinita, the bridge west of the Ponte Vecchio. It has triangular pillars that jut out into the river, which are great places to read, draw, or relax with a Birra Moretti. Don’t assume you’ll have perfect peace and quiet, because the passers-by may harass you. This, of course, isn’t all that terrible since Italian harassing is most commonly flirting and teasing, which you often can’t even understand. Honestly, if you sit down anywhere in the city, you will most likely be visited by a curious Italian man and offered a date. Once again, it’s wonderful.
The Ponte Vecchio is a good place to run into a stampede of tourists, policemen, and gypsies. She’s the only bridge that withstood the onslaught of bomb droppings in World War II, and though that normal crowd is usually running along her back, she still has character. Lots of jewelry shops and gelato stops litter this old bridge, but it is most magical in the wee hours of the night after a light rain. Think film noir with a scattering of North Africans selling fake Fendis.
Cheap, but quality, vendor shopping is best done at the Mercato Nuovo, a covered marketplace that’s been around for hundreds of years. It’s hard not to find what you want in this marketplace, but just be sure not to seem too eager to buy. Haggling is an art form at which you will soon become skilled. Although, don’t be too cut-throat because Italians don’t care enough to play that game.
On the southwest edge of the market is the famous boar, Il Porcellino, which works like Rome’s Trevi Fountain. If you rub the nose of the swine, it will bring you good luck and a definite return to Florence in your future.
The Galleria degli Uffizi, seldom understated and always a homerun; this is one of the best museums in the world. Located in the Piazza della Signoria, the main vein of the city center, this old Medici office building (hence the name Uffizi or “offices”) holds major masterpieces, the likes of which are only trumped possibly by the Vatican. Reservations are strongly recommended (055-294883), and a visit to this art Mecca takes the average enthusiast about three hours.
The Vasari Corridor, or the Corridoio Vasariano, is a hallway that stretches from the Galleria degli Uffizi to the Palazzo Pitti, layered over the Ponte Vecchio, which enabled the Medicis to go between work and home without mingling with the “filthy” common folk during the Renaissance years. Today, this walkway is lined with the self-portraits of many famous artists. Reservations are required for its Tuesday through Sunday openings (055-2654321).
The heart of the historic downtown and a good location for people watching is the Piazza della Signoria, next to the Galleria degli Uffizi. The Michelangelo David you see is a copy but set in the original place where the real deal was erected upon its unveiling. It caused quite a stir at the time, so just imagine the marble man being hauled through town on a primitive wagon. Then, imagine the morning after its presentation to the world when David was lost in a sea of post-its, little memos stuck to him all stating his glory and perfection from the Florentine people. If sitting outside at one of the nearby eating establishments (or anywhere outdoors in Florence), be sure to not just put your purse on the back of the chair or on the ground, only in your lap, between your feet, or someplace more secure.
The Loggia di Lanzi adjacent to the open space is a covered sculpture “garden” with famous works by Giambologna and Cellini. The big structure taking up one side of the Piazza is the Palazzo Vecchio, the “old palace” of the Medici, which projects into the skies the other iconic tower you see in Florence’s cityscape. This building was and still is the seat of the town government, harbors works by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Vasari and others, is a big historical landmark, and is open every day for six Euros a pop.
Perche No? Why Not? Why not have some more gelato? This establishment serves up a quality scoop of Italian ice cream in the center of town and is highly rated by locals. Perche No is off the main road between Piazza della Signoria and the Duomo on Via dei Tavolini. Try the Coffee Crunch. A note to the wise: Don’t buy gelato at any shop that piles their product high out of the container in a showy manner. It probably means it’s not homemade or pure of preservatives.
Michelangelo’s wine-drenched Bacchus and Donatello’s little boy David are must-sees for any sculpture lover at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, which is open from 8:30am to 1:50pm daily. This old fortress has a wonderful collection of sculptures and a history of its own that will surely draw you backwards in time. Examining the scale of this building’s walls and imagining the daring souls who tried to penetrate them will leave you a bit perturbed with life as it was in the Middle Ages. Located on Via del Proconsolo, northeast of Piazza della Signoria, an hour is all it takes to soak in the good work of the sculpture kings.
Gelato. Vivoli. These two words are synonymous. Some of the locals will tell you the best gelato is elsewhere; however, no other old family recipe can match or beat the magnitude of Vivoli’s iced and creamy greatness. Most often stated the World’s Best Gelato, Vivoli can make my knees weak with a dynamic pistachio and dark chocolate duo. This diamond is located one block west of Santa Croce on Via Isola della Stinche 7R. If you need more convincing that Vivoli rules, I went to the owner’s birthday party in the Tuscan hills last year, and not only does she know how to end a dinner party with a extravagant finale of gelato and other dolci, but she deeply cares about her staff, her coveted family tradition, and others’ appreciation of her oeuvre.
If you care to honor the lives of Galileo, Machiavelli, and Michelangelo, visit the Cathedral called Santa Croce, which is open every day but charges a small fee, and you can visit their massive tombs adorned with amazing sculptures. Santa Croce is located east of Piazza della Signoria, a few blocks north of the Arno.
Are you riveted? Want to keep reading? Click here to discover the ways in which an enlightened soul can see the best of Florence in one day, with tips on experiencing the best of the Oltrarno district at its conclusion.