Five Florence must-dos and some smart tourist tips

Posted on 24/11/2017 by Melissa Van Roosbroeck
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When the French author Stendhal visited Florence in 1817 the poor man was so overwhelmed by all the beauty and art in the Tuscan capital that it ended up making him feel emotionally drained and physically unwell. In one of his books he says: ‘”I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.’” And so a century and more than 100 similar cases later the term “Stendhal syndrome” was officially born.

As I was preparing for my trip to Florence I naturally couldn’t help but wonder if and how being exposed to so much cultural splendor would affect me. As it turns out I’m not as easily phased as our friend Stendhal, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t captivated by the city’s beauty and its 102 km² worth of history, religion and art. The diagnosis? No dizziness, no fainting, no hallucinations. Just a slightly dry mouth from all the gasping and a bit of a sore throat from the constant oohing and aahing. Because even though Stendhal may have been a bit of a drama queen, Florence sure is a beautiful place to visit.

Planning a trip to the epicenter of Italian renaissance yourself? Here are five of my favorite Florence must-dos, as well as some smart tourist tips to make your stay even more memorable and enjoyable.

Cathedrals, basilicas and churches

Florence is fairly small and compact, so you can easily explore the whole city on foot. As one of Italy’s biggest catholic epicenters there are colossal cathedrals, beautiful basilicas and charming churches scattered all over the city. The biggest must-see – quite literally – is the beautiful Cattedrale di Santa Maria Del Fiore with its famous Duomo. But just a stone’s throw away are plenty more religious hot spots to explore, for example the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella with its typical gothic arches, the Basilica di Santa Croce with its beautiful frescos, the Chiesa di San Trinita with its many chapels and the Basilica di San Lorenzo with its impressive robust features.

Tip: In need of a break from all the chaos? Spending some time in one of the city’s smaller churches is a great way to get some peace and quiet away from the everyday Florentine frenzy.

View over Florence

No trip to Florence is complete without a walk up the hill on the south side of the river Arno to the Piazzale Michelangelo for an iconic view over the city. Whether it’s under the early morning sun, the blue mid-day skies or starry heavens, the panoramic view over Florence will absolutely take your breath away.

Tip: If you climb just a little further up the hill to the Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte you can get the same – if not a better – view over Florence without having to elbow your way through the crowd to secure a spot by the piazza’s railing. And as a bonus you also get to visit the church’s beautiful cemetery.

Pizza, pasta and prosecco

Whether you’re indulging in the 3 Ps – pizza, pasta and prosecco –, snacking on a plate of fresh bruschetta or satisfying your sugar cravings with some gelato or tiramisu, if you’re looking for culinary satisfaction Florence is the place to get it. Italian cuisine is known for being incredibly fresh, colorful and full of flavor, so virtually everything you taste will have you coming back for more. And more. And more.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to step out of your ice cream comfort zone and try one of the local gelato flavors like tiramisu, Nutella or limoncello. Delicious!

A date with David

Michelangelo’s David is hands down the most famous renaissance sculpture in all of Italy, so a trip to Florence simply isn’t complete until you’ve had some face time with the illustrious marble hero. But the David is far from the only Florentine artwork worth checking out. At the Galleria dell’Accademia you can admire numerous works by great Italian artists such as Michelangelo and Botticelli and the Galleria degli Uffizi holds the world’s most important collection of Italian renaissance art by big names like Botticelli, Da Vinci and more.

Tip: Not keen on standing in line to get a glimpse of David and friends? On the Piazza della Signoria you find an exact replica of the original as well as a large collection of famous sculptures like the bronze statue of Perseus, Hercules and Nessus and many more.

Sunset at the Ponte Vecchio

Nothing is more peaceful and magical than watching a sunset, especially on water. When the Tuscan sun slowly sinks deeper into the water of the Arno it turns the sky and river into beautiful shades of red, orange and pink, making it an unforgettable experience and an absolute must-see.

Tip: Rather than joining the masses on the Ponte Vecchio make a little detour to the Ponte alle Grazie a bit more east. It’s much less crowded there, which gives you the chance to enjoy the breathtaking sunset in peace and also actually look at the famous Ponte Vecchio rather than just stand on it.

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