There are few places in the world that are home to as much beauty as Florence for this is a city that has obtained an almost cult-status from as many art aficionados as history buffs and as many food-obsessed as fanny-obsessed tourists (I am of course referring to the famous backside of Michelangelo’s David).
Florence: The Cradle of the Renaissance
The “cradle of the Renaissance” is more often than not, included on both first-timers’ itineraries and return-trips due to its near superfluous amount of literal and figurative feasts for the eyes and stomach. The city is referred to as the cradle of the Renaissance as it was the center of an artistic revolution during the 15th century that would later be known as the “rebirth” of thinking.
No aspect of society was left untouched and this cultural movement spread to encompass art, architecture, politics, science, and literature. To namedrop just a few of the Renaissance’s game-changers is almost blasphemy in and of itself, however, to speak of Florence is to speak of such artistic and literary masters as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, Alighieri, Petrarch, Machiavelli, Boccaccio, and the list goes on and on.
Perhaps you’d even be surprised to discover that even the Italian language is a product of Florence – it is actually based upon the Florentine dialect!
Since I’ve thrown a lot at you, why don’t we break it down into digestible bits?
We can look at Florence as seen by an art aficionado, a history buff, a foodie, a photographer or architect lover, and a shopaholic, given that each of these is distinct personalities that can find what they’re looking for in this Tuscan city in Northern Italy that is one of the 100 most visited places of the world.
The Art Aficionado
Your Florence is your personal version of Paradise and St. Peter’s Gates could very much be considered the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi). This is a place where any art lover or art historian will feel as if they’ve died and gone to heaven. Its halls are flanked with the real-life paintings that adorned your university textbooks, the very same prints that were projected onto a big screen during Art History 101. It’s an overwhelming experience that requires trip after trip if you really want to explore its treasures in-depth. Most see the highlights in a day, though the collection boasts everything from paintings and sculptures to drawings and books.
If you’re hoping to pay a visit to this gallery, make sure you book your private tour with Luxe as it is one of the main reasons Florence draws so many tourists the world over.
If you’re in search of the perfect man, don’t forget that Michelangelo’s famed sculpture of David is to be found at the Galleria dell’Accademia (also included on Luxe’s private tour).
The History Buff
Hello there, you’re the history buff, also known as the date-fanatic and the kind of person that revels in any trip to Italy in general even though Florence is the crown jewel in Italy’s diamond-studded history tiara. This is because the city was the seat of the Renaissance and “casa dolce casa” (home sweet home) to the Medici family, credited with providing the pay cheque for most of the city’s art and architectural masterpieces. While the entirety of Florence is more than enough to satisfy your thirst, those who are looking to go even further back in time can pay a visit to the Museo Archeologico, where the collections include pieces from the Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Etruscan periods. It is one of the most important archeological museums in Europe. Another interesting stop for you might be the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, many tourists often miss it due to its rather plain exterior yet it is a completely valid visit for the history buff as it is arguably the world’s oldest pharmacy and perfumery! But you knew all of that already didn’t you?
Maybe you’re a self-proclaimed foodie or a real one with a blog and TV appearances, but no matter what your “fame” status (fame is actually how you say “hunger” in Italian, so I hope you got my bilingual wordplay there!), the Florentine cuisine aims to please.
Vegetarians may have a harder time when trying to shift through the city’s classic fares – of which, bistecca alla Fiorentina might top the list. Also referred to more simply as a “Fiorentina”, it’s basically a T-Rex-sized T-bone steak, grilled less than medium-rare, and served up by weight! You’ll see it on menus as such and it’s best to share it unless your sight-seeing has left you truly famished.
Wash it down with a glass of Chianti, you can view our Chianti tour page for a real ‘taste’ of the region with a local guide, although a Chianti Classico is just that…a classic and the perfect accompaniment to cut through a fatty steak. Your waiter might ask what sides you’d like with your steak and the correct answer would be “cannellini”, the white beans are served boiled and topped with a swirl of cold-pressed olive oil and salt.
Try to stop by something that has the name trattoria or osteria in it, these are where you will find more “down-home” cooking where the tablecloths aren’t silk but the atmosphere is distinctly more authentic.
You know the expression “the world is your oyster”? Well, whether you are an amateur or professional photographer, Florence is your oyster. Besides the beauty of daily life that sprawls before you in any piazza, the city is extremely photogenic and offers up her famous facades and watercolor-sunsets to the most enviable postcard-perfect shots you’ll ever come across.
Besides all of the obvious photographable sights which include the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, the view from Piazzale Michelangelo, and each and every curve of the David, make sure to duck into sights unseen. What I mean by this is that some of the best moments or ambiance awaiting to be immortalized aren’t in the guidebooks. If you see an intriguing entrance or a vintage-looking overhanging sign, chances are, there’s something wonderful to photograph inside.
And don’t forget to look up, like inside the Duomo, a favorite for our next traveler – the architectural admirer.
While the Ponte Vecchio is a wonderful subject to ponder, especially at dawn or twilight on a clear day, don’t negate the undeniable power of heights and head over to climb the Brunelleschi’s dome of the Duomo. The dome is a masterpiece of engineering in its own right with stunning frescos of the Last Judgement that sometimes overshadow the architectural points. But you, the architecture lover, are one that can appreciate Brunelleschi’s innovative vaulting sans-scaffolding which essentially produced a double-shell separated by a space, giving the dome its innate resistance to natural disasters like lightning and earthquakes, as well as an ability to withstand the test of time. Without going far, you’re also sure to fall in love with the Baptistry’s bronzed doors, even though they are actually just copies. The real bronze doors have a safer home inside the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
One word for you: leather. All of the leather. Actually, I lied, let’s say two words: leather and gold. I’ve gotten your attention now, haven’t I? Florence offers all the shopping you could possibly ask for, from high-end luxury goods to chains that you probably have back home.
But if you want their specialty, head over to the Ponte Vecchio district.
Back in the day, a member of the Medici family decided that he wanted to walk through beautiful things and not just any kind of merchants or shops would suffice so he “renovated” the area and put in goldsmiths and jewelers which is the reason why the bridge is dominated by these two to this day. It’s expensive, as gold tends to be, but it makes a great investment (and conversation piece!).
However, if you happen to be looking for something less shiny but still considered a Florentine hallmark, then leather is what you’re in the market for. Make a beeline for the Santa Croce neighborhood which is the heart and soul of the city’s leather industry and has been for ages. Word of advice for label-hunters- refrain from buying fake items from street vendors, it’s actually illegal and you could face a fine if you’re caught red-handed. For those on a stricter budget, check out all the local markets. They happen on specific days so ask a local for the latest updates.
Finally, for those on an even stricter budget but with a slight footwear fetish, look no further than the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. The museum showcases more than fifteen thousand pairs of the designer’s shoes and is a wonderful way to dream-shop without spending a dime.
So there you have it, a breakdown of Florence for every type of traveler, no matter what your interests or reasons for visiting the cradle of the Renaissance.