GUEST ARTICLE: Florence or Firenze as it’s known to the locals is a must visit destination for lovers of Renaissance art. Almost every corner teems with beautiful architecture, cathedrals, museums, history and… truckloads of tourists.
After leaving its main railway station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella, you’ll find Florence is extremely easy to explore on foot.
During peak season, you’ll notice visitors led by vocal guides or Lonely Planet/Rick Steves guidebooks ferrying around from morning to night ticking off the main attractions.
In amongst the rabble of Americans, Canadians and Australians floating around every corner, it’s a challenge in itself to hear a local accent.
I found Florence to be a magnet for tourists on an “Amazing Race” express tour of Europe. It attracts the type of visitor who proudly ‘does’ a city in 24 hours flat then hops on a night train, bus or plane to tick off Rome, Venice, Zurich, Munich, Prague, Paris and Madrid.
But to do Florence (and yourself) any justice you’ll need at least a couple of days. If you rush in and out of the most populated city in Tuscany you’ll probably leave disappointed.
The Galleria dell’ Accademia is generally abuzz with visitors looking for their fix of Michelangelo’s epic work, David.
You can compare the original piece with the inferior copies you’ll probably come across at Piazza della Signoria and Piazzale Michelangelo.
Depending on when you visit, you might find it hard to appreciate the monumental work in amongst the snap happy masses (no flash photography allowed). It is advisable to pre-purchase your ticket to avoid the epic queues.
The gallery houses a small-boutique collection with a number of Michelangelo’s works. I have heard that some visitors leave after about 30 minutes, meaning that for many, there isn’t that much to see apart from David.
Also, at 6.50 euro per adult, the gallery is quite expensive in comparison with other more larger and famous museums around Europe.
The Uffizi Gallery is just as famous for its epic collection of renaissance works as it is for its queues.
Beat the queues by pre-purchasing a ticket, albeit for a higher price. If you’re not a fan of renaissance art, spend your time and money elsewhere as you probably won’t get much out of it.
Refreshingly, entry into the Duomo – The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is free. The dome is a masterpiece, constructed as a single piece largely without any supporting structures.
The façade of the Duomo is an eye-catching combination of beautiful green, pink, and white marble panels.
The best gelato in town is arguably sold at Gelateria Santa Trinita near the famous Ponte Vecchio (bridge) .
Try the popular Buontalenti al mascarpone flavour, named after the man credited with inventing gelato, Bernardo Buontalenti.
You know Gelateria Santa Trinita gelato is authentic because they have their own laboratory where the gelato is hand made fresh daily, unlike many other vendors that serve gelato from a factory.
To find quality gelato, look out for vendors with the sign proclaiming: ‘gelato artigianale’, ‘produzione propria’ or ‘nostra produzione’.
Piazzale Michelangelo is the most popular vantage point for catching a panoramic view over Florence.
To get there, you’ll have to climb several hundred steep steps from Piazza Poggi, but the views are postcard perfect.
You won’t be alone gazing at the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio, especially if you’re sitting on the steps around sunset.
Ostello Archi Rossi is without a doubt the best value quality hostel in Florence. Located 5 minutes from the main railway station and central to all the major sights, you couldn’t ask for more. Mixed dormitories start at about 20 euro per night.
The following services are included: in room Wi-Fi and internet computer, in-room shower/toilet facilities, bed linen, lockers, two walking tours, breakfast and dinner. Check their website for the availability of free dinner.
The hostel even offers an extensive menu ranging from pizzas, pastas, and omelettes cooked to order.
Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets, ì Tozzo di pane osteria offers a rustic vibe and a quiet garden courtyard. Authentic Tuscan and Italian inspired dishes are served without the nasty tourist price. A cover charge of 1.50 applies.
For starters, bruschetta topped with rich and flavoursome tomatoes and herbs was 4 euro, followed by a superb, fresh, melt-in-your-mouth potato gnocchi with a walnut and creamy cheese sauce for only 8 euro.
Washed down with a nice house wine, what more could you ask for after a day of full-on sightseeing?
This article has been written by Pranav Bhatt. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Economics and Business at Sydney University. He has an interest in world travel, cricket, politics, technology and the media.
If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution