Oh, Firenze, full of so much romance, art, and beauty that it would melt the heart of even the coldest snowman. My day trip to Florence was by far my favorite experience during my one week in Rome last November. The city is large enough that you’ll never run out of photographable things to see but small enough that even if you do get lost, you’ll never be too far from the main attractions. I wanted to write this as a stand alone post in order to go more into detail about my fabulous day in Florence. I will, however, put the disclaimer that I chose not to go to any of the famous art museums (the Uffizi Gallery and the Academia being the most notable) because ya girl is on a budget, but if you’re big into renaissance masterpieces, then you should definitely add a museum or two to your own Florentine itinerary. Let me just conclude this introduction (is that an oximoron?) by saying that I 100% encourage anyone staying in Rome to take a day (or several) to see Florence. When the sun starts setting over the red tiled roofs, you won’t want to be anywhere else.
7:30am Train from Rome to Florence
I got an early start for my day trip to Florence, grabbing a coffee and a muffin from a cafe at the Termini station in Rome. The Italian train system is very well organized and not too pricey. As trains are by far my favorite form of transport — they have more leg space than planes, are more on-time than buses, greatly reduce the chance of a car crash, and have a lower chance of sea-sickness than boats — I feel qualified in saying that this particular train experience was top-notch.
9:00am Arrive in Florence, Head to the Duomo
Upon arriving, my first stop was the most iconic of Florentine destinations — Il Duomo. This cathedral (formally called the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) has been standing for over 7 centuries, but it doesn’t look a day over 500. I had read on a few blogs while planning my trip that you should try to go to the Duomo as soon as possible after it opens, as to avoid long lines. However, when I arrived the lines didn’t seem excessive at all. You have the option of going up the dome itself or of going up the bell tower that faces the church (or you can do both if you’ve been training on that stair stepper). I opted to go up the bell tower for several reasons:
- To go up the dome you have to book your tickets in advance, which I had not had the foresight to do
- The views from the bell tower are even better than the views from the dome, because you can get a snapshot of the iconic dome in your pictures
There are lookout spots on each level of the bell tower, so you can really take your time on each floor to snap some pictures and catch your breath before heading up the next set of stairs. In the end, I think I took some of the best panoramic pictures of my life from that top bell tower floor. If Quasimodo had that view from his bell tower, maybe he wouldn’t have minded being stuck there.
11:30am Mercato Centrale & Mercato di San Lorenzo
One thing Florence is known for is their leather products. Upon doing some pre-trip research, I found out that in these street markets bargaining is necessary if you don’t want to grossly overspend. A lot of the stands have similar products — purses, backpacks, belts, keychains, bracelets, watches — so it may be worth it to compare prices at the different shops before making a purchase. I went in knowing that I wanted to purchase one item — a leather-bound journal. One of my night-time rituals is writing a page in my journal before falling asleep, so I knew I would make use of whatever journal I bought. Also, I thought it’d be nice to write about my daily adventures in a journal that I purchased during one of them. The journal I ended up buying is bound in light blue leather. The vendor first proposed a price of €15, but I ended up getting it for 10, which may still have been overpaying, but it’s not more than I’d pay for a notebook at Barnes & Noble.
For anyone looking for a bigger purchase (a leather jacket or a nice purse, perhaps), there are also a number of stores around the center of Florence with professionals who are perhaps a bit more trustworthy than the street market vendors. I’ve heard Benheart, Jimmy’s Leather Collection and Massimo Leather are high quality joints. So, you may want to check them out in order to avoid any scams that seem to be a common occurrence with some of the San Lorenzo vendors.
While I loved walking through the colorful stalls of the market, I may have taken a faster pace than usual, in the anticipation of what awaited me at the end of the street — the Mercato Centrale. The ground floor has a typical food market with produce, meats, etc. The top floor, however, is a bona fide food court. If you’ve ever been to the North Market in Columbus, OH (my home town), then you can imagine the Mercato Centrale as the Florentine version of the North Market, with an Italian twist. Essentially, there are a number of local food vendors with stations around the perimeter of the warehouse-like space. I opted for some vegetarian dumplings, and I was not disappointed. I took out my sudoku, grabbed myself a mid-day espresso, and let my legs rest for a bit.
1:00pm Ponte Vecchio
One of the most photographed spots in all of Florence and the oldest bridge in the city, the Ponte Vecchio is well worth a visit and a quick pic. I chose to grab a gelato nearby (because a gelato a day keeps the sadness away) and sat on the wall perpendicular to the bridge, admiring the perfectly clear reflections of the surrounding buildings in the Arno river. If you’re looking for some souvenirs, then a walk across the bridge should give you plenty of options — from beaded jewelry to masks to the classic mug. I took another walk by the Ponte Vecchio around sunset, and I found that no matter what time of day, the view is spectacularly easy on the eyes.
“Sometimes you need to get lost to find yourself.” Not only does this make for a wonderful quote to paint on a canvas (I’m looking at you sorority girls), but it actually provides some solid travel advice. Typically, my travel style is to book transportation and accommodation, and then to figure out everything else after arriving in the city. On my day in Florence, the sun was out, the autumn leaves were bright, and the birds were providing some very nice background music. Really, the universe was giving me no choice but to wander and let the sunshine guide my way.
4:00pm San Miniato al Monte and Cemetery
Even after traveling to many European cities, I’ll never pass down the chance to visit a beautiful church. And a church with a view is even better. While the San Miniato al Monte may not be quite as grand as Il Duomo, the quaintness gives it all the more charm. Also, there is a massive cemetery behind the church with elaborate tombs larger than my house. If you’re a fan of architecture or history or serene spaces, it’s definitely worth a visit. And the view. Did I mention the view?
5:00pm Piazzale Michelangelo
If you have working legs and can walk up a couple flights of stairs, then you really have no excuse not to check out the piazzale Michelangelo. I timed it perfectly so that I was sitting on the steps at sunset, enjoying my second gelato of the day (no judgement, please), enjoying the lovely singing voice of a street performer, and closing out my day under the Tuscan sun with the best vibes a girl could ask for.
7:00pm Dinner Time
When I travel to a new city, I always try to eat at least one local delicacy. In researching for my trip to Florence, I found out that apparently Tuscany is known for some quality cinghiale (wild boar). To prove the extent of their appreciation for the animal, there is even a famous bronze statue of a wild boar in Florence’s Mercato Nuovo. So, when dinner time came and I was seated at my comfortable table for one, I decided to order myself some nice cinghiale stew. It was actually quite delicious, served with a side of homemade bread and a glass of red from a local vendor. No complaints here.
9:00pm Return train to Rome
On my train back to the eternal city, I was able to reflect on my spectacular day in Florence. I really feel it was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever laid my camera on. I can’t wait til I can go back and maybe share some of the romance with someone other than myself.
This route was half planned, half improvised. If you didn’t pack comfy shoes for this day trip, I suggest sticking to the places in the upper loop. That said, I did go at a fairly leisurely pace throughout the day, stopping periodically to sit on a bench, take in some views, or gather some energy from a granola bar and some sun on my face. Nonetheless, my favorite part of the day definitely was the seemingly aimless wandering. I was able to take in more residential scenery than is typically possible when visiting a city, I was surrounded by nature for most of the day, and my eyes were so busy taking in the lovely scenery around me that my usually racing thoughts had no choice but to quiet down.