Exuding artistic beauty and set amongst luscious rolling hills, you’ll come across buildings you have to see to believe and a picturesque river that gently flows through the middle, opening up an endless supply of picture-perfect scenes. Want to hear more? Well, let me show you just why you must include Florence on any visit to Europe!
Shall we start off with two of Florence’s most iconic and imposing landmarks that dominate the city’s skyline?
Arguably the most recognised building of the city’s vast selection is the ‘Duomo’, named after the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. While construction of the complex began in 1296, the huge 115 metre octagonal dome that you see today, was not completed until 1436. Situated at the east end of the massive cathedral, this dome took 15 years to be built and is actually made from two domes, which allowed it to be uniquely constructed without any internal supports. At the opposite end lies the 82 metre bell tower, erected in 1334. Connecting these two structures is the main nave, and when built was the largest cathedral in Europe with a capacity of an astounding 30,000 people. Climbing to the top of either Giotto’s bell tower or Brunelleschi’s dome you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Florence, including the Baptistery of St John, and of course, magnificent photos!
Images by: Mirza Ariadi
Image by: Mirza Ariadi
The second structure to fill the sky is the impressive clock tower that forms part of the many rooms of the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace). Dating back to 1299, for years the building was used by the government of Florence, and although the city council still reside here, today it mainly functions as a museum. The largest room, Salone dei Cinquecentro, known as the ‘hall of five hundred’, could house exactly five hundred council people at once. An exquisite masterpiece, the walls and ceilings of this hall are adorned by extraordinary frescoes from the likes of Giorgio Vasari and Michelangelo. Interestingly, the entire complex was built upon the ruins of an ancient theatre, with remnants visible in the underground level.
If you’re looking for that quintessential image of these two astounding structures, then be sure to stop by Piazzale Michelangelo with your camera ready to roll.
A short stroll towards the city’s central river, Arno, you will come across Florence’s oldest and quirkiest bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, translated to simply ‘Old Bridge’. Possibly the most famous bridge in the world, stacked and protruding shops fill this three arched bridge, where you can pick up something shiny from the jewellers and goldsmiths. Believed to have been around since Roman times, the bridge was restored by a student of Giotto’s and completed in 1345. Fans of Dan Brown’s Inferno may already know, but the site also hides a secret passageway built above the Ponte Vecchio. The Vasari Corridor extends from the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti, a length of 1.2km, and was constructed as essentially just a private, short cut for the second duke of Florence, Cosimo I de’ Medici from his home to his work. The passage is full of priceless artworks, including the most famous collection of self-portraits of Vasari himself.
Images by: Mirza Ariadi
Michelangelo’s statue of David
A trip to Florence is not complete without viewing Michelangelo’s famed statue of David. A tour of Galleria dell’Accademia will take you past a myriad of centuries old paintings, stunning sculptures and a collection of musical instruments. Discover the origins of these ancient instruments, including the piano, invented in Florence around 1700, by Bartolomeo Cristofori, and commissioned by the Medici family.
Image by: Dennis Bunnik
Heading out of the city, the beauty transforms from structural to natural as the rolling, green hills emerge, extending far into the distance. The diverse landscapes of Tuscany add to its allure, from the rugged Apennines mountain range, the gorgeous beaches of Elba Island, to the vineyards and olive groves of Chianti. What more could you want?
A day trip will take you to nearby city of Siena, referred to as Italy’s loveliest medieval town. Famous for its cuisine, art, museum and the ‘Palio’, a horse race held twice per year. Sound familiar? If so, it may be because it was a scene from the Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Stroll the huge main town square, Piazza del Campo, admiring Fonte Gaia, the Fountain of Joy, and see the Romanesque-gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Baptistery and the great Basilica of San Domenico.
Image by: Carol Kelly
Image by: Sacha Bunnik
Be sure to visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed San Gimignano. This tiny walled city is known as the ‘Town of Fine Towers’ with many of its medieval tower houses still preserved today. Sitting atop a hill, it’s a site to behold on the Tuscan horizon.
Images by: Sacha Bunnik
Finally, you can’t visit Florence without tasting their local cuisine. If you have the time, make sure you try their famous Florentine steak, bistecca alla Fiorentina, learn the art of pasta making, and sneak a visit to Gelateria dei Neri, a famous local ice cream shop that is known by locals as the best gelato in Italy.
Images by: Dennis Bunnik