Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
After the hustle and bustle of Rome, Florence felt like a breath of fresh air. While there were obviously still tourists around, they seemed mostly to be local tourists – Italians making the most of the Pasqua holidays by seeing more of their own country. There wasn’t the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that we experienced in Rome, giving us a lot more space and freedom to explore at a leisurely pace.
There were other more appealing things about Florence, like the little marks of individuality that we could see everywhere. Many of the shops were independently owned and offered hand-crafted or personally designed items for sale. For example, there was a dress shop close to our apartment whose window display made me drool every time I walked past – it was the perfect collection of retro dresses that give one the perfect hourglass silhouette. Absolutely stunning.
As a city, Florence has truly been defined by its flourishing banking and cultural past, of which the Medici family is an integral part. I knew a little bit about the Medici family through my interest in one of its members, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, but not much beyond that.
Luckily we took both of the walking tours with the Florence Free Tours, one of which focused on the influence of the Medici banking family on Florence and learnt a lot more! With two queens, three popes and countless nobles in the family, it was fascinating to learn about how an unknown family of commoners managed to rise in fortune and fame to become one of the most celebrated and feared families in Europe at the time. I highly recommend the tours to all who visit Florence.
We visited a few other religious, cultural and historical sites in Florence. It’s hard not to when there’s something of interest on every street! I can highly recommend the Uffizi Gallery if you’re interested in seeing portraits of historical figures as well as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, but do be prepared to spend some time wading through countless religious paintings of Madonna and Child. It’s not my favourite genre of art…
We also climbed the stairs up to the top of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore which would be considered a workout even for fitness fanatics! The views are worth it, but do be prepared to be crowded and to do some tight squeezing past people in narrow corridors and stairways up to the top. The crowd control could be done a lot better in the tower, but you just have to assume that it’s the Italian way to be relaxed about things like safety standards and number of persons up on the top of the dome!
Food-wise, Florence has a lot to offer. While they have a big central market, our Airbnb host recommended a smaller local market to us. The Mercato Sant’Ambrogio is a morning market frequented by Florentine locals, and offers gorgeous produce, meats, bakeries and fresh-made pastas at a fraction of the price of the main market. We picked up a good haul to help us cook some delicious fresh and healthy meals at home.
Don’t forget to eat out though – we had great sandwiches at All’Antico Vinaio and pizza at Mangia Pizza. We also had our fair share of gelato from local gelaterias as well of course! RivaReno Gelato has a shop in Florence, and I also enjoyed Edoardo Gelateria (bio/organic gelato!) and Marco Ottaviano who do low-calorie low-sugar gelatos as well for those watching their figures!
Florence is a wonderful city to visit. Life is lived at a slightly slower pace here, and I began to feel much more at home in Florence than I ever could in Rome. The history and the culture appeals to me, the food is superb, the city has a much more individualistic flavour. I’ll definitely be back. Next time, I hope to explore more of Tuscany, instead of just sticking to Florence and Pisa!