Would you love to get a first impression of Florence? Then prepare for a good stroll! There is no better way to discover the hidden highlights of the city, than a long, observant walk.
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With sunglasses, sun protection and camera at hand, we make our way to the streets. A sunny day is expecting us! Our house door in Florence leads to a backyard in the quarter Bello-Squardo, in the southern bank of the river Arno. Here we find some car garages that seem to be specialized in repairing the colorful, legendary cinquecentos. As soon as we are outside, we have to walk almost one after another: The streets that lead to the north part of the city, to the Piazzale di Porta Romana and to the city center, are as narrow as alleyways!
Breakfast in the Neighborhood
We look for a nice place for breakfast nearby, and find a small Café at the Via Romana, a cozy family business, as usual! The nonna, the grandmother of the house, helped her son at the bar. We get a delicious cappuccino and vanilla and chocolate filled cornettos, and take a sit at a the only, very long wall table of the place. We are not alone: Workers, clerks, students, pensioners and other neighbors seem to be regulars here and build a loud, cheery and colorful crowd! Just now, we seem to be the only tourists in the quarter.
The Hills Around Florence
We move on. We want to approach the city through a beautiful loop way. Instead of following the Via Romana directly to the city center, we stay in the southern bank of the river. We take the way into the hills and walk upwards, where we expect to have the most amazing view this city has to offer. We reach the Piazzale di Porta Romana and from here, we take the hilly way at the Viale Niccoló Machiavelli. The day is hot, but under the fresh shade of the huge chestnut trees, we walk comfortably until we get to the Piazzale Galileo. We enjoy the view of the beautiful villas surrounded by generous gardens and large trees, many cypresses among them. In this part of the city we experience nature as omnipresent as in the country.
Further upwards, we follow the curvy way of the Viale Galileo Galilei and make a nice discovery: Surrounded by dreamlike garden, full of jasmine and rose bushes, we find a small but fine Florentine Restaurant: The Châlet Fontana. Here, we notice that the lunch specials offer a treat, that we just must taste before our departure tomorrow: Pollo alla Florentina, a chicken speciality with beans, lemon and Tuscan herbs! Now, we are high enough to spot the first emblems of Florence. The stonewalls of the Castle Belvedere and the hills of San Domenico and Fiesole give us an idea of the picturesque green heights that surround the city.
The distinctive dome of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore appears between the trees as well. The view becomes more beautiful, the more we follow the elevated Viale Galileo Galilei.
From the Twisting Road to a Sacred Place of Rest
We follow the Viale Galileo Galilei further upwards and we spot the stairs to the Basilica San Miniato al Monte on the right side. Here we meet some tourists eager to take the perfect picture of the imposant marble facade. Saint Minias, an Armenian Prince and Christian martyr, who came to Florence around the year 250, lost his life here and is buried here, as well. Built around the year 1013, this Basilica is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in Italy.
For us, San Miniato al Monte is the best place for a short break. Not only the Basilica, but also the monastery and the view have an inspiring effect on us. The cemetery that surrounds the place since the 19th century is an oasis of tranquility and shelters grave stones with touching inscriptions like “Here lays our heart buried“. Under the shades of cypresses and covered with roses, the deceased are affectionately remembered in this beautiful place.
The Perfect Picture Postcard: Florence in its Full Splendor
We move forward and go upwards until we reach the Piazzale Michelangelo. Florence in all its glory lays in front of our eyes! From east to west, we have a view of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and the monumental Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Now, there is time for a small refreshment: In the terrace café below the Piazzale Michelangelo, we take a cooling Spremutta di Limone, or di Arancia, a lemonade made of freshly pressed lemons or oranges, ice-cold water and sugar: A delicious drink for warm days in Tuscany!
Leather Shopping at the Back of the Franciscan Monastery
Now, we take the direct way to the city. We walk downwards to the river, cross the Arno, and arrive at the former tanner quarter, until reach the Basilica and Piazza de la Santa Croce. Built in the year 1294, the Basilica is believed to be founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Great Italian talents like Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Galilei and Rossini are buried here.
Here we take the chance to make a short visit of the Scuola dei Cuoio, the famous leather school of Florence. For that, we take the Via San Giuseppe, along the Piazza di Santa Croce, and find the entrance slightly hidden at the back side of the Basilica. Foreign students work diligently in the school’s studio, while we go upstairs in search of the shop. Very well advised, we find there a top quality fashion piece: A scarlet red biker jacket!
The Most Delicious Ice of the City
On the way of the city center, we follow the Via Torta until we reach the Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, where we immediately decide to refresh ourselves with a fine indulgence: A delicate ice cream from the traditional Gelateria Tivoli. Tourists and Florentines order here their most favorite ice flavors, made of maximum three or four ingredients from regional fruits, even as a take away package!
The Pride of Florence: The Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore
From the Gelatteria Vivoli we take the Via della Vigna Vecchia until we reach the Museo Nazionale del Bargello (the oldest public building of Florence, built around 1255). We turn right into the Via del Proconsolo, alongside the Badia Fiorentina (city abbey, built at the end of the 13th century), than left to the Via Dante Alighieri, where we find the remarkable Museo Casa di Dante, and return to the Via del Preconsolo, walking along the monumental Palazzo Pazzi. This Palazzo belonged to the Pazzi family, opponents, or actually truly enemies of the Medici family in the 15th century.
We finally reach the Piazza del Duomo. As soon as we arrive, our eyes can barely leave the gorgeous view of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, built after the plans of Arnoldo di Cambio around 1296, and finalized between 1418 and 1434 by Fillipo Brunelleschi. The dome is known as the most distinctive emblem of the Florentine Renaissance.
As imposant as expected, we find the Campanile di Giotto, Giottos belfry, built between 1298 and 1359, as well as the Battisterio di San Giovanni, the baptistery of the Cathedral, sanctified in the 11th century, in front of the Cathedral.
A Lunch With and Like Everybody
Now, we have to hurry a little. Most Italian restaurants open no later that 3 pm for lunch time, and we ought to find the Trattoria Sergio Gozzi, a hot lead for a homemade, typical Italian meal. We take Via de’ Martelli and go at a good pace to the Piazza San Lorenzo. At the Via de‘ Gori we turn left and have some difficulty to find the Trattoria, but then we spot its narrow door next to a small leather shop. Once inside, we are first impressed by the contrast between the gothic arched ceiling and the plain wooden furniture… and by the carefully prepared meals! At the Trattoria Sergio Gozzi you enjoy tasty and unpretentious Florentine cuisine since 1915!
The Medici: Where Art and History Melt
After lunch, we make a little stroll around the Basilica San Lorenzo. Here we find the Capelle Medicee, the burial chapel of the Medici family, architectonically and artistically designed by Michelangelo in 1521. Before sunset, we would like know something more about this influential family and take the chance to visit the nearby Palazzo Medici Riccardi in the Via Camilo Cavour. We are especially interested in the frescoes by Benozzo Gozzioli at the Magi Chapel of 1459. In this piece of art, the Medici family is shown allegorically with business partners, employees and intimates. For contemporary eyes, the frescoes give an idea of the wealth and power of this family, that originally came from the Tuscan country side, in the Florentine financial metropolis.
An Evening Walk into the Lively City Center
After a couple of hours resting at the hotel, we are ready for dinner and go back to the city. We cross the river Arno at the Ponte Santa Trinita in direction to the center, and enjoy the evening view of the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest Florentine bridge. Here, the butchers and the tanners of the city had their businesses, before Cosimo I. officially placed the goldsmiths there in 1565. Ever since, the jewelers of the city are established at the Ponte Vecchio, to the pleasure of the tourists.
Some meters along the shore, east from the Ponte Vecchio, we reach the Piazzale degli Uffizi with its many statues impersonating notable Italian artists. Since 1580, the Galleria degli Uffizzi, one of the most important Italian art collections, attracts visitors with masterpieces from antiquity until late baroque.
On the streets, we find the most diverse musicians, who fill the evening with a cheery atmosphere under the soft light of the lanterns. Then, we reach the heart of Florence: The Piazza della Signoria, called after the republican government of the city and featured in its actual form since 1268. With the Palazzo Vecchio, built between 1299 and 1314, the replica of the imposant Michelangelo’s David and the Loggia die Lanzi, the arcade construction of the Piazza, this square is one of the most important places of interest in Italy.
Dinner-Time! Florence’s Culinary Must-Have
Alongside the Palazzo Vecchio, we follow the Via dei Gondi, and go straight over the narrow Borgo dei Greci to the Piazzale Santa Croce and the Via Giuseppe Verdi. We go ahead and, at the corner to the Via dei Lavatoi, we finally reach the family run Osteria dei Pazzi, where we order the ultimate piece of Florentine cuisine: The Bistecca Florentina, a juicy, bloody grilled T-Bone Steak. With beans and potatoes as side dishes, and a bottle of Chianti to toast, we enjoy the evening with a good-humored waiter and an impressive dish: A T-Bone-Steak, that should be ordered as a one kilo piece, just enough for two persons, a fragrant and savory delight for meat lovers.
The Morning After: A Farewell in the Park
Our flying visit to Florence is coming to an end. We approached the city from the hills, we had a look to its monumental treasures, and enjoyed its culinary highlights. It is not easy to leave this place, but we want to say goodbye in the best possible way: We wish to have a glance of the hidden green heart of the city: The Giardino di Boboli, the largest Florentine park, situated in the southern shores of the Arno.
Built at the backside of the Palazzo Pitti, the headquarters of the Medici as grand dukes of Tuskany, the garden was created by the Eleonora of Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I. de Medici in the 16th century. The Giardino di Boboli shelters an important collection of classic sculptures and is a pleasure for the senses thanks to the beauty of its architectural composition and the fragrance of its luscious plants, flowers and trees.
Florence is a city that captivates any visitor in a minute. It is monumental, crowded, very old, full of history, a bit chaotic, amazingly inspiring, and surprisingly relaxing. In Florence, you can let your thoughts flow free. Every street offers you something to discover, there is lots to see, lots to feel and to taste. Here is history in such a whimsical way so alive, that the own existence appears too short: Many things happened here before we came, and many things are going to happen after we leave. And we will definitively come back soon!