Above: Ponte Vecchio Bridge
If you are visiting Italy you should not pass up a visit to Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. From many Italian cities, including Rome, it is easy to reach Florence by express train for an extra night or two stay.
The city is the birthplace of the Renaissance where Michelangelo carved many of his masterpieces and where Dante Alighieri lived and the Medici family ruled. Galileo lived in Florence most of his life while Donatello, Giovanni Boccaccio and Leonardo da Vinci are also on the list of notable residents. It is difficult to stroll the narrow streets and cross the many piazzas without feeling that you are walking through history. Add that to the museums, art galleries, shops, cafes and great restaurants and it is impossible not to fall in love with Florence.
Last year we caught a train up from Rome and walked the few blocks from the Santa Maria Novella train station to our hotel, the Hotel Mia Cara. We enjoyed our stay at the Mia Cara and it was right on the edge of the historic center of Florence making it convenient to walk to many nearby points of interest. The famous Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Flore), Ponte Vecchio bridge, Uffizzi Gallery, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens are only short strolls away. If you are an art lover and are interested in history, this is the perfect Italian destination because there is so much to see and it is mostly located in a concentrated area.
Ten recommended destinations:
- Gates of Paradise, Lorenzo Ghiberti (1425 – 1452) at the Museo del Opera del Duomo (originally the doors of the baptistery)
- Madonna della Seggiola, Raphael (1513 – 1514) at the Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery
- The Medici Palace, Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1445 – 1460) near the Church of San Lorenzo
- The David, Michelangelo (1501 – 1504) at the Accademia (a copy is also in the Piazza Signoria)
- Primavera, Sandro Botticelli (1482) at the Uffizi Galleries
- The Perseus, Benvenuto Cellini (1545 – 1554) Piazza Signoria
- The Florentine Pieta, Michelangelo (1547 – 1553) at the Museo del Opera del Duomo
- The Slaves, Michelangelo (1525 – 1530) the Accademia
- The Mosaics in the Baptistery, (1240 – 1300) Baptistery in Piazza Duomo
- Madonna della Seggiola, Raphael (1513 – 1514) – in the Pitti Palace, Palatine Gallery
There are a series of three walking tours detailed at the web site visitflorence.com. Walking directions are provided along with background information on the art and sites along the way and even suggestions for good places to enjoy coffee and gelato as you stroll.
Shopping opportunities are everywhere in Florence from street markets to exclusive shops. The city is famous for its’ leather as well as jewelry and embroidery. Check out bargains at the Mercato Nuovo, a leather and souvenir street market as well as Mercato di San Lorenzo for food specialties. Not to be missed is shopping on the Ponte Vecchio bridge and the small shops near the west side of the bridge.
Stretching between Piazza Duomo and Piazza Repubblica is Via Roma featuring Florence’s main department store, Rinascente along with Gucci, Cartier, Hugo Boss and many more premium shops. The home of Florence’s up scale designers is Via Tornabuoni. This street spotlights many of the famous fashion houses, as well as historic churches and plazas. Near Via Tornabouni, are Via Porta Rossa and Via della Vigna Nuova, offering more upscale fashion shopping.
While in Florence take time to sample la dolce vita (the good life) with frequent stops at sidewalk cafes for cappuccinos, gelato and wine. One of Italians favorite pastimes is sitting at cafes and watching the world go by.
From Florence you can take a quick side trip to Pisa. It is only a short train ride away with trains leaving about every half hour or so from Santa Maria Novella train station. The Regionale Veloce trains are the ones making this trip, which takes about an hour each way with ticket prices about $10. From the station in Pisa the cathedral and the leaning tower are only a moderate hike away. There are also numerous organized day tours outside the city at reasonable rates that include a day trip by train to Cinque Terre, a beautiful seaside town south of Genoa along with bus tours into the Tuscan countryside.