When Jenna and I spoke on the phone for the first time after deciding on Italy for Spring break, we knew that Rome would be our “base” but that we wanted to take a day trip. The first city that came to both of our minds was Florence. Florence was the city that I originally signed up to take my teaching course and live in when I decided to move to Europe last fall, before switching last minute to Barcelona. It really is funny the way that things work out, because after visiting this city, I know that I would have loved to live there too. Since the first moment that I ever saw pictures of Florence, I knew that I had to go there. The architecture, the art and the food were originally the main draws, but the city is so darn charming it would be hard for anyone not to fall in love.
Jenna and I planned this day trip perfectly. We did and saw everything that we wanted to, and had a lot of free time to wander the streets and relax. The city is small enough that we were able to walk everywhere and didn’t need to use public transit at all, but big enough that we had a lot to see and were never bored.
After our long day exploring Vatican City in Rome, we thought it would be a good idea to go to sleep early to prep for our day trip to Florence. Of course, neither of us could fall asleep. I think I may have slept for 2 hours, and Jenna never fell asleep at all. The 5am alarm went off WAY too soon, and we left the hotel by 5:30 am to catch a 6:15 am train to Florence. An hour and a half later, we arrived in the capital city of Tuscany and started our busy day. SO without further adieu… Florence in a Day (and I highly recommend taking this route if you only have one day here):
Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze
This famous art gallery is about a 5-minute walk from the train station, and we came solely to see David, one of Michelangelo’s most famous works. It was a 12 euro entrance fee, and we were only in there for about 10 minutes, but the statue is massive, beautiful, and one of those things that is a “Must See” in Florence. Plus, we hate museums and after spending hours in the Vatican Museum we didn’t feel like hanging out in there anyway.
Il Duomo di Firenze
This is hands down in my top 5 coolest churches so far in Europe (on the outside at least because we didn’t go in). I had never seen a colorful, marble cathedral before (a typical building material in Florence) and this was amazing. We also happened to be in Florence on the most beautiful, perfect day so it really did look spectacular.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
This structure is adjacent to the Duomo, and was 414 steps to get to the top (not that we were counting). It was also a time when I felt majorly claustrophobic because there is only one stairway to take up and down and the width of the halls is super, super small. It was not the most fun journey to the top or on the way down for that matter, but the panoramic view of the city made the anxiety of falling all worth it J
Mercato Centrale Firenze
We stopped here to grab a snack at around 10am. It reminded me a lot of the Boqueria in Barcelona.
Basilica of Santa Croce
We just planned to pop into this place for a little bit, but they were giving free tours of it and we learned a lot about the history of the church. It is the largest Franciscan church in the world. It has a wooden roof, which allowed the church to be much wider that the heavy marble would have otherwise allowed. It was once covered in frescoes that were done by the famous artist Giotto, and many are still well preserved and can be viewed in the small chapels that surround the main sanctuary of the church. Santa Croce is also famous for being the burial place of some of the most notable Italians in history: Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, and Michelangelo, among others. They also have a leather workshop and some beautiful courtyards in the back of the church which we walked through.
Uffizi Gallery/Fountain of Neptune/Fake David sculpture
We didn’t go into the Uffizi Gallery, but we walked by on the way to the Ponte Vecchio to see the Fountain of Neptune, the fake David statue, and a variety of other miscellaneous sculptures that sit outside of the museum in the Piazza Vecchio. FYI, the fake David is not as impressive as the real David.
The Ponte Vecchio (or Old Bridge) is the oldest bridge in Florence (so the name is fitting). Until 1218, this bridge was the only way to get across the Arno River in Florence. The bridge has shops the entire way across, which gives it a very unique look. It is one of the most famous landmarks in Florence, and definitely worth the trip because the view of it is iconic. The bridge was very crowded and loud. We crossed over the Arno on the Santa Trinita Bridge, where we got some great pictures of the Ponte Vecchio.
Santa Trinita Gelateria
Normally, I wouldn’t put a gelato shop as it’s own stop on our trip. However, the gelato here was so amazing that it would be a crime NOT to. It was probably in the top 3 best that we had while we were in Rome and Florence, and we ate a lot of gelato. Plus, it is right next to the Santa Trinita Bridge, which made it very convenient to stop in.
The Piazza Michelangelo is on the other side of the Arno from the rest of our site seeing tour, so it was a little out of the way and we actually debated whether to go or not. It was about 1:30 pm when we got to the top (there are a lot of steps, a trend on our trip), and the view was so beautiful and the weather was perfect, so we actually decided not to aimlessly wander around and spend the rest of the afternoon there. We took pictures, people watched, laid on our scarves in the green area to lay down, and I read my book in one of my favorite places ever. It was so relaxing, especially after the crazy few days we had had. We talked to a girl who was studying abroad in Florence (and was obsessed with the city) and she was very impressed with all we had accomplished in one day. There is also a cool marble church further up the hill where there was a very old cemetery which I forced Jenna to explore with me. We stayed at the Piazza until around 6pm when the sun began to set and then began our walk back to the train station and to find food.
SIDE NOTE: The reason that I am not raving about the food that we ate is because this was the epic fail of our trip. We seriously ate barely anything the entire day. We had a snack that at 10am, a gelato………. And that’s it. We were RAVENOUS when we left the Piazza Michelangelo and EVERYTHING was closed until 7:30. So, we looked up YELP reviews and found this trattoria, which was our last stop of the day.
Trattoria I Due G
This is a very cute, classic-looking Italian restaurant near the train, and it was SO good. It didn’t open until 7:30 so we went into a Burger King around the corner to wait and got a snack because we were getting hangry. At the restaurant, Jenna got the gnocchi with red sauce and I got the beef ragù. Again, SO GOOD. And, the house wine bottle was massive which is always a plus.
Our train left Florence at 9:15 pm and we ended up getting home around 1 am because we had not reserved the express train for our return trip. This was a huge mistake. If you think that a 4-hour train ride will be fine after such a long day and a lot of wine at dinner, please take my advice, do yourself a favor and spring for the extra 20 euros.
There is so much that I could say about Florence, but sometimes words just simply do not do a place justice. I did love Rome, but Florence was way less touristy, people were friendly and helpful, and it is just such a beautiful, charming place. It was so easy to fall in love with this city, and I hope someday I will get the chance to go back and continue exploring (and maybe go on a Tuscany wine tour).
Budapest is my next trip, but Morocco is also booked for the end of the month. So, until then… adios amigos!