I can pin point the exact moment my obsession with Florence began. I was sat in my A Level English Literature class reading A Room With A View. The fight scene at the Neptune Fountain was being discussed, and Florence felt so vibrant, so real to me that I could quite literally place myself in the scene.

I could feel it and I could taste it and I wanted in so badly.

That it took me 16 years to get there is by the by. My Mum and I had promised each other that we’d visit it together and it took that long for us to get our act together. I avoided Italian holidays for 16 long years because I’d promised myself that Florence would be my first destination in Italy and when the day finally I came, I couldn’t contain my excitement.

But did Florence stack up to the dream I’d created for myself? (Spoiler: it did).

Florence City Break Guide

Getting Around

We flew to Florence with British Airways, which made a welcome change to clambering on a budget flight. You see, there is no getting my Mum on a budget airline, so I embraced the slightly more comfortable experience wholeheartedly. The flight was around 2.5 hours, and I got to fly from London City Airport for the first time – it was a weird and slightly disappointing experience, but I can’t deny that for many Londoners it is a handy airport to have!

Once in Florence, we only took a taxi from the airport to our hotel and back, and the rest of the time we remained on foot. It’s a relatively easy city to get around on foot, super compact and you’ll get your bearings no problem within about half a day. The train station is within easy reach of the main centre of Florence, making day trips to Pisa and Lucca a total reality (we didn’t, although I wish we had!).

Florence City Break Guide

Side note – heels are absolutely not your friend here. The cobbled streets will not forgive you, so stick some converse and some pumps into your bag and leave the stilettos at home. If it rains, that’s doubly true as the cobbles become super slippery!

Where To Stay

There are loads of options in Florence, but what I’ve definitely found with decent Italian accommodation is that you definitely pay a little more than in other European countries. That was true in Rome and it as true in Florence. We stayed just minutes from the Ponte Vecchio at the Hotel Berchielli. We were set back just from the River Arno, giving us access to bother sides of the river. Just 5 minutes from the Duomo, and even less to the Neptune Fountain of my dreams, we couldn’t have been better located. The Uffizi Gallery was just 250 yards away.

Florence City Break Guide

Hotel Berchielli is a great example of a traditional Italian hotel. It had a great breakfast, friendly staff and a lovely little bar that we availed ourselves of more than once.

In total we paid £800 for two on a package via British Airways for return flights, 3 nights hotel and airport transfers.

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Top Attractions

For a small city, there is a surprising amount to pack in, and if you like churches and art you are going to fall hard for Florence. We actually covered a lot of these attractions by sorting ourselves out a lovely walking tour (in the torrential rain. I was wet in places I’ve never been wet before), via British Airways. However, if you like to explore in your own way Florence is easy. You could devise your own walking tour with no problems.

Florence City Break Guide

It’s worth planning an itinerary in advance. Even in the off season, queues for the two main galleries (The Uffizi and The Academia) were huge so it pays to be early, and both are closed on Mondays. It would be awful to leave you gallery spotting to the last day and realise they were closed!

The Cathedral Of Santa Maria del Fiore

One of the most iconic buildings in Florence (and I would argue in all of Italy too) is Florence’s Duomo and associated buildings (the Bell Tower and Baptistry). Located right in the heart of the city, the Duomo almost sneaks up on you from in between narrow streets – as you turn a corner, the beauty is revealed, bit by bit.

Florence City Break Guide

It’s a huge white gothic structure, with a beautiful renaissance dome and it took two whole centuries to be completed. Looking at the wonderful intricacy of the building its not hard to see why. The exterior is covered in a decorative mix of pink, white and green marble (I’d never seen anything like it).

There are long lines to visit the Duomo as it is free, but get there early or late in the day to enjoy a shorter queue. The mosaic floor is a must-see!

Cost: Free

Baptistry Of St John

Located in the same piazza as the Duomo, and decorated externally in a similar style, the Baptistry was once described by Dante as “my beautiful San Giovanni”. And it is. It’s exceptionally beautiful, which is why you must visit inside.

Believed to be built over the ruins of a Roman temple, the building is octagonal in shape and has three sets of ornate doors which depict different stories such as St John’s Life, the Life and Passion of Christ and the Old Testament. Once through the doors you’ll find yourself looking straight up to the ceiling where the most intricate and stunning art exists all clad in gold and wonder.

Florence City Break Guide

Cost: 15 EUR for an OPA Pass which gives access to all the Duomo sites including the museum, Baptistry, climbing the Duomo dome, bell tower and crypt. You can buy from the ticket office located close to the Duomo, or online. Pass lasts 48 hours.

Opera del Duomo Museum

Housing the best of the monuments, sculptures and history of the Duomo buildings, the Opera Del Duomo Museum is actually run by the OPA which is the works commission of the cathedral. Basically its their job to keep everything restored and looking wonderful.

The museum houses many of the original items of note for protection and there are 25 rooms across 3 levels which gives you an idea of the scale of the place. The sculpture gallery was my favourite, and it was pretty incredible to see the real doors of the Baptistry.

Florence City Break Guide

There is so much history and information stuffed into this museum, it’ll be hard to know where to look first.

Cost: 15 EUR for an OPA Pass which gives access to all the Duomo sites including the museum, Baptistry, climbing the Duomo dome, bell tower and crypt. You can buy from the ticket office located close to the Duomo, or online. Pass lasts 48 hours.

The Accademia Gallery

Not being art fanatics, and having limited time, we selected just one of the two main galleries to visit in Florence – The Accademia. We wanted to see the original of Michelangelo’s famous David sculpture, so off we went to queue before opening at the gallery. Even in off season, in the rain queues were building so it is worth the early start.

The art is incredible, with decent descriptions for what you are looking at. For me, some of the more well known and big ticket pieces of art would be:

Florence City Break Guide

  • Michelangelo’s David and Prisoners
  • Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines
  • Botticelli’s Madonna and Child and Madonna of the Sea

Cost: 8 EUR, but you can book online for a slightly shorter queue in advance for 4 EUR more.

Piazza della Signoria

Bizarrely one of the things I was most excited about seeing, the Piazza Della Signoria is a L shaped square which houses lots of awesome things to see.

Florence City Break Guide

  • Loggia dei Lanzi – an open air scuplture gallery with some amazing pieces, including Perseus holding Medusa’s head triumphantly over the crowd.
  • A copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original can be found in The Accademia).
  • Neptune’s Fountain – the fountain featured in A Room With A View.
  • Statue of Duke Cosimo I – the man who brought all of Tuscany under the Medici rule.
  • Palazzo Vecchio – a Medici palace you can visit, which is now the main symbol of civil power in Florence.

Florence City Break Guide

Cost: Free, except Palazzo Vecchio which is 14 EUR to visit the museum and tower.

Ponte Vecchio

Bridges in Italy are pretty awesome, and none are more wonderfully quirky than the Ponte Vecchio. As the oldest bridge in Florence, it has a lot of history held within it, so it is worth a visit, not just a walk across. There have been shops on Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century, all sorts of shops but now traditionally only only goldsmiths and jewellers are allowed to trade there due to the smell of other trades such as meat and fish.

Florence City Break Guide

It’s a hugely romantic spot, but can become overrun with tourists so early mornings or late evening strolls are recommended. In fact, a late night walk with a gelato is very much in order!

Cost: Free

Basilica di Santo Spirito

Located in the Oltrarno quarter, in a square of the same name, Santo Spirito is not massively interesting from the outside, but the inside is a different story entirely. With some incredible examples of renaissance art hidden away inside, you could walk past and miss this little hidden gem.

Most notable is some very early Michelangelo. When he was seventeen years old he made anatomical studies on the corpses coming from the convent’s hospital. As an exchange, he sculpted a wooden crucifix which was placed over the high altar. It’s a must see piece for art lovers

Cost: Free

Piazzale Michelangelo

We mustered all our strength and took a long (and hard!) walk up to one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Florence. The Piazzale Michelangelo is home to the third David sculpture (a bronze) and is one of the newer additions to the city, having been designed in 1869.

Florence City Break Guide

You can go by bus and taxi, but we climbed up from Piazza Poggi found at the base of the hill upon which Piazzale Michelangelo sits. This way you also get to wander through Florence’s beautiful rose garden AND partake in some wonderful Prosecco (more below) on the way down!

Cost: Free

Mercato del Porcellino

Housed inside a 16th century loggia, this covered market for luxury good (mainly leather now) is worth having a wander round. I purchased two awesome handbags whilst I was there for an incredible price, so have some fun haggling!

Florence City Break Guide

The focal point of the market is the Fontana del Porcellino, a bronze boar statue. Traditionally rubbing the nose brings fortune (obviously we did!), so over time, the statue has acquired a little shine in that spot!

Cost: Free

Where To Eat + Drink

Florence is a foodies paradise, largely because Tuscan food is a pure delight and that there is something so wonderful about eating simple Italian food, done the right way. Add in a cheeky Prosecco, Aperol Spritz or a glass of deep red wine and for me, you’ve got the perfect gastronomic experience.

It’s quite hard to find a bad meal, but the usual rules apply. The further off the beaten track you go the more likely you’ll find something less touristy, and you’ll find many a trattoria with cute outdoor seating down little side streets.

Boccardarno

We may well have had time to visit Pitti Palace or the Boboli Gardens had we not discovered Boccardarno. After a hard climb up the hill (and a slightly easier one back down), we decided to treat ourselves to just a glass of Prosecco. Three hours later we were very comfortably holed up in a corner on our third or fourth glass (I mean, who is counting), laughing with the staff and enjoying an incredible plate of antipasti.

Florence City Break Guide

There are so many of these little hidden places in Florence, but if you are visiting the Piazzale Michelangelo I’d recommend popping in!

Ristorante Pizzeria Le Antiche Carrozze

This fast become our favourite restaurant in Florence, where we ate no less than three times. Good simple Tuscan food, not too expensive and with some excellent wine and breads to go with it.

Florence City Break Guide

We tried both pasta and pizza there, and I have to say that while both were fantastic, the pasta was particularly special. Why doesn’t pasta taste like this here? What is the special ingredient?!

Cafe Gilli

Located really centrally in the Piazza della Repubblica, Cafe Gilli is a cafe/restaurant/bar with covered outdoor seating and a great outlook for people watching. We stopped in often for coffee and cake, and generally tended to have an aperitif or nightcap here too! They did incredible Negroni cocktails, and all their drinks came with a little plate of nibbles which made it really good value.

Florence City Break Guide

Gelateria Pitti

Looking for the best ice cream in Florence? In my opinion it is here, opposite Pitti Palace just over the Ponte Vecchio. This tiny gelateria played host to incredible home made ice cream and sorbet, and the mix of the nutella and strawberry sorbet was to die for.

Avoid the ice cream shops along the Via Calimala (main thoroughfare of Florence) and head here (you’ll find it at Piazza de’ Pitti, 2, 50125)

In Conclusion

Florence was one of my favourite city breaks, and it kicked off my obsessed with Italy good and proper.

It was every bit as perfect as I had imagined, despite the torrential rain. Spending time amongst that art, hunting down David’s, eating gelato, strolling across the Ponte Vecchio and spending an afternoon in a cute little bar drinking Prosecco. Perfection? I think so!

Have you been to Florence? Share your tips below!

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Florence | City Break Guide | European Travel | Italy Breaks

Florence | City Break Guide | European Travel | Italy Breaks
Florence | City Break Guide | European Travel | Italy Breaks
Florence | City Break Guide | European Travel | Italy Breaks

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  • Ahhh this has made me even more excited as I’m going in a fortnight on a joint trip to Florence and Bologna! Thanks for the recommendations!
    Holly xx BLOG: http://www.mrshollycrocker.com
    LATEST: https://www.mrshollycrocker.com/blog/2017/4/25/my-weekend-style-midi-pleats-and-easy-spots

  • I visited Florence last year and absolutely fell in love with it, especially the Piazzale Michelangelo! I’m spending a couple of days there next month (sooooo excited) and really keen to visit the Academia. Looks like I’ll have to check out the Piazza Della Signoria too… Thanks for the guide 🙂

    Lorna (www.thedaychaser.com)

  • I fell desperately in love with Florence aged 19 – I’ll always remember the first time I saw the inside of the Baptistry, the mozzarella panini, the cheap ice creams off the Ponte Santa Trinita…but I haven’t been back since! Must return 🙂 love the chocolates at Cafe Gilli! x

    Tamsin | A Certain Adventure

  • 2travellingsisters

    Oh wow, that dome at the Baptistry is really something, the artwork is so stunning! I always imagined Florence as a romantic place which is a must visit in Italy. Your post just goes to prove how much more beautiful really Florence is!!1

    • I’ve visited many places in Italy, but I still believe Florence is the most beautiful and evocative!

  • Adrianna Vogel

    Looks like you had a lovely time with your mom ! Florence looks beautiful I would love to visit it one day! The food looks so good bow I am hungry 😀 How come London City airport was weird? Thats the only one I never flew from before now I curies why 😀

    • London City Airport feels more like a train station – it’s super small and mainly full of business travellers which makes it feel a little different!

  • Ania Ewelina

    Florence is one of my favorite cities in the entire world. It looks like you had such a lovely time with your mother, this is definitly a location I would consider taking my mom to as well.

    • It’s such an awesome place for mother-daughter fun – I fell in love with it too! 🙂

  • Punita Malhotra

    An Italian friend who lives in my hometown asked me ‘Why are you going to Florence, there’s nothing there 🙂 Nevertheless, we went the second time, and loved it as much as the first. I feel its upto you to not allow ‘touristy’ to interfere with the classic elements of a great destination.

  • Lusine Margaryan

    Florence is amazing! One of my favorites cities in the world. I couldn’t keep my WOWs while was there. Definitely a heaven for foodies and art lovers.

  • Young And Undecided

    I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about Florence but it looks absolutely stunning! Thanks for the tips x

  • James Smith

    I’ve seen Ponte Vecchio on Instagram but I didn’t know where it was, I will definitely photograph this bridge when I visit this winter. The town sounds walkable which is perfect for me (unless it raining!). Did you receive good fortune after rubbing the boars nose?

  • Anita Sane

    I love Italy and Florence is one of my favorites. It’s definetely not cheap and worth planning ahead and booking tickets in advance for Uffici gallery is reccommend to aviod lines. Thanks for sharing.

  • Adrenaline Romance

    Amazing! We have seen these frescoes, statues, and sculptures during our History Class, but we’ve never seen them in actuality. We hope to visit Florence someday; we believe it is one of the most important cities in the world.

  • This is one City that I wish I had seen in peace. sadly time was not enough and your complete guide is going to help with the next visit to the city. from Stay to transport and the various attractions you seem to have covered at all. Thanks for this

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