As I stepped out onto the cobbled streets and looked up at the terracotta tiled rooftops against the vivid blue skies, I just knew two days here wasn’t going to be enough. The reason? Despite the city of Florence being a world heritage site, it is as busy and vibrant now as it was when it was the beating heart of the Renaissance. There’s so much to do here that planning your itinerary can seem overwhelming, so my advice would be to concentrate on key sights and indulge in some lazy lunches. If the three hour queue for the Uffizi gets the better of you, scold yourself for not pre-booking entrance tickets….and then use it as an excuse to come back again.
Michelangelo’s 14ft Renaissance masterpiece, David, was created from an enormous block of white marble which had previously been rejected by two other sculptors. They claimed it had too many imperfections so it lay neglected outside for 25 years before a young Michelangelo took it on as a commission for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Michelangelo worked on the commission in secret between 1501 and 1504. Preferring to work outside, he would sculpt in the pouring rain in order to perfect the last detail. Michelangelo was the first artist to capture the biblical figure David before his fight with Goliath. Michelangelo chose to show David at the apex of concentration and he now stands contrapposto in the Galleria dell’Accademia under custom-built sky light. Be sure to get here early to beat the crowds and groups of chattering school children.
Via Bettino Ricasoli, 58/66, 50122
Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Although a little tricky to find the inconspicuous door, once you enter inside you’ll discover the longest established pharmacy in the world. It was set up in 1200s by Dominican Friars desperate to find a lotion or potion to alleviate or even cure the Black Plague. In the 1500s, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella created what could be called the first celebrity fragrance when it was commissioned by a young Catherine de’ Medici to create a signature fragrance. ‘‘Acqua della Regina’’ caused a sensation amongst the court, with word spreading from Italy to France and England. Nowadays, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella still creates bespoke, high-end colognes and fragrances. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a luxury perfume then you can always treat yourself to some beautiful scented soap.
Via della Scala, 16, 50123
This segmental arched wonder has been standing over the narrowest point on the Arno River since 1345. During Medieval times, the bridge was home to butchers and grocers who would clear their waste directly into the river. When Cosimo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, moved into Pitti Palace on the south side of the river, he decided he didn’t want to walk amongst the masses so built a one kilometre walkway that would link his home directly to his office. This sits on top of the original bridge and can be seen to this day. He also decided that silver and gold merchants would be more suitable businesses for the bridge, a tradition that remains to this day. My favourite time to visit this bridge is at twilight. Grab a spot to admire the sunset which makes the muted tones of Florence glow, providing the perfect photo opportunity.
Via Por Santa Maria / Via Guicciardini, 50125
You’d be forgiven for thinking Caffe Coquinarious is another simple Tuscan restaurant but a quick glance around reveals that it is full of animated locals. Conveniently located one block away from the Piazza del Duomo, Caffe Coquinarious’ vaulted room provides a cool oasis from the intense heat and crowds. The stand out dishes include pear and pecorino ravioli and venison carpaccio. If you fancy something a little bit lighter, the salads here are generous and interesting, something not always easy to find in Italy. Caffe Coquinarious offers a wide selection of wine, including some produced by local vineyards that are not commonly known.
Via delle’ Oche, 11R, 50144
Basilica di Santa Maria Del Fiore, Duomo
Basilica di Santa Maria Del Fiore, or the Duomo, is arguably the most famous landmark in Florence. This grand structure has dominated the sky line for over 800 years. If you are fit and able, then it is well worth taking the trek to the top. Get up close and personal with the late 16th century frescos which depict ‘‘Giudizio Universale,’’ or ‘‘Last Judgement,’’ and peer through the tiny dome windows for a snapshot of this terracotta-roofed city. As you reach the top of the dome, you are forced to climb almost horizontally before clambering up a ladder. All your effort pays off when you step up onto the viewing platform and find yourself at the very top of Brunelleschi’s dome. Appreciate the light breeze that will cool you down, take a deep breath and absorb the most spectacular panoramic view of this medieval city.
Piazza del Duomo, Firenze
Gelateria La Passera
I’m pretty sure it’s a statutory requirement to try at least one portion of gelato whilst in Italy. This little gem is located on a backstreet in Oltarno district not too far from the Palazzo Pitti, and was somewhere I stumbled upon accidentally when trying negotiate the backstreets of Florence. This small establishment is easily identifiable by the small queue of locals snaking around the corner. The flavours are both creative and dynamic, and the pear sorbet was my ultimate favourite. Gelateria La Passera is also open until midnight so you can give in to your ice-cream cravings at any time of the day!
Gelataria Della Passera, Via Toscanella,15R, 50125, Florence
This museum isn’t just for fashion fans but for people who appreciate exquisite craftsmanship. Guccio Gucci was born in Florence and was inspired to start producing long-lasting, luxury travel wear when he was working at The Savoy in London. As his popularity grew, he expanded into ladies fashion and went on establish himself as a leading Italian fashion house. One of his particularly famous pieces is the ‘‘bamboo bag.’’ The original design had leather handles but due to a post-war material shortage, he adapted the original bag design. Gucci Museo is also home to a sleek bistro recommended for a delicious lunch and a world-class fashion bookshop.
Gucci Museo, Piazza della Signoria, 10, 50122, Florence