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A Local’s Guide to Florence
July 15th, 2020 | By: Alexandra Koukidou
If we were asked to choose only one place to visit in this world, it would be Florence, hands-down. Florence or Firenze in Italian, the capital of mesmerizing Tuscany, is the birthplace of the Renaissance. Probably the most important art repository in the world, the whole city is an open-air museum. An imposing statue, a historic building or church, and a world-renowned museum will pop out wherever you glance. Surging crowds is the only thing that might annoy you, but you can’t blame them. We all try to grasp a little piece of magic from this place. In any case, don’t let this ruin your trip to Florence. Find out how to move around the city like a local, skip the long queues, and overpriced restaurants. Join us in this local’s guide to discover how you can get the most out of your Florence experience.
Escaping crowds doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be able to see all the spectacular museums and attractions in Florence. Quite the opposite! For instance, a private early-morning guided tour will grant you quick access to a museum where you won’t aimlessly wander around the halls. Instead, you will attend an interesting and well-structured narration that puts together every piece of Renaissance history.
Ultimate Florence Experience
ArtViva is a trusted and certified tour operator in Italy. Since 1996, they have focused on promoting responsible and ethical tourism. BBC World, CNN, The History Channel, and Now This have recommended ArtViva for travelers who wish to get off the beaten path. Florence is without question their field of expertise, offering more than 50 tours customized both to the likings of their customers and the must-see must-do experiences in and around Florence. They work with small size groups of 7 - 15 people. Let’s have a look at their top-picked tour services.
Cooking Classes: Experience Italian cuisine from the inside. It’s great to have someone cooking for you, but what about learning to do it yourself? Become a master in preparing authentic Italian pasta by attending the Private Pasta Making Class in Florence. Within three hours, you will have prepared three different types of pasta and delicious sauces. The class concludes in a very Italian way with a dessert. You can choose between the private class or the medium-sized group.
If you’re looking for a more exclusive treatment, then there is the choice of Luxury Tuscany Villa Cooking Class. Together with a local Tuscan chef, you will cook a 5-course meal in the most idyllic scenery, exploring at the same time little-known parts of Tuscany. Usually, the menu will start with a Foccacia, continue with pasta or Chianti Beef Stew, and of course, finish up with tiramisu or another typical Italian dessert. All the ingredients are local and pure, such as the extra virgin olive oil and vegetables that grow in the estate. The dishes are accompanied by excellent wine also produced on the premises. To remember this unique experience, you will receive a signature apron and a cookbook as a gift to bring Tuscany flair back home.
Excursions: Get to know better the historical figure of Leonardo Da Vinci with a tour in his Tuscan birthplace. The Leonardo Da Vinci Tour is a 2-hour excursion in Vinci and the surrounding area, where the Italian polymath took his first steps. What a better way to learn history than actually living it! Today, the town still preserves the Renaissance character, resembling Florence, but in a much quieter and verdant scenery. The tour includes a visit to a Tuscan wine estate and a walk in an olive grove. This proper Italian excursion levels up with a splendid lunch and a glass of aromatic wine.
Combining a city excursion with a walking tour, the Learn to Speak Italian Tour is a fun experience for all foreign travelers. The best way to feel like a local is by picking up some essential Italian words. For instance, how to order in a restaurant or a bar, to greet, and adopt some of the most characteristic Italian hand gestures. This tour is the perfect opportunity to discover the hidden corners of the city, watch artisans work on their crafts, and acquaint yourself with the Italian culture. The whole expedition lasts 2.5 hours.
You can read dozens of tourist guides on the internet, and be surprised by how many additional attractions there are to see. Well, to be honest, it's difficult to eliminate some of the sites! Simultaneously, it’s almost impossible to include them all. We drew up the following list to suit your plans, even if you only have one day to spend in Florence. What main attractions should you visit?
Within a 10-minute walk of Florence train station, the Duomo Cathedral will slowly emerge from a distance as you approach. The first time you gaze at the magnificence of the Duomo and its surroundings, you won’t believe your eyes! Once you have admired the outside of this architectural masterpiece from every possible vantage, it’s time to climb the 463 steps to the top of the dome. Not only will you have an exceptional panoramic view of the city, but you will see the Last Judgment frescoes from close up. Reserve your tickets well in advance to secure a spot!
Right in front of Duomo, the Baptistery of St. John is the oldest religious site in the city, built somewhere around 1059 - 1128 AD. Its unparalleled beauty is prominent from the bronze doors to the interior. The Baptistery is full of statues, frescoes, and embellished cupolas depicting scenes from St. John’s Life and of the Old Testament, Stories of the Life and Passion of Christ, and many more.
For a trip back to the turbulent political past of the city, head to Piazza della Signoria. Everywhere you look, there are monumental sculptures such as Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus, Ammannati’s Nettuno, Giambologna's Duke Cosimo I, and Loggia dei Lanzi.
Anyone who visits Florence should add two major museums to their itinerary: the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery. Italy’s most visited museum, the labyrinth-shaped Uffizi Gallery, welcomes more than ten thousand visitors per day. Walk in the corridors, preferably with the assistance of an expert guide, and pay special attention to Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus, Titian's Venus of Urbino, Tondo Doni by Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation.
In the Accademia Gallery, visitors flash back to the rich past of Florence that puts together art, religion, music, botany, and paintings. The museum is relatively small compared to Uffizi Gallery. It will probably take you about an hour to navigate it. Most people visit Accademia for Michelangelo’s David. Other exceptional works of art include Pacino di Buonaguida’s Tree of Life, Jacopo di Cione’s Coronation of the Virgin, Giambologna’s Rape of Sabine Women, and Michelangelo’s Prisoners or Slaves.
Non-touristy things to do in Florence
You cannot skip the Duomo Cathedral, Baptistery of St. John, Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio, or the Piazzale Michelangelo just because they are touristy and attract millions of visitors daily. After all, this is why you came all the way to Florence. But, if you’re spending a few more days in Florence, there are countless not so commercial things to do.
Where to eat: Avoid the overpriced and highly touristic restaurants in the city center by following some of the locals’ steps in carefully selected districts with traditional trattorias, cool bars, and aperitivo spots. On the other side of Arno River, the Oltarno area is popular for its artistic atmosphere, the open market, and many cafes and restaurants with outdoor terraces. Nearby, San Frediano is where the heart of nightlife in Florence beats. High quality and traditional osterias and trattorias are scattered throughout the city, but you can find some exceptional in Sant’Ambrogio, San Lorenzo, and San Niccolò.
Local Markets: Travelers who want to soak up as much as possible of the local spirit, would appreciate a nice walk in the local markets. Mercato Centrale is a two-story covered market with vendors’ stalls selling goods like olive oil, fruit, spices, and Tuscany delicacies like wine and cheese. On the second floor, you can taste some excellent pasta, truffle bars, fish, and authentic Italian gelato. In Piazza Santo Spirito, the open-air street market is perfect for buying a souvenir to reminisce your time in Florence. Mercato Nuovo, also known as Mercato Porcellino, is home to famous leather products. It is located in the very heart of the city, housed under medieval arches.
Strolling in Florence: Grab a nice cone or cup of gelato, since Florence is the birthplace of gelato, and fling yourself into discovering the city on foot. One of our favorite spots is the uphill path to Piazzale Michelangelo, setting off from Porta San Miniato via the picturesque Scalea del Monte alle Croci. The benefits of wandering around the city are seeing, at least from the outside, some of the most distinctive landmarks like Palazzo Pitti, Ponte Vecchio, Michelangelo’s house, Dante’s neighborhood, and many more.
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