Search for ‘Top things to do in Florence’ and you’ll undoubtedly get The Basilica, the Campanile, the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio, along with lots of other museums and buildings. And it’s true, these are what make the city so very famous and popular; popular to the point of way too many visitors at times.
But I believe that one of the nicest things in this city is to just be… Just be in the streets, looking at all the beautiful leather and jewellery shops, sitting, eating and people watching. Wandering, sitting, eating, just looking and taking it all in, and this made this semi post-COVID trip to Florence so very special.
So, top tips for 3 full days in this beautiful city. Eat, walk, sleep, enjoy.
Getting here took around 6 hours by car. There were none of the usual mad driving experiences, so that was a bonus. Live in Italy long enough and you know that things don’t always work as they should. Finding the car park at Villa Constanza was easy, it’s right on the Autostrada, even I couldn’t miss the signs. The cost to park is €7 per day, but a weekly parking pass only costs €20. Great, but when the ticket office is closed you can’t buy the permit. Ok, it’s only a small thing, so don’t waste time worrying about it. Also don’t worry if you can’t buy tickets for the tram at the machine by the parking meter, they weren’t working either; there are ticket machines on the platform. Ten out of ten for the trams, in about 15 minutes you can be right there in the centre of the city without having to negotiate the one way system or pay an enormous price to park. Tickets cost €1.50 and are valid for 90 minutes, just remember to stamp them at the yellow machine just inside the tram doors, if you don’t you could get a fine…or maybe not.
The apartment, in the Centro Storico, was a 10 minute walk from the station. I always use Google maps to check my route if I’m walking. It makes life so much easier, and helps you look like you know where you’re going, not like a tourist.
Getting a view like this often comes with a price, but not this time. Unless you count 101 steps to reach it, but that’s only because I travelled with someone who insists we take the stairs. Don’t worry you can take the lift, one of those old fashioned metal ones you see in the films, but I wasn’t allowed (neither would I have wanted to, it’s good for the legs). This was the perfect location, right slap bang in the middle of the sights and everything within easy to reach, restaurants, all the sights and a supermarket for snacks and drinks. I’d stay here again anytime.
Get the ‘must do’s’ under the belt first, the Basilica and Campanile. This was just for outdoor shots, the tower climb was for another day. The streets were just nicely full of people, not too many, not too few. There was a great atmosphere.
Next a stroll down the main corso to the Piazza Della Signoria with all its beautiful statues. Having already visited the inside of the Palazzo Vecchio on a previous visit, I wandered round to take pictures before moving on for the obligatory Ponte Vecchio shots.
What is it with my phone? Picture this, someone stands taking a selfie in the optimum position with the bridge in the background, whilst other people patiently wait to take their place when they’ve finished. My phone suddenly goes into AR photo mode and starts saying ‘bad ass boom boom boom’ repeatedly, and I can’t turn it off? Thankfully, others thought it was funny, but boy I need to find out how to shut that thing up for next time.
Picture taken (hurriedly) and then off to look at the gold and watches on the Ponte Vecchio. Yes, it’s touristy, but hey, I’m a visitor.
I had tickets for the Uffzi at 2pm (always make sure you book) so went off in search of some lunch. The day was sweltering, so a beautiful spot at a small pavement cafe in a side street was the perfect place to stop. An antipasto to share and a gorgeous plate of baccala washed down with some excellent Pino Grigio. Well, I am on holiday.
Tickets collected from the booking office, and I got into the gallery without waiting. Perfect! Whether you’re a fan of Renaissance art or sculptures or not, you’ll find something to enjoy here, and it really is worth a visit. I’m not going to describe everything, but there’s a link at the end if you’d like to know about the gallery and what you can see there.
All the best days have to end with a gelato before heading back to get ready for dinner. Today I discovered an excellent shop where you could sit down and enjoy a vast range of natural gelato, so this was to be the ‘regular spot’. It’s such a treat to sit and watch the world go by.
Back to the apartment for an apetitivo and a shower, then out for the first Florentine meal of the trip at Osteria San Giovanni. Lesson, always take your phone with you, it came in very handy tonight because you can’t always remember how to get to places. Google maps is a godsend. Thankfully, we were lead right to the door, without a bad ass boom boom boom accompaniment!
Greeted by the owner himself, we were ushered to our table and received a very warm welcome from him and all the staff. A welcoming glass of prosecco and some gorgeous puffy things, I really need to find out what they were, whilst we went through the menu. Once we’d decided, the waiter came and told us about the specials for the day! And guess what, we chose the specials, both of which were amazing, so we went back the first evening happy and very satisfied. We even had a dance in the street because there was a band playing. Now that really was a treat, I love dancing.
The day didn’t go quite as planned, but hey, it turned out for the best in the end. So don’t sweat the small stuff. Our apartment was really close to the Galleria dell’Accademia, so after a long day yesterday, it seemed like the right time to see David. He is so perfect. Smooth, strong and well……big. David is beautiful, but I also enjoyed were the unfinished pieces by Michelangelo, the sculptures he started but never finished, it was really amazing to see the thousands of chisel marks. Most people just visit to see David, but there is another room of plaster models which are also excellent if you’re interested in sculpture.
A light lunch, and then off to the Pitti Palace. Well, we went to the Pitti Palace, but it was closed. My advice….check out the opening times, it’s only open in the morning…..oooooops. Never mind, we visited the Boboli Gardens instead, which was also included in the 3 day ticket that I had bought.
And if you want my opinion on that…..Don’t bother. Really. I love gardens, but it’s definitely not Tivoli.
Ice-cream, apetitivo, shower, dinner…..I’m a creature of habit
Dinner this evening was another brilliant choice Osteria Vecchio Cancello, close to the apartment and very easy to find. Another wonderful greeting from the staff, and a restaurant full of guests by the time we left. The risotto and the sweet were to die for, and I almost did because I really shouldn’t have eaten a sweet.
The market, Mercato di San Lorenzo….hmmmm this is classed as a good thing to see. It was ok but not quite what I was expecting. Maybe it was because it was Monday morning or maybe it was ‘the current situation’ but it wasn’t like the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona. The food hall upstairs would probably be a good place to go later in the day. Today we should also have visited the Boboli gardens, but we did that yesterday. We also planned to climb the campanile, but after joining the queue we found out that all the tickets were sold out until Saturday. I can’t say I was disappointed. Wearing a mask to climb all those steps in the heat wasn’t really my idea of fun.
Thankfully, one of us likes technical things (hint I’m a creative type) and the Museo Galileo is open on a Monday, so off we trotted. Even if you’re a bit like me and don’t like to go too deep into physics, it was really interesting. The building was modern and light, and with an app to tell you about the exhibits it was really interesting.
Lunch was late because we’d spent so much time looking at globes, instruments and ‘things’. When we left, I noticed a huge queue of people. It turned out to be a sandwich shop, I’m guessing it’s one in the guide books because everyone seemed to be queuing there. However, over the road was a lovely Napoli pizzeria, where you could sit down and eat! Perfect. More time to watch people.
After a late lunch, a stroll through the streets and the purchase of a rather lovely watch, another obligatory ice-cream stop, wine and then dinner.
Now dinner tonight was a little different to the two more traditional restaurants we’d been to previously. Ristorante Brandolino was also close to our apartment but was a lovely modern take on some great food. Food, wine, service, couldn’t have been better. No, it was outstanding.
So, to sum up. This is not your rushing around see everything you can in 3 days type of trip, what we got was a relaxing break full of eating, drinking and enjoyment, and I think it was Almost Perfect. What we missed, which maybe we should have done, was visit the Ponte Vecchio at sunset and the viewpoint overlooking the city from the other side of the Arno. But hey, there will be another trip.
Most people wore masks as they should. A few people of the tram got overexcited and had to take them off to talk, well shout, at one another.
All shops and restaurants had hand sanitiser at the entrance
The atmosphere was brilliant. The shop keepers were thrilled to see us as were the restaurant staff. They were pleased to see visitors back in the city, but not too many.
The streets and sights were pleasant, not crowded
Make sure you buy your tickets in advance. We couldn’t climb the Campanile because the tickets were sold out a week in advance, they greatly reduce the numbers. Most of the larger sites require you to book in advance anyway.
Our apartment was beautifully clean, and they provided us with extra cleaning materials to use if we wished
All staff wore masks and hand sanitisers were available throughout the restaurant and in the toilet areas
They took our temperatures at the busier sights before they allowed us to enter. Staff ensured that everyone kept their masks on, which was excellent.
Most were Italian, and they behaved really really well, keeping to distancing rules, which is always difficult. There were a few other European guests too.
My last piece of advice. If you can visit Florence now do it, you won’t be disappointed the atmosphere is brilliant and with fewer visitors, you get to see so much more, it is wonderful.
The Uffizi - https://www.uffizi.it/en
Pitti Palace - https://www.uffizi.it/en/pitti-palace
Galleria dell’Accademia - http://www.galleriaaccademiafirenze.beniculturali.it/galleria/
Ristorante San Giovanni - www.osteriadigiovanni.com
Ristorante Brandolino - https://www.ristorantebrandolino.com