It’s that time of year – after settling down in Perugia or wherever you happen to be studying abroad, it’s time to start moving around Italy and exploring the new (well, not new – they’re actually very old) cities that pepper the Italian landscape. For this blog, we consulted Art History professor, Renaissance art specialist, and longtime Florence resident Adrian Hoch, as well as several Umbra staff members whom have lived in Florence for varying lengths of time.
We’ve tried to put together several recommendations for museums, restaurants, and sights, avoiding the tradition tourist fare (of both the visual and culinary variety) in favor of some lesser-known, more out-of-the way spots.
Because we worked with an Art History professor, she’s obviously biased towards the great museums, so we’ll share those with you here, along with some tips and tricks to make your experience better. The “majors,” so to speak – the Accademia, the Uffizi, and Palazzo Pitti with the attached Boboli gardens – are all run by Firenze Musei, which does a great job of keeping an updated website with special exhibits and pricing.
For Firenze Musei reservations, you can also call (055) 294-883. They offer phone support in English, Spanish, and Italian. Reservations, while not always necessary, are a €4/head insurance policy against spending up to an hour of your precious day in Florence waiting in line. Is it worth it? Depends on the day you go, really – but if you’ll be visiting in mid-March or early April, definitely reserve. That is when lines are the longest.
The big sight here is Michelangelo’s David. A trick that they frequently pull at the Accademia – although they do the same thing at the Uffizi – is to create a special, limited-time exhibit, and then to extend it. So, if you’re trying to see something and the end date is in the near future, don’t hurry too much; it’ll likely still be there when you’re really trying to go. Also, watch out for the famous Accademia “shriekers” – the guards will happily yell at you if you try to take a picture of the David. Discretion helps, but they’re very observant.
Palazzo Pitti, a converted private collection, is well worth seeing. Also notable are the attached Boboli gardens, which are a destination in themselves. Think about doing the €11 complete ticket, which permits you to see both the palace and the gardens – the price for that drops to €9 after 4.30.
With the major museums out of the way, here are several free or very inexpensive museums that are absolutely worth a visit – they’re not as well known and will definitely be less crowded:
The Santo Spirito church (or basilica, really) is a hidden gem in Florence – it’s in the Oltrarno district, which is on the other side of the Arno from the rest of the centro storico, or historic center. The zone is just over the overcrowded Ponte Vecchio and is still surprisingly free of tourists. To be noted here is the magnificent Michelangelo crucifix that it contains. Near the Palatine Gallery and the Boboli gardens, you shouldn’t miss it.
The Capponi Chapel, which is just over the Ponte Vecchio, is the oldest religious complex in Florence (along with the Church of San Lorenzo). It is particularly notable, other than its beauty, for housing Pontormo’s “Deposition.”
This church, which is near the eponymous Ponte Santa Trinita and in a very elegant district of Florence, houses two very famous frescos: Monaco’s Vita della Vergine and Ghirlindaio’s Adorazione dei Pastori.
Ask anyone who’s lived in Florence and they will openly tell you that Piazzale Michelangelo, about ten minutes up a hill from downtown, has by FAR the best view of Florence. Time it up so you’re here around sunset and watch as the city is bathed in red-gold rays – truly incredible. Definitely take some pictures. It is essentially a large parking lot, yes – but one with an amazing panoramic.
You can find San Miniato just above Piazzale Michelangelo. Just follow the road up and you’ll see it after 200 yards or so on the left – there’s an enormous staircase leading up to the doors, so you can’t miss it. Beyond the view, there’s the church – construction began in 1013. It’s a little bit of a walk, but both the façade and the interior are well worth the visit.
Okay, you’ve done your duty and seen the museums. Now onto the good stuff. We’ve tried to avoid the general tourist traps and pick only things that we’ve found to be truly exceptional — and we’ve discovered them through a lot of trial and error.
Done with lunch? Time for dessert:
This family-owned gelateria has been perfecting their recipes since 1930. They have some truly interesting — and delicious — flavors. It’s also open all day, so make sure to drop by at some point.
Another hotspot for amazing gelato, and this one has some truly peculiar flavors on the menu.
Have you spent time in Florence or other cities in Italy? What are your picks? Is there another city that you’d like the Umbra staff to review? Let us know!