IMG_0204Views of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo (July 2006).

Firenze or Florence? Ah, the age-old question…It’s a subtlety that I had no idea about, and it wasn’t until I looked it up that I understood the difference. Essentially, “Firenze” is how the Italians call it, and “Florence” is the English version, derived from “Florentia” in the Roman days. Regardless of what you call it, this Tuscan city is probably the most-stunning place I’ve visited in Italy– ever.

It’s a shame that I only had one day to cover Florence, and it’s truly a disappointment that I haven’t returned to visit afterwards. Despite living in Europe for four years and visiting Italy countless of times, I just never made it back over, let alone to the Tuscany region. Looking through my old photos, I realized that Florence is STUNNING: it’s like one massive, open-air museum, an architecture lover’s dream. It feels like you stepped back in time, as if you could run into da Vinci or Michelangelo on the street and learn their prodigious ways. Whereas Rome has that ancient, Roman-ruin feel to it, Florence is about the Renaissance arts and classics.

Following our short, laid-back visit of Nice, our cruise ship docked in the port town of Livorno, about 57 miles (92 km) from Florence. It was a matter of taking transport for 90 minutes to reach the Tuscan capital, and from there, it was a whirlwind of a day going from site to site, trying to cram in as much as we could. The sheer amount of landmarks is astounding, and there’s no way one could cover everything in a single day. Nevertheless, we did our best.

First stop of the day was at the Piazzale Michelangelo, a plaza located on a hill south of the Arno River which offers that iconic view of Florence, including the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, and the Ponte Vecchio. It happened to be a beautiful, blue-sky morning, which made for perfect photos all around.

IMG_0205Views of Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Vecchio in the distance.

We then descended to the Piazza del Duomo, where the eponymous cathedral and Palazzo Vecchio were stationed. This plaza is the most-surreal square I’ve come across among my many trips throughout Europe (let alone the world), as it’s the ultimate architectural feast for the eyes. There are so many buildings concentrated in such a contained space that are hypnotizing in their own rights. We focused on three of them, but again, there are others that could occupy your time for an entire day, if not days.

Of course, the star would have to be Duomo itself. Officially known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, this Gothic dome is the largest in the world, first constructed in the late 13th century before its completion in the 15th century. Besides its eye-catching dome, its ornate entrance is a work of art in itself, with three bronze doors that represent the motifs of philanthropy, artisans and merchants, and Christ himself. The doors, along with cathedral’s façade, are actually quite recent, having been constructed in the late 19th century in Gothic Revival fashion. The Duomo is a fantastic look into the amalgamation of the medieval, Renaissance, and contemporary styles that spans over six centuries. Truly a great work of art!

IMG_0217The Duomo.

IMG_0212Façade of the cathedral.

Supporting the Duomo are Giotto’s Campanile and Battistero di San Giovanni. The former was first constructed in the 14th century and is known for its distinctive, hexagonal pieces, each side symbolizing a contribution to humanity– religion, the arts, agriculture, social justice, geometry, and astronomy– to name a few. At 85 metres (278 feet), Giotto’s Campanile offers incredible, close-up views of the Duomo and the square below.

IMG_0219Giotto’s Campanile.

The Battistero di San Giovanni is small and unassuming than the other two, but still holds a stake in notable sights. This baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, dating back as early as the 11th century. It’s octagonal in shape, and its architecture is what historians call a “proto-Renaissance” style, a predecessor to the actual Renaissance era three centuries later. Great Italian leaders in art and politics were baptized here, including poet Dante Alighieri and the Medici family.

IMG_0218The Battistero di San Giovanni.

Just next door to the Piazza del Duomo is the Piazza della Signora, home to the towering 13th-century Palazzo Vecchio and copy of Michelangelo’s statue of David (still imposing in its own right). It’s also known for its nine statues depicting Biblical and Greek myths, including David himself, and is sort of an open-air art gallery in itself. Chockful of art and history, as per usual.

IMG_0226 - CopyPalazzo Vecchio.

IMG_0227Statue of David replica.

A minute’s walk from the square brings you to the Arno River, where you can catch the distinctive Ponte Vecchio with its colorful artisanal shops poking out from the bridge itself. To say that it’s a uniquely-structure crossing is an understatement, and to admire it from the blue Arno River is a sight to behold.

IMG_0224Ponte Vecchio.

One of our last stops was at the Piazza di Santa Croce, where we checked out the elegantly-ornate Basilica di Santa Croce. A Franciscan church that was first-constructed in the late 13th century, this building is home to some great artworks inside its quarters, including from the great Donatello himself. What makes this church monumental, however, is the number of famed artists and philosophers buried here, including Michelangelo, Rossini, Galileo, and Machiavelli. It’s certainly not a place to overlook!

IMG_0235Basilica di Santa Croce.

Our time in Florence ended shortly thereafter, and we were shuttled back to Livorno to our cruise ship before departing later that evening. It was an intense day of hopping from piazza to piazza, yet it wasn’t enough time to scratch the surface of so many other sights we could’ve seen. All the same, it left me impressed and wanting more; I’d love to return someday just to spend a week taking it all in, along with the beautiful Tuscany countryside. Whether you call it Firenze or Florence, it’s certainly not a place to miss in Italy!

— Rebecca

41 thoughts on “Destination: Florence, Italy

  1. I also had only one day in Florence/Firenze (many years ago), and it was in the middle of a heat wave, which further cramped our style. And we didn’t even take any photos. But I was also highly impressed, and hope to return after this covid-thing runs its course.

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    1. Sounds like we had similar experiences, although I did my best to take as many photos as possible since I didn’t know if I would return soon. In hindsight, it was a good choice, as I haven’t been back since then, but would love to. Given that you’re in Europe, I hope you can return to experience Florence’s beauty once more (and ideally not during a heat wave!).

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  2. I read this article with Sladja since she has been to Florence. She was as impressed by the city and its architecture as you were. We would love to go and see some more of the Tuscan countryside. Loved the photo from the Piazzale Michelangelo! Can’t help but wonder where you’ll take us next.

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    1. How lovely you two read together, and my blog, of all things! My time in Tuscany has been limited, but Florence certainly captured my heart. Thanks for your loyal readership as always, Leighton, and more of my time along the Mediterranean coast will be coming soon!

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  3. I spent a few days in Florence, but I don’t think I saw much more than you did, your program was very dense. It’s true that I was so impressed that I started by abandoning my list of visits to just enjoy walking through the streets at random. Then the time was short but the memory is still vivid. Now that I’m in Europe again, it will surely be a destination for years to come. Thank you for bringing back the memories.

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    1. To “flâner” in a new city offers a more-organic experience, as opposed to cramming in multiple stops in a day. There’s no good or bad way of seeing a city, and I suppose our visits were like that for a reason. Despite the crammed schedule, I’m glad that I saw a lot, so that if I return, I have an idea of what to revisit! Hope you can return to Florence soon, especially now you’re back in Europe!

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    1. It’s not a surprise that the Duomo is an UNESCO World Heritage Site– the sheer effort it took to complete it was no easy feat, and its imposing structure continues to inspire us to this day!

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  4. Oh the memories you’ve brought back. I think I also did one or 2 days in Florence but would love another chance to take a slower trip. Isn’t the architecture just amazing? Another of your posts that makes me want to spend long summer days in Europe, argh!

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    1. Based on my brief time in Florence, I believe one needs at least three days, perhaps even a week, to explore the city. The architecture is truly out of this world, and it’s admirable just how much history is steeped in each tile or stone laid on its ground!

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  5. We were there for 3 days about 5 years ago. I seem to be the only person I know who thinks Florence is nice but not amazing. Not sure why that is. I actually preferred Rome. I feel like I should go back and give it a second chance, even though I saw most of the things you mentioned in your post.

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    1. I think Rome and Florence offer different perspectives on Italian culture: whereas Rome is more of the ancient Roman history with ruins dating back thousands of years, Florence offers a more Renaissance vibe that’s just a few centuries old. The way I see it, Rome is more rustic and raw and Florence is more refined. To each their own: if you revisit Florence (or not) in the future, it’s up to you!

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    1. Glad this post brought back the memories! You could spent weeks, even months, exploring Florence and still not see everything. Hope you can return someday soon!

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  6. I’d have to agree with The Travel Architect – Florence was beautiful, but I wasn’t as taken by it as I was by Rome. Funny how you can’t always put your finger on why! Fab photos though Rebecca, and a lovely trip down memory lane 🙂

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    1. We all have our preferences based on our experiences in a city. I loved Rome when I visited twice, but as I’ve only visited Florence once (and long time ago), I believe my perception of what it is has been through somewhat rose-tinted, nostalgic glasses. Perhaps I’ll have a different opinion of Florence should I revisit someday, although hopefully still a positive one!

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  7. Florence is a wonderful city and has many things to see and do that any person touring Italy or Europe will need and want to see, but somehow we never made it to it. The only time I had a chance to delve into the mysteries of ancient Italy, Florence’s medieval past during the times of Dante and of the Renaissance was while reading Dan Browns’ Inferno. I would love to visit Florence and duplicate the itinerary the professor follows. If I remember correctly, it starts in Porta Romana 🙂 Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. I read Inferno ages ago, and I forgot it was set in Florence! Granted, I read it after visiting the city, but you’re right in visiting and following the itinerary that Professor Langdon did. That would be really cool, to live out that fiction in reality!

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  8. Great! It’s pretty amazing to finally read a blogpost about a town I see a lot of in movies and books… Florence is such a beauty to behold and I love the details on the buildings plus sculptures too. I’d love to definitely visit someday.

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    1. How incredible you’ve gone several times! I’d love to revisit, just because Florence captured my heart the first time. Thanks for reading and offering your insight into this Tuscan city. 😊

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