It’s tough picking the top 10 things to do in Florence, Italy. There’s so much to do and see/ feel/ experience/ taste, that a short stay in our favourite Italian city can be overwhelming and leave you feeling disappointed. The thing about Florence is, underneath its sophisticated modern-day veneer lies a medieval town full of secrets and a Renaissance epicentre brimming with beauty. Peeling back these layers takes time, and unveiling them is the most rewarding city- tripping experience we’ve had. This isn’t a Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor kind of list, it’s one that we’ve curated based on the experiences we enjoyed most. So while we’ve certainly included some of those “you can’t go to Florence and not see David” kind of things, but the rest may not always be the most obvious ticking the bucket-list kind of things.
1. The Duomo and Other Churches
Religion has been the most formative force in Florentine history. This was the very reason art and architecture was first commissioned, later on giving rise to the Renaissance movement, right here. The numerous stunning churches managed to elicit gasps of awe from even religious cynics like us. You’ll spot the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore topped with the world’s largest dome from several vantage points across the city, but definitely make the trek up the dome (and catch a glimpse of the frescoed interior) if you have the time. Filled with some of the world’s most important art, the churches of Santa Maria Novella, San Miniato, San Lorenzo, the Brancacci Chapel, Medici Chapels are all gorgeous. Also look out for equally stunning chapels hidden in some of the palaces and noble homes across the city.
2. Michelangelo’s David and Other Renaissance Art
From churches to personal palaces and gardens, artists in Florence flourished with the commissions that came pouring in. Creativity was rewarded, and great works of art were celebrated. We were so excited to stare into the eyes of the original Renaissance man at the Accademia, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and other famous ones. But we also let ourselves stray a bit, discovering artists like Filippo Lippi in the Uffizi and the wonderful ancient Roman sculptures at the Loggia dei Lanzi.
3. Palazzos and Palaces
Florence is home to many beautiful noble homes, designed at the height of architectural excellence in Europe. While several of them are still in use as homes for the descendants of these prestigious families, others gave us a chance to take a peek inside. The Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Medici Ricardi (Palazzo Vechhio, Palazzo Pitti are excellent museums with great works of art, period furnishings, Medici history and sprawling gardens on display. We were also privileged to gain access to one of the most exceptional Palazzos turned into a hotel in town – The Palazzo d’Epoca Leone Blu, where we were guests of the gracious Baroness.
4. Treat your tongue to the real Gelato
As I stuck my tongue out to lash across a scoop of chocolate atop my cone, I braced myself for a stucky situation with my tongue needing to be pried off a crystallised surface like with ice-cream. Nothing could have prepared me for the smooth slick with which the creamy delicious gelato rolled off my tongue, melting down my throat. While Grom is supposed to be the most popular spot to taste the original gelato, we figure gelato anywhere in Florence tastes great to the untrained tongue.
5. Dig into the Florentine Steak
Since we’ve been deprived of our favourite meat (it’s been banned here in Mumbai) we were all set to devour at least half of Tuscany’s cow population. Due research was done, and we found this Florentine staple was best eaten at the very popular Antica Trattoria dal Tito, a stone’s throw from our first hotel at Antica Dimora Johlea. It’s a good thing we booked days in advance as we saw hordes of diners being turned away that busy night. What is the Florentine Steak? Salt, Pepper on steaks cooked rare – the sign at the Trattoria says “We don’t do well done”. And when Charles, who really knows his steak said it’s best steak we’ve ever had, I nodded between mouthfuls of heaven.
6. Piazzas and Piazzales
When we say the Italians really have cracked it when it comes to lifestyle, a lot of it has to do with the outdoors, food and entertainment. And that’s what these squares have always served as. A place for people to come together and enjoy the open air, and discussions over coffee. Florence, in its historic design is filled with the most beautiful Piazzas flanked by fountains, statues, terrace cafes and architectural marvels. We loved our evenings at Piazza della Signoria (the most iconic one opposite the Palazzo Vecchio), the buzzing Piazza del Duomo outside the famous monument, the beautiful Merry-Go-Round at the Piazza della Repubblica, the relaxed Piazza Santa Croce and its pigeons, the fountains of Piazza Santissima Annunziata and the one place all of Florence goes to enjoy a sunset looking over the entire city – Piazzale Michelangelo.
7. The Passeggiata
Every evening, well heeled Italians dress up in their finest and step out for a stroll through town. It’s the perfect see and be seen ritual, that they take pretty seriously. (The tiny narrow alleys were just brimming with well dressed locals and ambling tourists). We got into step beside them, watching as parents wheeled baby carriages alongside shopaholics toting large bags from designer labels all our feet getting into a rhythmic tempo.
8. Shop for the Best Leather
Just like we mentioned earlier, one of the Best Souvenirs from Tuscany is indeed leather. The finest quality product, handcrafted with care and turned into the most exquisite bags, books, jackets and gloves. We enjoyed browsing and really learning a lot about quality leather at the Santa Croce School of Leather, and in designer stores, trying on pairs of gloves in beautiful boutiques and getting our own bags and books monogrammed at a small artisanal store.
9. Drink the Chianti
We’ve always relegated Chianti to the bottom of the list while choosing wines, and after drinking copious amounts of it in Florence, we could kick ourselves for it! It’s delicious, and as always best had sitting outside an elegant restaurant on the terrace, enjoying bottle after bottle over a long gluttonous meal. We also loved how small bodegas sold bottles with plastic wine glasses, so we could sit outdoors and enjoy it. There’s so much excellent wine in Tuscany and Florence is a great starting point before you venture into the rest.
10. Watch the Tuscan Sun Set
Every picture of a Florentine sunset we’d seen before paled in comparison to the real thing. Whether it was standing at the bridge of Ponte Vecchio shooting a timelapse for hours, scaling the narrow and steep stairs up the Duomo or the neighbouring tower of the Palazzo Vechio or whether it was that time we took a taxi all the way out of town to Piazzale Michelangelo, every sunset was spectacular and we were transfixed for hours!
So here you have it, our list of the top 10 things to do in Florence. Have you been? What are your suggestions for the best things to see in Florence?