For some reason I’ve been quite interested in the Medici family and the events surrounding the papacy of Alexander VI and the brave, and incredibly foolhardy, Friar Savonarola, all of which have ties to Firenze, or Florence as it is known by non-Italians.
When we were visiting Italy, we planned a few days in Perugia. Tigger has wanted to see the leaning tower of Pisa so we decided to add that to the itinerary. When I noticed Firenze was on the way, there was no question we would be spending at least a few days there.
Over the years, I’ve received a lot of mixed feedback about the ancient city. Most people told me they felt it was overrated, too crowded, and too touristy. Some even said it wasn’t “Italian enough.”
I went anyway because I wanted to see the David statue and the Duomo especially but also some of the buildings related to the Medici family and the Bonfire of the Vanities.
We got an Airbnb place outside the touristic center but still within a close walking distance of the major sites. I didn’t feel it was all that crowded until we entered the Piazza del Duomo. Even in the off season, it was very crowded with tourists. I can only imagine what it would be like in summer, and there’s no way I’d want to be there for that.
However, the main tourist swarm is located here and at the Palazzo and Ponte Vecchio. Whenever we were away from these areas, we didn’t encounter near the level of crowds.
One of the things I loved most about walking around the historic area was how you would be in these narrow streets with the very old buildings and suddenly you’d find yourself in a plaza with a gorgeous church. Two memorable occasions were when I stumbled upon the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and at the Basilica of Santa Croce. Each time I rounded the corner and had to stop in my tracks upon seeing the churches.
To me Firenze’s real charm is found in its streets. These little surprises are everywhere, and it makes exploring exciting.
We were able to see a few spots and learn more about them on our tour with Walks of Italy. During the walking tour we learned about things, like the Medici coat of arms, that helped me identify other interesting sights when we explored on our own later. We also got some insight into local traditions and lore that were quite fascinating.
For instance, you will see lots of paintings of Mary as you walk among the labyrinthine streets. I figured it was just because they were religious, but it turns out these were placed in areas that might not be so secure. It was assumed that people would be less inclined to commit crimes against others while Mary was watching over them.
And, of course, our guide made sure to show us the exact spot where the Bonfire of the Vanities, and Savonarola’s subsequent execution, took place.
I loved Firenze even more when we crossed the river to explore that side. The churches weren’t as ornate, but the plaza life was even more interesting. It was a much better insight into daily Florentine life.
We stayed there for 3 days, but I quickly regretted we didn’t have more time. I’ll be going back for sure.
So should you visit Firenze? I’d heartily say yes! Although, you may want to skip it in the summer (and this November when the Pope visits).
Have you been? Which are your favorite spots?
May 29, 2015
I adore Italy, but haven’t visited Firenze yet – but it’s definitely somewhere I plan to go to soon.
It sounds like most other Italian cities I’ve visited – horribly crowded at the main attractions but beautiful the moment that you take a different turning to all the tourists! I always try to go in the opposite direction to the person waving the flag or umbrella at the group of confused looking people!
The charm of Italy (as with most places I’ve visited) is only found when you venture into the real parts of the cities and see how people live their daily lives. The attractions are attractions for a reason – they are beautiful – but it always comes at a cost. Nowadays, I much prefer spending my time getting lost in the winding streets than I do pushing through the crowds to get a photo of a building that I’ve seen hundreds of photos of online!
June 1, 2015
Yes! I couldn’t agree more.
May 14, 2015
*Sigh* Thank you for taking the time to get to know this beautiful city and getting past the surface. Yes, summer can be crowded, but if you keep to the other side of the river and the non-touristy areas, you will be just fine. Those are the spots where the charm of Florence truly resides anyway.
May 19, 2015
I’m hoping to go back during the fall or next spring. But not while the Pope is in town.
May 13, 2015
I’ve only heard good things about Florence, but now I’m a little bit apprehensive after reading your post. I’m visiting Florence end of July, so it will be incredibly busy. I’m looking forward to exploring the streets and I hope I’ll enjoy my time there without getting too squashed by the crowds 🙂
May 19, 2015
If you go to the other side of the river, I’m sure you’ll avoid the hordes. If summer is like spring, they’ll mostly be located by the areas I mentioned. As soon as I was out of those immediate areas, I hardly ever saw a tourist. Unfortunately, if you want to see the David, the Duomo, etc., you’ll have to suck it up and deal with them. 🙁
May 13, 2015
I “love” walking tours of cities. Most of the time we walk right by some fascinating building or site and have no idea of the significance, but on a walking tour you get up close and personal with sections of the city and learn SO much. It’s one of my favorite things to do when we visit a new city. And, I’m thinking, what’s not to love, you’re in I-t-a-l-y!
May 19, 2015
They are so handy for that info. I agree with you. I don’t like tours generally, but I do find myself enjoying the walking tours, especially if they have keep group sizes small.
May 13, 2015
I visited Florence a few years back on a day trip from Rome and went to see the Duomo, the statue of David and the old bridge. It was an unplanned trip, decided at the last minute, so my friends and I didn’t know what to expect nor what to do whilst there. We still had fun although it was probably because we were there as a group. Personally I found it to be an okay city albeit full of tourists. But then again, what do I expect? It’s Florence! 🙂
I didn’t think I’d want to go there again until I read more about Dante’s Inferno and Dante’s root in Florence a few months back. The next time I’m in Italy, whenever that is, I sure would like to visit Florence again.
May 13, 2015
It has so much incredible history! That’s another thing I love about it. It’s been the center of so many interesting events, people, etc., from the Renaissance.