I left off with a part I recap of our Italy travels in Florence here.
Let’s just pick up where we left off, shall we?
Perhaps the most iconic Florentine destination – the Ponte Vecchio. This covered bridge is lined with gold jewelry shops. I was thinking it would be more like a market with vendors, but the Ponte Vecchio is lined with tried-and-true small upscale jewelry shops. And at night they all close up shop with beautiful ornate wooden doors.
The top portion of the bridge is not open to the public. It was actually created as a private walkway for the Medici family to walk from one building to another because, heaven forbid, they walk outside.
Another fun fact, the Ponte Vecchio used to be where all the butchers were. You can only imagine where all the animal entrails went… when the city of Florence decided to clean up the Arno River the butchers were kicked out and the gold jewelers were in.
Florence is famous for it’s Duomo. We decided the right word to describe this place is “impressive”. Calling it “beautiful” doesn’t exactly feel right – the intricate white, pink and green stone with gold filigree isn’t exactly my cup of tea but the Duomo is definitely a work of art and shouldn’t be missed.
Directly across from the main entrance to the Dumon is the Baptistry, which was smaller than I pictured, but featured a copy of the famous bronze doors. (The originals are inside the Duomo museum.)
The dome inside the Duomo was my favorite part. Brunelleschi, the designer, modeled it after the Pantheon’s dome. Apparently he told his sister that, although he could not make a better dome, he would make one that was more beautiful!
Beautiful it certainly is.
The tall tower you see next to the Duomo is the bell tower, or the Campanile. You can climb the Duomo dome or the bell tower for a small fee – we ended up doing neither since we enjoyed the views from the Piazzale Michelangelo so much.
Next to the Duomo we found our go-to cappuccino shop – 3 euro for two cappuccino? Yes please! While Florence is not extremely crowded, this particular square is where you will constantly find hoards of tourists. If the line to see inside the Duomo is long, just wait 20 minutes and try again. The crowds ebb and flow, so enjoy a cuppa while you are waiting.
San Lorenzo Market
Ahhh the fine Italian markets… of Indian men… selling South American fake leather goods. Haha!
Regardless, the San Lorenzo market is a fun place to shop/haggle/look for an afternoon.
Most of the stalls have the same items (although they adamantly refuse to admit that!) and the market is dominated by leather goods – purses, belts, etc.
Among all of those stalls though, there are definitely a few winners! Here you can find silk neckties and Murano glass jewelry.
Haggling is definitely the name the game at this market, and if your eyes linger for too long on an item they will run you down trying to sell it to you. Just stand your ground and be prepared to walk away – usually that’s how you get the best price.
The central market is full of produce, meats, cheeses, breads and flowers and is next to the San Lorenzo markets in a large building with a glass ceiling. Even if you plan to purchase nothing, walking around the market is a must!
You’ll see beautiful fresh vegetables, munch on free samples of cheese and… see lots of weird things too.
Like massive fish, chickens, and brain-like foods.
We went to the market one day to get foods for our lunch – it was delicious. Just make your way around the market and you’ll have a big meal right away. Just make sure you have lots of small change!
If you have a bit more time to linger, there are free tasting sessions of olive oil, vinegar or wine at some stalls as well!
Food in Florence
Apparently Florentine gelato is the best of the best. And you won’t hear any contradictions from me. We tried a number of places during our days in Florence, but quickly found our favorite Italian gelateria – Santa Trinita Gelateria just past the Ponte Vecchio.
It’s where I discovered by deep, unabiding love for grapefruit gelato – also known as pompelo rosa. The prices were good, the gelato was fresh, and the staff friendly.
We tried several different restaurants in Florence – appertifs at Bianco, a fixed price meal at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near our hotel, and looked to our trusty Rick Steves book for recommendations. Which led us to Trattoria Lo Strocatto. It was delicious food and great atmosphere for a quiet meal. Our waiter wasn’t the most pleasant we’ve ever had, but we’re chalking it up to the language barrier.
Sleeping in Florence:
I think I’ve mentioned before that this trip was entirely made possible by the fact that we were up to our ears in Starwoods points – which allowed us to book free hotel rooms for nearly our entire vacation. So you might notice this hotel is quite a bit fancier that what you’ll usually find recommended around these parts. Well, we decided to spend the bulk of our points in Florence and stayed at the beautiful Excelsior Hotel right on the Arno River.
The hotel was beautiful and our hotel room was like stepping back in time – in the best way. Why yes, in a 15 foot tall canopy bed. Just call me King George.
The Excelsior also has a beautiful rooftop restaurant and bar. If you are looking for somewhere swanky to drink some insanely overpriced cocktails with aloof waitstaff – this is the place. Our drinks were a complimentary upgrade, otherwise this was not really our scene. Besides the fact that our two drinks would have cost us a weeks worth of gelato(!!!). But the vibe was cool, there was live music and it’s definitely a place you go to be seen. Also, the view is one of the best in Florence.
Our last night in Florence was after our Italy trip, so we stayed in another hotel right by the train station – Hotel Joli. As much as our previous hotel room was luxurious, this hotel room was NOT. It was definitely hovering around the quality-level of a hostel – the rooms were definitely sparse and a little icky. That being said, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and the free breakfast was actually pretty good. And the location is perfect – very close to the Santa Maria Novella train station.
Overall, Florence was everything that I wanted it to be. The city is beautiful and easy to manage. You can walk from one side of the city within 20 minutes, so there’s no need to worry about buses, trains or cabs.
And being so close to Cinque Terre, Siena and Tuscany, it would be easy to spend your entire vacation in this one area of Italy.
Next up – our two days in the lush Tuscan hillside!