Visit Florence, 6 places to see and experience
Florence is a must for those interested in interiors and gardens. The city is a hub for Renaissance craftsmanship and design, but it’s also a very popular destination for international tourists on the trail of David and the famous Ufizzi Gallery. After spending a week in the city this summer, here’s my guide to the slightly less discovered sights and destinations for those who are happy to throw away the guide books.
Start with a Fresco at the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine
Florence is full of fresco paintings, it’s what the city is most known for. So, it makes sense to start by studying one of the beautifully painted ceilings. Whilst most flock to the Pitti Palace, I would suggest that you head off the tourist trail and save yourself the twenty Euro entrance fee. Pitti is beautiful, but there’s an equally nice fresco canopy to sit and stare at just a stones throw away at the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine. This restored Baroque church is famed for it’s fresco work, and it’s free to enter. It’s also part of the quieter side of the river that splits Florence. Top tip: go in the morning and stop around 9am for a coffee with the locals at Pitta M’Ingolli - a cafe-cum-bar situated on one of Florence’s most unspoilt squares. It’s a busy spot to sit and watch the daily market that takes place, and they sell one of the best macchiatos in the city.
Spend an afternoon at Giardino di Boboli
Our second highlight south of the river, the Boboli Garden, is a must if you want to escape the busy crowds of the centre of Florence. It’s at your discretion whether you want to visit both the famous Pitti Palace, which is attached, as well as the Boboli gardens, but honestly, the gardens are the nicest part and you get to be outdoors in the sunshine. The palace itself can demand large queues, which are never that much fun. Entrance to the Pitti Palace is around seventeen euros, with the garden an additional eight euros. You can easily spend two to three hours strolling the garden and it’s various grottos and both historical and contemporary installations. Top tip: take a bottle of water and a snack as it can be hot and hungry work climbing up and down the slopes (it’s built on a rather steep hill) and if you are under 25 take I.D, you will get reduced entry for being fresh faced.
Seek out Libreria Brac for lunch, coffee and wine
This isn’t in any of the tourist or sightseeing books, and is tucked discretely down one of Florence’s unassuming backstreets just minutes away from Via dei Neri, a popular cafe and restaurant strip. Step through the manic crowds outside the Uffizi Gallery or on Via dei Neri and stroll down Vagellai. This is where you will find a small glass doorway, with no name. Step inside to a hidden gem - Libreria Brac is a cafe, bar, library and restaurant space all rolled into one. There’s an outdoor courtyard to relax in, and a fantastic array of wines and vegetarian dishes to choose from. You can have lunch or dinner here, or alternatively pop in for just a coffee. It’s an interesting, contemporary interior that often hosts an installation in the courtyard.
Visit the home of one of Florence’s wealthiest families
Palazzo Medici Riccardi is arguably one of the finest examples of ornate interiors in Florence made prominent by the latter owners the Riccardi family, who were in the banking trade. Housing work by Donatello and Michelangelo, Palazzo Medici Riccardi is a haven if you are looking for some Renaissance interiors to study and be inspired by. It is said to be ‘the original prototype of Florentine Palazzo architecture’. From the carved stone courtyard to the heavily guilded and vaulted ballroom, there’s four centuries of art collecting and architecture under one, rather fabulous, roof.
Indulge in an abundance of pasta, pizza and gelato at Merkato del San Lorenzo
This is a great place to visit if you are hungry. San Lorenzo is Florence’s main food market. Pre-warning, it’s super busy and can feel ever so slightly seedy, but, with a good and ever-interesting mix of both locals and tourists which makes for good people watching. Stroll around the ground floor food stalls and don’t forget to head upstairs for all the local cooked produce - you will find a selection of pizzas, pastas and steaks. It goes without saying that I visited this location on the daily.
Embark on the steep incline to see Villa Bardini
The villa itself commands a high position overlooking the city, so it’s a winner if you have a thing for a house on a hill, like I do. But, eventhough it commands an interesting site, and has a detailed history, much of the interiors have sadly given over to it’s new occupation as a museum and exhibition space. The gardens, however, are worth the hike. Walk round at your own pace, up and down the inclines, and perch yourself at the Pavilion cafe which overlooks all of Florence with undisturbed views. The exhibitions tend to be interesting too, and quieter than the main sightseeing galleries. Top tip: go early in the morning when it’s cooler weather, that way you won’t feel the burn so much as you climb up to see it.
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