A beginner’s guide to Florence

Do you like art? Do you like food? Do you like sunsets? Do you like wine? Do you like drinking copious amounts of wine while watching a sunset after a day full of world renowned museums and top notch food porn?

Welcome to Florence.

Let’s be honest… Florence was never going to let me down. I’m fairly easy to please. Shove a glass of wine into my hand and let me look at something pretty, and I’m happy. Alternatively, if wine or pretty views are not available, simply inform me that there is a cat nearby. Even happier.  Florence is the vibrant heart of Tuscany, a region known for it’s big, bold reds (if you don’t drink a bottle of Brunello while you’re here, you are dead to me), hearty meals, and tumbling countryside hills capped with luxurious villas.

If you’re an art nerd, you’re now in the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance… so try not to pee yourself. Even if you know nothing about art, I can guarantee you there’s works in Florence that you’ve seen or heard about… and I can also guarantee you’ll be prepared to tackle Florence’s biggest museum when I’m done with you.

You could easily spend a month exploring the beauty that is Florence, but I know most of us (including myself) don’t have that luxury, so I’m packing what I love best about this city into this post. Get ready to wine, dine, and culture yourself into oblivion. Who says romance is dead?

ART & ARCHITECTURE

THE UFFIZI

Florence’s (some would argue the world’s) ultimate museum. Many of the most important and recognisable works of art from the Renaissance are in the Uffizi, so you can’t miss this. Unfortunately… neither can the other fifteen thousand tourists in Florence that day. I’m going to tell you this once and I want you to take it for gospel: Unless you’d like to find yourself contemplating suicide, you absolutely must book your tickets in advance online and book the very first time slot of the day.

Here’s why I’m telling you to do this: Not many people going to the Uffizi are keen enough on art to get up at 7:00AM with a wine hangover, and you might not be either…. but when you’re drowning in a sea of tourists in a hot, sweaty museum you’ll curse yourself for not taking my advice.
You can get the tickets for the best price on the official site (there’s a small button at the bottom to switch the page to English). Don’t be fooled by any other website selling tickets, they all mark the prices up massively because they’re dicks… but we’re smarter than them, aren’t we?

If you’re into Renaissance art, you can skip the next bit – you’ll know what to look for! If, however, you could use a little guidance then please read below about some of the major (or most famous) works of art to be found in the Uffizi. Disclaimer: I am incapable of analysing art in a serious or professional fashion.

The Birth of Venus, Boticelli – You’ve probably seen an image of this painting at some point in your life, whether on purpose or by accident. Our main woman here is Venus, the Roman goddess of love, desire, sex and what many of the aforementioned lead to… fertility. Venus is pictured arriving on the shoreline in a very large seashell, with the seashell being a symbolic reference to, ahem, a lady garden. All I can focus on, though, are her luscious locks. #hairenvy
Bacchus, Caravaggio – My favourite deity. Bacchus (Dionysus if you’re feeling Greek) is the God of wine, of drunken madness, and also of theatre. Caravaggio has painted Bacchus in such a human way that some art historians believe this is actually a self-portrait. Whatever the case, he’d be on my top ten list of party guests if he were real.
Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano – This altarpiece is as huge as it is famous, and you could easily spend an hour gazing at all of its intricacies. It depicts the three Kings/Magi bestowing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh on the little baby Jesus who appreciatively (also hilariously) strokes one King’s head. The expressions on the faces of the crowd and animals that have come to join the party are incredible. See if you can find the giggling horse and the man who looks tremendously stoned.
Venus of Urbino, Titian – Babe alert. Titian’s Venus of Urbino again depicts our good friend, the goddess Venus. If you’re thinking Venus looks like a bit of a provocative minx, you’re on to something. Titian used his good friend Angela da Moro, a famed Venetian courtesan, as the model.

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Venus of Urbino, Titian

 

THE DUOMO

Formally known as The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, The Duomo was (and still is) an absolutely mind blowing architectural feat. The cathedral’s dome was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi who (no joke) had zero previous architectural experience. Not bad for a first timer, eh? If you’re a total nerd like me and actually enjoy documentaries, click here for an amazing National Geographic documentary about the creation of the dome.

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The Duomo in all of her glory.

There’s a lot more to do around the cathedral than simply gazing at its wondrous interiors and exteriors. If you’re relatively fit and not afraid of heights, you can climb to the top of the dome (for a great view of Florence) or the Bell Tower next door (for a great view of the cathedral itself). Don’t miss out on the nearby baptistry, one of the city’s oldest buildings. It was completed around 1128, and Dante himself was baptised here. The buildings east doors, also known as the ‘Gates of Paradise’, are a sight to behold… and the baptistry is about to rise to even more international fame after recently being featured in Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno.

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The Florence Baptistry.

 

THE ACCADEMIA GALLERY

Remember what I told you about buying Uffizi tickets in advance for the first time slot of the day? Well, if you want to see the world’s finest piece of ass, then you’re going to need to abide by my rules once more. Purchase 8:15 AM tickets from the official website, and you’ll enjoy a crowd-free experience with the added opportunity to laugh (internally or externally) at everyone sweltering in line by the time you casually exit.

The Galleria dell’Accademia is also known as ‘the place where you can see David’. There are two clear star attractions at the Accademia Gallery, and they are David’s magnificent left bum cheek… and David’s magnificent right bum cheek. If you’re big into classical sculpture you could easily spend half a day in the Accademia, but most people pop in simply to see Michelangelo’s incredibly famous creation. While David is a dreamboat, do try to enjoy some of the Academy’s other amazing offerings. There’s works by Botticelli, a truly amazing collection of historic instruments, and a room full of marble heads with every expression the human face could ever possibly make. My lack of serious sculptural knowledge prevents me from saying more… just don’t be one of the idiots that make a run for the door after seeing David’s delicious bottom.

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Hi.
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Hi.

 

A BIT OF MEDICI HISTORY

The Palazzo Medici Riccardi (info here) is right in the centre of Florence. It’s a wonderful place to soak up a bit of opulence. courtesy of one of the most wealthy, powerful Italian families to ever exist. I am, of course, talking about the Medicis… a Florentine family that began amassing their fortune in banking and soon saw themselves running not only Vatican City, but entire swathes of Europe.

It took about forty years to complete this palazzo, built for Cosimo de Medici (the OG Medici). There’s some serious architectural glory going on here, inside and out. I loved the intricately carved gilded ceilings and the enormous chandeliers.

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That Medici life.

The main star of the palazzo is the Magi Chapel and its frescoes, as much of the rest of the palace has been altered since the 15th century. It is without a doubt one of the most ornate rooms you’ll ever find yourself in.

Entry to the palazzo is far more kind (both to your wallet and to your personal space) when compared to Florence’s other tourist spots. I visited in August, peak tourist season, and had no problem just walking in and purchasing a ticket. I was surprised at how uncrowded this beautiful palace was, and with entry and €7 (€4 for students!) it’s definitely one of the most affordable cultural luxuries in the city.

WHERE TO EAT

Mercato Centrale – Via dell’Ariento – +39 055 239 9798 – Lunch
A visit to Florence would not be complete without a stop in the central food market. Even if you’re not hungry, it’s a feast for the eyes walking through the corridors and seeing the tumbling piles of fruit, huge slabs of cured meat, and mounds of fresh pasta.

There’s a million choices for a quick lunch here. If you want something substantial, there’s a series of little cafes in the upstairs bit where you can sit down for a proper lunch. If you’re just after a quick sandwich, there’s a few stalls downstairs in the main market serving up incredible ones. I got a sandwich literally called ‘the orgasm’ and it was an accurate description. Most of the vendors are happy to let you try a sample of their gastronomic delights if you’re interested in making a purchase, but will catch on to you if you’re just roving about gorging on freebies.

Braciere Malatesta – Via Nazionale, 36 – +39 055 215164 – Lunch/Dinner
Meat plays a huge role in Tuscan cuisine, and Braciere Malatesta serves up some of the city’s very best beef (manzo). I love the decor in this place – it’s a total mix of rustic and modern, with a dash of the quirky thrown in. On sunny days sit in their outdoor section (which is actually a sectioned off area in the middle of the restaurant) and dine al fresco, surrounded by little potted plants. The obvious choice here is one of their giant steaks, but they also do incredible pasta dishes and I never pass up their gnocchi.
P.S. – It’s located within a five minute walk of Santa Maria Novella train station, so it’s also a great spot to grab a quick lunch or dinner before jumping on the train. Dining options at the station range from poor to poorer.

Osteria dei Baroncelli – Chiasso dei Baroncelli, 1 – +39 055 288219 – Lunch/Dinner
I found Osteria dei Baroncelli by accident after sampling some wine in a shop nearby and then realising I was starving, a bit tipsy, and in desperate need of carbohydrates. This reasonably sized osteria is down a small, semi hidden street that feels private even though it’s just a stone’s throw from the Uffizi. Like many restaurants in Florence, you can get a giant, high quality steak here. Being my boring self, I opted for a simple slice of lasagna to curb my hunger without putting myself into a meat-sweat induced food coma.

Lasagne at Baroncelli.
Lasagne at Baroncelli.

The owner, Giuseppe, is all kinds of lovely and I hear he makes a mean cheese soufflé which I have vowed to try next time.

GELATO TIME

Gelateria Edoardo –  Piazza del Duomo, 45R – +39 055 281055
You might think finding authentic gelato in the Piazza del Duomo is impossible. Think again. Edoardo is a small gelateria right behind the famous cathedral. The shop has limited flavours because they use top notch, seasonal ingredients and change out their flavours frequently. They do amazing sorbets, as well as interesting dairy based and vegan options. My recommendations? Chianti sorbet (as good as it sounds), the dairy based cinnamon, and the vegan chocolate… perhaps not all together though. And don’t even think about getting your gelato in a cup… their cones are handmade daily using locally grown, stone-ground wheat flour.

Mordilatte – Via dei Servi, 10/R – +39 055 216703
Another little gelato spot that’s smack bang in the centre of the city. Their gelato is incredible, but what kept me coming back were their homemade ice lollies, located in the chiller directly opposite the gelato cases. The blood orange (aranciata rossa) ones kept me alive during the relentless Tuscan sunshine, and they’re a bit more refreshing (and easier on the hips) than a huge scoop of gelato!

DON’T MISS

A FLORENTINE SUNSET

Imagine my surprise when I was walking home from a few glasses of wine one evening and stumbled upon this.

The sunset that all sunsets strive to be.
The sunset that all sunsets strive to be.

BOOM.

Yep, welcome to the world of Tuscan sunsets. I don’t care how great the sunsets are where you live, these are better. After that first night, I made a point to venture back over to the river every evening for this mother nature magic. Each time I tried to get a better vantage point, and on my final night in Florence I absolutely nailed it.

So, if you want an unobstructed view, get your pretty ass down to the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge. Once you’re there walk straight to the centre of the bridge, climb over it, and jump off. No, I’m not trying to kill you, I promise. You’ll land (hopefully gently) on a stone ledge that offers a clear view of the sunset, and all of the idiots still up on the bridge will point at you in equal parts jealousy and amusement. Here’s just a small preview of what you can expect:

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Wine with a view.
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I know.

TUSCAN WINE & APERITIVO

If the word ‘aperitivo’ means nothing to you, you’re in luck because I’m currently working on a lengthy post dedicated to the subject. For now, we’ll keep it simple. Aperitivo is kind of like happy hour, but so much better. You pay for your drink and then you get food for free. The food on offer will range from place to place… anything from a few slices of fresh bruschetta to a giant buffet of snacks. Here’s a couple of my Florentine faves for sipping on the vino:

Bar Perseo – Piazza della Signoria, 16R – +39 055 239 8316
Perseo is in a perfect location at Piazza della Signoria, which is almost directly between the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio. The two chaps behind the bar work absolute magic and can whip up just about any cocktail you can think of. I’m a purist, so I stuck with my usual Aperol spritz, which was done perfectly.

If you’re stopping in for aperitivo, I recommend coming to Perseo hungry. The spread they get out for aperitivo is immense and a total bargain compared to other spots in the city. I feasted on gorgeous olives, little slices of focaccia topped with herbs and parmesan, panini, crisps, pistachios, crostini topped with shrimp, etc. etc. They also do decent gelato here if you feel so inclined!

Il Santino – Via S. Spirito, 60/R – +39 055 2302820
I’m head over heels in love with this spot, so much that it pains me to share it with the world. I’m greedy and I want it all to myself. If you’re a wine lover, this is your go-to place in Florence. They have, hands down, the best aperitivo I’ve found in the whole city. Instead of the usual giant spread of carbs, Il Santino focuses on small, perfectly executed, top quality nibbles that pair perfectly with their heaven-sent collection of wines. If you’re extra hungry, they’ve got an incredible restaurant next door.

The Bench – Via Dei Servi, 91r – +39 055 265 7504
I was so happy I stumbled across this little wine bar near the flat I was staying in. The Bench is perfect any time of the day, serving up a brilliant wine list along with sandwiches, bruschettas, and other small nibbles. The best time to visit, though, is during aperitivo… when their fine wines are paired with a gourmet snack compliments of the chef.

All the vino.
All the vino.

And with that, I shall leave you.

Arrivederci… and give Firenze my love.
– Courtney

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