When we were planning our trip, we knew that we wanted to spend more time in the Tuscan countryside and hence, decided to spend just a day in Florence. A day is clearly not enough but we decided to make the most of it and leave the galleries and museums for next time.
Florence is a city best explored on foot, it is the perfect walkable size so get a map and get walking on your own!
Things to see/ do
- Start your day in Piazza del Duomo – the heart of Florence. Here, you will see the majestic Duomo, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Giotto’s Bell Tower, from which you can get incredible views of the city. There was a huge queue to get inside the cathedral, so we skipped it and instead, admired the same from outside.
- Keep walking and get to Piazza Santa Maria Novella where you can admire the square with its beautiful Santa Maria Novella Church.
- Another must see piazza is of course Piazza Della Signoria where you will find the replicated statue of David by Michalangelo.
- For museums, the Uffizi gallery and Academia are the most visited in Florence. The Uffizi gallery houses several Renaissance masterpieces from famous artists such a Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. While you get to see several replicas of the David in Florence, if you want the real deal, you need to walk down the hall of the Academia to greet him in person.
- For one of your meals, head to Mercato Centrale. It is basically a food market for meats, cheeses, wines, olive oils, pizzas, pastas and fresh produce to make up the best of the Italian style meals. You will smell, see and touch the freshest products and above all you will get to taste whatever catches your attention. Basically it is an upscale food court with too many options giving you the most delicious food! We chose to eat wood fired oven pizza at La Pizzeria Sud and it was one of the best pizzas I have had in my life ! Now the restaurants at Mercato Centrale are certainly over priced but, it was money well spent. We loved Mercato Centrale so much that once we found out it was in Rome as well, we knew we HAD to go there!
- Ponte Vecchio is one of Florence’s biggest landmarks and certainly the most photographed bridge in the city. Ponte Vecchio is not only a functional bridge for crossing the river, but alos a market place and piazza where you will see several locals and tourists. Walk along the bridge and stop at jewelry and souvenir shops.
- After Ponte Vecchio, make your way towards Piazzale Michelangelo. You get such magnificent panoramic views of the city, which has been reproduced on countless postcards and snapshots over the years. But well, if you plan to go there by foot, keep in mind that you need to climb countless steps to get on the top. It is about a 20 minute hike up the hill to get to the top. Once you get to the top, in the warmer months you get live music and you can watch people enjoying each other’s company. Visit Piazzale Michelangelo in the evening around 6.30-7 pm for magical sunset views. Watch the sunset and get best views of Florence in the whole city. It is the perfect way to end to an eventful day of exploring.
The next morning we were leaving for a wine tasting in Greve Chianti region and had a few hours to explore Florence. We decided to visit Bardini gardens. Now, while Boboli Garden is much larger and more famous, the views of Florence from Bardini are better. Wisterias were in full bloom all over Italy and just look at this ! There is a € 7 per person entry charge but that view makes it totally worth it.
As noted in one of our earlier articles, we spent half day in Pisa during our stay in La Spezia. Pisa is equally accessible from Florence as well. Now most people visit the city on a day trip and all they end up seeing is the Leaning Tower. Don’t get me wrong, if you are visiting Pisa, yes, the Leaning Tower should be your priority, but do not just stop there. Visit the main town center, River Arno and you will see that Pisa has so much more to offer. Pisa is not a big city by any means, so most of the sights can be covered in a couple hours.
How to get there
Since we had a car, we drove from La Spezia to Pisa (took us about 1.15 hours). Since we were travelling during Easter weekend, finding parking was not the easiest. Alternatively, you can choose public transport over driving, to avoid all the hassle of finding parking. Pisa is very well connected to most of the main destinations in Tuscany.
There are a few companies, which offer bus tours from Florence to Pisa that combine cheese tasting in the countryside and a visit to a vineyard. While you may find it convenient, it may not be ideal since it does not allow you time to explore more than the Leaning Tower and you would rather visit it yourself that way, you can plan your day the way you want without having to comply with the tour timings.
What to do
So as you know, most people will be queuing up at the Leaning Tower, so try visiting early so you encounter less crowd and can enjoy the Tower to yourself (well, almost). You can also climb to the top if you want the best views – personally, I would suggest leaving this out for a bigger city like Florence since you will get better panaromic views.
Now once you are at the Leaning Tower, you will see most people doing the funny ‘pretend you’re pushing the tower pose’, which looks like this 🙂
Once you are done with the Leaning Tower, walk by River Arno – it was a cloudy day when we were there, but I am sure it would look magical on a sunny day. It carves up the historic part of the city, the buildings are colorful and the locals use it as an everyday part of their city.
Also walk by Corso Italia – it is the liveliest and most crowded street in the city. It is the main shopping street in Pisa and lined with big brands as well as local stores. Since we were there during Easter weekend, there was a huge farmers’ market – it was great way to nibble on a few local dishes and enjoy the local flavors.
*All prices mentioned are as of April 2017.