Florence. What can a blogger say that hasn’t been said countless times in the last millennium? Cultural mecca, epicenter of the Renaissance, food extravaganza, fashion center, art and architecture overload – if you can’t find something to love about Florence, there’s something wrong with you.
The city is simply overwhelming. Before you even step out of the train, you spot Florence’s insanely monumental Gothic Duomo towering above the surrounding buildings. The phenomenal black and white banded walls dwarf crowds of visitors. Every tourist eye is fixed on its remarkably intricate polychrome marble facade. It’s hard to comprehend what someone in the fifteenth century would have felt encountering the cathedral for the first time.
The Romanesque baptistry, which predates the Duomo and is one of Florence’s oldest surviving buildings, easily holds its own with the enormous cathedral boasting a massive umbrella of Venetian gold mosaics depicting scenes from the Bible as well as grisly images of hell. (I’m a real sucker for these gold mosaics; St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul are two of my favorite buildings on the planet.)
Climb to the top of the Duomo’s dome or the neighboring bell tower and Florence spreads out in all directions, a labyrinth of medieval streets and alleys winding past churches, palaces, monumental arches, and fortified towers. Florence is a virtual textbook on the evolution of European architecture.
Swanky fashion boutiques, elegant enotecas, family-run cheese and sausage shops, gelaterias, fine restaurants, bakeries, confectioners, and chocolatiers lure in visitors with every temptation known to drain your wallet. The remarkable Ponte Vecchio, one of only four surviving Medieval market bridges, is actually lined with gold and jewelry shops. Florence is dangerous… to your budget.
Did I mention there’s art? Old stomping ground of Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Masaccio, Donatello, Raphael – the list could go on and on – Florence is a serious contender for the most important city in the history of art. Art is everywhere; murals, statues, fountains, and architectural flourishes line the streets. There are countless world-famous museums and churches filled with art to explore, but you never have to set foot in a single building to feel the city’s artistic heritage. That said, a good art and architecture guide is worth its weight in gold.
So yes, Florence is very much worth all the hype. We’re spending a week here on this visit, and we are only going to scratch the surface.
Tip on Visiting Florence
Florence is a city to visit off-season. All that art, history, food and fashion make this one seriously overwhelmed destination during peak months. There’s a reason we are here in November. While the weather may not be perfect, it’s cool, it’s calm, and we have it all to ourselves… well, maybe not all to ourselves.