48 Hours in Florence

View of Florence from the Palazzo Vecchio

Back in the autumn of 2002, we took a fabulous two-week journey through northern Italy (our first trip to Europe together). We spent two days and nights in the Renaissance nerve center of Florence, stuffing our faces, walking all over and wondering when we’d be able to return.

Years later, we’re still wondering, still scheming…and still missing gelato.

In two days (and using this handy map for reference), here’s what we did in Florence:

Stayed in the Relais Uffizi, a boutique hotel smack on the Piazza della Signoria. A block from the Ponte Vecchio and next door to the Uffizi Gallery in the Palazzo Vecchio, this is an ideal home base if you only have a few days in the city; it’s a 5-15 minute walk to just about anywhere. It was less expensive when we stayed here back in the day…but so was life in general. (Standard room for two with breakfast, €400)

We wandered through the sculpture heaven of the Bargello Museum and the political grandeur of the Palazzo Vecchio. These buildings were created in the 1200s, which is hard to get your head around. Fully understandable, then, that while gaping at the Palazzo’s royally opulent interior we fell into giggles in front of this sculpture of two guys wrestling.

We breezed into the Uffizi Gallery at about 5pm to enjoy the last hour-and-a-half of the day without major crowds or a need to book tickets in advance. We devoured works by Botticelli and Leonardo, as well as a room full of ancient maps from the Golden Age of Exploration. Did we see everything we wanted to? Nah, but really, we could live in Florence and it would be the same story.

We went for a stroll through the quiet Piazza della Passera, ending with a beautiful dinner at Trattoria Quattro Leoni, which has been serving local specialties since the Renaissance. An ideal, romantic spot to acquaint yourselves with Tuscan food by trying anything fritti or misti.

The next day we started the morning in the Piazza Signoria, standing at a caffé bar with frothy cappuccinos, the air full of cigarette smoke and lilting Italian. Hoofed it to the gobsmacking, heart-stopping Duomo and climbed the entire tower (with its near-endless view of the city) to justify the caloric insanity to come. Soon after, we had gelato at two different places…within six blocks of each other.

We combed outdoor markets: the Duomo-area San Lorenzo, where we found leather gloves for $8US; and the Signoria-adjacent Mercato Nuovo where I found cozy pashmina shawls for $6US. (Why, why did I not buy more?!?)

We saw a tall, lithe, ridiculously gorgeous Italian couple standing in the middle of a busy shopping street, the Via Por Santa Maria. Both were wearing mirrored sunglasses, the guy was talking loudly on a cell phone, and the woman had one hand on her hip, the other curled up to examine her blood-red fingernails. Traffic had to go around them…and we don’t think they gave a damn.

We crossed the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio (which is lined with little storefronts selling exquisite gold and silver jewelry) and explored the opulent Pitti Palace and its sprawling-yet-manicured Boboli Gardens. A whole swath of the gardens are full of kitty cats, which thrilled us to no end. (Note: If you’re not a cat person, have no fear — there’s plenty of feline-free giardino to explore.)

We crossed back over the river on the Ponte alla Carraia, and headed towards the train station to pay our respects to the ornate Basilica de Santa Maria Novella and the mother ship of its farmacia, opened for fragrant business in the early 1600s.

For hours afterward, we wandered the back streets of the city, passing the Piazzas San Lorenzo and San Marco; the sinagoga; a tumble of uniformed schoolchildren running from lessons to their well-coiffed parents; and narrow alleyways where we glimpsed an old couple bringing home their market shopping in a slow shuffle; a big black-and-white cat perched before an explosion of geraniums; huge wooden doors with imposing iron knockers; and a painting studio full of students intent on a half-draped model. We stopped into an elegant bookbinding gallery, Carte, Etc., and purchased an etching by a Florentine artist named Aurelio Vattimo — which still hangs in our bedroom.

On the advice of a New York Times review at the time, our big splurge dinner was at (then-new, now-famous) Cibréo. This ristorante is a spare and low-lit warren where waiters sit down beside you and recite the night’s menu, half of which you’re likely to have never eaten/heard of. I went with a hearty, complex ribollita stew and tried two different Tuscan wines, and Adam neatly avoided the next table’s plate of butter-flied pigeon. All I remember of dessert was pure artistry and yet again, gelato.

Hand in hand beside the gentle flow of the Arno that night, I remember thinking that this was a city where two people could fall deeply in love…if they didn’t already arrive that way.

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See also
TWT Travel Binder: Italy
Daydreaming of Venice
Finding Venice: Part One

Finding Venice: Part Two
In Fair Verona
From Lake Como to St. Moritz: Part One
From Lake Como to St. Moritz: Part Two
Cinque Terre: Part One

Cinque Terre: Part Two

Comments

  1. Hi Melanie,

    Loved reading your impressions of Florence! And you ate at some great places too! I have been living here for 5 years in total and recently married my Italian love.
    I hope you make it back to Tuscany soon and if you need any restaurant recommendations or any other tips on great places to visit here, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Great Blog by the way! I’ll have to show hubby, Emiliano all of the other great places we still need to visit together!

    kind Regards,

    Lisa

  2. Melanie:

    Great!! Thank you so much!

    Will be in Florence in five weeks for a long day trip. We’re staying near Buonconvento for a week and don’t think we can make the trip twice. Now comes the hard part…cutting all these great suggestions down. Any ideas? Maybe another blog post?

    Scott

  3. Lisa, thank you! Your blog is beautiful, and I’m happy you’ve found both love AND a life in Tuscany. 🙂

    Scott, no worries — better one day in Florence than none!

    Try to arrive early and start the day at the Duomo, then have a cappuccino on or near the Piazza della Signoria. If art is your thing, reserve a ticket at the Uffizi Gallery ahead of time (I’d shoot for 11:30am or noon) and spend a couple of hours; if not, hit the nearby street markets and/or go exploring to see how Florentine locals live. Either way, eventually wander across the Ponte Vecchio for lunch at Quattro Leoni, poke around the quiet little piazzas on that side of the river, then visit the Pitti Palace (consider booking a tour) and the Boboli Gardens.

    In the late afternoon, either have a drink with a view of the Arno at the Hotel degli Orafi’s rooftop terrace bar (http://bit.ly/9FDife), or head back to Buonconvento before dark.

    Have fun — and please check back to tell us what you did!

  4. Melanie:

    Thank you oh so much for these very thoughtful (& specific) suggestions. Reaally appreciate the time you’ve taken. And…I’ll definitely check back in.

    Scott

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