This is the second installment of my Italy vacation where I spent 11 days in Italy for only $150 using points and miles. After spending four days in Rome, we took the Frecciarossa (aka the high speed train) to Florence. Florence is a lot smaller than Rome, and while there is no shortage of things to do, we decided we only needed two days for sightseeing in the city. Here’s what we did with our 48 hours in Florence!
- Day 1: Getting Acquainted with Florence
- Day 2 – Tuscany Day Trip
- Day 3 – Florentine Classics
- Final Thoughts
Day 1: Getting Acquainted with Florence
I have to start off by saying I can’t believe they filmed a season of Jersey Shore here. The cast must have stuck out like sore thumbs! Florence is so beautiful and romantic with a completely different feel from Rome. When I pictured myself in Italy, the winding streets of Florence is what I always conjured up. Florence is known for its art and I can finally see why so many art history majors ended up studying abroad here in college. We stayed at the Hotel Pendini which was very close to the major attractions. Since Florence is so walkable, we didn’t have to spend any money on cabs. This path looks confusing, but Florence is pretty tiny so backtracking is no big deal!
Piazza della Signoria and a Quick Lunch
We got off the train around 11:00am and headed right over to our hotel. I’d booked tickets for the Uffizi Gallery at 2:30pm so we had some time to kill beforehand. First stop, Piazza della Signoria! This square is in front of the Palazzo Vecchio which you may be familiar with if you’re a Dan Brown fan. In the square, you’ll see the Loggia dei Lanzi, which is a wide archway housing many famous sculptures including Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa and Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women. Piazza della Signoria is also home to a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The Fountain of Neptune is also in this plaza but unfortunately, we couldn’t see it since it was being restored.
Next, we stopped by the Basilica di Santa Croce, which is kind of like a smaller duomo without a line to get in. I found that the attractions in Rome were a lot cheaper compared to the rest of Italy. Since we didn’t feel like coughing up the money to go into the church, we admired it from the outside.
After our initial sightseeing, we joined the line at All’Antico Vinaio, a delicious sandwich shop that I assure you is worth the wait. I’d wait in line again for the bread alone!
Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery
These are two classic attractions you have to see if you’re in Florence. We walked along the Arno for a bit to kill time before our 2:30pm entry at the Uffizi. I knew Ponte Vecchio was a bridge, but I didn’t realize that a bridge could be so charming! The shops on Ponte Vecchio are mostly jewelry stores, but apparently the bridge used to house a lot of meat shops that eventually had to be closed due to the smell.
At 2:30 on the dot, we entered the Uffizi. I recommend buying tickets online to save yourself about an hour of waiting in line. I was afraid we’d have a repeat of the Vatican Museums madness, but we had plenty of space and fresh air in the Uffizi and were able to enjoy the art at our own pace. The most famous piece you may recognize in the Uffizi is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. I have to admit, we aren’t the biggest art people, so we probably spent less time here than we should have.
Last stop, Palazzo Vecchio
On our way back to the hotel, we made a quick stop at the Palazzo Vecchio which translates to Old Palace. This building was used as a town hall of sorts since the 14th century. It was nice walking through but I’d recommend getting a tour here because we were kind of confused about what we were seeing. Nevertheless, the Salone dei Cinquecento is stunning and it was cool to see the death mask of Dante Alighieri.
Later that night, we headed across the river to eat at Gustapizza. This place is pretty small and you’ll likely wait about 30 minutes in line, but they have it down to a science. While it’s a bit touristy and overrun by study abroad students, the pizza is absolutely delicious.
The weather was kind of funky all day and on our way back to the hotel, it started to downpour and then hail! We ducked into a wine shop as the weather settled down and then called it an early night.
Day 2 – Tuscany Day Trip
I’m saving the details of this for another post. While we were in Florence for three nights, we actually only spent two days sightseeing in the city (hence the blog title!).
Day 3 – Florentine Classics
We saved the best for last. On our last day in Florence, we spent most of the day visiting the main attractions…the Duomo, David, etc.
Piazza del Duomo
We started off our morning at the Piazza del Duomo which houses the Florence Cathedral (aka the Duomo), the Baptistery, and Giotto’s Campanile (aka Bell Tower). One 15 euro ticket will grant you access to all three.
This is the best piece of advice I have for visiting Florence. If you want to climb the dome (the Cupola del Brunelleschi), make sure to either a) buy your tickets online in advance or b) buy your tickets the moment you get to Florence. You have to reserve a specific time to climb the dome and spots fill up fast. We bought our ticket in the morning, and the next climb time wasn’t until the next afternoon! Since we were leaving the next morning, we had to miss out.
My next bit of advice is to climb Giotto’s Bell Tower as early in the morning as possible. It opens at 8:15am and there was no line when we entered around 8:30. Some parts of the tower only have room for one person to go up or down at a time so I can imagine it getting very cramped and crowded. We were starting to see the back up of people as we were heading down.
After the Bell Tower, we went inside the Baptistery. This also opens at 8:15am but doesn’t get nearly as crowded. The Baptistery closes for one hour between 10:15 and 11:15am.
The Duomo doesn’t open until 10:00am and the line is particularly long in the morning. We decided to come back later in the afternoon when it was less crowded.
Galleria dell’Accademia and Lunch
Next, we walked to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the original of Michelangelo’s David. We waited in line for over an hour, so again, I recommend saving yourself some time and buying tickets online. The gallery is small but it’s only 8 euros and definitely worth it to see David in the flesh (err, marble). Don’t let the skip the line tour operators trick you into paying 40+ euros for a tour!
Next, we headed to the Oil Shoppe for lunch. This was a recommendation from a friend that studied abroad here. Without the recommendation, I probably would have walked right by it. The sandwiches here were so delicious and their extensive menu made it hard to pick just one! I highly recommend the Oil Shoppe if you’re looking for a cheap and delicious lunch.
We headed back to the Duomo and finally got to go inside since the line had died down. The inside is not nearly as impressive as the outside, but you definitely have to go inside if you’re in Florence. Make sure to cover your knees and shoulders!
We crossed the Arno one last time to visit the Piazzale Michelangelo. This square offers the best views of the city and is a must-see for newcomers to Florence. You can access the piazza by car, but of course, I recommend walking. In the Piazzale Michelangelo, there is yet another David, this one cast in bronze.
Florence Farewell Meal
We had some delicious cheap eats in Florence, but I wanted to make sure we had a nice sit-down dinner, too. I made a reservation at Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori through the American Express Platinum concierge before I left for our trip. I’m pretty sure they don’t take walk-ins so make a res! The restaurant had a great ambiance, and I’m not trying to be dramatic, but the duck pappardelle was to die for. We shared a tiramisu for dessert and then headed to Gelateria Dei Neri for our second dessert. You have to be shameless when you’re around some of the best cuisine in the world. Gelateria Dei Neri was definitely in my top three gelaterias in Italy.
Florence is a beautiful city with so much history and culture. It has a feeling completely unique from Rome which makes the two cities incomparable. My only wish for my time in Florence was that I’d done more research into the history beforehand. I knew the Medici’s were important, but I guess I didn’t realize how important! Also, some of the art may have been lost on me, but I’ve got to say, Florence is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited. Stay tuned to read about our adventures in Tuscany!