Timeline: August 31 – September 05
Day 3: Arrived to Florence S.M.N train station at 4:30 pm (2 hours ride from Venice). Super comfortable and fast train ride with Trenitatalia , Frecciarossa high-speed trains, tickets were purchased online in advance of the trip. Walked about 5 minutes to Grand Hotel Baglioni from the train station and checked in. Hotel Baglioni was such a characteristic hotel and very central within walking distance to all the historical and major sites with a rooftop view of the glorious Firenze Duomo.
After the check-in, walked to Piazza Stazione 4 by the train station to pick up the previously online purchased Firenze Card. Firenze Card allows access to many sites (checkout the website for complete list of the sites) and skip the line entrance option for 72 hours which starts with the first time use of the card.
The first night in Florence was mostly wandering around and discovering jewels of Florence: Fabulous Duomo standing proudly in the middle of the historic center, piazza della Signoria with a replica of David statue, stood and listened to a great live performance at piazza della Repubblica and the dazzling Arno river with the colorful Ponte Vecchio on top of it.
Looking for a non-touristic place to eat, found Eataly which was a very interesting super market with a restaurant full of Firenze locals. It had a great wood oven pizza, antipasto platter and Tuscan wine, really enjoyed the dinner.
Amazed by the magnificence of the Duomo, continued strolling around it for some time before heading back to the hotel to end the night.
Day 4: After breakfast at the hotel, headed to Santa Maria del Fiore complex of the cathedral and the dome of Brunelleschi and the Crypt of Santa Reparata underneath, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, and the Giotto’s Bell Tower. Used Firenze Card to skip the long lines and entrance tickets completely headache free. Started the tour by visiting the cathedral which is considered the third biggest church in the world. The gothic interior walls and arched ceilings were astonishing and the height of Brunelleschi’s dome from inside felt completely surrealistic. The dome was so hight it was almost impossible to see the entire fresco of Giorgio Vasari’s Last Judgement.
The cathedral is built on top of remains of the old basilica of Santa Reparata which can be visited with an admission ticket or Firenze Card through a few stairs situated in the cathedral. Also one 18 Euros ticket allows access to all monuments.
To get the best view of Florence, climbed up the enchanting dome of Brunelleschi. There was a long line for climbing up the dome as they allowed limited number of visitors at a time. To get to the top of the dome, there were 3 levels, each level opened to an internal terrace on the inner shell of the dome which led to the next level stairs which were getting narrower. The stairs can get crowded and stuffy as there are no windows and people climb up and down through the same way. On the very last level, the steps get very high and uneven with limited space than can only hold one person at a time (this is definitely not for people with asthma claustrophobia, or heart disease. I personally couldn’t continue and had to climb back down).
Took a half hour break at one of the cafes by the duomo to catch a breath. Climbing the dome was tiring enough decided to skip the Giotto’s Bell Tower which again required more climbing. Next and last visited the Baptistry of San Giovanni and enjoyed its fascinating octagonal structure, mosaic work of the dome, colored glasses and Gates of Paradise which was the East door of the baptistry and most stunning panel of the building.
Next walked to Florence’s most famous market, San Lorenzo. The market consisted of two sections: an indoor mercato centrale with shops selling fresh and seasonal produce, ingredients, and wine and an outdoor street market with various stalls selling clothing, leather products, souvenirs and food. It was a very good break from museums, bought some cheese, prosciutto, grapes and Tuscan wine for night fest at the hotel.
Grabbed a bite from the market and walked to Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. Used Firenze Card to enter the gallery and skip the line. The gallery included different rooms each holding great art pieces of paintings and sculpture that had to be passed by in order to get to the center of the gallery and discover the masterpiece standing tall and strong right at the center of this glass dome shining very subtle natural light on it. David is absolutely worth visiting, the piece of stone has a human soul in his body and expression in his concerned look. As got closer to the sculpture, felt his body warmth and the weight of the look in his eyes. It was remarkable and definitely one of a kind. 1.5 hour is a good time to spend at the gallery, if ticket purchased in advance.
After visiting David, walked to Piazza della Signoria to visit Palazzo Vecchio museum (used Firenze Card for entrance). The palace contains beautiful works by Michelangelo, Genio della Vittoria, and other artists. Spent 1 hour to visit the palace and museum and then headed to Ponte Vecchio and banks of the Arno river. Enjoyed an early evening gelato and leisurely walked around the Vecchio bridge for the rest of the night.
Day 5: Started the day by strolling around Florence’s beautiful piazzas, walked from Piazza della Repubblica to Piazza Santa Trinita.
Had an amazing Espresso at Caffe Megara and walked to the next destination, Uffizi Gallery.
Entered the Gallery and skipped the entrance line with the Firenze Card. Uffizi Gallery is one of the most significant art galleries in the world. It is divided into various rooms and hallways dedicated to different artists and periods. Visiting the gallery can easily take a full day so it’s good to have some ideas about the structure of the museum and artworks prior to the visit. After 6 hours at the gallery, grabbed a quick late lunch and walked toward Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset.
On the way to Piazzale Michelangelo passed through the beautiful Tuscan garden, Giardino delle Rose. Captured amazing scenic shots of Florence view from the garden and continue the walk.
Reached the Piazzale Michelangelo right before the sunset. Sat on Michelangelo’s steps along with many others who had gathered with their drinks and snacks to also watch the Florentine sun go down. Enjoyed the vibe and stunning view of the Florence and Arno river for a while and captured pictures.
From Piazzale Michelangelo walked back to the Centro Storico. On the way stopped at Signorvino wine shop right on the Arno by the Ponte Vecchio. Had amazing wine and antipasto and enjoyed the nice lively ambiance.
After some rest at Signorvino, continued with the amusing walk through neighbourhoods of Oltrarno district.
Around dinner time got to the live and crowded Piazza Santo Spirito. Picked up pizza from Gusta Pizza right by the piazza, a must visit place, and joined the crowd on the steps of Basilica di Santo Spirito to eat the pizza.
Walked back to the hotel via Ponte Santa Trinita which offered fabulous view of the Arno and Ponte Vecchio at night. Stopped on the bridge and absorbed the beauty only with a hope to get it reflected back in our dreams.
Day 6: Day-trip to Tuscany. Had an early breakfast at the hotel and walked to Hertz located at via Borgo Ognissanti to pick up the previously booked car. From Hertz rental place drove to the Regional Road 222 (Strada Regionale 222) Chianti and started the trip. Driving on road 222 was such a breath-taking experience and felt like passing through the heaven. On the road had multiple stops at the small towns and cafes even for a quick walk or stretch of legs:
- The first short stop was at the scenic wineries of Montagliari at Greve in Chianti to take in some of the Vinland air.
2. Next stop was at a peaceful caffe and restaurant, Nuvolari, in Castellina for a quick espresso shot and biscotti.
3. Next stop of the Tuscan trip was at Fonterutoli in Province of Siena. Strolled through the valleys of a pretty little village by the Road 222 and headed to a restaurant, Osteria di Fonterutoli, across the Road for lunch which was a hidden place with an unbelievably gorgeous yard with views of Tuscan hills and wineries. The experience was phenomenal. Stayed about 2 hours at the restaurant for an extraordinary four-course meal and great Chianti Classico wine by a local winery.
4. Next destination was Rocca delle Marcie winery in Castellina Chianti which is one the famous wine producers of the region with vast vineyards across the Tuscan region.
5. After visiting the winery, drove to Siena. Spent about 1 hour at the Centro Storico and walked by the Duomo of Siena and its historical streets until it started raining and had to return to the car to drive to the next destination.
6. The last destination of the Tuscan day-trip was San Gimignano, the small medieval walled town located on top of Tuscan hills. San Gimignano’s Historic Centre is a UNESCO Heritage site that is very well-preserved and is still in use by locals. The little town is very charming with little shops and restaurants offering hand-made products and local recipes. spent about 1.5 hour strolling through the town and had an amazing gelato at the Historic Centre before returning to the car to say ciao to the marvellous Tuscan hills and its proud cypresses and driving back to Florence.
Day 7: Day-trip to Pisa. In the morning, walked to the Palazzo Pitti and Giardino di Boboli (Pitti palace and Boboli garden). Used Firenze card for entrance. Spent 2 hours in the palace and garden then headed to the train station for a ride to Pisa.
Train tickets were easy to buy and frequently available, travel time was about 1 hour. Took a taxi in Pisa from the train station to the Piazza del Duomo (Piazza dei Miracoli) which the leaning tower of Pisa, cathedral and the bell tower are located. Had pre-purchased the tickets from www.opapisa.it/ website for the cathedral, museum and the Pisa tower. To conserve the Pisa tower, they only permit limited number of entries every 30 minutes therefore, pre-purchasing is highly recommended to secure a spot. Spent about 3 hours in the Piazza del Duomo before heading back to Florence.
And the visit to Pisa concluded the 5-day adventure of Florence, the meticulous city of Tuscan region.