Getting a Feel for Florence

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The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence that survived WWII.

But it wasn't by accident or out of sheer luck that this iconic, shop-laden bridge avoided the retreating Germans' bombs in 1944. In fact, the Ponte Vecchio only survived because a certain German leader with a funny mustache liked the bridge.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Before he became Der Fuhrer, my Walks of Italy guide explained, Hitler had visited Florence and walked across the Ponte Vecchio bridge the way the members of the Medici family would have centuries ago — through a covered walkway above all the shops.

Something about the bridge clearly charmed old Adolf, because the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge spanning the Arno River that was spared. The Germans claimed the Ponte Vecchio was left untouched because of its “historical value.” But I have a feeling Hitler just thought it was pretty.

Ponte Vecchio

Because, whatever your opinion of the quality of the shops on the bridge, there's no denying that the Ponte Vecchio is striking — and also offers up great views out over the Arno River.

Arno River

When most people think of Florence, they picture the terra-cotta-domed Duomo and Michelangelo's “David.” But did you also know that Florence is home to the “Gates of Paradise” and the final resting place of Galileo?

The former refers to a set of doors on Florence's Baptistery: gold-plated bronze doors that depict scenes from the Old Testament.

Gates of Paradise in Florence

The latter — the grave of astronomer Galileo Galilei — can be found in the Basilica of Santa Croce, alongside the graves of famous Florentines like Michelangelo and Machiavelli.

Galileo's grave in Santa Croce

Wandering through this church — and through the backstreets of Florence with a guide — really made me realize how important Florence was in the grand scope of history. And, at the same time, these things made me realize how different Florence is to the other major Italian cities I've visited.

Florence does not have the canals of Venice or the ruins of Rome. In fact, even though Florence was founded by the Romans in 59BC, very few vestiges of its Roman days remain. There are no Roman theaters or stadiums preserved in Florence; no crumbling columns or left-overs from ancient temples.

Florence street

Walking past leather shops and gelato stores, Florence definitely still feels like Italy. But, with its Medici influence and more northerly location, it is entirely unique and completely its own city.

Arno River

Piazza della Signora

I liked this about Florence. Exploring the city for a few days truly felt like discovering someplace new.

Sure, I did a lot of the touristy things:

I visited the Duomo (formally, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore).

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo inside

I walked across the Ponte Vecchio.

Love locks on the Ponte Vecchio

I climbed up to Piazzale Michelangelo across the river for some great views.

Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

But I also did some less-touristy things:

I sought out the graves of famous people at Santa Croce (okay, so this is still kind of touristy, but you won't find lines here like you will at the Duomo).

Santa Croce Basilica in Florence

Galileo's grave

Michelangelo's grave

I skipped the formal art galleries and instead wandered down side streets in search of funny street art.

Street art by Clet

I went shopping at the markets instead of the high-end stores.

Florence boar

At the end of the day, Florence managed to surprise me. As someone who's not a huge fan of art museums and who certainly can't afford to shop in designer stores, I didn't arrive in Florence with the highest of expectations. I didn't originally think there would be enough for me to do in the city for 3 days, let alone the 5 that I ended up spending there.

But, as often happens when I travel with few or low expectations, I was proven wrong.

Florence Baptistery
Florence is not just about religion…
Florence art
… or art.

With its interesting history and unique identity, Florence managed to not only keep me busy, but also to charm me more than I thought it would. It's definitely an Italian city I recommend visiting.

Is Florence a place you'd like to visit? What would you most like to see there?

 

 

*Note: I visited Florence as part of my Busabout trip around Europe. They provided me with transport on all 3 of their Europe loops, but all opinions of the destinations I visit are entirely my own! I also received a complimentary walking tour in Florence thanks to Walks of Italy.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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42 Comments on “Getting a Feel for Florence

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  1. Florence is one of my favorite cities in Italy. So much art, and history. You did a beautiful job capturing it. Hope Ohio is treating you well.

      Thank you! I had actually forgotten how many photos of Florence I took until I was going through them for this post. I can totally understand why this is one of your favorite places in Italy!

    Wow, I love the story about the bridge! Funny how something so subjective as someone in charge liking it can make such a difference and save it.
    I never really considered Florence when I was in Italy, but I’ve been hearing such great things about it lately that now I think I’m gonna have to visit next time.

      I would definitely suggest it, at least for a few days (longer if you’re really into art!). It’s in Tuscany, too. And you can never go wrong in Tuscany. 🙂

    The two photos of overviews of the river/city are just so pretty, you really captured the essence of the city. Italy is way up high on my list of “must see” places.

      Thank you! Those are two of my favorite photos, for sure.

      Italy is on the lists of many… and rightly so, if you ask me!

    You captured everything I love about Florence. I’ve been twice and I honestly would love to go there again. Looking forward to hearing more about your travels!!!

      It’s a city I wouldn’t mind going back to, either.

    Wow this is definitely in our list! Same time next year maybe we are in Florence! The architecture looks awesome. This is exciting

      Just beware that Florence gets realllllyyyyy hot during the summer. But it’s still awesome. I hope you go, and that you enjoy it as much as I did!

    GREAT PHOTOS!!! I was sad that i missed florence but im sure i will go back. your pictures are amazing! the architecture is absolutely stunning!

      Yes, the architecture is great; the city is so attractive! Make sure you don’t miss it next time!

    I miss Florence so much, its one city that just felt like a place I could live.

      Of the major Italian cities I’ve been to, Florence definitely struck me as the most livable.

    I lived in Florence for a year–it is definitely beautiful. Though I will say that have been back last year for a visit, I found it much more commercialized with chain stores instead of the small Florentine bakeries and cafes. Such is life I suppose- still…your photographs are stunning. Thanks so much for sharing!

      Yes, unfortunately that commercialization always seems to seep in… still really liked Florence, though!

    Enjoyed Florence when visiting. I can’t think anything that stood out to me outside of the touristy sights, but the building faces were definitely exquisite! I do remember all the street vendors selling things for cheap and then rolling up their mats as the cops came through. I thought this was funny since I enjoy people watching!

      Haha, you will find street vendors doing that all over Italy! I had a ton of fun watching them one rainy day in Rome.

    I only visited Florence for the day but wasn’t overly impressed compared to some people who just adore it. I know this probably had to do with the fact that I was there for such a brief time and I was stupid and came on a Monday when almost everything is CLOSED. I’m hoping to go back sometime and try again!

    Florence has a special place in in my heart: there is so much to see there that even after 3 visits I always want to go back and see more of it. I also have a special place to have lunch in Oltrarno that I miss, so I must go back there every few months!

      It’s a city I can see myself going back to, as well!

    I love those photos you have of the street signs. Hilarious! I only spent a fleeting 12 hours in Florence and saw on the basics. I would love to go back one day.

      I hope you get the chance to go back someday, Adelina! You can search out more of these funny street signs. 😉

    I’m sure you get asked this all the time but what camera do you use? Your pictures are always so perfect. Great post too 🙂

    Happy travels!

      Currently I’m shooing with an Olympus E-P2 – a little micro 4/3s model that I absolutely love!

    I revisited this post because I am having some serious Italy withdrawals and post like this comfort my wanderlust. I actually new the tidbit about the bridge because what stirs my wanderlust even more, for better or worse, is watching every episode of Passport to Europe with Samantha Brown. I love myself a good museum but I often find that I best enjoy a city by simply wandering the streets and taking the lesser known paths. This was a wonderful post!

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Jessica! I totally agree with you on wandering as opposed to museums!

    We have a bridge with shops in my hometown that was modeled after Ponte Vecchio – so I have always wanted to see the real thing. Florence looks beautiful and I hope one day I will get to visit there!

      Very cool! I highly recommend visiting Florence someday – it’s a lovely city.

    One of the best things I liked about Florence was the fact that it had a map of the city in Braille.

      I didn’t see that when I was there! Very cool, though. I like when cities do things like that.

    Oh how I adore Florence, and one of my favorite things was definitely tracking all of the cool street art by Clet!

      I spent a whole afternoon in search of those Clet signs! It was really fun.

    The Old Bridge as well as being a very old building also has a unique feature, the elevated part of the Old Bridge is made by the famous Vasari Corridor. The Vasari Corridor is a passage that was commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici to join their residence in Palazzo Pitti to government headquarters in Palazzo Vecchio

    I discovered your blog by chance and now I can’t stop reading. Your entire serie of Italy was fantastic since I’m planing a long two-weeks trip there. And since you’ve gone to so many beautiful places I feel I will be coming back for more travel tips.

      That’s great to hear, Lucie! So glad my site has been helpful for you.

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