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. 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.

    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

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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!

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