Out of all the major Italian cities--Rome, Venice, Naples, Milan-- I'd have to say Florence, or Firenze as the Italians say, is my absolute favorite. Not only does it have a special place in my heart (thanks to my recent wedding in Tuscany) but it has amazing Italian charm and some of the best food and wine in the entire boot. Oh and of course the Renaissance art and history! Even if you're not a history buff it's mesmerizing. Getting to Florence is pretty easy. There are two airports that serve the city--one in Pisa (PSA) and one in Florence (FLR). Pisa is a much larger airport with many more flights but is about an hour and a half outside the city. Florence airport is tiny (think 2 runways) but only about 20 min from the city center. There are currently no direct flights from the States to either airport so you will have to connect somewhere in Europe depending on the airline you fly. Note: I would recommend against flying into Pisa unless it offers extremely discounted prices. After traveling for 8+ hours, on a red-eye nonetheless, the last thing you want to do is have another hour and a half train or drive. We had a good experience flying Alitalia to Florence airport. Our layover was in Rome, which was great because we got most of the flying over with in the first leg and the second flight was a quick jump. Plus I got to have gelato while waiting for the next flight, benissimo!
Florence is a pretty compact city, so most hotels will put you within walking distance of where you'll be spending your time. The city itself is mostly located on the north bank of the River Arno so aim for staying there. The river is beautiful, especially at night when locals sit along the bank with a glass of wine watching the sun set so you can't go wrong being near the river. Note: Don't stay near the train station--it's a little gritty and always busy with tourists dragging their suitcases (this is a general rule of thumb for most European cities).
There is so much to see and do in Florence, but here are my top picks that I think will give you a good mix of sightseeing and experiencing the wonderful Florentine culture:
Piazzale Michelangelo - located on the south side of the river and perched up on a hill, this is where you will find the BEST views of the city. It's an absolute must-do.
Il Duomo - the main church of Florence and an architectural marvel, this is a must-see. It's free to go inside the church but you have to buy tickets if you want to climb the dome or the bell tower. Honestly, you will get a better view from Piazzale Michelangelo but you must go inside to see the detail of the artwork on the inside of the dome and to just stare at how huge it is. In high season, be prepared to wait in a crazy long line but you can buy tickets on Viator that let you cut the line (SO worth it).
Piazza della Repubblica - a beautiful square for people watching. The Savoy hotel has a wonderful terrace overlooking the piazza and a fabulous cocktail list. Fun to go for aperitivo (happy hour) or a night cap.
Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio - another square hopping with city life and the Palazzo is actually Florence's town hall. It is a really cool medieval building to see and the piazza is a great place for people watching, grabbing a gelato or coffee and wandering around.
Mercato Centrale - lovely market full of stalls of fresh fruit, veggies, meat, fish, pasta, olives, you name it. Puts any farmer's market I've seen in the States to shame! TIP: knowing a little Italian will go a long way here.
Boboli Gardens - beautiful, peaceful gardens located behind the Palazzo Pitti, this is a great place to escape from the craziness of the city.
Statue of David - even I couldn't miss this one. Located at Galleria dell'Accademia. You can purchase tickets online in advance so you don't have to wait in line as long (totally recommend that).
And if art museums are you're thing, check out the Uffizi Gallery. It's apparently one of the oldest and most famous art galleries in the world with tons and tons of Renaissance art.
Last but absolutely not least, you cannot experience Florence without eating and drinking the Italian way. Stay tuned for my next post which will be all about what draws many of us to visit Tuscany--the food and the drink!
Ciao for now!