Bucket lists. Cheesy, yes, but one of the best ways to explore a particular destination given adequate time. When I lived in Florence, I decided to make my own bucket list (or a get-off-your-butt-and-see-something list) and am happy to say I put a check mark next to each item. The list included the typical, albeit incredible, tourist attractions: Go to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, walk along (but do not buy jewelry) on the Ponte Vecchio, get lost in the Boboli Gardens, climb the Duomo’s dome, the list went on.
If you find yourself in Florence, I highly recommend all of the above. If you have spare time and space on your itinerary, consider these options, as well.
Go to the Bargello Museum
Florence is home to world class museums, the most famous being the Uffizi. While I certainly suggest taking ample time to admire all that museum has to offer, I also recommend you visit the lesser known Bargello. You can find the museum at Via del Proconsolo, 4, located in one of the oldest buildings in the city. Be amazed by the neverending sculptures (compared to the Uffizi’s many paintings) and discover works by Donatello, Michelangelo, Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. Do a little research on the art (or buy a book when you enter) to get a full scope of the history and dedication that went into the masterpiece you are viewing.
Tip: To save yourself some time and frustration, visit the museum ticket office early. Purchase an advance ticket and then come back a few hours later to avoid long lines.
Visit the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella
It took three trips to Florence before I stumbled upon this jewel of a museum. The Old Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella (Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella) is located in its original building at Via della Scalla, 16, just steps from the beautiful church of the same name, which is also worth a stop, time permitting. This pharmacy is one of the oldest in the world and sells remedies as they were used centuries ago. Upon entering, you are immediately immersed in a scentwave of herbs, flowers, soaps, and perfumes. You can visit different rooms to learn about how the products were/are made, sample the delicious teas, search the library, browse cures for ailments, or try the heavenly perfumes and colognes this unique pharmacy is known for.
Tip: Need a souvenir? This is a great place to pick up small soaps, teas and candles for anyone. Gather free samples and give them out to friends and family at home. You can even buy medicines and perfumes for your (or someone else’s) dog.
Admire the Basilica of San Lorenzo
The Duomo is the jewel of Florence’s skyline, as it should be. The cathedral is nothing short of breathtaking and is an architectural representation of the beauty that is Florence. This will surely be one of the first stops you make, but consider going to the Basilica of San Lorenzo, as well.
San Lorenzo basilica is located in a piazza that shares its name. It is the old cathedral of Florence and perhaps the second most important church in the city. The façade is unlike any other, as it’s unfinished. Several artists were commissioned to do the job, including Michelangelo, but all failed and citizens liked the way it looked, so it remains. Once inside, make your way to the old sacristy, designed by Brunelleschi, that houses several tombs of the Medici family. If you have time, make sure you also explore the Cappelle Medici and the new sacristy, located just around the corner. The new sacristy, started (but not finished) by Michelangeo, also holds tombs, as does the chapel. If that sounds a bit monotonous, it’s not. Seeing the grandeur in person is truly extraordinary.
Tip: There is a great market that sets up near San Lorenzo. Walk up and down the streets to browse through fine Italian items and perhaps splurge on that leather something you’ve been eyeing.
Take a trip to Fiesole
When you visit Florence, chances are you’re going to stay in Florence. However, if you’re looking to explore the city and beyond, Fiesole (fee-ay-soh-lay) is the perfect excursion. Just outside city limits and easily accessible by bus, this charming town has a surprising amount to offer. There is a cathedral that was founded in the 11th century, a Roman theater and bath, ruins, magnificent churches, piazzas, genuine Italian dining and more.
Tip: If you’d like to visit, hop on bus #7 that leaves from Piazza di San Marco every 15-30 minutes for 1.20 Euro (best to also buy one for the ride back, and don’t forget to validate your ticket once inside the bus). The journey is roughly 20 minutes. Click here for more information.
Watch the sunset in Piazza Michelangelo
There are dozens of piazzas (squares) throughout most Italian cities. Some of my favorite in Florence include Piazza della Signoria (see art for free!) and Piazza della Repubblica. It’s common to go with a bottle of wine and sit for hours to watch people and make friends, a perfect way to immerse yourself in Italian culture. If you’d like to wander a bit farther, visit Piazza Michelangelo. Fair warning: it’s located on a hill and you’re going to have a considerable walk, but it is well worth it. You can see the magnificant skyline at a glace and watch the sunset (or rise) over it all. It’s one of my favorite memories that I made while living there.
Tip: Piazza Michelangelo is easily found on any city map. If you decide to take the trek, consider making a stop at the nearby church of San Miniato (San Miniato al Monte), as well. The church, and its views, are exhilarating. Built in the 11th century, it is an absolute splendor to behold and worth a stop on the way.
Treat yourself to a private wine tasting
It’s common to take wine tours while visiting Italy, particularly Florence. Often times, these tours will take you outside the city and require an entire day or two. While the Tuscan countryside is breathtaking and exploring vineyards is an incredible experience, this might be excessive for those of us who aren’t wine aficionados. Plus, it’s usually expensive.
If you don’t want to spend that much time (or cash) book a private wine tasting. During my stay in Florence this year, my mother and I went to a wine course held by the Florence Wine Academy. It was authentic, more enjoyable and more intimate than my other experiences. We learned about Italian wine culture while enjoying the company of Vittorio, who is incredibly devoted and passionate about wine, wine making, and wine consuming.
Tip: Think you want to try this unique course? For more information on wine tasting in Florence, visit their website. There are two classes daily, morning and night. There is an eight person limit, so make sure you book in advance. The price is inexpensive compared to most wine courses and you don’t have to leave the city to do it, perfect if you only have a few free hours.