Last Updated on November 6, 2022 by Goya
Arrivederci Roma and Ciao Firenze!
With four days in total, Florence marks the longest leg of our Interrail journey. But with everything it has to offer both inside and outside the city borders, that is still not nearly enough! Luckily, whatever you opt to do, you’re are bound to leave this fine region with beautiful memories.
Us? We choose to spend a couple of days marvelling at the endless wonders of the birthplace of the Renaissance. And, of course, a quick day trip to the outskirts to feast our eyes on the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Interested in sightseeing in Florence and day trips to Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa? Then, keep scrolling!
Day 1: Florence
We arrive in Florence after an easy 1h30 journey from Roma Termini to Firenze Santa Maria Novella. We check into our B&B which is slightly outside of the city centre before we head back into town.
QUICK TIP:Our B&B was lovely (as was our host) but kind of hard to get to with all the diversions and road closures. The new parts of the city seems to be undergoing complete overhaul during summer months. It makes sense given that Florentines are mostly away for holidays and tourists rarely make it outside of the old city centre. But it really makes the public transport a nightmare if you’re not familiar with the routes. So, it might be worth checking before you book or just getting a cab instead.
My brother is starving, as usual, so we decide to take a look at Florence’s central market, Mercato Centrale. However, it turns out to be closed. So we stop by at -literally- the first place we see: Trattoria Za Za at Piazza del Mercato Nuovo, where you can happily watch the world go by with a cold glass of Moretti. And the food isn’t too bad either:
Afterwards, we head towards the picturesque Duomo di Firenze, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, making sure to stop by the Riccardi Medici Palace (Palazzo Medici Riccardi) on the way:
QUICK TIP:To visit the Chapel of the Magi (Cappella dei Magi) within and marvel on the intricate frescoes of Benozzo Gozzoli, you need a reservation.
You might have seen pictures of the Florence Cathedral (Duomo di Firenze) and know what to expect. But nothing quite prepares you for the first time seeing it, not really. Standing outside this big beautiful marble marvel, allowing your eyes to try to capture every little bit of detail that is in front of them is a truly unique experience, no matter how many times you have seen it.
You can see that it is a work of art, a work of love and devotion; and you can’t help but feel humbled by it. Not necessarily in a religious way, more like revering… imagining what it must have been like for the people to imagine this and to work on this many many centuries ago. My eyes wander to my brother who is visiting Florence for the first time, and in his eyes, you can see that he agrees…
From here, being the total pharma-geeks (trust me, it’s a thing 🙂) that we are, we head towards the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It now seems to focus more on perfumes than herbal medicines, but it is still very impressive:
On our way there, we stumble upon L’ Arte de’ Ciompi, a cute little gift shop like no other where almost everything is handmade using paper, wood, and leather. Sadly they don’t allow photography inside but if you’re ever in Florence, do go in, you won’t regret it.
To Ponte Vecchio
From the old pharmacy, we make our way towards Ponte Santa Trinita, which allows us not only a panoramic view of the neighbouring zazzier Ponte Vecchio, a Florentine landmark, but also takes us rather conveniently through Via Tornabuoni, the city’s most luxurious shopping strip, for some serious window shopping:
Across the Bridge
We wander around the two bridges for god knows how long, passing through narrow streets where there is room for both old and new to coexist side-by-side, in perfect harmony. Of those, La Casa Della Stampa Di Sarubbi Lorenzo with its beautiful hand-drawn prints on pages of old books and ledgers, Parsifal where I scored my gorgeous Duomo bracelet, and the quirky San Jacopo Show, are worth a mention/visit.
PARSIFAL – An artisanal jeweller in Florence by Patrick WandaëlPatrick is a jewellery designer extraordinare with over 30 years of experience in Paris and Florence. His workshop is nestled on a cobbled side street (Via del Sole) where you can find a wide array of rings, necklaces and other precious beauties. I went for an open bangle (68 euros) with the cuppola of Duomo on one side. A perfect little souvenir!
After looking at things we can never afford on Ponte Vecchio, we take a nice long passegiata (early evening stroll) back to Duomo, through a glorious maze of gorgeous piazzas (Piazzale degli Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria) as well as tiny cobbled streets.
QUICK TIPIn this area, you can also find many of Florence’s famous museums, both big and small: Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Vecchio, Galileo Museum, Gucci Museum and Salvatore Ferragamo Museum and many others are all a stone’s throw away from one another.
Before we head back to the B&B to refresh ahead of the dinner and drinks, we both agree that ice cream is long overdue. Fortunately, we soon spot a group of pleased-looking locals leaving Gelateria Carabe… and it’s our Eureka moment!
On the outside, Gelateria Carabe is far from the rows of rustic chic Instragrammable gelaterias we passed on our way, but boy can they serve a gelato! Seriously, each flavour we tried – and we tried quite a bit! – was absolutely amazing!
Day 2 in Florence
In the Footsteps of the Medicis
After a somewhat docile evening (meaning: we crashed soon after a pizza coma), we start the day with a lovely Italian breakfast in our room, ready to conquer Florence
Our first stop is Basilica di San Lorenzo. Here you can find:
- The Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee), the final resting place of many Medici family members, and
- The Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana), built under the patronage of Medici pope Clement VII. It is considered a symbol of the transformation of Medicis from merchants to part of the ecclesiastical society. (Of note: It is only open in the mornings, so you might want to go there early.)
We wander through the complex, playing hide-and-seek with the sun as we move from a crypt to a cloister, then onto a reading room. All while enjoying the works of great Italian masters and immersing ourselves in the history of Florence and Medicis – which are often inextricably intertwined-.
Once we’re done and back in Piazza San Lorenzo, we decide to have a quick bite at now-open Mercato Centrale. The food hall inside is lively and offers a wide variety of choices.
I go for an insalata di melone, prosciutto e mozzarella (channelling that typical tourist in Italy vibe :)) from I Formaggi Franco Parola, while my brother opts for some dumplings. Both are ready quickly and equally delicious. We wash them down with an ice-cold glass of beer before we make our way to Galleria dell’Academia to see Michelangelo’s David.
David of Michelangelo
The queue outside Galleria dell’Academia is immense. It snakes all the way around the street and onto the aptly named Piazza delle Belle Arti. “We should have booked our tickets in advance”, I think to myself. The story of this entire holiday! Meanwhile, my flustered brother is trying to shield himself from the sun -in vain- and muttering lightly.
I know he is not fussed about seeing David, but I also know he will change his mind when he does. So, we brave the lengthy queue and the scorching sun for a while before we make it inside the museum. Luckily, the queue moves more quickly than we expect.
The tour starts in a room full of sombre paintings from the Middle Ages. It’s cold and dark inside -or perhaps we are a little too blinded by the sun outside-, which is a welcome change. We make our way through various halls and rooms to finally meet the beloved David.
You can see him all the way down the corridor. It is actually hard to say which is more impressive: its splendour from afar or its intricacy from up close. I see my brother’s face light up as we get closer, he is clearly out of words.
I am very tempted to say “I told you so”, but I can see that he already knows 🙂
Afternoon in Florence
For the rest of the afternoon, we wander around the old town:
- Passing through Piazza del Duomo,
- Stopping for a cocktail at Fermento Food and Beer and some artisanal ice cream at La Strega Nocciola Gelateria Artigianale,
- Getting lost in the streets around Piazza della Repubblica,
- Before we make it to the final destination of the day to watch the sun go down over Ponte Vecchio at La Terrezza, the rooftop bar of Hotel Continentale, over cocktails and nibbles.
Don’t let the map fool you, with all the walking around in the museums and (if you’re like us) getting lost, this will actually be more like 18k steps:
Day 3: Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa
Florence being the best base for a little Tuscan getaway, we booked a day trip to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano. After doing all the research and decision-making for our previous destinations, we welcome a day of just being driven around and having everything sorted for us. Our guide is very knowledgeable and friendly and our coach is AC’d, so we are in heaven!
Siena, with its gorgeous medieval cityscape, is absolutely breathtaking. After a guided tour of the Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena), we are left to explore the city on our own. It’s impossible to see everything in a measly couple of hours, so we just wander around and:
- Take in the beauty of Siena,
- Stop for a coffee in a cafe on Piazza del Campo and,
- Visit local shops like Sonia Staccioli’s Bianco e Nero.
For lunch, we are served typical Tuscan dishes at Ristorante Taverna di Bibbiano. Accompanied, of course, by a selection of local wines. All so delicious that I seem to have forgotten to take pictures!
After lunch, it is time for a brief stop at the colourful hilltop town of San Gimignano, with a ceramics shop at each corner. Needless to mention, ceramics shopping and Interrail don’t really go hand in hand. Fortunately, I am told they ship to the UK. So, I take the cards of a couple that grabs my attention: LaCeramica Elena Ricciardi and Leoncini. We stuff our faces with deliciously creamy concoctions of Gelateria Dondoli and before we know it, it’s time to go.
SIDE NOTE:I am told there is a wine museum with its own bar here as well. We don’t really have the time (and it’s probably too hot for that anyway). Although it is a tiny little town, I would definitely like to come back to San Gimignano, this time with Mister. I feel like it would be a great romantic weekend getaway place: Slow-paced but thoroughly enjoyable!
The last stop of the tour is in Pisa, a city that needs no introduction. We admire the Piazza dei Miracoli (or Piazza del Duomo), with its famous leaning tower, then stop for our usual afternoon pick-me-up before jumping back on our coach to take us back to Florence. Pure joy!
Day 4: Goodbye Florence!
Time truly flies… I can’t believe this is our 4th day in Florence and the 10th day of our trip overall. We are now officially closer to the end of our trip than to the start. But, this is no time for despair as we saved the best of Florence for last!
No trip to Florence would be complete without:
- A proper visit to Duomo, Brunelleschi’s Dome and Uffizi Galleries, and
- A meal with Florentine steak (Bistecca alla Fiorentina).
So today, we make sure we do all of them!
QUICK TIPAdmission to Duomo is free. All you need to do is adhere to the dress code: no shorts or sleeveless tops. If you want to visit Brunelleschi’s Dome, on the other hand, you need to make sure to book way in advance. We booked ours on our first day in Florence.
For lunch, we opt for a quick, delicious sandwich from ‘ino. A gourmet sandwich bar and deli located between the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio:
For dinner and our long-awaited Florentine steak, we chose Trattoria Osteria Dall’Oste SMN. While its proximity to the train station initially makes me wonder whether we are falling into a tourist trap, the quality of the meal soon proves me wrong. Everything is truly exceptional!
Arrivederci Firenze, you have been lovely!