Florence is a city that was just as amazing as we hoped it would be. We drove here in the van and originally intended to only spend a day or so here. In the end we stayed for three. The only thing we really did for three days was just walk. Every time you explore the city you find something new. Ever since playing Assassin’s Creed II I have wanted to go to Florence and it was almost just like stepping into the game.
The days here were very hot. (We came in the middle of June) That meant that we spent the days hiding from the sun and we explored in the evenings. It would have been a lot harder to walk as much as we did if we had had to do it during the day.
This is probably the most famous bridge in Florence. Shops cover both sides of it and there was often a busker in a great spot in the middle. He definitely booked it in advance. There is a great view of the bridge from Ponte alle Grazie and sunset is a nice time to wander through here.
Palazzo Vecchio is the next huge landmark you spot instantly. This is where you can go visit the smaller version of the statue of David just outside. There are also a few other impressive looking carvings in the square, including a giant golden turtle, which looks a little newer than the rest…
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
This is the most obvious of all the amazing buildings in Florence. You turn a corner on the main street and the building seems to materialise out of nowhere. It is very hard to get the whole building into once shot, it is unbelievably tall. We visited the cathedral in the day time and also at night. The white stone makes the building impressive no matter what time of day and it takes a good while to walk around the whole thing. In the day, the roof of the duomo glow orange in the sun.
You can climb to the top and you can also go inside. You have to pay to do both, so we just admired it from the outside rather than waiting in the long queues to go in.
The markets and shopping draw a lot of people to Florence. The markets are worth wandering through. They sell all kinds of clothes and the leather jackets and bags that Italy is famous for. How you tell what is authentic we weren’t sure, but you could smell the leather from a long way off. Tom was very nearly sold a red leather jacket that he would normally have never dreamed of buying, but he loved every second of it!
Away from the chain stores, there were a lot of unique shops tucked away in Florence. We didn’t manage to see all the streets in the centre, but every time we came in we found another passage bursting with individual shops inside.
This is the place to go to watch the sunset. It is a climb up the bank, once you cross back over the river, but it is worth the hike. Lots of people congregate here every time the sun is out, so if you want a good spot get here early. There is a view of the whole of Florence from the square. It looks directly across to Santa Maria del Fiore and the River Arno. We watched the sun change from orange, to red, to purple and then set directly over the river. It was probably our favourite part of the visit to Florence.
Florence at Night
Florence kind of comes alive at night. Lots of other people seemed to be doing the same as us and staying in during the day. As night fell we came down from Piazzale Michelangelo and wandered pretty much the same route, only now it felt totally different. There are a lot of Italians in the evening coming out of aperitivo before they have dinner. Which is definitely recommended, by the way.
Just off in front of the cathedral was an Irish bar where you could get a pitcher of rum and coke for €8 end enjoy an epic view!
What to eat
The best place to eat in Florence hands down is All’Antico Vinaio. It is a traditional sandwich shop with Italian meats and abundant sandwich fillings. People are constantly queuing out the door to get food here. The sandwiches are huge and there are several varieties, all equally awesome. It is similar to Fergburger in Queenstown, New Zealand, but for sandwiches. If you know where I’m talking about, that is all you need to know. A sandwich cost around €5 each and one was enough for two people, unless you are starving!
We were originally sucked into the tourist square around the Palazzo Vecchio. Once we sat down we immediately regretted it. Heading off down the side streets to find All’Antico Vinaio and all the Italian locals felt like a much more authentic experience. There were also lots of students here, which we always use as a good sign. Students usually know the best and cheapest places in a town. Fact.
Where to Stay
In the van, we stayed at the aire, Parcheggio Gelsomino SCAF. It cost €15 euros a night. From there it took just under an hour to get to the Ponte Vecchio and 40 minutes to Piazzale Michelangelo. It was also possible to take a bus from just outside the aire into town.
There were no facilities except water. The area did look a little unsafe but it was really quiet and we had no trouble here. It looked like a few people had left cars here that had broken down and there were always a few other campers. Be sure to avoid the parking places full of ants though! They tended to be the ones under the trees.