Copywriter Jamie came back from her Grand Tour of Italy with a new love for Florence. Here, she shares her best advice for what to see and do with your free time in this art-filled city.
As soon as we arrived in Florence, I set out to explore. We had a little free time before dinner—just enough for me to walk along the Arno, in view of the Ponte Vecchio, and do a bit of window-shopping along the Via de Tornabuoni. The city was bustling—cars, bikes, Vespas and buses jockeying for position on the streets, and locals brushing by the visitors like me, walking slower so we could take in the sights. I loved that the city was so beautiful and exciting; I couldn’t wait to see more.
The one thing I absolutely needed to do in Florence (aside from see the Duomo and The David) was stop for a sandwich at Al’Antico Vinaio. Friends who’d had the chance to taste one extolled, at length, the virtues of the small takeaway shop and I’d been excited for a chance to try it myself.
With freshly baked bread fom the restaurant across the street, locally cured meats and a dizzying array of different spreads and cheeses, it’s no wonder locals and visitors alike line up on the sidewalk at lunchtime. We headed over right after our guided sightseeing tour ended, and there were only a few people in front of us. One, a young man with suitcase in tow, had just returned to his hometown after time away. “I dream of this place,” he said, recommending options from their small menu. I chose “el Dante”—his personal favorite, filled with cappicola, stracciatella, arugula and fresh tomatoes—and it did not disappoint. We enjoyed our sandwiches on the steps along the Piazzale degli Uffizi.
Next on my list: a walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The piazzale itself is nothing spectacular, save for a huge, bronze cast of The David at its center. But the panoramic view of Florence below is unbelievable. Of course, getting to that vantage point meant we were in for a bit of a hike—when I checked my steps later that day, it logged 54 flights of stairs (I definitely worked off my sandwich). If you can make it, it’s worth it. You can take it slow, and rest in the abundant shady spots along the path. Almost halfway up, there’s the Giardino della Rose, which boasts equally beautiful views of the Duomo and red-roofed buildings of Florence. If you can’t make it all the way to the top, I’d recommend stopping here to admire the view.
Back at the bottom of the hill, I continue walking on to the Boboli Gardens. If you want to do both in a day, here’s a tip: cross the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, and start at the Boboli Gardens first. I learned the hard way that the hill between Piazzale Michelangelo and the gardens is steep. If you went the other way, you’d go down it instead—much easier! Also, I ended up pretty envious of the people resting beneath the shade of the Boboli’s oak and cypress trees, sharing bottles of wine and antipasti. Do as the Florentines do and stop in a salumeria to pack a picnic lunch, too!
The gardens themselves were beautiful, and a lovely respite from the crowded city. Created for the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the Boboli Gardens are filled with treasures, from 16th-century statues to grand fountains and quiet groves. I walked around for a couple hours and I don’t think I was even close to seeing it all—it’s huge! I’d love to go back to Florence one day to explore more.
After a long afternoon of walking, there was no better way to unwind than with gelato. I said farewell to the Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace, navigating my way to Antica Gelateria Fiorentina—a Go Ahead favorite. By this point in my tour, I felt like an expert on all things gelato and had tried all the “classic” flavors, so I branched out a bit. The combo of fior di latte (a sweetened cream flavor) paired with crema de carota, or carrot flavor, was so different than anything I’d had yet. I loved sitting outside the shop and watching people passing by on the way to the Duomo, or hurrying their way home with shopping bags from the Mercato Centrale. It was the perfect way to end a busy day!
How would you spend a free afternoon in Florence? Tell us in the comments!