The Ponte Vecchio

If Leonardo himself had wanted to design the most romantic, beautiful example of renaissance italy, he could have done no better than the magical city of Florence. For the modern traveller, Florence is both a journey back in time to a more attractive age, and ideal modern metropolis to be your base of operations for exploring Tuscany.

Like much of Italy, Florence maintains hundreds of years of its turbulent and artistic history. The difference here, however, is that this was where the superstars of the renaissance (like Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Machievelli and many others) lived, learned and left their greatest marks.

Florence has both a quiet beauty and a real buzz, celebrating its past while ensuring itself a place in the 21st century. From the enormous, gaudily decorated edifice of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) to the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery, from the medieval feel of the Ponte Vecchio to the boutiques of the greatest Italian labels, Florence has something for everyone.

Teddy looking out of his apartment window in Florence

Teddy looking out of his apartment window in Florence

Accommodation, for one thing, covers the entire spectrum. There are large, luxurious hotels, small, cosy B&Bs, and plenty in between. If you’re staying in central Florence (say, with five hundred metres of either the Ponte Vecchio or the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, then most of the city’s main points of interest will be within easy walking distance. A downside to such convenience, however, will be noise – not only from the many pubs and restaurants that spill outinto the streets until the wee hours, but from the noisy metal carts the market stall-holders wheel across the cobblestones both in the evening (as they close down) and just before sunrise (as they set up again).

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

As with most Italian cities (especially in Tuscany), dining in Florence is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Teddy didn’t have a single bad dining experience in Florence, or the surrounding areas for that matter. At one restaurant overlooking the Piazza della Republica they served drinks but forgot to take a meal order, but that was about the worst of it. Some restaurants can be a little pricier than others, but there are equally good feeds to be had at the smaller, cheaper cafes.

Places you must see:

Among the “must see” attractions of Florence for every tourist are:

  1. The Uffizi Gallery and Accademia. Built in 1581 adjacent to the Medici palace, the building was originally offices and meeting rooms for city  bureaucrats and magistrates (hence the name: uffizi in italian means “offices”). The Medicis exhibited many of the works in their art collection in the building, and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public to become one of the world’s most remarkable museums and galleries – not least as it houses Michealangelo’s famous David. In high season (July and August) the wait to get inside can be as much as five or six hours – so you should purchase your tickets beforehand (online) or take a ‘skip-the-queue’ tour.
  2. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Duomo.

    The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Duomo.

    The Duomo, or Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction of the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower was started in 1296 and completed in 1436. The green and pink marble panels on the exterior give it one of the most remarkable building facades in the world, and for a long time its dome was the largest in the world. Inside, it is easily one of the most stunning churches you will ever see – not only because of its cavernous size, but because of the glorious frescoes by some of Florence’s greatest artists. Teddy found it amazing that it filled so much of the piazza in which it sits, or maybe that the buildings around it were allowed to crowd in so close!

  3. Ancient shops sell modern jewellery long the Ponte Vecchio

    Ancient shops sell modern jewellery along the Ponte Vecchio

    The Ponte Vecchio. Okay, you say, it’s just a bridge. No, it’s the Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge in Florence. There is so much history in this bridge, as is evident from many of the existing shops that line its length. As World War II was drawing to a close, Hitler ordered all the bridges in Florence blown up, to slow down the allied advance. But the nazis in charge in Florence refused to blow up the Ponte Vecchio, so it remained when all the other bridges were destroyed. Along its length is also a long corridor that links the Ufizzi gallery with the Pitti Palace on the opposite side of the Arno River, allowing the Medici rulers to travel from the office to home without ever stepping outside.

  4. The Palazzo Pitti (or Pitti Palace). Built originally in 1458 as the grand residence for Luca Pitti, a banker, it was purchased by the Medicis in 1549 and became the chief residence for the ruling family of Tuscany. It was even used briefly as the royal palace of the King of Italy. Finally donated to the public in 1919 it remains one of the largest and most impressive residences on the Italian peninsula. Only a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio, the gardens are huge and designed in a very formal style. Today it is a museum and gallery. You can buy two tickets – one that give you access to the gardens, the smaller Boboli gardens and the porcelain museum, and one that gives you all that plus access to the main museum and gallery, and the royal apartments.

While each of these is worthy, and provides a great taste of historical Florence, don’t miss experiencing the small alleyways and quaint corner shops along the way.

Things you must do:

  1. Visit the Bardini Gardens and enjoy the view of Florence. Everyone visits the Pitti Palace and the grand  Boboli Gardens, the traditional seat of the Medici Grand Dukes of Florence, and you should too. But while there, don’t ignore the smaller, but equally appealing Bardini Gardens. At one end is a small pavillion where you can enjoy a light meal or coffee and one of the best views of the city.
  2. Walk the old city. Florence has something to see, touch, smell or taste on just about every street corner. To really appreciate the city, get down amongst it

Where to eat:

There are countless great eateries throughout Florence, from the simplest grocery store, bakery or pizzeria to the grandest restaurants. All waiters speak english, and the food and service is generally of a very high standard.

Two favourites that stood out for Teddy for very different reasons are “La Grotta Guelfa” at the very southern end of Via Pellicceria (great traditional menu and excellent service), and the pavillion cafe in the Bardini Gardens (light meals only, but a view to die for). [It’s amazing the way that history intrudes into just about everything in this beautiful part of the world. Guelfa, or Guelph, refers to  the northern Italian factions who opposed the reign of the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th to 16th centuries.]

Teddy was not so impressed with the restaurants that border the Piazza Republicca, finding them too busy and the service far too slow. They’re keen to get you in and sitting down, then it seemed to Teddy that he was quickly forgotten.


(Teddy has lots more pictures of Florence on the desktop backgrounds page, and the iPhone background page.).

The city of Florence from the Bardini Gardens

The city of Florence (with the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore dominating the skyline) from the Bardini Gardens



31 Responses to Florence

  1. […] “Florence receives more than five million visitors each year, and for many of them the Palazzo Pitti is an essential stop. Thus the palazzo still impresses visitors with the splendours of Florence, the purpose for which it was originally built.”  […]

  2. […] four hectares overlooking the Arno River, and with some of the best views of the old city of Florence, the Bardini Garden is a […]

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