European City Breaks: Florence
A shining gem of a city and the capital of the region of Tuscany, Florence is a great place to use as a base and explore many of the smaller satellite cities and towns nearby. Its beauty and cultural heritage is not, however, matched by its public transport system, which is irregular and uncomfortable at the best of times. For the best experience, book a hire car online with easyCar and pick it up at Florence Airport, so that you can sail through arrivals and enjoy the short 20-minute drive into the city centre.
Florence is not just the capital of Tuscany but also the centre of the Italian Renaissance. A cultural and scientific movement, the Renaissance led to many of the artistic and cultural movements that still retain importance to this very day. Lorenzo de’Medici, ruler of Florence during the Middle Ages and great patron of the arts, commissioned such great artists as Botticelli, Michelangelo and Da Vinci. It has also borne of it fantastic thinkers and strategists, such as the dastardly Machiavelli. Florence is unashamedly historic; an Aladdin’s cave for history buffs and art historians. If art history doesn’t float your boat, don’t despair! Florence and the Tuscany region is also known throughout Italy and Europe for its culinary delights, including their crostini toscani – sliced bread topped with chicken liver pâté and sliced meats.
Top 5 things to do
1. Make a day of the museums – With so many to see and explore it may be worth cherry picking a few highlights so as not to bore the children or travel companions. My seal of approval goes to the Uffizi Gallery, a showcase of Renaissance grandeur and devotion. Religious iconography is this gallery’s main thrust. Donating a morning to the gallery would be ideal as you can easily cherry-pick the rooms that interest you most. Greek mythology buffs can test their knowledge by trying to guess which figure of mythology is being portrayed in each of the statues that line the halls. The Galleria dell’Academia is famed mostly for its collection of Michelangelo statues; chief amongst them is the exquisite David. Dedicating a couple of hours extra to the extensive painting and sculpture collection is also a good idea. The best time to visit the museums, regardless of whether you have a ticket or not, is early. This way you avoid the tour groups meandering through and blocking your view!
2. Enjoy designer shopping at high street prices – What!? I hear you cry. It’s true, it’s an Italian tradition to station designer outlet stores a short drive from town. Italians flock in their droves to get branded goods, with discounts as deep as 70%. The most popular outside of Florence is called The Mall, and in it you will find such distinguished designers as Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana. Just an hour’s drive out of town, it is well worth the time spent on the road. If your group aren’t interested in art and history, offer The Mall as an afternoon activity after a morning in the museums.
3. Enjoy a stroll across the Ponte Vecchio – This is probably the most iconic bridge in the city and is bustling with activity all day long. For a sedate stroll over the bridge and an unobstructed peek at the views go earlier in the morning or in the early evening. If you’re on a romantic getaway, head to the Ponte Vecchio to scour the many jewellery shops for a heartfelt gift for your other half.
4. Ascend into il duomo – II Duomo di Firenze is the majestic dome that sits on top of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The building took six centuries to complete and represents the cultural, historic and geographic centre of the city. Entrance to the cathedral is free, but tickets to climb up into the dome cost 6€. This isn’t for the faint-hearted as the cramped stairwell on the way up gives way to a platform 100m above the ground. Recent years have seen the dome refurbished with a lot of plastering stripped back to reveal original wood and brickwork in the dome.
5. Sample the wines – As with all of Italy, wine is the lifeblood that keeps this city running. Visit a fiaschetteria (wine bar) and sample some of the local Tuscan grapes. Most of the bars you visit will come with buffets or table snacks free of charge, all of which will settle you into the relaxing ambience and flow of Italian life.
Where to eat and where to go out
If you’re a food tourist, you’d be hard pressed to find better places to go in the world than Italy. There’s even more reason to be cheerful considering that Florence is the spiritual home of Italian cuisine. More often than not Italian food is a lot more rustic and simple than expected. Simple pasta and pizza dishes, made with fresh, local produce are the real height of Italian cuisine. Thick, almost chewy mozzarella combined with rich and salty Parma ham and a sprinkling of basil is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Visit La Prosciutteria for reasonably priced, delicious food. Their online menu offers nothing but Salami, Wine and Cheese. While there is slightly more variety if you actually go in, don’t expect anything too complex. Nor will you need to re-mortgage the house to visit as meals cost in the region of 10-15€. Alternatively, give Casa del Vino a go. This is primarily a wine bar but the buffet is what it has become famed for – expect a platter of the usual meats, fish and cheeses, alongside a whole suckling pig. Meals cost around 10€ with varying prices for the wine.
Later on you would do well to hit Oibo, the trendiest spot in town. The sleek modern interior spills out onto the square as the rhythmic beat of house and techno fills the air. Drinks are reasonably priced and come with an impressive buffet.
For something a bit more authentic it would be well worth your time ducking into Trip per Tre a fashionable yet rustic spot. Relaxing music and a great atmosphere come together to create a bar you’d be happy to while away the evening in.
And with that you are ready for a city break in the beautiful and historic city of Florence. All that’s left to do now is book the rental car with easyCar.