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Florence is a city I had always wanted to visit, and my dream finally came true on Sam’s and my recent trip to Italy.
The (small) catch was that we only spent six hours in the city.
That’s right. One of the cultural and culinary capitals of the world crammed in to less time than most people spend at the office on any given Tuesday (or binge-watching Gilmore Girls on any given Tuesday night. Just me? Ahem…).
Was it enough time to experience everything Florence has to offer? No.
Do I regret the decision? Absolutely not!
It came down to either taking a brief stopover in Florence on our train journey from Rome to Venice, or skipping it altogether. And we figured a taste of Florence (and I mean this in more ways than one) was better than nothing at all.
So here is our whirlwind guide to spending six hours in beautiful Florence:
We caught an early train out of Rome on Trenitalia and arrived at Frienze SNM station by 10:30am.
Since we weren’t staying overnight and didn’t want to lug our backpacks around all day, we stored them at the train station for about €7 a bag (we highly recommend doing this!).
And unlike our experience with most European airports, the Florence train station let us out right into the heart of the city, so we didn’t have to pay for additional transit.
Our first stop was the magnificent Florence Cathedral in the city’s historic center. We saw some impressive churches on our trip through Europe, but the Florence Cathedral stands out for its beauty and size. No wonder it took 140 years to build!
We didn’t go inside, because the queue was approximately 6 miles long. But if you have more time than we did (and odds are good you will) I’m sure it’s worth the wait!
Full disclosure: the main reason we visited Florence was to sample gelato at Vivoli.
We love travel-themed TV shows, and we discovered I’ll Have What Phil’s Having several months before our trip. In each episode, Phil Rosenthal eats his way through a new city or region (Sign me up for that job!). In his episode on Italy, the gelato at Vivoli put him into ecstasies.
If it’s good enough for Phil Rosenthal, it’s certainly good enough for us. So after admiring the Florence Cathedral, we made a beeline for Vivoli. Because gelato is a perfectly acceptable mid-morning snack.
It was a life-changing experience. We sampled a lot of gelato while in Italy, and Vivioli’s was some of the best.
To walk off the gelato, we strolled along some of the lovely bridges spanning the Arno river. The most famous (and oldest) bridge in Florence is Ponte Vecchio.
We didn’t stay long because the area was chaotic, but browsing the jewelry and art for sale in the shops lining the bridge is definitely a must while in Florence.
Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped public square in the heart of Florence. It has been considered the political hub of the city since the 14th century, and is a popular meeting place for both Italians and visitors.
We enjoyed browsing the open-air sculpture gallery, which contains some spectacular works of art.
Michaelangelo’s famous statue of David was on display here for centuries until a replica replaced it in 1873.
For lunch, we headed to Le Menagerie, a trendy restaurant Sam’s brother Joe recommended. If Anthropologie were a restaurant, it would look a lot like Le Menagerie.
Aside from great food, Le Menagerie sells beautiful flowers and home goods, so it’s worth exploring beyond just the café area.
We had time for one more attraction after lunch, so we headed over to the Galleria dell’Accademia.
The museum houses paintings and sculptures by many great Italian artists, but its biggest draw is Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David.
The ticket line looped all the way down the street, so we got into place and prepared for long wait (You can reserve tickets online to save time, but a €4 reservation fee will be added. We paid €8 at the door).
Moments later I felt a droplet of water land on my cheek. Then another. And in an instant the heavens opened and we found ourselves in a torrential downpour. I quickly discovered my “rain jacket” is as waterproof as a sieve, so we ran to take cover in a nearby doorway.
We waited the rain out for about 20 minutes before getting back into line, further back and much wetter than before. (As I’ve previously mentioned, we’re basically walking rain sticks.)
But the museum was absolutely worth the hassle.
The statue of David was breathtaking. It’s easy to understand why it is considered the most incredible statue ever carved.
We browsed the other exhibits, then headed back to the station to catch a train to our next destination: Venice!
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