It’s difficult to take a bad photo in Florence. Known as the city of renaissance art and culture, the city is full of galleries, sculptures and eye popping architecture and that’s before having to step into a church or museum. With numerous piazzas and public spaces, I rate Florence as one of the most beautiful and preserved cities in the world. Exploring the city is easy and as you lose track of time wandering and discovering the city without having to refer to any guidebooks.
It wasn’t my first time to the Tuscan capital. The first time was in 2009 where I spent half of the time in a tequila induced hangover from a night out with my friend Romina who was running the hostel that I stayed at, so I wasn’t keen on having a repeat performance. I did return though to savour the flavours of bread, cheese, truffles and the morning smells of coffee and revisit the family run businesses that have been in operation for hundreds of years; serving simple porchetta or tripe paninis and always with an accompanying glass of vino.
Throw away the maps
You may have to do some pre trip planning on for most places but for Florence you don’t really need one. Yes, if you’re an art boffin then you may want to find out where your favourite Michelangelo piece is located, but for us everyday travellers the majority of the time that you spend in Florence you can just walk around the many cobbled streets and stumble upon most things you have heard about Florence without even having to search for them. If you’re after a view then head to Piazzale Michelangelo and bump shoulders with other visitors and locals at the viewing areas; for food, follow your nose to San Lorenzo and Central Markets and if you want to people watch then head one of the many piazzas around the city. If you’re short on things to see and do then you’re just doing it wrong.
Prepare for the crowds
Despite the warnings from people who I spoke with, I still decided to go in August. There was no way around it as I was on a schedule and as a result, copped the full brunt of the incoming of tourists. If you have the luxury of time and scheduling then AVOID FLORENCE IN AUGUST.
Not much has changed (rightly so IMO) in terms of the footpaths or the cobbled road dimensions in the city meaning the influx from tourists means that you’ll most likely be pushing your way through bus loads of cashed up Korean and Chinese tourists making their way to the designer brand name shops.
The best time to visit Florence is outside of July-August when there’s a sense of normality and when there are less tourists. It’s cooler in November-March and crowd levels are at their lowest. If you have to travel during peak times and tend to feel claustrophobic amongst large numbers of people then get out and about super early in the morning or on Sunday morning when people are still fast asleep.
Travel logistics are a nightmare this time of the year.
As usual, I booked everything last-minute and in Italy, you pay a hefty premium. From the accommodation to transport, everything starts biting into your budget around this time of the year. Prime example: I paid 90 Euro for a standard train ticket from Salerno to Milan two days from departure whereas my friend bought a ticket two months prior for less than half the price and for first class. I’d highly advise you to loosely plan your itinerary and book your train departure tickets in advance. It is possible to change the departing dates if you change your mind but by God, lock in those cheaper tickets ASAP.
The same goes with Museums. If a visit to the Uffizi Gallery or the Accademia are on the agenda then it’s best to book the tickets in advance, otherwise you’ll be lining up with the hundreds of other visitors. A typical day should be: get out of the hotel early, break for lunch, have a siesta and head out again in the late afternoon for sunset vibes.
Accommodation for budget travellers is pretty much overlooked in Europe. Why make any effort into the facilities and service if the demand is already there? Again, you need to book early if you want to secure the better hostels or budget hotels. If you want to take your chances with booking last-minute during peak periods then prepare to lower your standards in terms of having clean rooms and bathrooms, decent WiFi and breakfast.
If you have a little bit more budget or are travelling as a group or as a couple then AirBnB is a more viable option with most places being on par or close to hostel prices.
I never used to be a fan of focaccia bread up until now. I used to think it was too oily, but for some reason I came around and ate it nearly every day in Florence. I would normally have a proper dinner but in Florence, the best time for the best photographs was in the late afternoon and evening as the afternoon sky transitions from a fiery red late afternoon into an electric blue evening. I’d spend hours in the one spot capturing the changes so I’d devour a focaccia (onion was a personal favourite) and wash it down with a couple of beers or half a bottle of wine. All up, a piece of focaccia would cost under $2 and would last me until late evening.
Of course there’s more to the food than focaccia such as other varieties of bread and pastries, wine, paninis, pizza, coffee, but I’ll save that for another post.
I have to admit, although I still enjoyed myself in Florence, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. This was partly through the excessive crowds and also feeling burnt out from the constant travel. My experience of travelling through Europe was becoming far removed from my usual travel style where I felt like I was forced to be more rigid in my travel planning and some issues with my in AirBnB bookings left a sour taste in my mouth.
In my 17 months of travelling, I’ve mostly met warm and hospitable people wherever I’ve visited. However, my experience with some of the locals could only be described lukewarm. I could also feel a sense of frustration with those who didn’t escape the city for holidays which sometimes soured my experience as a consumer especially when it came to Italian customer service levels. I can accept that I am not fluent in Italian but please don’t turn your back on me when I ask where the ticket machine is or say no if I ask for change and then offer to buy something from your shop in order to get change.
There’s no doubt though that I will return to Florence again. A part of me still romanticises with finding a small apartment, living like a local, visiting the same cafe each morning; kick starting the day with an espresso and croissant and striking up conversations about who does the best tripe sandwiches in broken Italian. Maybe when the crowds are fewer and when I’m not just one of the thousands there visiting.
Have you ever felt slightly let down by a place you’ve visited but will still return regardless of that experience?
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