Saturday morning we woke up bright and early as we had big plans to hit some major Florence landmarks. As I’ve said before, finding eggs for breakfast is really hard in Europe (except for the U.K.), therefore this time around we decided to scratch the hunt for an omelet all together and succumb to the pressure of the Italian bakery. If everyone else in Europe can eat pastries for breakfast, why can’t we?! Enter: Don Nino. Joe was in heaven – flavor after flavor of cannolis and extra large cappuccinos. This was the dreamiest little patisserie – white wash wood, chalkboards with daily specials, and the cutest shabby chic touches. I couldn’t stop taking pictures!
Our first stop on our tour-de-Florence was Galleria dell’Accademia, home to the infamous David statue. We decided to do a guided tour so we could have a better understanding of what we were looking at. The museum is filled with Renaissance paintings and sculptures. It is divided into a couple of different sections:
- The Hall of Colossus
- The Musical Instrument Museum – collection of instruments from royal Italian families including the Medici’s
- The Hall of Prisoners – most famous section housing Michelangelo’s unfinished slave sculptures and the David
- Florentine 13th Century and Gothic Painting
Our favorite part was definitely seeing the David in person. I was absolutely shocked to see how MASSIVE this statue is. It’s 17 feet tall – so crazy! Other than that, the museum was slightly underwhelming for us. We need to get better at our appreciation for art….
We continued to stroll the streets of Firenze, just taking in the sights and all this beautiful city has to offer. We walked along the skinny cobblestone streets and stopped in and out of tiny shops & cafes. We ended up at Piazza della Signoria, one of the most iconic locations of Florence. This plaza is home to The Uffizi Gallery, Florence’s most famous museum and one of the largest in the world, known for an enormous collection of Italian Renaissance art. We felt slightly guilty for not at least going in and looking around, but with 3+ hour queues, purchasing tickets in advance is definitely the way to go. Next door is the Loggia dei Lanzi, the open air sculpture gallery that you’ve probably seen in movies like Hannibal and The Da Vinci Code. Also in this plaza is The Gucci Museo – a whole museum dedicated to the history of the brand which was actually founded in Florence. We decided to give it a try since it was something different, and we were glad we did. Did you know, Gucci originally started as a premium luggage brand? While in his early twenties, and working at a glamorous hotel in Paris, Guccio Gucci became obsessed with the patrons luggage and felt there was a need in the market for luxury luggage and travel accessories. Upon returning to his birthplace, Florence, he opened a shop that sold fine leather travel goods and the rest is history.
Afterwards we headed to Mercato Centrale for lunch. Centrally located in San Lorenzo, this market has an entire floor filled with stalls of fresh produce, local cheesemongers, and butchers. The top floor is a mix of food vendors specializing in Italian fare with an open seating concept. Basically you can go to one counter to get a pizza, and then to another to get a bowl of pasta and then find a seat anywhere in the middle. This place was packed and we literally wanted a little bit of everything. I was on the hunt for a seat while Joe made the rounds for the food. We ended up with a delicious bowl of bucatini and a salad with some truffle bruschetta tasters. And two extra large glasses of vino of course. The fresh pasta was SO good and really hit the spot. All of the food in this place seriously looked so good, we could have spent the day there trying a little bit of everything. Make sure to carve out a good chunk of time when you go here – it’s an Italian overload!
Now that we had carbed up, we were ready to do our climb up the Cupola di Brunelleschi. Everything we read said to make reservations which was the best advice. We showed up at our allotted time and walked right in, definitely the way to go. The Cupola is the dome of the Duomo, Florence’s most grand cathedral. Entry to the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral is free, but if you want to see any of the other parts of the Duomo – tickets are sold separately and reservations are encouraged. You can visit the Baptistry of San Giovanni, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the crypt as well. We went with the Cupola because we read about how incredible the view from the top is. Since they only let in a limited amount of people at a time, the 463 steps to the top went quick. The view from the top was incredible, the sky was clear, and the sun was out – we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to get a true 360 degree view of the city. We couldn’t stop snapping pictures, it was worth each and every step.
The Duomo itself is magical from the outside. When I first saw it, I became slightly obsessed with the distinct style – strong geometric patterns and the unique pink, green, and white colours. I feverishly started Googling the history and learned that this was the typical Tuscan style of many churches that were built in the 13th century. The entire thing was made from marble and was erected in the shape of a cross, symbolizing Christ’s crucifixion. I could go on forever about all of the symbolization used, but I’ll spare you the boring details for now 🙂
We continued walking around and decided to head towards Santa Croce, an area of Florence which we had yet to explore. There are lots of great shops around here, but the main attraction is definitely the Santa Croce Basilica. Another spectacular church of the same style as the Duomo. We were hoping to visit some Christmas markets in this piazza, but unfortunately they don’t go up until December. At this point it was getting dark, so we journeyed back to our hotel.
I don’t know how I haven’t mentioned our hotel yet! We stayed at The Hotel Spadai, which is located directly in the center of Florence, right in the shadows of the Duomo. This place was incredible, super modern but very affordable. They even gave us a free room upgrade! They also offer 1 free drink per guest along with complimentary appertivo in the lobby bar. Our stay here was perfect and certainly helped to make Florence even more memorable.
After re-fueling for a bit, we were then off to Rex Caffe for some pre-dinner drinks. I read that this was a “hip” spot for locals and by hip I think they meant quirky. It almost had a nautical feel with a big map painted on the wall, random ship statues, and a giant faux marlin taxidermy. The central bar was all mosaic tiles, there were board games for customers to play, and they also served a trio of pretzels, potato chips, and peanuts to accompany the booze. Definitely an interesting spot to check out if you are in the neighborhood. Our next stop, was to this tiny wine bar called Da Fiaschino, where we sipped on some amazing glasses of red, and both for only €6! This place was super intimate and the food looked so good – we were tempted to order an appetizer, but ultimately decided to hold out for the main event. I think every single person who gave us Florence suggestions told us we had to eat at La Giostra. We read amazing reviews about this place and when we called to get a reservation, the earliest this place had was 1opm… we knew it had to be good.
We were immediately glad we came as soon as we walked into the restaurant, despite having to wait till 10. It is so cozy & romantic, with their exposed brick walls and low ceilings covered in white lights. I never wanted to leave! And the food…. the food was amazing! We ordered a burrata starter and stuffed ourselves with multiple pasta dishes and a branzino entree. La Giostra was the perfect spot to go all out on our last night in Italy, even if we did gain 5lbs each…
On Sunday morning we woke up VERY early to catch the train to Pisa. Since we weren’t able to fit it in on Friday, we decided we could grind it out and do whatever possible to fit it in on Sunday before we left. We hopped on a train at about 7:15 and arrived in Pisa by 8:30. The town of Pisa was basically deserted at this hour, which made our brisk walk through the city pretty quick. We arrived at the Leaning Tower and were pretty excited that it was virtually empty. Certainly a perk of coming this early! Did you know that the bell tower leans simply because it was built on ground that was too soft? Those silly Italians. We spent loads of time trying to get the perfect picture, but it’s a lot harder then it looks. About 25 minutes later, we decided to call it a day and took the walk back to the train.
Joe and I wanted to end our Italy trip on a high note and figured the best way to do that was with pizza. When we arrived back in Florence we went right back to Mercato Centrale where we knew they were making insanely good looking Neapolitan pies. The place hadn’t opened yet so we had some fresh mozz and focaccia as we eagerly waited for the brick oven to heat up. The pizza was so good and at that point the carbohydrate coma was real. I could not even think about eating another thing until Joe scurried away and came back with a salted caramel gelato. Calories don’t count on vacation, right?!
All-in-all Italy was hands down our favourite Euro vacation so far. Such incredible history & beauty all in one place. And did I mention how amazing the food is?