Sunday, November 29, 2015

Florence in a Couple Days: The Travel Guide

About a month ago I shared some travel tips for the amazing city of Venice. I knew from the start that Italy was on the top of my list of places we HAD to visit on our sixteen day adventure through Europe, and it did not disappoint. The land of gelato, pasta, and art was not only breathtaking, but so full of culture. And Tuscany? Don't even get me started. After a bit of research and talking to others who had been, I knew that Florence was a must visit. So if you're heading there, planning to, or dreaming of it for now, here's all you need to know about travel, accommodations, and attractions in Florence. 

Florence Duomo

Traveling in and Out of Florence


Like most other places in Europe, it is incredibly easy to get in and out of Florence by train. Because Florence is located in between Venice and Rome, it's a no brainer to make it a stop. Flying directly into Florence is very tricky, as there is one small single-runway airport called Peretola that only takes local flights from other areas in Europe. If you're flying in on a major airline, your only option is really Pisa's Aeroporto Galileo Galilei. From there, you'll have to take a train anyways, so I recommend starting elsewhere in Europe and then taking the train in. For us, it was only $24 a person to take the two hour train ride from Venice to Florence. When you're ready to head on, it's super easy to hop on a train from Venice to Rome, which has a lot more flight options back to the US.

Book through Trenitalia and it's super cheap (cheaper than Rail Europe was). Just make sure you switch the language to English on the website. In Italy, Florence is referred to as Firenze. You'll want to come in to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella stop, which will take you most directly into the city. 

Florence at night

Inner-City Transportation


We didn't pay for inner-city transportation in Florence. They do have some buses that you can purchase travel passes for it, but honestly, I wouldn't waste your money on them. They aren't even allowed in lot of the main pedestrian areas of Florence which are pedestrian only, including the area from the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti and Duomo area. There are also ZTL, or restricted traffic zones, which make trying to navigate the city both time-consuming and confusing. You can easily find a place to stay that is within walking distance of both the train station and the heart of Florence. Save your money and have a fun time renting a Vespa or going on a day trip up into the gorgeous Tuscan countryside. 

Restaurants set up seating right out in the middle of the road. Many are pedestrian only zones now. See the Coke?

What to See and Do (on a Budget)


Florence is an incredible city of art and architecture. If you're like us, you may not be completely enthralled by art museum after art museum, but you do appreciate the art and culture enough to make a few important stops at some of the heavy hitters. We knew that the Accademia was a must see, as it includes Michelangelo's David. We'd also heard great things about the Uffizi Gallery. If you're wanting to visit both, the best place (and most official one) to look for tickets would be here. If you want to visit lots and lots of art museums during your stay, you may want to look into the Firenze card, which is good for 72 hours. It wasn't worth it for us, but may work for you depending on your tastes, how long you plan to be in Florence, and what your budget looks like. 

The Uffizi Gallery
We got super super lucky, because it just so happened that we were in Florence for the first Sunday of the month. On the first Sunday of each month, the Uffizi Gallery and Academia are FREE! You are not allowed to make a reservation, but we just bit the bullet and decided to chance a long line and try to visit both. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the line wasn't long at all (and was NOTHING compared to the line at Versailles- GROSS). If you can time your visit to be the first Sunday of the month, you'll be pleasantly surprised by excellent, free visits that aren't overly crowded (and you'll get to see the heavy hitters).

David statue at the Academia
David at the Accademia
As recommended in my post on How to Plan (and Survive) And Overseas Trip, I suggest taking some sort of tour in every city you visit. Bonus points if you can do it on day one so that you get your bearings on the city. In Florence, I found a free walking tour that functioned a lot like the free tour in Venice did- no cost, but you would definitely want to leave a tip. Two free tours were offered: the Medici and the Renaissance. We had planned on going on the free Renaissance tour, but ended up not needing to do it because our Rick Steve's Renaissance Walk on the Rick Steve's Audio Europe app was so amazing. It hit on everything we wanted to see, gave us info about our surroundings, guided us through the heart of Florence, and gave us all of the fun facts that a paid tour would've given us- for free. Along this walk, you'll see the heavy hitters like the DuomoPonte Vecchio, Piazza Signoria, Baptistery, Arno River, and more.


Y'all, if I was going to give you my most heartfelt advice about Florence, it would be this: DO NOT MISS OUT ON TUSCANY. Seriously, you've got to go to Tuscany. It's amazing! We loved seeing the art of Florence and enjoying yummy gelato, but going up and out of the city and into the Tuscan countryside was one of my very favorite things. If I went back, I would definitely spend a few days up there! We spent our first night in Florence on the Walkabout Florence Taste Italy: Wine and Dine plus Florence by night Tour. It was amazing. One of my favorite things from our entire trip!! Never mind that it hailed and rained and some of the grapes were destroyed (so be looking for more expensive Tuscan wine in the future, folks). We had some amazing, delicious authentic food, tried delicious wine, and saw some breathtaking views of Florence on our charter bus once the clouds finally cleared. I can't say enough good things about Walkabout Florence- I would totally go on another one of their tours in a heartbeat. Also, you can get youth pricing until age 27, so that saved us a few bucks! Definitely go on one of these tours in Tuscany. Don't think twice about the cost- it's so worth it. 

Tuscany mid-rain. But I promise you it is breathtaking!

Where to Stay 


Now that we have a ton of Marriott points from one of our credit cards, I would totally stay in the Renaissance Tuscany Resort on points. So dreamy! They do have American chain hotels in Florence, but they are kind of pricey, especially during the summer months. When we were in Florence, we stayed in different places each night because we had Best Rate Guarantees (or BRGs). More on those in a later post. I liked the Hotel Palazzo Ricasoli better than the other hotel we stayed in. It was reasonable and close to the heart of the area, as well as the train station. We booked through Expedia. Just make sure you see where things are located when you're booking, as you'll likely be walking everywhere. Airbnb is also a good option!

A beautiful day on the Arno River in Florence. See Tuscany in the background?

Things You Should Know


So Italians totally take a little rest during the day, and things close down, including almost all the restaurants. We got into a bit of a pickle and couldn't find any open restaurants, so we walked all over the place. We finally found somewhere to eat, but by the time we made it back to the rental company to rent a car and drive the Tuscan countryside, it was closed because it was a Sunday. So if you're renting a car or Vespa, make sure you rent it early on Sundays, and make sure you eat before 2 or you'll have to wait until after 5. Also, eat gelato daily. Sometimes more than once. And take tons and tons of photos. Wine is cheaper than water, and water isn't free. Oh, and pepperoni pizza is an American thing...just things you should know.

This, my friends, is real pizza (and my monster calzone). Also, Chacos for the win as Italian walking shoes.
Two days felt like the perfect amount of time for us to see what we wanted in Florence, to walk around, eat the food, and to experience Tuscany. Like I said, if I did it again, I would spend a few days up in the Tuscan Countryside, but there are things in the heart of Florence that you simply have to see if you're there for the first time. Florence is a wonderful city, and I know I'll be back someday, even if it's just to see Tuscany again. The food was to die for, the people were friendly, and the wine flowed freely. Happy travels (and planning)! I'm happy to help if you have any questions, so leave them below, or contact me for more info. What are you waiting for?

Currently,
Kelsie


21 comments:

  1. I'm always cautious about AirBnB internationally but I've heard pretty good things, so I'll have to try that next time I vacation on a budget.

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    1. Yes, I can totally see being cautious. Our friends who were with us in Italy did Airbnb and had a few really nice places!

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  2. Wow! This looks so incredible! What a trip! I would love to go here one day!

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    1. Well thanks so much, Annie! It was an amazing experience for sure. Let me know if you ever need help planning :)

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    1. It is just gorgeous, Abby! Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Florence has always been one of my favorite places to visit. I've traveled through most of Italy over the years, and I always go back because I feel at home there. I've stayed there for a few months in Perugia, and traveled all over. But Florence is the first city I fell in love with! :) I love your photos you included, definitely makes me want to go back soon. Commenting via The Blogging Elite from blissfullybrunette.com

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    1. Florence is just gorgeous!! Thank you so much for reading and for stopping by. Looking at these pictures makes me miss it! I've still got Paris and Rome to finish up guides for!

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  5. Beautiful!!!! visiting you as your neighbor from Meet Up Monday @Quinntessential Mommy blog. feel free to visit back anytime. This is a fabulous journey you've chronicled. A dream come true. Shandra

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    1. Thanks so much, Shandra! I will definitely stop by. It was the most fabulous journey ever!

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  6. I've always wanted to go to Italy, and your post has made me remember exactly why. I cannot wait until I can see all of this myself! Gorgeous pics!

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    1. Italy is so so beautiful!! You will love it so very much! Let me know if you need any help planning! (And thanks!)

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  7. How gorgeous! I've always wanted to visit Italy. I even speak Italian, but have yet to be able to go. Some day. I really appreciate your budget-mindedness. #TwinklyTuesday

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    1. Thanks so much, Sadia! Italian is so pretty! I wish I could speak it. Being budget-minded helps us afford all our travel adventures :)

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  8. SPOT on! We went to Florence a few years ago and I totally agree with everything you wrote!

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    1. Well thanks so much, Chrissa! Florence is so wonderful, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. I went to Florence for an exhibition with work and a part from walking from our hotel to the conference centre and back I totally missed out on seeing this beautiful city. I'd definitely like to return one day. Thanks for the tips! #TwinklyTuesday

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    1. Oh bummer, Claire! I'm sorry that you were so close and yet didn't get to experience much. You should definitely make a trip back!

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  10. That looks like a great trip. I also love a good walking tour, what better way to see the city!

    Thanks for linking up at Bloggers Spotlight Link and Pin-It Party! Your post was pinned to our group board.

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  11. We are going to Florence the first week of May, and I cannot wait! Thank you for the travel tips! We are planning on taking a tour to Pisa and Cinque Terre one of the days we're in Florence.

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  12. My husband and I are visiting Italy in May with another couple, and will be spending 4 days in Florence. I cannot wait! We're planning on taking a tour to Pisa & Cinque Terre one of the days. Yay!

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