From historic sightseeing, to great food, to shopping, Florence has it all.
Florence was one of the centers of the Renaissance. Under the control of the extremely wealthy Medici family, Florence was the home to artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli.
We were early risers, the first ones off our cruise ship. Livorno’s port is about a €20.00 cab ride from the nearest train station. It cost us about $40.00 to go round trip on the train to Florence. So for about $70.00 you make it to Florence. Most cruises will provide a bus transfer for about $110.00 per person. So if you are ok with keeping track of time and going on your own, it’s cheaper on your own and if there is traffic into the city, you don’t need to worry about arriving late. If you plan it well, you can also hit Pisa on the way to Florence or the way back.
We arrived in Florence by train from the port city of Livorno. This is the port where cruise ships dock for excursions to Florence.
The train station of Firenze SMN (Santa Maria Novella) is just a few blocks away from the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower), also known as Il Duomo. Consecrated in 1436, Il Duomo gets its nickname from the massive dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. An engineering marvel of its day, the dome measures 144 feet across and had no buttresses to prevent it from spreading.
The interior of the Basilica, as in most churches of the period, has no pews. Churches used to be the largest building in the city and were used for public gatherings and parties. The massive interior of the Basilica is impressive.
The church’s exterior is made in the gothic style with a marble exterior. It features a 278 foot bell tower, which is a stand-alone structure.
Across from the Basilica is the Baptistery. The bronze doors of the Baptistery, nicknamed “The Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo, were made of bronze by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The original doors are housed in the Duomo museum today, but you can see replicas on the Baptistery today.
If you are adventurous, you can make the 460 step climb to the top of the Duomo for an incredible view of Florence and the surrounding part of Tuscany or the 411 step climb of the bell tower. If you are claustrophobic, you may not want to do either.
We continued our walk in Florence with a stop at the home of Dante Alighieri, the writer of the Divine Comedy. The house is located on the Via Santa Margherita and Via Dante Alighieri. The house is now a museum. If you are standing in the courtyard in front of the house, there are some stones on the ground that, when wet, will show you the profile of Dante Alighieri.
If you head south from the Casa di Dante down the Via dei Magazzini, you will find yourself in the main plaza of Renaissance of Florence, the Piazza della Signoria. This is where Michelangelo’s David used to stand (now there is a replica in its place). On the Piazza there is a clock tower, this building is the Palazzo Medici. This was the home of the Medici family. The Palace today is a Museum. The Uffizi Museum houses the David.
We stopped for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in all of Italy. “Il David Ristorante Pizzeria”. If you are standing in front of the replica of Michelangelo’s David, turn around and it will be on your left hand side. They have tables and chairs on the Plaza for you to sit and enjoy your lunch while people watching. Their house wine is excellent and the pizza was great.
After lunch, we headed for a Gelato at a Gelateria directly across the plaza from Il David. They have a large variety of flavors, all equally as good.
Our journey continued to the Basilica of Santa Croce. This is the church where Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and others are buried. The Basilica was consecrated in 1442. The largest Franciscan church in the world, legend has it that church was personally founded by St. Francis of Assisi. The Basilica features some very ornate tombs of Florence’s famous renaissance men.
About two blocks south is the Arno River. We proceeded West on the North bank of the Arno River to the Florence’s most famous bridge, Il Ponte Vecchio. This is a bridge is full of small shops (mainly jewelry), but with a spectacular view down the Arno River. The original bridge was built in Roman times. It was washed away twice and rebuilt in 1346.
A walk north along the Via Calimala to the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo. The market still has many outdoor shops. You can find anything from scarves, to key chains, to leather bags. Outside the mercato there is a replica of a 16th century fountain called Il Porcellino. A bronze statue of a pig which Florentine’s believe if you rub his nose you will have good luck.
Just a couple blocks further is the Piazza della Repubblica. This plaza is where the original forum used to be. Today it is a great gathering place with plenty of street vendors. There is also a merry-go-round.
We walked past Il Duomo towards the Basilica di San Lorenzo. The Basilica was the place of worship for the Medici family. It is the final resting place of many members of the family. In the area around the Bascilica there tons of street vendors selling leather goods. The walk from the Piazza della Repubblica to the Basilica will take you through many leather shops. Florence is famous for its leather.
After a great day of sightseeing, and of course some shopping, we returned to the train station and headed back to our cruise ship.