Can you believe how summertime is flying by? Since we’re still in holiday season, I felt like finally doing a bit of travel writing – earlier this year, I went to Florence by myself on a whim in March, so I thought I’d write about my stay. This was my third time visiting Italy, and my first time travelling completely solo – I feel like Florence is an ideal place to do it because everyone speaks English, its super easy to navigate, and there’s loads of things to keep you busy.
So, Florence can be a bit long-winded to get to as it has a very small local airport (Peretola) that doesn’t have that many incoming/outgoing flights. The more common way to get there is to fly to Pisa, and then get a train connection to Florence. Luckily, I was able to find a direct British Airways flight to Peretola at a time that suited me. From there, its super easy to get to the city centre – just a 20 minute tram ride from the airport! The journey to Santa Maria Novella (SMN), the main train station, was €1.50 for 90 minutes. But make sure you have change on you, as the ticket machines were all cash-only when I was there!
I stayed in a hostel which was recommended by a friend – the PLUS Hostel Florence is about a 15 minute walk from SMN. It was perfectly nice, very clean and reasonably furnished all things considered. It is massive, so you don’t really get that intimate or edgy hostel vibe if that’s what you’re looking for, and particularly when I was there it did feel like a bit of a ghost town, but I imagine it’s buzzing during peak times. I stayed in a 4 bed dorm all-female dorm, which is an option in many Florence hostels if that is a preference.
The first thing I signed up to see was the famous Duomo which, in my opinion, you have to do. I bought an inclusive ticket from the Duomo’s official website, which gives access to the Dome, the Bell Tower, St John’s Baptistry, the Crypt and Cathedral. I only really bought the ticket because you need one to reserve a time to climb to the top of the dome, which I really wanted to do. It’s 463 steps to the top, so wear comfortable shoes! There’s all these tiny windows which give you a really cool perspective as you’re walking. The ceiling is also covered in beautiful artwork, and its an awesome view from the top.
On any trip, I think it’s important to leave some time to
spontaneity. That’s why I left the later half of the day free to wander around
and get a feel of the city. The problem with this, of course, is that things
don’t always go to plan – the late afternoon was kind of a fail! A girl in the
dorm I was staying in mentioned how there were loads of beautiful churches
dotted around that you could wander in – but I guess because of the time a lot
of them were closed. After my third closed church, I decided to just get some
ice cream and walk to the other side of the city, stopping if I saw anything
pretty or interesting.
I love a riverside view, so I spent a lot of time at Ponte
Vecchio and the other bridges crossing the Arno River. On my last evening, I
made sure to position myself at the bridge so that I could watch the sun set
before dinner. Along the bridge, there’s loads of shops, particularly
jewellers, which adds a glamorous feel to it!
As well as beautiful scenery, Florence is full of amazing,
historical artistry that’s really worth seeing, even if you’re not really into
the art scene, which I admit to! There’s loads of museums to choose from, but I
only went to the Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia, which is where
Michelangelo’s David scuplture lives.
A strong word of caution about tickets: don’t just show up at the Uffizi and queue up, especially if you’re on the clock. If you’re under 25, you benefit from youth prices. I reserved a time for entry on the same day of purchase for €6, which is well worth it if you’re facing hour-long lines. Conveniently, the Uffizi ticket office, you can also reserve a time to enter the Galleria, but this was less necessary in my personal opinion – it cost €16 and the line wasn’t even that long. But, you know, you live and you learn!
So, I knew I had to see Michelangelo’s David whilst I was there, but I won’t lie, I wasn’t that excited to see it – it really just felt like a box I had to tick. The Accademia is a relatively small two-storey gallery, full of pieces as far back as the 14th century. I’m not super into art, so I probably didn’t appreciate them as much. But, I strolled around, then walked into the ‘David room’ and guys, it was INCREDIBLE. It was under this domed glass, and the sun was streaming in, and the statue is massive, way bigger than I though it would be. Well worth it!
I’ve been to Italy twice before, and have never had Italian food as good as I got it in Florence. I could do a whole separate post about the food. For sake of your attention span, I’ll try to be brief. The food was pretty much London prices for the most part, so be prepared to spend!
Because I rarely do inclusive hotel packages, I don’t really
go for breakfast when I’m on holiday. Even in London, going for
breakfast/brunch is great, but it’s so easy to make yourself that it just feels
like the biggest waste of money. At the end of the day, you can fry egg at
home, am I right? So I’d usually just buy some fruit and some biscuits to tide
me over until lunchtime. But, there are plenty of bar pasticcerias around town where
you can get a sweet treat for breakfast. On my final morning, I did go to Gran Caffè
San Marco, which is a bright, elegant café where you can find a range of beautifully
decorated and arranged pastries.
If you’re after some lighter bites, there’s a small Sicilian lunch bar – Arà: è Sicilia – close to the Academia, where I got some great arancini; these are breaded, deep fried balls of rice, often with a ragu (meat sauce) and/or cheese filling. I got one with spinach and cheese, and one traditional ragu. I also had an incredible porcini mushroom tagliolini for lunch at a place called Il Gatto e la Volpe – this restaurant also makes their own balsamic vinegar in-house, which was amazing. On my last day, I had lunch at Trattoria al Trebbio, where I had a really tasty eggplant parmigiano, and spaghetti with pesto. But hands down, the best meal I had was dinner at a place called Trattoria Za Za – I had duck ragu with parpadelle pasta; it was a fairly long wait but worth it!
But is it even really Italy if you’re not eating gelato
every day? No, friends. That is precisely what I did – shame me all you want. Life
is for living. Personal fave flavour combo: pistachio and Stracciatella
(Italian take on chocolate chip). I love
walking around and seeing the mountains of ice cream on display in all the
shops. There’s essentially a gelateria on every main street, they’re all
delicious and they’re open until really late, so just take your pick as you’re
strolling, don’t bother looking for the ‘best one’.
There is a really pretty, gram-friendly chain called Venchi
– Venchi’s claim to fame is the chocolate fountain wall feature that’s in all
the shops, and the intriguing range of flavours. It was very good ice cream.
But again, all ice cream in Florence is very good.
My favourite place was definitely Santa Croce; it’s one of the principal churches in Florence which I essentially stumbled across by accident – I wanted to get somewhere on the other side of town, so I just ambled down some random streets, and ended up walking through this wide open piazza with a gorgeous church that the sun was hitting just right. I loved it so much I went back the next day before I left for the airport!
I’m sure public transport is fine, but Florence is an incredibly walkable city, so I walked everywhere. If you aren’t in a rush, do yourself a favour – ditch the phone and use a paper map. It’s way more fun, and really easy, as the city is really well-structured into 4 distinct districts, and very flat, so you always know where you are.
Florence was an incredible city overall – I would actually go back, as i feel like there was a lot I didn’t see. And if you’re curious about solo travel like I was, this is a great place to get your feet wet! I’d recommend anywhere from a long weekend to full week here.