Florence is charismatic and magical in equal parts. Walking around the city is like stepping back in time
ho in their right mind would travel back to a city that they’ve already been to, on the first opportunity to get on a plane after two years of the pandemic? That’s me. As soon as I got the opportunity to travel abroad for leisure, I went back to Florence. And I have no regrets. If there’s one city in Europe that I can head back to every year for a few days, it is Florence.
Charismatic and magical in equal parts, walking around Florence is like stepping back in time. In addition to being home to brilliant art, culture and architecture, Florence is a living, breathing city with great music and fashion. Its slow-paced and nomadic life adds to the charm that one can enjoy while strolling around the city.
To pick one element of the city that makes it special is a daunting task. To begin with, its streets are absolutely beautiful. These are narrow cobblestone streets that open into piazzas (public squares) where the best street musicians are playing delightful music, one can just roam around aimlessly in Florence and have a great time. Most streets and piazzas have outdoor restaurants, serving the finest pizzas, pasta and local delicacies.
The city is easy to explore on foot. One can navigate through Florence without Google maps as all streets are marked and have signs for the major tourist attractions like the Piazza del Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Gallery d-academia, Santa Maria Novella, Piazza Della Signoria, Ponte Vecchio and others. One doesn’t really need to take a cab or even a bus to explore Florence as it can be walked from one end to the other in an hour with most attractions five to 10 minutes from each other.
One doesn’t really need to take a cab or even a bus to explore Florence as it can be walked from one end to the other in an hour with most attractions five to 10 minutes from each other.
The artwork one comes across in Florence is exquisite – whether it’s Doni Tondo by Michelangelo, The Birth of Venus by Sandri Botticelli, Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio or the famous Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals by Raphael, the artworks in Florence at the Uffizi Gallery and others at Accademia Gallery are not only historically important but also a sight for sore eyes.
One can find some of the world’s most important statues in this city too. David is one of them. It is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, famous Italian artist Michelangelo created David in marble between 1501 and 1504. It now stands at the opening of the Accademia Gallery, which is home to paintings by luminaries like Veronese, Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Bellini, Canaletto and Giorgione.
Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s Duomo in the old city centre is nothing but a marvel. Though the construction was nearly finished in 1436, the front facade wasn’t completed until the 19th Century. The exterior and front facade of the cathedral is covered in white marble and red, pink and green polychrome designs and carvings.
Next to the Duomo is Giotto’s Campanile, which many believe is connected to the Duomo, but it is a separate building. Inspired by Gothic architecture and split into five distinct levels, the exterior of the tower features polychrome marble decoration that is also present on the Duomo in brilliant green and pink colours.
The Piazza Della Signoria is another popular square that has restaurants, statues, fountains and the famous Palazzo Vecchio, the most important administrative building in Florence. It is rather mind-boggling to think that this building dates back to 1299. Its front façade features a series of coats of arms that represent various families and important individuals related to the history of the city.
A few steps from the Palazzo Vecchio is the Ponte Vecchio, one of the most famous bridges in the city. Spanning the River Arno, the Vecchio Bridge is known for its history and the plethora of shops that line the main walkway. Walking around the Ponte Vecchio is an experience at any time of the day but most so in the evening when the sun sets. Tourists often gather there with street musicians playing in the background while the sun sets, and the skies turn pink making Florence even more magical.
What I find most charming about Florence is that every street and corner has a brilliant street musician, lost in the art of playing their instrument, unaware of the world around them. Europe is known for street musicians and artists but the quality of street artists in Florence is unparalleled. One doesn’t need to attend a concert, just walk into any piazza at any time of the day and enjoy a remarkable musical performance and people enjoying it to their heart’s content.
If you’re looking for the best views of Florence; I’m torn between those from Piazza Michelangelo and the Baboli Gardens. Piazza Michelangelo, more famous for Florence’s views, is located on the south bank of the River Arno and is a popular tourist spot in the city. The centre of the square holds a statue of David, and at the edge of the square, there is a series of vendors and artists selling their wares, with street performers playing in the background.
The Boboli Gardens also claim to have the best view of Florence but the gardens themselves are immense and stunning. Created in the 16th Century and covering an area of 45,000 square metres, they feature the main lawn with a fountain and obelisk, a selection of trees, plants and flowers and several large ponds complete with water features. The gardens are some of the largest in Florence and are truly a delight to walk through.
These are perhaps just some of the highlights the city has to offer. Even if a tourist follows no guide or map, they are bound to have a great experience because every street and corner has something unique to offer.
Picking my favourite part of Florence would be a daunting task. There’s a different kind of joy and calm I enjoy there that I definitely want to experience again and again and therefore, I hope I find myself in Florence often.
The writer is a communications professional, journalist and photographer