Wanderlust: Florence, Italy

J&A Wanderlust

Nov 15, 2018

Best of Italy // Florence Travel Tips // Huntsville Photographers Explore the World

Florence, Italy. It’s the birthplace of the Renaissance, filled with art and culture, and home to the best gelato we tasted on our entire trip to Italy. Fun fact: we were in Florence on my birthday this year! Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday…and it was double the gelato for me!

We left our amazing little castle in the sky AirBnB that morning and drove the last 30 minutes to the outskirts of Florence. Not wanting to drive anywhere close to the city center, we parked at our next AirBnB and took the train in. <—- (highly recommend doing!) Then my birthday celebration in the heart of Renaissance culture began!

Joel says that if there’s one place he could go back to from our trip, it would be Florence. We only had a short time there, and he felt like there was so much more waiting to be discovered. I agree! I’d love to go back someday and check out a few more of the museums. And sample some more of the food!

One of the highlights was seeing Michelangelo’s David. I couldn’t post many pictures here because we want to keep the blog G-rated (and a lot of statues didn’t wear clothes back then), but it was marvelous. The technical detail and artistic skill was stunning, even to our not-sculpturely-trained minds.

A quick backstory:

This year’s intended trip to explore the Pacific Northwest took a quick turn when we decided to head to Italy instead! We take 2 weeks off every September to discover a new little piece of the world, and Italy was perfect for our last September trip before Baby Palmer comes on board!

Some of our favorite highlights from our travels through Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland already hit the blog few weeks ago (you won’t want to miss that one!). So far, we’ve shared more about our time in Milan, and Cinque Terre and Pisa, too.

Today, you can check out a few more of our memories from Florence, Italy!

Our first stop in the city was a sidewalk cafe for a birthday latte and pastries! It fulfilled all my happy Italian sidewalk cafe dreams.

After our coffee, we stopped by the Mercato Centrale (central market) to check out the offerings. Everything was inside a big indoor space, and it was super crowded. Here’s one of the only pictures we could grab without a mob of people! They had everything from olive oils and vinegars to shops filled with dried mushrooms. The entire upstairs floor was a giant food court. Interesting place, but we moved on after a quick walk through.

This is what the market looked like in real life.

Next up was the Basilica of San Lorenzo. Rick Steve informed us that this is also the site of the first Christian church in Florence. It was built outside the church walls and rebuilt several times throughout the centuries. It was finally rebuilt by some of the Renaissance guys for a nice update. Interesting fact: Donatello is buried here, and Michelangelo designed the adjacent Medici Library and chapels.

I actually can’t remember where this was, but it was so pretty and you needed to see a picture of it, anyway!

The Duomo

Florence’s Duomo struck enough awe in us that we stopped to stare when it first came into view! We didn’t have any preconceived expectations, so it’s colorful beauty caught us off guard. While Milan’s Duomo has the corner on exquisite elegance, Florence has the advantage of colorful design. Both were amazing!

Plus, it was huge. I really wish I could have gotten it all in one picture!

This is Giotto’s Tower, the cathedral’s bell tower. I love the way it pierces the sky with its multi-colored facade.

Right next to the Duomo is the Baptistry. It’s another incredibly designed structure!

(And if you look at the very bottom of the picture, you’ll see how crowded Florence is.)

Super famous doors! Ghiberti’s bronze doors grace the entrance of the Baptistry. Michelangelo called these “Gates of Paradise”, and the name stuck. Compliments of Rick Steves, we learned that these doors were mind blowing at the time because they added the component of depth and dimension to art.

Fun fact: there was a contest to see who would design these doors and the north side Baptistry doors. A lot of famous artists competed, but who won? A 24 year old guy who was virtually unknown. Hence the even greater impact Ghiberti had when we created such a magnificent masterpiece! <– Also compliments of Rick Steves. Seriously, his guide book is the best!

His depth and dimension:

Wandering the streets

Moving on from the cathedral complex, and we stood in awe for the second time that morning. In awe of this chocolate fountain wall! Venchi serves chocolate and gelato along with this stunning display of running melted chocolate along the back wall!

We spent the next couple hours wandering the beautiful streets of Florence. There are tons of churches, statues, expensive shops, art, and culture everywhere you go. Here’s a few of the things we saw:

A quick shout out to the Piazza della Signoria! It’s home to the Palazzo Vecchio (0ld palace) shown here. This is where the David statue originally stood before it was whisked away for preservation and safe keeping in the Accademia after it was damaged in a riot.

We wandered inside the nearby courtyard, and it turned into one of our favorite little spots in the city! The art was beautiful! It felt like a little open-air indoor oasis in the middle of the city.

Haha! :)

A whole collection of statues.

It’s always really fun to see all the sidewalk artists at work. Their styles are so vastly different from one another. Watching them portray how they perceive these sights that have been painted, photographed, and sculpted over and over through the years is really neat!

Back to exploring.

Uffizi Courtyard

Another favorite spot was the Uffizi Courtyard Statues. You walk down this long open-air corridor and see statues of all the famous Renaissance influencers. Michelangelo, Dante, Donatello, Da Vinci, and lots of other scientists, artists, and writers.

Ponte Vecchio

We made it to the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio! This bridge has been around for ages. Literally. It used to have shops filled with butchers and tanners. Now it’s filled with gold and jewelry instead. Much more tourist friendly.

Either way, it’s a pretty sight!

Check out this upper corridor! I can just imagine the rich rulers of Florence (the Medici family) walking through their corridor and peeking out of those windows.

The views from the bridge were some of my favorites!

This guy is also my favorite.

We reached the end of the bridge and decided it was most definitely time for some pizza.

Pizza it was, and we found the perfect little shop! It’s owned by an Italian family, and the grandma who took our order barely spoke any English at all. It was perfect. The inside was super tiny. You inched your way in, ordered and paid, and they’d hand you the order from that open window.

We grabbed a couple of those block chairs and ate really yummy authentic pizza right on the sidewalk.

Italian perfection.

After lunch, Joel spotted a coffee shop across the street and decided it was time to stop for another latte. I decided that my birthday deserved taste-testing an authentic cannoli.

We swung by Pitti’s Palace before heading back across the river for our Accademia reservations. That building is huuuuge!

Accademia and Michelangelo’s David

We made reservations for the Accademia, which we highly recommend doing! No way did we want to stand in that line!

The only real worthwhile part (in our opinion) of the Accademia museum was the hall with Michelangelo’s work. That one hall was well worth it, though! Even as tourists who are fairly unstudied in sculpture or art history, we had a deep appreciation for the skill and artistic talent that it took to create a masterpiece like David.

There were also several other Michelangelo works lined up long the corridor leading up to David.

I had to crop this picture to keep things family friendly on the blog, but what a masterpiece! It was one of the biggest highlights of our time in Florence.

Piazzale Michelangelo

We finished our day with a trip across the river to Piazzale Michelangelo. The views were amazing, and it was totally worth the trip over there!! Ahh! I love this picture.

One thing that struck us about our travels through Europe is how the church or cathedral is always the structure that soars above everything else. Whether it’s a cultural city like Florence (and the Duomo here!) or a sleepy little mountain town in Switzerland, you’ll always see the church looming in the skyline.

I can never resist a picture of an old castle wall.

There just so happened to be a gelato festival at Piazzale Michelangelo. On my birthday. What timing! Here’s an interesting fact about the inventor of this famous creamy treat.

But…you had to have special wristband tickets to eat gelato at the gelato festival. It turned out to be totally okay, though, because we walked back down to the river and had THE best gelato of our trip at Gelateria Vivaldi! (Thank you to our friend Ais McKenna for the recommendation. You were right! Definitely the best of the best.)

One last selfie of the day before we went back into the city center for a birthday dinner of pasta!

Goodbye, Florence! You were the best birthday treat ever.

Next up: Tuscany. And believe me, it’s worth every bit of fame it has! Stay tuned!



{Want to explore another city? Tag along on our adventure to Victoria, British Columbia or browse the stunning scenery of Acadia National Park! Craving more Europe? You’ll love our very first {vintage} blog post from Heidelberg Germany and Paris, France!}


Our Top Recommendations for Florence

Duomo and Baptistry

Gelato at Gelateria Vivaldi

Plazzale Michelangelo (for the views!)

Michelangelo’s David at Accademia (get reservations)

Uffizi Courtyard Statues

Caffe Sabatino

Rick Steve’s Italy Guidebook

Amici di’ Ponte Vecchio (pizza)

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