Florence, I just can’t quit you. After an adventure in Northern Italy, Austria and Slovenia, I found myself in my favorite Italian city for the second time last year. I had already posted on many of my favorite places in Florence in my previous posts, yet, until this trip, I still hadn’t ascended the Duomo or the Campanile, nor had I been inside the Battistero. These are perhaps the most touristy of tourist things to do in the city, undoubtedly the “top attractions in Florence” (there’s a lil’ sum’n sum’n for the Google keyword crawlers #transparency).
Located in the Piazza Duomo (Cathedral Square), one finds the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral or simply the Duomo), the Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower), the Battistero di San Giovanni (the Baptistery of Saint John or the Florence Baptistery) and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (the Museum of the Works of the Cathedral). A visit to all of them could easily fill up most of a day, and it would be a day well spent. The views from the top of the cupola (dome) of the Duomo and atop the Campanile are pretty impressive, and the museum is, well, air conditioned and also fairly interesting.
If you don’t have the all-inclusive Firenze Card and wish to visit all the attractions in Piazza Duomo, I highly recommend pre-booking tickets in advance so you can cut the lines. I ordered my tickets the day before and had plenty of timing options, though I visited during the off-peak season. If you want to reserve an entrance time to ascend the Duomo or Campanile, do it as soon as possible.
A few things to note:
- If you get the complete pass for all attractions in Piazza Duomo, avoid reserving entrance times too close together. I visited the Museo in between the two climbs to give myself a bit of a break. You may also want to time your ascents to correspond with photogenic hours.
- The Duomo itself is free. You do not need to buy a ticket to visit the Cathedral interior. And while the lines are pretty long during the day, they are short in the evenings (at least from my personal experience).
- MOST IMPORTANT: If you have trouble ascending stairs or if you get freaked out by enclosed spaces, I highly recommend that you DO NOT attempt to go up the Duomo or Campanile. The former gets very tight at the top (the up path is the same as the down) and the latter is challenging at 414 steps. And as great as the Renaissance thinkers were, they did not, I’m sorry to report, include elevators.
Can’t sneak out of Piazza Duomo in time for a break? There are a few gems amongst the touristy restaurants lining the piazza. First of all, visit MOVE ON Firenze, a hip record store facing the Cathedral. Above their interior dining room, they have not only a large collection of vinyl but also a great view of the Duomo (see photo below with the dog sculpture). Next to MOVE ON is JJ Cathedral, a not-particularly-pretty pub that serves reasonably priced drinks and offers a direct view of the Duomo from the seats outside. Finally, Panini Toscani is a great place to familiarize oneself with a panino (a sandwich, one—not panini, plural) made with schiacciata (a Tuscan flatbread). It’s nowhere as good as All’antico Vinaio, widely regarded as the city’s best, but the staff are extremely friendly, and they’ll take the time to introduce each guest to the typical meats and cheeses of Tuscany (with samples). Note: Google Maps says this place is “permanently closed,” but Yelp and TripAdvisor do not.
If, ultimately, you aren’t able to see Florence from above in Piazza Duomo, don’t fret. These attractions provide interesting panoramas of Florence, but they’re hardly the best views of the city. Consider instead a visit to the Giardino Bardini (Bardini Garden) and the Giardini di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) to see Florence from across the river, or simply stick around the Ponte Vecchio during sunset. This one is by far my favorite view in all of Italy.
Finally, I left the city for a day to visit friends in Empoli, a small city in Tuscany. Notable attractions include the Chiesa della Collegiata di Sant’Andrea, a small church with a pretty façade, the associated Museo della Collegiata di Sant’Andrea, a museum of sacred art, and the MUVE – Museo del Vetro di Empoli, a museum of glass. Landmarks include the Fontana di Luigi Pampaloni, a beautiful fountain near the aforementioned chiesa, and the Monumento di Dino Manetti e Carlo Rivalta, a statue in Piazza della Vittoria. At the end of the night, we went to a sushi buffet (don’t do it) and relaxed in a cool video game-inspired bar called Ottobit Art Lab in Montelupo Fiorentino.
It pays to know the locals.