Buildings that are works of art, delicious gourmet food and sweet creamy gelato are a few of the things you can look forward to during a day in Florence, Italy. With the famed city just 90 minutes from the port of Livorno, many cruise travelers get going early and wind up spending a good five hours or more in Florence, capital of the Tuscany region — and the birthplace of the Renaissance.
You and your traveling companions have a lot of options getting here by train, bus or car. Some excursions from Livorno will add a quick stop in Pisa prior to going to Florence. When I cruised on Crystal Serenity in October 2015, our ship docked in the port of Civitavecchia, more often the gateway to Rome. But we were intent on seeing Florence so we made the six-hour round trip.
Florence turned out to be one of my favorite places in the world — I've visited not only during cruises but I wound up studying abroad here. Florence brims with history and artistic masterpieces everywhere you turn, making it one of the most visually appealing cities in Europe.
Here are my Top Ten Things to Do in Florence. Note that there's a modest admission fee to see some of these attractions.
Uffizi Gallery is home to some of the most famous works of art from the Renaissance. The gallery hosts works of art by such legendary Italian artists as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello and Botticello's (see "Birth of Venus" and "Primavera," for instance). It's the second most visited museum in Italy (behind only the Vatican), so make sure to buy tickets in advance or book a guided tour.
Try some authentic gelato
Gelato is a must in Italy. When looking for a good gelato spot, here's a tip: Look for shops with authentic gelato — these have display cases with gelatos that lie smooth and flat in their containers. Avoid the ones that spill over the sides — these are made to attract tourists using a special powder to fluff it up. Of all the rich-flavored gelato I ate in Florence, Venchi Gelato takes the win! My favorite flavors were torrone (an Italian nougat candy), pistachio and sweet cream. Venchi is at 18 angolo P.zza del Mercato Nuovo 6/7, one of the main drags in Florence.
Snap a pic on Ponte Vecchio
Take a classic photo on — or of — the Ponte Vecchio (“covered bridge” in Italian). This famous landmark dates to 1345. Today it's a pedestrian bridge over the Arno River, filled with tourists taking photos and lined with big-brand jewelry shops. Given that buying jewelry here is a tradition, I just had to participate and picked up a memento with the official symbol of Florence, the fleur de lis, or flower of the lily.
Mangia! Enjoy Italian food
The main piazzas in Florence typically attract tourists who end up eating at these overpriced, so-so restaurants. Here are some spots that are better than the average tourist trap: Golden View (right on the other side of the Arno River, with stunning views of the Ponte Vecchio), Ristorante Pizzeria Il Teatro and Gusta Pizza. Make sure to try gnocchi (Italian potato dumpling pasta) while here!
Climb to the top of the Duomo & Bell Tower
For 15 euros, you can climb to the top of the Bell Tower, the top of the Duomo, enter inside the baptistery, visit the crypt below cathedral, and the Opera del Duomo Museum. For the most stunning views of Florence, climbing these two buildings are key! The Duomo is 463 steps up, and Giotto’s Bell Tower is 414 steps (sorry, no elevators!). After you've returned to ground zero, you have my permission to eat another plate of pasta!
See the Statue of David
The Accademia Gallery is home to Michelangelo's David. Perhaps the most famous statue of all time, the 17-foot-high masterwork was sculpted by Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504 and represents the biblical figure of David. Photos aren't allowed. If you can't bear the crowds, though, head to Piazza della Signoria, where you can see a replica of David.
Shop at the San Lorenzo leather market
Florence is known for leather goods, with leather and outerwear shops all around the city. The famous outdoor San Lorenzo Market is home to countless leather stands. (Some people debate whether all the leather goods are authentic, however, visiting here will not disappoint.) If haggling and bargaining isn’t your scene, there are many other leather stores that can be found around the city. Piazza del Mercato Nuovo also has leather vendors lining the streets.
Rub Il Porcellino, the Bronze Boar
It's an ancient tradition that rubbing Il Porcellino, the Bronze Boar, will bring you good luck. As Wikipedia tells us, the fountain figure was sculpted and cast by Baroque master Pietro Tacca shortly before 1634. Located in the Piazza del Mercato Nuovo across from Venchi, you'll see visitors from all over rub some part of the statue. It's a necessity!
Browse Mercato Centrale
This is one of my all-time favorites in Florence. Mercato Centrale is an indoor Italian market showcasing food delicacies. Similar to a grand farmer's market and packed with local vendors, the Mercato is the place where you can find just about any kind of Italian food. Hanging meats fill the ceilings and line the stalls, along with cheeses, garlic cloves, fruits, veggies and other foods. This can be an awesome spot for lunch where you have the option to grab food to go. I snapped up some snacks to last through the day and specialty foods to take home.
Some of my favorite foods found here include tartufata (mushroom and truffle spread), panforte (fruit and nut flat cake), fresh dried herbs, Italian seasonings, dried pasta, bagged olives and pecorino cheese (sheep milk cheese). To my mind, a trip to Italy is not complete without 10 pounds of food in my suitcase!
Visit Boboli Gardens
10 The Boboli Gardens are found within Piazza Pitti, which also houses Pitti Palace. The 11-acre gardens are filled with famous statues and have stunning views overlooking the Florence skyline. As Visit Florence says: "The park hosts centuries-old oak trees, sculptures, fountains and offers peaceful shelter from the warm Florentine sun in summer, the beautiful colors of the changing foliage in the fall and smells of blooming flowers in the spring. The Boboli gardens are a spectacular example of 'green architecture' decorated with sculptures and the prototype which inspired many European Royal gardens, in particular, Versailles."
Want to cruise to Florence?
Want to go? Contact the Cruiseable Business Department and tell them Jessica H. sent you — and you'll get $50 off your booking. Email a Cruiseable travel advocate or call 1-877-322-3773.
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