Pros: Full of History, Life, and Beauty.
Cons: During tourist season, it's like sardines in a can.
I was a student in Florence(Firenze in Italian) for 9 months. This will be the cliff notes of what I think because to tell all would be like writing a book. If you have any questions after reading my review please feel free to contact me via e-mail or leaving a comment on my review.
I first arrived in Florence on August 26, 2003, 3 days after my birthday. Happy b-day to me. This would be my first time in Europe. I had these visions that when I landed in Florence, there would be Italians greeting me as I walked off the airplane. You know like a scene from the movie when you go to Hawaii? Well, that didn't happen. Florence does have an airport. It is small and it has really only 1 terminal. There are NO direct flights into Florence. You will either land in London, Paris, Munich, Rome, or other bigger cities first and then take a smaller plane into Florence. In my case, my connection flight was from Paris.
My experience, flying into Florence was ok but for my fellow peers because many of us students were flying on the same day, they had an horrible experience. The problem stemmed from them, not really the airline or airports fault. We were told, "Pack your whole life into 2 suitcases and a carryon." For fashion students, that's ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. So because, they packed more then 2 suitcases and most of them were WELL over the weight limit, many of them did NOT receive their luggage. The plane was way too heavy even though it was half empty. Many of them worried for their prized possessions. But fear not, I'm sure this will not happen to you UNLESS you are traveling in LATE August or perhaps in January. These two months are when student travel are the heaviest.
There are 3 main ways out of the airport. There is the bus. The bus is 4 Euros 1 way. The bus will take you into the center of Florence. Florence is a relatively small city so the airport isn't far from the center. It is about a 15-20 minute bus ride. Bus tickets can be purchased from the bus driver for 4 Euros. Bus tickets MUST be validated by s small machine located either in the front or the back of the bus. Usually there are two.
Your second option is a cab. Cab's are relatively inexpensive. I think, and i don't recall exactly, a cab ride into the center will be about 20-25 Euros. But don't quote me on that. The cabs in Florence are very nice.
And your third option. If you know someone, have them pick you up. ;o)
Before we go on, there are a few things you MUST know about Florence.
Florentines and Italians respect you more if you try to speak Italian. You are in Italy, the main language there is Italian. It's not America as many ignorant American's think. You won't get the conveniences of America.
Anyway, a few words..
In Italian, they roll their "R" and the "E" has an LONG A sound and the I has a LONG E sound.
Thank you - GRAZIE GRAZEEAY.
You're welcome - Prego (like the spaghetti sauce) PRAYGO
I would like - Vorrei (don't pronounce the i in this word) VORRAY
ie. I would like a bottle of flat water or natural water. Vorrei una bottiglia di acqua naturale.
In Europe, they offer you natural water or water with gas(carbon). They almost never serve you tap.
Where is - Dove' DOVAY
ie. Where's the center? Dove' il centro.
1-uno, 2-due, 3-tre, 4-quattro, 5-cinque, 6-sei, 7-sette, 8-otto, 9-nove, 10-dieci.
If you want, get a dictionary... No specific brand but there are some that are focused on tourists.
There are many things to see in Florence. For many tourists, it's the museums. The most famous museum in Florence, the UFFIZZI, has a great collection. The UFFIZZI used to be an office building but was later converted into an collection gallery and art museum at the request of the last living Medici(an important family in Florence's history). The Uffizzi includes art by, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rapheal, Caravaggio,.etc. The Uffizzi has the LONGEST line of any museum in Florence during the tourist months. You can find the Uffizzi if you find Piazza Della Signoria. This is the Piazza where the ORIGINAL David stood. There is only a replica left. If you find the replica of David in this piazza and your standing infront of it, go to your left about 10-20 or so and you will find an amazing piece by Donatello, Judith and Halophurnus (is that the correct spelling). It is relatively small and is MISSED by almost everyone. It has a small cage like thing on it and it stands above eye level. It's a dark green color. While we are in this piazza I will talk about a few things that you may find interesting. This is the piazza in where many scene from the movie Hannibal was filmed. When the main Italian detective is gutted and hung from the balcony. This balcony belongs to a the building of Palazzo Vecchio.
Here's an interesting tip that many tourist don't know about. There's a secret passageway from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti. The passageway was created for the Medici family to escape or to go from one palace to another without anyone knowing. The passage goes from Palazzo Vecchio, over the Uffizi, over Ponte Vecchio and then to Palazzo Pitti. One can take this tour but you have to sign up for it in advance. I hear it is about 30-40 Euros and is only available from about June to about September (don't quote me on this).
If you stand infront of the David and you turn around and walk directly away from it, you will come to a restaurant called IL Bargello(not the museum). Go in and ask for MARCO and tell him FONG sent you. If you walk by the restaurant, away from the David you will come to an exit(a street called Vacche Reccia) of the piazza. On your right, you will come to a small road hidden between the buildings, if you look in there will be a sign saying, Piazza Cecilia. This is the smallest piazza in the city. Its a dead end. And for those who are interested, there is a gay bar in the piazza. The bar is called Tabasco. You must ring a bell to get in. There's no cover but you are given a card and the first drink is almost mandatory because when you leave they will charge you 15 Euros. This includes the cover...
From Vacche Reccia you will come to a street called Via Porta San Maria. If you turn left you will go to the Boar(rubbing its nose and/or giving money will assure that you will return to Florence) and Ponte Vecchio. If you turn right you will go to Piazza Republica and the Duomo.
Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence. It is the only bridge that was left standing during the war. All of the other bridges have been rebuilt. On Ponte Vecchio are jewelry dealers, mainly gold jewelry. You get nice views of the city from the bridge and it is a hot spot at night for musicians and people who want to hang out. In the middle of the bridge are two openings. If your on the bridge coming from Via Porta San Maria, the opening on the right has these bars at the corners, at the edge of the bridge. There are hundreds of combination locks/key locks etc attached to these poles. They say if you lock your lock there you are sure to come back to Florence...I think that's what it means.
If you look on your map you will see 4 bridges directly left of Ponte Vecchio. Draw your attention to the 4th bridge, Ponte della Victoria. I crossed this bridge almost everyday going to school. There is little to NO tourists in the area. It's unfortunate for them because you get one of the most beautiful views of the City of Florence. I recommend all to go to this bridge!
Back to Ponte Vecchio. If you cross this bridge and keep going straight down the road you will come to a HUGE building. It is Palazzo Pitti. It is beautiful inside. There are many art galleries that one can visit. There is also one of the few entrances to the Boboli Garden. The Boboli Garden is huge and beautiful. Bring your picnic basket because you will want to stay.
Sorry I am jumping around so much but bear with me, there is so much information.
Ok, now back to the street called Vacche Reccia. If you didn't turn left to go to Ponte Vecchio etc... You will turn right and come to Piazza Republica(beautiful at night and at christmas). After Piazza Republica you will come to the Duomo. The area around Piazza Republica is the Shopping District, if you can call it that. If you stand in the middle of this piazza and face the big arch, in front of you if you walk that way, you will find Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Cavalli, Cavalini, Dolce and Gabbana, etc... And behind you, if your standing in Piazza Republica, you will find Diesel, Replay, Miss Sixty, etc... In the Piazza itself you can find a book store called Edison and you can find the post office.
So far I have mainly talked and will continue to talk about the center but you must be aware that prices in the center, as far as food and items go, they are more expensive. And be AWARE of pickpockets because THEY WILL GET you if your naive about you belongs. Oh, and please support the street vendors and much as you can. GUCCI, LOUIS VUITTON, etc DO NOT need anymore money. But when I have my own fashion line, support me because I will be up and coming... HAHA
Ok so, you w are on the road from Piazza della Signoria and you pass by Piazza Republica you will eventually get to the Duomo. If you continue past the duomo(should be on the right of you) you will cross the street and enter a VERY crowded street called Borgo San Lorenzo. If you keep on this street you will come to the San Lorenzo Market ( probably the largest in Florence). Here you will find shoes, umbrellas, clothes, STUFF! The main food market is in the center of the outside market. The food market is in a huge building. It cannot be missed. In the San Lorenzo market you will also find San Lorenzo Church. Go in, it has works of Michelangelo AND even a small room/studio that Michelangelo resided in. You must set an appointment to go in. inside you will find sketches made by him... San Lorenzo church(the front) you see from Borgo San Lorenzo, you will not recognize it like a church because the facade ISN'T completed but the shape is like Santa Maria Novella etc...
If you happened to STOP at the Duomo, Go in the BAPTISTRY. It's quite beautiful and it has the golden doors made by Ghiberti(was it him?) Though they're not the originals. The Originals you can find in a museum located in the Piazza del Duomo (where you are). The Museum is called Museo della Opera del Duomo. It is behind the Duomo. The Duomo is impressive on the outside but not as impressive on the inside. you can climb up to the dome and the bell tower. Both are said to have very nice views.
If you walk past the baptistry and the duomo(on the right) you will eventually come to a road called Via Del Proconsolo, turn right. To get to the museum call the Bargello, which has amazing works by many artists including Michelangelo, you take this road. On the way to the Bargello is a restaurant called THE YELLOW BAR. It is very good, go in and eat. WIll be on your right. You will eventually come to this tall building, looks like a fort of some kind. It is the Bargello. It is on the corner of Via del Proconsolo and Via Ghibellina. The Bargello used to be a prison.
If you go down Via Ghibellina you will find Michelangelo's house(not really his house, his nephew bought it and named it that) and you will find my favorite internet cafe. It is called LA CHAT. It is the nicest and cheapest you will find in Florence. It has a yellow awning and it at the corner of Via Ghibellina and another road that I don't remember. It is located on the left hand side if you're coming from the Bargello.
Ok, wow this really is turning into a book. I will fasten the pace but try to keep as much detail as I can.
When you're at the duomo and you want to get to the Accademia (where the real David is) you will take a road called Via Ricasoli. This road is left of the facade of the Duomo. The David is a sight to see in person. It is beautiful. In Piazza San Marco, where the Accademia is, is another museum called San Marco. Go In. You will find beautiful works of art by Beato Angelico.
On the Map, Piazza Della S.S. Annunziata is located on the left. It is a beautiful piazza. S.S. Annunziata is in this Piazza. GO IN GO IN GO IN GO IN. It's a beautiful church.
Ok, you also MUST go to Santa Maria Novella. This church is by the Train Station. Infact the train station is called Santa Maria Novella. In SMN, you will find the Trinity by Masacio. GO IN GO IN!
To take day trips out of Florence you can go to the Train station and take trains out of Florence. It is very easy and THEY SPEAK ENGLISH.
Some trips that you SHOULD take is to San Giaminano(city of towers), Volterra, Sienna, Pisa, and Lucca. AMONG OTHERS. Pisa i think is the only one you can get to by train. Pisa has an airport as well. The others you will have to take the bus. You can take a bus to Pisa as well if you prefer. The bus stations FOR out of the city, NOT the city buses, are around the train station. There's LAZZI and another company I forget the name of but if you took the bus from the Florence airport to the center, you will know where it's at. Tickets are relatively inexpensive.
You can take a train to ROME, you can take the SLOW train (15 Euros, takes 3 hours and stops at EVERY stop along the way) or the EXPRESS train (30 Euros and take 1.5 hours).
Tourist season in Italy is from March thru about late October to early November. Tourist season is JAM PACKETS full of tourists from ALL over the world. The cues for everything will be LONG. It will be HOT because the summers in Florence are relatively very hot. You will be annoyed... But hey what can you do? The winters in Florence are miserable because it RAINS and IT RAINS.
City buses, and SO many tourists get caught. YOU MUST BUY A TICKET BEFORE YOU GET ON. YOU CANNOT BUY A TICKET ON THE BUS. If you get caught you will have to pay about 40-50 Euros per person. If you don't have the money on you, they will walk you to a ATM. You can buy bus tickets from some outside magazine vendors or Pasticerria, Deli's etc. Get a bus map because you will get lost if you don't. Buses in Italy are odd because they are ALL one way. In American we are used to bus stops being across the street from each other. If you want to take bus number 9 north you go on one side of the street and if you want to go south you go to the other side. THIS IS NOT THE CASE in Florence. The bus only goes one way. So it starts at one side of the road and goes all the way around the city to the stops it needs to make and then will end up at where it began. Be careful.
Italians are very proud of their culture. They are very arrogant. This is generalizing but from my experience 99 out of 100 are this way. If you are walking on a side walk(they are usually very narrow to begin with) and you see an Italian walking towards you and he/she is on it as well, you will either have to move out of the way for him or her or you will collide. IT IS RARE that they will move out of the way for you. They are also very impatient. Though they respect you for trying to speak italian, they will get tired of you trying to speak it and speak english to you. Or they will speak SUPER fast and wonder why you're such a piece of crap because you can't understand them. Also, I swear this will be my last bad comment on italians, if you spend any amount of time in Florence, the Florentines are VERY cliquey. So trying to befriend them and breaking into their clique, especially if you're a male, is super hard. They are usually more afraid of speaking english to you, though many of them speak it very well, than you are to speak broken Italian to them.
Oh and females beware. Italian men can be very aggressive. Just be clear on what you want. If you want them to leave you alone, say so clearly and keep walking or ignore them and keep walking. If you talk to them or say nasty comments to them they will keep pursuing you. Just say VAI VIA! VAI VIA! Equivalent to YOU GO AWAY! if you want nothing to do with them.
Before you leave Florence, you must make a trip to Piazza Michelangelo. It is on the opposite side of the Arno River. You can take a cab there or the number 12 and/or 13 bus there(remember your bus tickets). You will see a BEAUTIFUL, probably the best view of Florence. You are up higher than most of Florence so you see the city and the surrounding hills that enclose Florence. Take lots of pictures. There is also a VERY good restaurant with a BEAUTIFUL location a few bus stops down from the piazza. I cannot remember the its full name but it's Terraza something... Contact me if you would like to know. It is very beautiful and if you go, ask for SABINA and say FONG sent you. You can see parts of the Bobili Garden and Forte di Belvedere from the restaurant.
Florence is a beautiful city with so much history. If you take tours in the museums or city tours, make sure to ask the tour guide all kinds of questions about the city and the Medici family, including background of artists. If you don't you will loose out on so much interesting facts. I cannot stress this enough.
And eat Gelato... YUM YUM! Florence is known for it's gelato. Many people prefer Florentine gelato. Another thing that is famous in Tuscany is the BEEF. I can't tell you how good it is because I don't eat beef but from what I have been told, it is VERY tender and delicious. JUST BE CAREFUL because many times it comes VERY bloody so just let them know how you want it done.
Other interesting facts...
-Florence is probably the MOSQUITO CAPITAL of the world. BE AWARE. The Arno River's water literally just sits there. Mosquito's breed year round. When it was winter and cold outside, mosquitos were still around. It is unlikely that you will get bit just walking around during the day but at night, if you have your hotel window open, because they have NO screens on the windows, be assured you will be breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the mosquitos.
-Florence is also probably the capital for transvestite prostitutes. You don't really see them in the center but to you see them at night right outside the center and at the Cascine Park were sex acts happen all night long.
-Getting a TAXI. You must go to a taxi stand to catch a cab. There are quite a few around the city. You can tell where they are from a sign that says Taxi(i think its blue) or when there's a crowd of empty taxi's. I know there are Taxi stations in Piazza Republica, Piazza Del Duomo, and SMN station. You can not flag a taxi. They will not stop. Another way to get a taxi is to call a taxi line. THEY ONLY SPEAK ITALIAN. But during tourist season, I'm sure English as well. You call, you say you want a taxi, they ask where you are, you tell them, they put you on hold, and then they come back and tell you how long of a wait. If you hang up before then tell you when the taxi will arrive I CAN ASSURE YOU that you will be waiting forever.
-You don't really have to tip in Italy at Restaurants. They charge a sitting fee. Let's say there's 4 of you going to eat dinner. On the bill they will charge each of you about 2 bucks or so because you sat down to eat. If you leave a tip, it's because you're nice. I am from America and most of my friends are too so we felt odd if we didn't leave atleast a buck or something.
-One of my Italian friends told me that you can tell how old a building is from its windows. If the window has no blinds at all, its the oldest. If the window has green wooden shutters(Tuscany has red roofs and green shutters) then its middle age, and if it has the rolling shutters, that means those are the newest buildings. I don't know how true it is but from my observation, it seems to be correct.
Oh I was there in Florence from Late August to late May.
Ok... There's more but I will add it at a later time like the beautiful movie theatre and palazzo strozzi...
I hope this has helped...