Welcome to my place ... Florence
Go local in this Renaissance city and try one of the hotel rooftop bars along the river
The Duomo: “I’m still awed by its size.”
Now returned to Ireland after more than 20 years abroad, Emma Prunty lived for several years in Florence – first as an art history student and more recently with her family. She travels back frequently and continues to write about Italy.
There are no shortage of guides to the Renaissance city, which tourists have been crowding for centuries. My advice is to slow down and pick just a few things to see, absorb the local atmosphere and enjoy some modern elements like the fascinating street art scene.
Where is the first place you always bring people to when they visit
Probably the Duomo. I’m still awed by its size. Don’t be put off by the guards outside, join the queue and you can visit the inside for free: its other elements, like the tower, dome, museum and baptistry need to be booked and paid for ahead. It’s also right in the centre of everything and can help you orient where else you’d like to see.
Next stop would be Piazzale Michelangelo for its amazing views. It’s best enjoyed walking up from San Niccolò, through the Rose Garden. And then up more steps to the church of San Miniato. You have to work up an appetite somehow.
The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are ...
1. A morning browse at Sant’Ambrogio food/clothes market and the nearby tented flea market. Have a cappuccino at Cibrèo cafe.
2. Biblioteca delle Oblate – this converted convent is now the central library and you can walk around for free, use the loos, and head to the top-floor for an affordable lunch or good-value afternoon aperitivo with the best close-up view of the Duomo.
3. The first Sunday of each month is free at state museums: there can be long queues at some but I’d recommend the Pitti Palace as you can visit its seven museums and the wonderful Boboli Gardens.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Florence?
Morning: coffee and pastry at Robiglio, near the Duomo.
Classic Tuscan lunch: La Casalinga, off Piazza Santo Spirito (regular Sunday market and a great piazza for kids to run around).
Gelato: Vivoli, near Santa Croce.
Aperitivo: how locals eat a lighter and cheaper evening meal – try one of the hotel rooftop bars along the river.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Florence’s place in history?
There’s almost too much history to take in but the Palazzo Vecchio brings it to life in themed tours. Also Palazzo Davanzati. From an art history perspective, the four big church complexes - Santa Croce, San Marco, Santa Maria Novella and San Lorenzo.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Florence?
Leather from the leather school by Santa Croce or one of the local craft shops around Santa Spirito. Other nice finds in that area are cool handmade notebooks from Giulia Materia or Il Torchio. Or splash out on beauty/health goodies from the stunning, old Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella.