I cannot think of a single European city that isn’t dripping in culture, from art to music to history. Even Warsaw, which was pretty much obliterated in World War II (84% of the city was destroyed by German mass bombings), was rebuilt and is brimming with culture.
But when it comes to the one city that just sits ever so slightly above the rest, a kind of ice-cold culture queen ruling her minions, that city is Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region.
It is believed the Renaissance, that artistic movement that spread throughout the rest of Europe from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, began in wealthy Florence (think of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Donatello and Raffaello). Hence the city has become known as “cradle of the Renaissance” – la culla del Rinascimento.
In fact, the city wasn’t just the birthplace to a major artistic and cultural awakening – it is a living, breathing monument to the period. Best of all, the top sights are all within a compact area, which actually makes it seem like the city is simply awash with architectural gems, museums, churches and galleries. Like, oh hey, there’s another gallery just beside that Gothic church – up from that sculpture of the horses, ok? It’s crazy and beautiful.
So what sights are on offer? How about the Uffizi Gallery, next to the Piazza della Signoria and housed in what was originally built as offices for the ruling Medici, an Italian banking family and political dynasty. As well as being a stunning building, the Uffizi is one of the most visited art museums in the world, home to treasured pieces by Botticelli (La Primavera, Birth of Venus), Leonardo da VInci (Adoration of the Magi) and Michaelangelo (The Holy Family). To be brutally honest, I’m not even a huge fan of art galleries – but this one blew me away. So much so, that I went a little overboard in the shop buying postcards of the artwork. Thankfully the postcards were a tad cheaper than the paintings on the walls.
Of course, there is the famous Duomo (or cathedral) in the heart of the city. It’s sheer size and that stunning, marble facade is impressive enough but inside is its true star – the dome. Brunelleschi’s huge 15th-century terracotta-tiled cupola was built without scaffolding and even today is the biggest masonry dome in the world. A short climb (just a mere 463 steps) brings you to the top for spectacular views over the city.
Then there is the Ponte Vecchio, the Gothic church of Santa Maria Novella, the Bargello museum, the Galleria dell’Academia (where you can view Michaelangelo’s David), the Palazzo Vecchio and the Boboli Gardens behind the Palazzo Pitti. To name but a few.
When I think of Florence, I think of sun drenched squares, sipping a coffee and eating al fresco while the world just lazes on by. I think of balmy evenings that seem to stretch on forever, and popping by a local tavern for a glass of wine. I think a little bit like maybe I’m actually in a movie – some kind of romcom with cobbled streets and Italian voices shouting above me. I know, I know – it’s almost too much. But hey, it’s true, Florence, really is that lovely. And it’s sunny and in Italy and has great food and fine wine. What’s not to love?
On the downside, a city with so much to offer, can get busy, and hot in summer, and queues to top attractions like the Uffizi can be off putting (tip: look for skip the queue tickets). But hey, it really is an exquisite destination – and a great add to any Interrail trip.
Travel easy guys