The internet is a ridiculous treasure trove of intel on all of the gloriousness of Florence Italy, as is the bookstore. So I am not going to add to that, but friend to friend, I have these tips to offer…
1. Purchase a Firenze card. If you are there for even just 2 days and keen to pop into some museums, purchase a Firenze card for $75 euro. Get the app on your phone and boom you’ve just acquired easy access to well known, lesser known, and perhaps unknown museums to explore in between inhaling pasta, pizza and gelato.
What I thought I would love about this pass was the “whoa look at me cutting the line status” which was nice, but what I really loved was the discovery aspect of the pass. Often when we travel we make lists and we hunt for the things we want to see. This pass put you more in gather mode, which is a very eye opening and freeing mode to be in. I loved it. Because of the pass I did pop into museums – Zeffirelli, Dante, Verrachio for example – that I may have wandered on past on my way to my must see destinations. These visits became some of the more memorable parts of our Florence experience.
The key to this pass, over and above getting it, is making yourself use it. Think of it as a ski pass where you count your number of runs to the value of the pass. We were practically making money by the end of our 56 hour tour. Full disclosure: my son got a little annoyed at my pop in mentality, but agreed each visit was a value add. Thanks to travel pal Cheryl for the tip!
2. Make late in the day museum visits. Firenze pass and all there was no way we were going to tackle the Uffizi once we saw the overwhelmingly long line that had formed outside this famous museum at 11am. Cutting the line is nice, but that still means fighting your way through the throngs once inside. No thanks. We went for gelato instead.
At 5pm that same day we went back. The contrast was pretty shocking – no line – very few people – and in we breezed. Such a special treat to experience this museum with so few people in it. My son guided me through, sharing what he learned on his school trip, while also seeing new things. I guess this is like my beach secret that I wrote about last summer – go places when everyone else is leaving.
3. Climb to the top of the Duomo. If you can swing it, go for the first time slot and get there early to be amongst the first to ascend. We didn’t do this (and loved it anyway), but it occurred to me while we were in human cross traffic that it would be pretty darn special to climb those stairs in the first group of the day and revel in that view, even if only for a few minutes, with just you and your group. Some training may be required, so get those steps in before you go to ensure an efficient sprint to the top.
4. Do a home stay. I know home rentals are not for everyone, but I stand by this as a travel choice that adds so much value to the experience. Our first morning in Florence while having coffee on our Homeaway terrace overlooking the beautiful city my usually sweet son observed, “I thought you were cheaping out by not staying a hotel, but this place is awesome. I could live here.” Ye of little faith.
Besides the money saving aspect I find that home stays provide a more authentic experience and encourage a resourcefulness that is a useful mindset to bestow on our kids. Our 2 bedroom flat was about 6 minutes from the Duomo, the Uffizi, and the San Croce. We got to know the cafes and the cafe owners and enjoyed observing and experiencing the energy of our neighborhood. And the space! My son had just finished a trip with 40 boys – I knew he would be craving space and solitude. While he chilled out in his room, I could read and write and work on the terrace (in between doing his 12 loads of laundry – so glam).
We also learned to appreciate the handy recycling area in our NYC elevator hall. In Florence we had to self organize our trash and walk 80 meters outside our apartment to distribute it in nifty trash receptacles. Yay – sorting trash while on vacation. I know not for everyone, but memorable and authentic and eye opening. If Colin or Margaux decide on Florence as their semester away city, I know exactly where I will be staying. Click here if you want to stay there too.
5. Build lots of time into your itinerary for cafe hopping and meandering. Have tea/cappuccino/hot cocoa/wine, put your phone away and just enjoy. Also, build in time to just wander around with zero agenda. Make wrong turns. Discover a new narrow street that is well removed from the packs of fellow travelers. Sometimes the best part of travel are the times when you are doing something by doing nothing. Ciao!!