Travel Log: Florence, Italy

Florence is an enchanting city that should be on anyone's list to visit while in Italy. It is humbling to think that brilliant artists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo once walked the streets of Florence and were inspired to create masterpieces. Florence is the home of the Renaissance and the largest dome in Italy that took 140 years to finish (has anyone else watched the Medici: Masters of Florence series on Netflix? It's a great way to learn a bit about the history!). We recently spent a few days in this city touring potential wedding venues, seeing major sites, and enjoying amazing meals. Please read on for more photos, details, and travel tips from our time in Florence.

We drove into Florence from Cinque Terre, arriving in the early afternoon. Driving in Florence is insane and not recommended, so we found a parking garage near our hotel to leave our rental car during our visit. We then walked our bags to our hotel, checked in, and took a little time to unpack and get ready for an evening out. We stayed at the Palazzo Mannaioni suites in the Oltrarno district, a few minutes away from the Ponte Vecchio and the Pitti Palace. Our suite was so pretty with its tall ceilings and large windows, and the location was perfect for exploring the historical city center!

We had time to explore a bit before dinner, so we started by walking across the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence and the only bridge across the Arno River until 1218. During World War 2, the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge across this river that the Germans did not destroy. This bridge is lined with gold and jewelry shops, and it is worth the time to stop and look in each window.

The Piazza della Repubblica marks the center of the city of Florence, and has been the center since medieval times. There Roman forum used to be here, as well as markets and churches essential to daily Italian life. This pretty plaza was a perfect spot to take a few photos twirling in this statement tulle skirt!

There are plenty of carriages in the main squares waiting to take you for a tour of the city. I did not ask about pricing, but am going to guess it is in the same range as any other popular tourist location. I grew up with horses, so this adorable pair standing outside of the Savoy Hotel was impossible to resist. They were very friendly and really just wanted to nibble on my tulle skirt.

We decided to stop at the Savoy Hotel for drinks before dinner. The Savoy's restaurant is called Irene, and it has a wonderful patio right on the Piazza della Repubblica that is perfect for enjoying the afternoon sun and people watching. This crostini with poached eggs, asparagus, pecorino cheese, and truffle was a perfect pre-dinner snack.

After Irene, we walked the long way to our dinner reservation at Ora D'Aria. This restaurant has one Michelin star and a phenomenal tasting menu. There are two dining rooms, one upstairs next to the kitchen and one downstairs. We sat upstairs in one of the eight available tables and enjoyed a wonderful meal served by Chef Marco Stabile and his staff. Even though each dish was small, we enjoyed so many dishes that I left absolutely stuffed--borderline uncomfortably full--which is the best problem to have.

The dishes above were my favorites of the night: a Fois Gras Soup with caviar and Ultra Pappa al Pomodoro with basil ice cream! Every dish of this meal was fabulous and I absolutely recommend Ora d'Aria to anyone visiting Florence seeking an exceptional fine dining experience.

Then next day we explored the Centro Storico on foot, aka the historical center of Florence. We loosely followed this itinerary from the Visit Florence website with a few modifications. To start, we walked from our hotel to the Mercato Centrale for a late breakfast/early lunch. We crossed the Ponte Santa Trinita to snap some photos of the Ponte Vecchio and then continued on the Via de'Tornabuoni up toward the Mercado Centrale.

When we arrived at the Mercato Centrale, we first stopped for cappuccinos and then explored the different stalls on the first floor. One of our good friends told us to try this pasta window with an assortment of plates for 5 euros each. You can pick your choice of pasta and sauce from what they have available fresh that day, or ask for recommendations like we did.

We tried four different types of pasta, including a lemon ricotta ravioli and that day's chef's special ravioli with smoked ham, artichoke, and tomato. This window is no fuss with plastic plates and forks, which was fine by us! We took our plates of pasta upstairs to the larger eating area, grabbed a couple of glasses of wine from one of the stalls, and enjoyed our delicious meal.

After fueling up at the Mercato Centrale, we headed to visit more wedding venues just outside of the city. This is a sneak peek of the view from the venue we ultimately chose - how amazing is that?

After lunch, we walked over to the Galleria dell'Accademia to see famous sculptures including Michelangelo's David and Prisoners series. You can buy timed tickets online for the date of your choice, available times will be shown on the website. Once you buy your tickets online, you just stop at the ticket office to show your email confirmation in exchange for physical tickets to skip the line. There was a large line when we arrived, so it felt like getting VIP treatment!

After visiting the Galleria dell'Accademia, we looped back to the Piazza Del Duomo where we purchased tickets to visit the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) with its famous Duomo, Campanile di Giotto (Giotto's Bell Tower), and Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistry of St. John).

The Baptistry of St. John is the oldest religious monument in Florence, dating back to 1128. The roof is painted with an elaborate mural of Biblical scenes including the life of Christ and the last judgment. I cannot imagine how many hours this must have taken to complete!

Instead of climbing the Duomo, we chose to climb the Bell Tower instead for an amazing view of Florence with the Duomo right there! There are fewer people who climb the Bell Tower, so we had a little more space to ourselves as well. Although the climb is steep and narrow toward the top, it is definitely worth it.

This is the unbeatable view from the top of the Bell Tower! I love that you can see the Duomo right there as part of the view, and you can also see all of the little people on the Duomo observation deck.

Here are a couple more views from the Bell Tower, in the lower photo you can see the Piazza Della Repubblica from above.

After a full day of wedding venue touring and sightseeing, we were ready for an amazing meal. I did some research online for hot new restaurants and found Burro & Acciughe (Butter & Anchovies) in the Oltrarno district just a short walk from our hotel. We walked in around 7pm (super early for dinner), and were told that they could seat us as long as we could be finished by 9:30pm when they needed the table for another reservation. No problem!

I cannot say enough good things about the food in Florence! We enjoyed two pasta dishes here including this spaghetti with anchovies and paccheri with mussels and prawns.

This local white fish called Gallinella (similar to sea bass) served in a tomato and olive broth had such good flavor! It was served on the bone with mussels and clams and was one of my favorite fish dishes on our trip. The team at Burro & Acciughe seemed to surprised to see us at first, since we were the only non-local diners in the restaurant, but quickly warmed up and chatted with us throughout the meal. This is absolutely a restaurant I would recommend to visit when you are in Florence!

I am beyond excited to have our wedding ceremony in this city next spring! We would have loved to stay longer, but we know we will be back and we wanted to stop in Rome before heading home to Seattle. Please stay tuned for one more travel log on Rome, and I hope you have a great weekend!


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