Top ten things to do in Florence

A friend is taking his family to Florence this month. When he asked what they should see, Sandy and I told him about the many obvious sights: Ponte Vecchio, Michelangelo’s David at Accademia, Renaissance art at the Uffizi (be sure to book advance tickets to save yourself a two-hour wait on line), the Duomo and the Baptistery, and the Central Market.

But we also made our top ten suggestions. Here they are for all to enjoy:

  1. Gilli, a restaurant in Piazza Della Repubblica. At mid-morning, order an espresso or caffe latte and choose a pastry. Our favorite was the bombolone. At lunch, eat outside. Have the ni?oise salad. Listen to the musicians nearby. (We lived just two blocks away at Via Roma 3.)
  2. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Everybody wants to see the Duomo but inside the cathedral is mostly just a big empty space, unless you feel up to climbing all 463 steps to the top. (Brunelleschi’s bones are on the lower level.) All the good art is in the Museo dell’Opera which is behind the Duomo. See the bronze doors from the Baptistery (the ones outside are reproductions) as well as Michelangelo’s Pieta and Donatello’s haunting Mary Magdalene carved out of wood.
  3. Gregorian chants at 5 p.m. by the Benedictine monks at San Miniato del Monte. Take a taxi for the 15-minute ride to the church south of Florence; have bus tickets for the ride back to town via city bus #12 that passes in front of the church. Wonderful cemetery out back. Great views of Florence from the church and from Piazzale Michelangelo part way down the hill. Bus tickets cost about a euro each and are available at any tabachi (tobacconist). Stick your ticket in the slot when you board for a time stamp. Hang onto the tickets during the ride in case you are asked.
  4. Verrazano on Via Dei Tavolini for lunch or pastries. Across the street, Perch? Non? (Why not?) for the best gelato in Florence.
  5. Celestino, a great restaurant in the Piazza Santa Felicita, just south of Ponte Vecchio. Take a look at the Pontormo, just to the right inside of the door of the church, for modern colors and shapes in this unusual Deposition scene.
  6. The Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace. A long walk on a hot day up to the top but a rewarding trip for views and the gallery of ceramics.
  7. If you’re in Florence on the last Sunday of the month, there’s an antique market on the streets around the Piazza dei Ciompi, half a dozen blocks east of the Duomo. Everything from chandeliers to Nazi memorabilia. At the north end of the market, on Via Petrapiana, is a pastry shop, Nencioni, where you want to buy fedora, the best pastry we’ve ever tasted in any country (rum-soaked cake and whipped cream encased in dark chocolate curls).
  8. Take the #7 city bus from Piazza San Marco, a ten-minute walk north on Via Cavour from the Duomo. It’s a half-hour trip up the hill to Fiesole, a small village with views of Florence as well as a Roman amphitheatre and Etruscan ruins. If money’s no object, have dinner at Villa San Michele, the best dining in Florence.
  9. Piazza della Santissima Annunziata for architecture including Spedale degli Innocenti, the first orphanage in Europe. Piazza Santo Spirito, south of the Arno, for city life. Walk west along Via di Santo Spirito for artisans, wine shops and restaurants.
  10. The Bargello, on Via Della Proconsolo, Italy’s first national museum. Michelangelo on the main floor, Donatello’s David on the second floor. Magnifico!

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