Jun 7th, 12
The following map will help you find excellent gelato and food in Florence, guaranteeing that whether you’re hungry for a gourmet dinner, some quick pizza, or just delicious frozen treats, you’ll know exactly where to go.
I will not claim that these are the only good places in Florence, nor even that (among the restaurants) they are the very best, but they are all fabulous, and all affordable. If you eat at these places it will be delicious, you will be happy, and you will remember it for a very long time.
RED PINS indicate restaurants.
BLUE PINS indicate gelaterias.
Clicking on any pin will give you more information, including a brief description of what makes this restaurant special and delicious. Sadly, it may be necessary to drag the map or adjust it using the arrows to see the full blurb, however. Enjoy!
View Ex Urbe Map of Florence in a larger map
May 10th, 12
A quick review of the architectural centerpieces of Florence. Prices and hours may change arbitrarily (this is Italy, after all).
Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria):
- The old seat of government of the Florentine Republic, later taken over as the seat of the Medici Dukes. The different parts of the building are a micro-history of Renaissance Florence right before your eyes. Going to see the outside is a must. You can pay to go inside, to see the ducal decorations, the offices where all the great humanists used to work, and Dante’s death mask, which is kept there because why not. Among the decorations are some beautiful intarsia (inlaid wood) doors with portraits of Dante and Petrarch, plus the original of Donatello’s Judith. You can also see the enormous Hall of the 500, which Savonarola had built, and its over-the-top decorations. You can’t go up the tall tower where the prison was.
- Cost: Seeing it from the outside, and entering the lower story, is free.
- Time required: 20 minutes to just look at, 2 hours for the museum.
- Hours: Changing all the time, but usually 9 am to 7 pm, but sometimes 2 pm to 7 pm, and sometimes open super late, often on Thurs or Tues.
- Website: http://www.museicivicifiorentini.it/en/palazzovecchio/
- Notes: See my discussion of it: http://exurbe.com/?p=37
- The old heart and symbol of the city, sacred to its patron saint John the Baptist. The baptistery is right in front of the cathedral, and the oldest of the grand buildings erected to show off Florence’s affluence. The outside features the Gates of Paradise, with Ghiberti’s gilded bronze relief sculptures, one of the greatest moments in Renaissance sculpture. Seeing the outside is free, but it is worth paying to go in, because the entire interior is covered with gorgeous gold mosaics in stunning condition, including a fabulous depiction of Hell. Also Florence’s antipope is buried inside (closest thing they had to a pope before the Medici), and outside keep an eye out for the Column of St. Zenobius nearby.
- Cost: 4 or 5 euros to go inside.
- Time required: half an hour
- Hours: 12 pm to 7 pm weekdays, open 8:30 am to 2 pm on the first Saturday of the month.
- Notes: The tickets are sometimes sold at the entrance of the baptistery, but sometimes in a confusing archway to the right of it (if you stand facing the gates of paradise). People will usually point you the right way. You get a slight discount if you get the baptistery ticket along with a ticket to climb the Duomo and go to the Museo del Opera del Duomo.
Duomo (cathedral) and Belltower:
- The grandest church in Christendom when it was built, and still so beautiful that, when you’re standing in front of it, it’s hard to believe it’s real. The outside is a must-see. The dome was the greatest engineering marvel of its day, and still astoundingly humongous. The inside is also worth seeing, with colored marble floors, high clean vaults, and the dome frescoed with a particularly excellent last judgment, with a great Hell-scape. On the right hand wall look for the tomb of Marsilio Ficino (who restored Plato the the world) and on the left the painting of Dante standing in front of Florence, Purgatory, Heaven and the gates of Hell.
- You can, separately, pay to climb the dome. It is taaaaaaaaaaaaall. Climbing it lets you see the inside between the two layers of the double dome (which is how a dome that big stays up), and lets you see the fresco on the inside of the dome up close. The view on top is spectacular but a lot of people get major height fear and vertigo up there, even people who don’t usually, due to the dome’s dizzying slant. Also the cramped area between the domes is rather claustrophobic, giving you the world-class claustrophobia-acraphobia combo!
- You can also pay to climb the belltower but it’s not hugely worth-it, unless you want to see the bells bells bells bells bells bells bells bells. In general, though, if you want to climb something, go for the Duomo.
- Cost: Free to enter the cathedral. You have to pay to climb the dome.
- Time required: Half an hour for seeing the cathedral, a couple hours for climbing the dome.
- Hours: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, with some complicated exceptions. Check the website with an Italian friend.
- Website: http://www.operaduomo.firenze.it/monumenti/duomo.asp
- Notes: Climbing the dome has a long line a lot of the year, as does the cathedral itself even though you don’t pay; they only let a certain number of people in at a time. (Ex Urbe’s humble assistant Athan can confirm that the line is long and the climb cramped even in January.)
I stole this photo, but there is no other way to show you. Mea culpa.
- No photography allowed in the monastery, so I can’t offer decent photos. This is the major Dominican monastery and church (in contrast with the Franciscans at Santa Croce). The church itself is free, while you have to pay to go to the monastery museum, but it’s only 5 euros and very worth-it.
- The church is mostly baroque at this point, but contains the tombs of the Renaissance scholars Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano. Also a byzantine mosaic Madonna, a nice annunciation, the tomb of St. Antoninus, and an angry bronze statue of Savonarola.
- The monastery section is the real centerpiece. Every cell in the monks’ living area was frescoed by Fra Angelico, as were the refectory and other important spaces. This rare chance to see Renaissance paintings still in their original context lets you understand how they were used and interacted with in daily life. While almost every room has a crucifixion scene, each one is unique, highlighting some different emotional or theological aspect of the crucifixion, in a perfect example of how Renaissance artists moved on from the repetition of icon making to make each piece offer the viewer a unique new angle on the subject. You can also see Savonarola’s room and relics, and the room Cosimo de Medici had made for himself when he paid for the renovation of the monastery, so he could come there to have a break from public life sometimes.
- Cost: Free for the church, 4 euros for the monastery section. It is on the Friends of the Uffizi pass.
- Time required: 2+ hours
- Hours: 8:15 to 1:20 pm weekdays, 6:15 to 4:50 weekends. Closed odd numbered Sundays and even numbered Mondays.
- Website: http://www.uffizi.firenze.it/musei/?m=sanmarco
- Notes: The priest will usually glare at anyone who comes into the church and makes straight for Pico’s tomb.
- On the East end of town, Florence’s major Franciscan monastery church came to be the major burial place for famous Florentines. Includes the tombs of Machiavelli, Galileo, Michelangelo, Fermi, Marconi (who invented the radio), Bruni (who invented the Middle Ages), the cenotaph of Dante, and dozens and dozens of other tombs crammed into every surface. Also excellent Giotto and Giotesque frescoes, and other exciting art. The orphanage it used to house taught orphans leather working, and it still contains a leather working school. Also contains one of the surviving tunics of St. Francis of Assisi.
- Cost: 5 euros! Expensive!
- Time required: 2 hours
- Hours: 9:30 AM to 5 PM except Sundays, when it opens at 2
- Website: http://www.operadisantacroce.it/
- Notes: It tends to be quite cold inside.
- The old bridge, covered with tiny jewelry shops. This has been the heart of Florence’s gold trade for a long time, and is incidentally one of the most valuable shopping strips on Earth. At night the tiny little shops lock themselves up in wooden shutters and look like giant treasure chests, which is really what they are. The view of this bridge from the next bridge down (Ponte Santa Trinita) is also worth seeing. Be sure, while on the bridge, to greet the statue monument of the incomparable Benvenuto Cellini, Florence’s great master goldsmith/ sculptor/ duelist/ engineer/ necromancer/ multiple-murderer, who wrote one of humanity’s truly great autobiographies.
- Cost: Free.
- Time required: half an hour, more if you want to shop
- Hours: Shops shut around sunset.
- My photos do not do this church justice, but they don’t let you take pictures inside. San Lorenzo is a little complicated because you have to pay separately to go in the different areas:
- The main part of the church (which costs 3.5o euros) is a mathematically-harmonious, high Renaissance neoclassical church full of geometry and hints of neoPlatonism. I recommend going in it after Santa Croce and Orsanmichele, since the contrast of its lofty, light-filled spaces and rounded arches gives you a vivid sense of how much architecture has changed in so little time. Here you can see the excellent tomb of Cosimo de Medici (il vecchio), and some other early Medici tombs, as well as some Donatello reliefs and the remains of Saint Caesonius (no one knows who he is or how he got there, but he’s clearly labeled as a saint, so no one’s willing to move him). This ticket also gets you into the crypt below the church, where you can see the bottom of Cosimo’s tomb, and a collection of really gaudy reliquaries.
- Separately, the library attached to the cloister courtyard at the left of the church (which also costs 3.50 euros, but you can get a combined ticket to it and the church for 6) contains the reading room with the desks where the great Laurenziana library was housed. It is very much a scholarly pilgrimage spot to see one of the first great houses of the return of ancient learning. The old reading desks are still there where the books were chained, and still labeled with the individual manuscripts. To get in you also get to (or rather have to) go up Michelangelo’s scary scary staircase. The library periodically has small exhibits of exciting manuscripts, most recently on surgery, and on the oldest surviving copy of Virgil. The library is only open in the morning! Its gift shop sells some fun things including a lenscloth decorated with a reproduction of the illuminated frontispiece of the Medici dedication copy of Ficino’s translation of Plato – ultimate history/philosophy nerd collectable.
- Separately, the Medici Chapels in the back of San Lorenzo (under its big dome; costs 5 euros, but is on the Friends of the Uffizi card, unlike the other two [why?!]) contain the later Medici tombs, those of Lorenzo de Medici, his brother, the next generation of Medici, and the Medici dukes. The earlier Medici tombs here have some Michelangelo sculptures on them, while the later ones are in a ridiculously over-the-top baroque colored marble chapel which knocks you breathless with its unbridled and rather tasteless opulence. One friend I visited with subtitled the chapel: “Baroque: UR doin’ it WRONG!” An excellent excercise in trying to grapple with the evolution of taste, and why certain eras’ taste matches our own while others don’t. Also you get to see more over-the-top sparkly reliquaries.
- Hours: Different for each bit.
- The former grain market and grain storage building at the heart of the city was turned into a church when an icon of the Madonna there started working miracles. Because it was the official church of the merchant guilds of Florence, the different guilds competed to supply the most expensive decoration for it, so the outside is covered with fabulous statues, each with the symbols of its guild above and below. Seeing the outside is quick and easy. Seeing the inside is trickier and not always worth cramming into your schedule, but the inside is also beautiful, a very medieval feeling, with saints painted on every surface. A museum above (open rarely, mainly Mondays) holds the original sculptures, which have been replaced on the outside with copies for their own safety. But since the sculptures were designed to be seen in their niches, the copies in situ look better than the displaced originals in my opinion.
- Cost: Free
- Time required: half an hour
- Hours: 10 am to 5 pm. Closed on Monday.
- Notes: Occasionally hosts concerts. On the outside is a booth where you can get tickets to the Uffizi without waiting in the Uffizi line.
Mercato Centrale & Mercato San Ambrosio:
- Not historic, but the two great farmer’s markets of the city are definitely worth visiting, and great for both lunch and souvenir shopping. Cheese, salumi, spices, sauces, fruits, veggies, oil, vinegar, truffle products… The Mercato Centrale (near San Lorenzo) has more touristy things and things to take home, while San Ambrosio has more things to eat right now or cook at home, but both have both. At the Mercato Centrale I particularly recommend eating fresh pasta at Pork’s (order tagliatelle with asparagus, or all’ Amatriciana (with tomato, onion and bacon) or tortellini with cream and ham (prosciutto e panna)), and/or having a porchetta sandwich. You can also try tripe or lampredotto if you’re brave.
- Cost: Free
- Time required: 1+ hours
- Hours: Morning through early afternoon.
Apr 18th, 12
Kicking off my new Travel Reviews section, a quick review of some centerpieces among the many, many, many attractions Florence offers her visitors. Please keep in mind that times and prices change constantly, so always check before you plan:
- The city’s great painting collection, housed in the offices built by Vasari for the Medici dukes. Arranged in mainly chronological order, the collection chronicles the progression of art out of the middle ages through the Renaissance. This is where you find the big names: Giotto, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo, all in halls decorated with Romanesque grotesque ceilings, covered with portraits of everyone who was anyone in the Renaissance, and crammed with classical sculpture, including the Medici copy of the Laocoon. Highlights include the three big Madonnas, the Botticelli room featuring the Madonna della Magnificat and the Birth of Venus, Raphael’s portraits of popes Leo X and Julius II, and Michelangelo’s Holy Family With Gratuitous Naked Men. Endless gift shop including a huge room of academic books. Fantastic venue for Spot the Saint.
- Cost: 11 euros plus 3 or so extra for making a reservation.
- Time required: 6+ hours if you can stand up that long.
- Hours: 8:15 am to 6:50 pm Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday. Sometimes open late Tuesdays.
- Website: http://www.uffizi.firenze.it/en/index.php
- Notes: The Uffizi has an infinite (3+ hour) line during peak season, so it’s a very good idea to make a reservation. It also has very few places to sit, no water fountains (they scan your bag as you go in so you can’t bring water), and a very inconveniently-located bathroom. So enormous and exhausting is it that it’s very difficult to go through in one day. If you’re in Florence for a week, I highly recommend getting a Friends of the Uffizi pass, which costs 60 euros at present (40 for student-age) and gives you unlimited access plus line skipping at the Uffizi, Academia, Bargello, Pitti Palace and San Marco, plus some other secondary places. The card, which can be purchased at an office at the Uffizi, gives you the leisure to go to the Uffizi for half a day, then go do something else, then return. In my experience a typical visitor does not quite get 60 euros out of the pass in a single week, but it comes close, and the convenience makes up the difference. No photos.
- The other most famous and frequently-visited museum in the city. The Academia hosts the original Michelangelo David and Michelangelo Prisoners, plus a great collection of Renaissance paintings, and, in the upper floor, a great Saint Spotting area including a huge collection of icons of Saint Zenobius. Michelangelo’s fame means the Academia is always extremely crowded, and there are always mobs around the David.
- Cost: also 11-ish, 14-ish with an appointment.
- Time required: 5+ hours
- Hours: 8:15 am to 6:50 pm, Tuesday through Sunday.
- Website: http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/musei/?m=accademia
- Notes: The Academia is great, but it’s also a lot of hassle and chaos, especially during peak season, and it’s not actually that much better than most of Florence’s other, less popular great museums. As with the Uffizi, make an appointment or get the Friends of the Uffizi card, but honestly, if you are only in Florence briefly and need to choose carefully, there are other things you can see that are just as fabulous and a lot less difficult. No photos.
- Formerly the prison and seat of the city’s chief of police, the Bargello is a fabulous fortress, with battlements and hundreds of coats of arms of knights who served in it. Now it houses the city’s Renaissance sculpture collection, including Donatello’s David and Cellini’s Ganymede. Easy to reach and inexpensive, this little museum takes a comfortable half-day to see thoroughly, but is crammed with world-class pieces. Also contains collections of ceramics, a chapel whose fresco includes the oldest surviving portrait of Dante, and assorted “stuff” ranging from Roman cameos to an ivory and ebony medieval portable backgammon set.
- Cost: 5 euros
- Time required: 3-4 hours.
- Hours: (sigh) 8:15 AM to 1:50 PM, closed the 2nd & 4th Monday and 1st, 3rd & 5th Sunday of each month and randomly selected holidays.
- Website: (the official one seems to be down) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bargello
- Notes: No photography is permitted in the sculpture rooms, but they do let you take photos in the courtyard.
- This enormous palace in the across-the-river (Altrarno) area is where the Medici dukes moved once the Palazzo Vecchio proved too cramped for their royal style. It contains seven museums in one, which are confusingly grouped into two separate tickets. They are constantly rearranging what is on what ticket, so this info may be out of date:
- Ticket 1 is for the Palatine Gallery, which includes yet another collection of extraordinary paintings, including a lovely Raphael holy family, a great Filippino Lippi madonna, Titian’s extremely sensual Mary Magdalene, and elaborate baroque frescoed walls and ceilings. It also contains some of the finest examples of Pietra Dura, the Florentine art of making elaborate images out of inlaid semi-precious stone. It also includes the Royal Apartments, with all the fancy furniture.
- Ticket 2 is for the Argenti Museum, or silver museum, which houses the ridiculous treasures which belonged to the Medici family. When I say ridiculous I mean it, and the endless cases of ivory vases, gilded cups, huge amber reliquaries and elaborate hand-carved rock crystal dishes leaves one completely overwhelmed by the opulence of wealth. Prepare to be stupefied by the sheer genius of human opulence. This collection is very different from anything you meet at a typical museum, and I recommend it highly as a break from too much art. The first few rooms also feature truly astounding fake-perspective frescoes, and one of my favorite fresco cycles of all time, depicting Lorenzo de Medici inventing the Renaissance. There are also frequently interesting temporary exhibits in the initial rooms.
- Also on Ticket 2 are the Boboli Gardens, the large, meandering Italian gardens behind the palace. These are great for a quick stroll, or for getting really winded on the endless slopes and stairs. At the river end of the gardens is the grotto, an elaborate Renaissance fantasy of a fake excavated ancient Roman villa, covered with fake mud and fake ruins and rustic mosaics made of seashells. It is only open for brief intervals at unpredictable times of day, so if you go, ask an employee when it will be open that day, to make sure you don’t miss it.
- Minor museums included in one ticket or another are the Modern Art gallery, the Costume Museum (disappointingly small and modern), the Porcelain Museum, and the Carriage Museum.
- Cost: 8.5 euros for the Palatine, 7 for the Argenti.
- Time required: 3-4 hours for the Argenti, another 3-4 for the Palatine, 1-2 each for the others.
- Hours: 8:15 to 6:50, closed Mondays.
- Website: For the Argenti: http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/en/musei/?m=argenti, For the Palatine: http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/en/musei/?m=palatina
- Notes: No photography except in the gardens.
Museum of the History of Science (Museo Galileo):
- A phenomenal collection of scientific instruments from the Renaissance through 19th century, though mostly 17th and 18th. Astrolabes, sextants, orreries, clocks, barometers, telescopes, electrostatic generators… These are pieces from the period when scientific demonstration models were designed to impress aristocratic patrons, so gold and engraving are the norm. Highlights include Galileo’s telescopes (and finger and thumb in a reliquary), apothecary’s work table, the Military Compass (dagger with built-in compass and other mathematical tools), and a gruesome collection of 18th century full color obstetric models showing dissected female torsos and the various ways babies can be laid wrong in them.
- Cost: 8 euros.
- Time required: 3-4 hours.
- Hours: 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM, except on Tuesdays, when it closes at 1:00 PM.
- Website: http://www.museogalileo.it/en/index.html
- Notes: Private museum, not included on the Friends of the Uffizi ticket.
Museo del Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Cathedral Corporation):
- The construction of Florence’s massive cathedral, which was, at the time, the most spectacular church in Christendom, was an incredibly expensive undertaking, and the Renaissance corporation created to oversee it survives to this day. This museum showcases the art and artifacts which belong to that corporation, including numerous sculptures from the old early Renaissance facade which was later torn down in favor of a more modern one, the wooden models of different designs for the church, and many of the tools used for it. Highlights include Donatello’s stunning wooden sculpture if Mary Magdalene, the reliquary from the Baptistery containing the right index finger of John the Baptist, and the original Baptistery sculptures and (once they’re done cleaning them) the real Gates of Paradise.
- Cost: 6 euros
- Time required: 2-3 hours.
- Hours: 9:00 AM – 7:00 PM, except on Sundays, when it closes at 1:45 PM.
- Website: http://www.operaduomo.firenze.it/ There does not seem to be an English version of this website.
- Notes: Not included on the Friends of the Uffizi ticket.
- An enormous city palace built by one of Florence’s leading merchant families, the Palazzo Strozzi hosts a circuit of temporary exhibits, usually pretty good, but each is unique, so check it each time you consider coming. The Strozzi family were never the most powerful, but generally the biggest wealthy merchant family, with the most individual households, so widely feared (and often exiled) by the Medici and other rivals. This palace was built after a return from exile, and celebrates their presence in the city.
- Cost: Variable by exhibition and greed.
- Time required: 2-4 hours depending on exhibit.
- Hours: 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM, Thursdays 9:00 AM – 11:00 PM.
- Website: http://www.palazzostrozzi.org/index.jsp?idProgetto=2&idLinguaSito=2
- Notes: Private museum, not included on the Friends of the Uffizi ticket.
La Specola (Museo di Storia Naturale):
- All major cities have natural history museums, but not ones founded by the Medici. La Specola hosts eighteenth-century specimen collections, including skeletons and dissection models, many many more elaborate wax surgical models than the science museum, and the Medici’s pet hippo (stuffed). Not for those with weak stomachs.
- Cost: 6 euros, 10 euros for museum and exhibition.
- Time required: 2-4 hours.
- Hours: 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM, closed Mondays.
- Website: http://www.msn.unifi.it/mdswitch.html
- Notes: Some ticketing connection with Pitti Palace which I don’t quite understand. (Quoth the website in two contiguous lines: disabled access: YES / disabled access: NO)