Why Florence is an ideal base for a short break in Tuscany

posted in: Italy | 31

The so-called birthplace of Renaissance seemed to be a great base to check out Florence (Firenze in Italian) and the surrounding area for a short break in the Tuscany region and after a few days here, I wanted to stay longer but long for a return to this beautiful region of Italy. I choose Florence for its location, transport links to other places nearby and above all, the culture, history and the food. There was plenty of accommodation to choose from and I was quite lucky finding a hostel between the main centre (a few minutes walk away) and the main train station (also a few minutes walk away).

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Santa Maria Novella – Florence

Exploring Florence was totally amazing. That is how I would sum it up. Before arriving here I knew the city was once a big player in the trade and finance during the medieval era and that the whole historic centre has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site but all that aside, I knew art, fashion and architecture was the name of the game here.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa

I found two beautiful religious buildings here whilst wandering around. One I knew, the other I never come across before. One place where most visitors hit up is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Firoe (The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower) otherwise known as Florence Cathedral (Duomo in Italian). The building took around 140 years to complete after construction began in 1296 and had a Gothic style to the place, but not in a Gothic sort of style I have seen when I explored other cathedrals across Europe, like the Notre-Dame in Paris . This cathedral has marble panels in shades of pink and green bordered by white on the facade which makes this unique. I have to admit, on first looks, I was gobsmacked as I never come across this sort of design on my travels before. The building is amazing. To top it of, as well as the facade design, the massive red dome (which was once the largest in Europe but still remains the largest brick dome in the world to be constructed) dominates the skyline of the city and just impressed me. There was no words to describe it.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Firoe
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Firoe
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Firoe
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Firoe

Next to the cathedral is the Giotto’s Campanille, a freestanding tower which again as a beautiful marble facade. Inside there are seven bells and when they ring, they sure can be heard all over the city.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Giotto’s Campanille

The other religious site which really impressed me and has the same design as the main cathedral is the Santa Maria Novella which is a church located a stone-throws away from the central railway station. The church was the first basilica to be built in the city but as I am not really a person who looks back on the history of churches, what I find fascinating about them is the architecture and the location they are based (as a photographer, I find this really ideal). There is a big green space in front of the building and with no high rise buildings surrounding it, a perfect sunset capture is to be had here.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Santa Maria Novella
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Santa Maria Novella

Back to the centre and not far from the cathedral, another building which impressed me was the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) and is the town hall of the city, which overlooks the Pizza della Signoria. I just love the clock tower here but also I did enjoy taking a photo of me standing next to a copy of the David statue, one of Michelangelo’s famous works (as well as other tourists who wanted to get in on the act).

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Palazzo Vecchio
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Palazzo Vecchio
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Palazzo Vecchio

The city lies on the River Arno and one of the highlights is to check out the Ponte Vecchio (The Old Bridge) which has stood here since the medieval times. Once built, a lot of shops were built on top and were occupied by butchers, but as I was walking on it, I noticed these days there are a lot of art dealers, souvenir stalls and jewellers.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
River Arno
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Ponte Vecchio

Whilst in Florence I wanted to check out a few of the nearby places. Going by train I first landed in Siena. Sitting on the train, looking out of the window, I took in the beautiful scenery of the Tuscany countryside, passing many rolling hills, small villages and vineyards. As soon as I arrived in Siena, I noticed the old centre was at the top of a nearby hill, so the walk from the train station took about 15-20 minutes. In the Spring heat, it can be quite pleasant but in the summer heat, I wouldn’t want to walk up the hill every day. It must be horrible.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Siena
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Siena
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Siena

Siena is a beautiful city and I preferred the beauty of this place over Florence. I fell in love with it straight away, with its narrow cobbled streets which wind around the hilltop. The heart of the old city is the Piazza del Campo, an amazing shell-shaped town square and in the heart is the Torre del Mangia (The Mangia Tower) which is the second tallest medieval tower in Italy after the Asinelli Tower in Bologna at 112m (367ft). I found the square to be an ideal spot to get a quick snack from nearby (like a slice of pizza), find a step opposite the tower and just admire the building, square, tower and watch people get on with everyday life.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Piazza del Campo
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Piazza del Campo
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Piazza del Campo
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Torre del Mangia

A few streets away from Piazza del Campo is the Duomo Siena (Siena Cathedral) which was built in the medieval times and has a very similar facade to that of the cathedral in Florence. I didn’t like the fact that other buildings seem to have been built right next to the cathedral, so now it looks a bit cramp (but then all the locals were probably fighting for space to build their buildings on this small hilltop).

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Duomo Siena
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Duomo Siena
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Duomo Siena

After a days exploring and towards the evening, I managed to do even more walking and came across an amazing park on another hilltop nearby. From here I was able to look across the city and see the skyline of Siena’s old city. Also from here I was able to see the Tuscany countryside with the sun setting in the horizon. Simply perfect.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Views of Siena
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Views of Siena
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Views of Siena

The last place I checked out was Pisa, which needs no introduction whatsoever. On arrival at the train station, the place looked like a complete dumped. Some of the buildings (which are in use) just look ruined, graffitied on and just plain dam right horrible. To get to the famous sights of Pisa, it is signposted from the railway station and was a straightforward walk, lasting around fifteen minutes. Over the river and my first impressions of the city was not great.

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Pisa
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Pisa

Then it happened. I arrived at Piazza dei Miracoli. Now that doesn’t ring a bell for anyone outside the city of Pisa but say that Pisa Cathedral and Leaning Tower is located here, then everyone for sure has heard of this UNESCO World Heritage listed square. First thing first, I needed to do the tourist photo of me trying to hold up the Leaning Tower (Torre di Pisa). Now come on, some of you must have visited this tower and tried to do the same thing? Who hasn’t? It is so touristy and cheesy to do but it had to be done. The tower itself is a bell tower which is located right behind the cathedral and has stood here since 1173. However, it took about 177 years to build and was done in stages. It was only when the bell room at the top was added combined with the weak soil and very poor foundations underneath the tower, that it started to sink to one side. Since then, the tower has really moved that much and the builders (and since then other local’s) attitude is, well, it if it’s not falling, leave it. Still can be used. And that is true to this very day, it has not fallen over…yet!

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
My tourist photo!

Walking around the small square was nice and pleasant (away from all the tourists like myself near the tower) and was able to look at the beautiful facades and nip inside the cathedral and the baptistry. It was only when I left the square back to the train station (and looking at other parts of the city as I went whilst trying to find somewhere good to eat and not too pricey), that I was reminded on how horrible the city look. Pisa for me wasn’t my favourite city but I was glad to see the world famous buildings (or should I say, one of the world’s famous building cock-ups). However in my week in Tuscany, I fell in love with the region and hope to be back very soon (and this time, to check out some of the wines).

Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Piazza dei Miracoli (the cathedral and tower)
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
Piazza dei Miracoli.
Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, Pisa
All the tourists trying to get their ‘tourist’ shot in!

This post was my thoughts and ideas on what to do in Tuscany for a brief stay for a first timer and I hope you enjoyed this post and may have taken some ideas. Getting around is easy with the trains, buses and various tour companies which offer services (but I declined offers as I am a budget traveler), and the region can be done on the cheap. Has anyone reading this post visited Florence and region? If so, what would you recommend to anyone visiting the area? Would love to read your thoughts and ideas.

 

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31 Responses

  1. Feels like an awesome mix of city life, ample walking and country side Danik. Perfect for me 😉 Thanks for sharing buddy.

    Ryan

  2. It looks like you had an amazing trip. I’m from Rome and I go to Tuscany quite often, besides the main cities -which you have perfectly described- I also love just driving around the beautiful landscape and indulge in Tuscan red wines -not at the same time, though! 😉

  3. We had to pick between Siena and Florence when we were in the area and went with Siena. I haven’t regretted it but I do hope to go back and visit Florence one day. There seems to be just SO much to it!

  4. Awesome post! My wife loves Florence and I have never been. We keep trying to get it together to travel there. This article helped. It must be amazing walking through such rich history.

  5. Enjoyed your photos, the architecture in Florence is stunning. The details on the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Firoe are impressive. LOL, great shot of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

  6. I have only been to Rome and desperately want to get back to Italy to do this area and Venice. I had heard of a few places on your list like the Florence Cathedral, David Statue, Pisa (of course), but I had not heard about Duomo Siena! Holy Cow! I love its architecture! Like you, I love finding beautiful architecture and that is up there! Also didn’t realize it and the Tower of Pisa were so close to other buildings. They do seem a bit cramped. Love the tourist photo…of COURSE you have to get that! Thanks for the heads up on Duomo Siena!

  7. Florence is definitely the ideal base with all the landmarks and galleries. And I didn’t know Pisa is so near!!!

  8. Florence is such a beautiful city, and this makes me want to go back and visit. My nephew is studying abroad there this semester, and I’m so glad he’ll get to experience it. So much great food and history and art and architecture and …

  9. Florence is indeed a great base to do the various day trips from the city. Both Pisa and Sienna were good experiences for us. The touristy pic has come out well 🙂

  10. Great post and wonderful photos! Enjoyed reading it and found it very helpful. Thank you! Gladys

  11. Florence was one of my favorite cities. The buildings were really pretty and the ambiance was just lovely.
    I took so many pictures with Pisa but just like you I was also there for a short period of time so I just tried to see as much as I could.

  12. I do love some Florence and Pisa. The architecture is amazing as you point out. I think there are plenty of gorgeous buildings to gawk at, that’s for sure! LOL. I also love the food from that region…yum!

  13. Florence looks so beautiful! I’d love to see the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in person, as I love old cathedrals in Europe. It looks like it’s easy enough to do day trips too.

  14. I just wrote about Florence a few days ago. I really love the city! I love the churches, the palazzos, and of course Ponte Vecchio. Too bad I didn’t go to Siena. Time to go back to Italy!

  15. Totally, agree, when I first went to Florence, I immediately had the feeling of wanting to stay longer. Looking at your pictures took me back to wonderful memories. The Santa Maria Novella cathedral is amazing. We didn’t get to Sienna and it looks like we missed out. I guess another trip to Tuscany should be planned soon. Cheers 🙂

  16. I have Italy on my summer vacation list. But we went with Rome. I had heard of Florence, but didn’t realize it is so beautiful. Siena Cathedral is simply marvelous.

  17. I haven’t been but it looks like it hasn’t so much to offer. I’ve only been to Rome. So many beautiful churches.

  18. Florence looks absolutely stunning. I love the architecture of the cathedrals and palace. And the sculptures throughout the city are fantastic. I cannot believe how well the statues have stood the test of time. Florence looks like it was a perfect base for you to explore the region.

  19. When I was in high school I got to sing in the Duomo of Florence. Other than that cool experience, I wasn’t all that impressed with Florence. I do agree that it makes a great base for day trips in that part of Italy though!

  20. I just love Florence and you guys are so right, it is a great place to use as a base for the Tuscany region. There are so many great places near by and you really forget how close they all area. Definitely keen to head back to Siena and sit in Piazza del Campo doing some people watching

  21. Florence is such a beautiful place and very conveniently located. Looks like you had a wicked time too!

  22. I agree Florence is a great base to see many attractions, cities and towns in the northern part of the country, but not that far from the central areas also. It’s a great hub for all the rail and bus lines going into the city.

  23. For a first time visit, there are certainly a lot of amazing places to visit in and around Florence. 🙂 The architecture looks pretty impressive especially that of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Firoe. Glad to see that the Leaning Tower of Pisa made up for the not-so-great impressions you had of the city. I must admit I’d definitely do that ‘tourist shot’ when I get to visit too! 🙂

  24. Italy is dripping in history. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a Renaissance masterpiece. The views of Il Duomo are stunning. I had no idea it was the largest brick dome in the world! Learn something new everyday. I’m glad you got a pic of holding up the Tower of Pisa, no tour is complete without one! I’d love to travel back here with my wife someday soon and see the gorgeous vistas together. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Florence is beautiful, I love the museums there and also the architecture of the Duomo cathedral, its amazing. However, just like you, it seems to be that Sienna is an even cuter, and more charming town! It looks amazing from your pictures and its just a train ride away from Florence so that’s even better! I have been to Florence but not Sienna and I can see why you say that Florence is an ideal base for a short break in Tuscany.

  26. Everytime I see Florence, I get reminded how incomplete my last visit here was. I missed seeing so much for we did not have enough time. I need to get back to see all those amazing buildings that you have described here. Especially after reading all those Angel and Demon Sequels. And as a base, it sounds perfect. With its proximity to all the important places.

  27. A couple of decades back we almost went to Florence. It just happened that we took a wrong train and then decided to continue towards Rome. I would like to visit this city to see the works of Michelangelo, Bernini and I am sure there are a few of Da Vinci too though he was not from these parts. All the buildings look so beautiful and well preserved with no signs of aging. Got to go sometime.

  28. This post is right in the time. I am visiting Italy in October and this post will come very handy. I totally agree that Florence is an ideal base for a short break in Tuscany. I was there some 2-3 years back. Loved the Renaissance masterpieces spread everywhere and creative community that lives there.

  29. Florence is a wonderful choice for a tour destination! Amazing photos. You should’ve taken a photo of you pretending to push back the leaning tower of Pisa!

  30. Florence is indeed an ideal base as it is strategically located in the Tuscany region. The city itself offers surprises in terms of arts, culture and architecture. Its red brick domed cathedral is a symbol of the city. I might as well base my family in Florence on a future trip to explore more of the region.

  31. Reading this post was like a trip down memory lane. It brought back pleasant memories of Florence. We too stayed there for a couple of days and did a day trip of Pisa too. We would have loved to stay longer though! We find that Florence is one of the most beautiful cities.

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