If your idea of a guided tour is being shown around, in a way that your mind can amble while you take everything in, not having to worry about where you are every four minutes when you are in a strange place and then how you will get back (or even forward) to where you started…
If your idea of a guided tour is to be with someone who really knows somewhere and guides you gently and confidently through a place they love while showing you their favourite parts…
Then a bicycle tour in Florence is definitely the way for you to go – satisfying your need to get out and about in a truly endearing city such as Florence without following a flag and wearing a headset.
Add on having the feeling that this is the kind of experience that you want to do all again straightaway, just so you can keep the feeling of being so enlivened and suddenly in touch with the city, and you are onto a winner.
Florence bike tours: Small, intimate, cobblestone-friendly
My love affair with bikes, while starting late, has gone strong since my first single-speed 1930s steel frame. In Florence there’s a freshly maintained saddle waiting for you to cruise the cobblestone streets – there could hardly be a better way to get started on central Italy’s innumerable charms.
These bike tours are always kept small, usually a maximum of eight people, and they run rain or shine (although shine is best to enjoy everything you have heard about the Tuscan light). Children are welcome (accommodated on tandem bikes if they are the kind that are old enough to embrace the upright on their own).
This is nice, because trudging around a strange place can be difficult if you need to keep with the group and still keep your eyes fresh enough to see all that is springing up around you.
If you’ve just gotten out of a train, off a plane or out of a boat (if you managed to navigate your way up the River Arno from the Mediterranean) then a tour like this is the best way to meet the city.
The bike tours depart from just near Piazza Signoria (not far back from Florence’s Duomo / Cathedral), and in around two hours you will feel like you’ve easily journeyed around the old city and gathered a real view of what it’s got. Not such a large city, around 700,000 people (the town sprawling not so far out into the area bounded by the surrounding hills), the easily paced ride will seem not so far, but if you were to catch a bus out again afterward you’d realize just how much of the city you had seen.
Florence was founded in 59 BC, in what is now Piazza della Repubblica. The cute three-dimensional town map in the piazza, which even has all the streets in Braille, will make it easy to see how the city walls divided the city and the suburbs as well as being a good starting point to understanding the influence of the “noble” families, such as the Medici and Strozzi, and their influence on the development of the city from its living quarters to passages running across the city. (So that the Medici’s, coming as they did from humble peasant beginnings from outside Florence, could “walk among the commoners”. How easily one’s roots can be forgotten.)
The other significant family in the Florentine story are the Strozzi, as in Piazza degli Strozzi, Palazzo Strozzi, via Strozzi and some more Strozzi for extra topping. Incorporating such magic-eye tricks as big bricks at the bottom leading to smaller bricks at the top (to make the building appear larger than it is) the Palazzo Strozzi is an impressive structure boasting the exciting new concept of the age known as Architecture, which really seems to have taken off since then.
Another fine example of this new fangled architecture thing is found next at Santa Maria Novella, a modest little building that was finished off over a 200-year period with a little help by the local Dominican order. With small issues like the plague(s) slowing them down, I reckon they get a thumbs up for getting all the different eras of circular patterning and façade working together match up at all. From here on it becomes clear how Florence really was the centre of the Renaissance –its success as a textile manufacturing and trade centre through to the architecture and then also works of Michelangelo and da Vinci on display throughout the town in Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio and Basillica di San Lorenzo.
A gentle game of follow-the-leader
The backstreets feel quaint and safe, the famed Italian traffic unthreatening as the gentle sport of follow-the-leader plays out deftly behind Aniko’s easy handling of the Florentine city centre. Over the bridge and along the banks of the Arno the air is crisp and clear, the views spectacular and the short pause for gelato (even though its barely passed morning) is ideal – seems the flavours just keep getting better further south.
Heading back into the centre you’ll find some of the pieces of history that Florence is well known for. If you’ve heard the term “outdoor museum” applied to Florence, fear not it doesn’t imply “old, conservative and resistant to change”, it’s more that the museum-style contents (statues, facades, figures of historical interest) are readily accessible around the old city, rather than being housed in dusty old marble buildings were you need to pay admission to see them.
I was fortunate to travel in a small group (just three of us) with a couple keen to see and experience the city. The fact that the group sizes are kept small means less danger from the occasionally random driving that we occasionally encountered (we were always in sight and the group was carefully and confidently led), the city can also be easily navigated without waiting for others and also the group has a nice intimacy which, being on a bike, allows for snatches of conversation (rather than forced encounters brought about by an hour or three on a bus) or just riding with your mind free knowing others are around if you fancy a short chat as you remount the saddle or as you pause with a gelato.
Our guide, Aniko, knew the history and the city well and shared it amiably, without feeling like you’ve just stepped out in front of a tsunami of facts and figures that after blowing you over will quickly fall to the recesses of your overstimulated mind.
Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s Florence tours & things to do in Florence, including the Florence bike tour reviewed by Robert. You can also read reviews of the Florence bike tour on the Viator site, or browse the complete list of Italy bike tours.