Authorized Florence tour guide Valentina has been showing people around Tuscany for more than ten years. We asked for her expert opinions on the highlights of Florence – what to see, what to eat, and how to make the most of your visit – and here’s what she had to say:
One of my favourite paintings has always been Botticelli’s Primavera, also known as “Allegory of Spring.” The picture celebrates the arrival of spring and is filled with mythological symbolism. It was created at a time when religion no longer needed to be the main subject of artist work. If the mythological works had been painted 100 years earlier, they would not have been accepted by the church because the paintings were so different than traditional artwork.
My favourite artist is Caravaggio (1573-1610). Probably the most revolutionary artist of his time, the Italian painter Caravaggio abandoned the rules that had guided a century of artists before him, which idealized the human and religious experience. Caravaggio’s style of painting is easily recognizable for its realism that was hardly appreciated back then; the artist shows everything, from dirty fingernails, to the dirty bottoms of feet, to the bruises and worm holes on apples and the holes in pierced ears. Have a look at his painting Bacchus.
It is easy to walk through the Uffizi Gallery and miss the message, the meaning and history behind the key pieces. The best way to organize your visit is with an expert by your side explaining what you’re seeing and providing you with tools to understand the context of the artwork.
During peak season it will be very very crowded; if you book a tour that includes museums make sure you also ask your tour guide to make ticket reservations. This way you’ll have just a few minutes wait to get in and you’ll be able to skip the long lines outside. Or buy Uffizi Gallery Skip-the-Line tickets ahead of time.
My favourite artwork to show people during tour of the Accademia Gallery is David by Michelangelo. Everyone knows David, he’s the talk of the town. Michelangelo’s version of David is depicted differently than many other David statues, most of which make him a very young boy. Michelangelo makes him a muscular young adult. However, despite his athletic build, he still looks nervous about the upcoming battle, perhaps knowing he will be facing Goliath soon. He has a sling in his left hand slung over his shoulder.Michelangelo is able to catch an amazing amount of detail in marble, including veins and individual curls of hair. And it is enormous! 5.17 meters (17 ft) tall, made out of white marble from Carrara.
Before leaving the museum walk through the hall leading up to David to find Michelangelo’s fascinating works, the four famous nonfiniti (“unfinished”) Slaves, or Prisoners. I’d recommend to spend about an hour at the Accademia, visiting also the first floor and the musical instruments room!
Piazzale Michelangelo is on a hill on the south bank of the Arno River, just east of the center of Florence, and offers a stunning view of the city. I think the best time of the day to visit is at sunset. Colors and shades will be amazing at this time of the day.
If you are looking for more panoramic views of Florence, you should definitely climb up the bell tower of the cathedral and its dome. They each have more then 400 steps… but trust me, it’s worth walking up there!
Gelateria dei Neri
Gelateria die Neri is my favorite gelato shop in Florence. Gelateria dei Neri has 3 display cases with upwards of 45 gelato flavors to choose from. They are all smooth and creamy and the flavors really pop in your mouth. Price-wise Neri is one of the most reasonably priced gelaterias in Florence! I love their ricotta and fig, chocolate mousse and soya vanilla.
Mercato Nuovo: The Straw Market
In the market you’ll find all kind of souvenirs, leather goods, and t-shirts. The market is often called Loggia del Porcellino (porcellino means “piglet”) in reference to Pietro Tacca’s fountain featuring a bronze wild boar. According to popular tradition, if you rub the nose of the statue, you’re guaranteed to make it back to Florence at some point in your life, and it’s also good luck. Needless to say, the porcellino’s snout is very, very shiny!
The market is open the second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November – daily 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. and the Monday following the first Sunday in November to Saturday before the second Sunday in March – Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
And in case you get a little hungry stop by Roberto’s restaurant “Grotta Guelfa” just behind the market and enjoy Florence traditional Pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar) with a glass of red Chianti wine!