What to See in Florence

I would definitely recommend Florence to anyone with an interest in history. Like all of the main cities in Europe, it’s horribly touristy, but it really is one of the 10 most historically important places in Europe, if not in the world. The whole city is like a living museum of renaissance architecture.

My favorite place in Florence is San Miniato al Monte. It’s smaller and older than many of the other churches that are built in a similar design throughout the city. But it has a certain dignity or depth that is not found in the other renaissance churches in the same way. It has some older frescoes which are unique compared to the other churches. The location also offers a view of the entire city.

Though the Uffizi gallery houses some of the most important paintings in the world, I actually didn’t get much out of it, nor did my travel companions. I even went there with an artist once, and she was bummed out about it too. It’s a huge collection of renaissance paintings, and you’re satiated long before you’re halfway through. Still, a lot of people are euphoric about it, but I suspect that part of the reason is that the typical visitor ques for an hour before getting in. So people have to confirm to each other how great it was. That’s my contention, at least. But if you’re really into paintings, your mileage may vary.

Other things that I didn’t find that interesting were: The Palazzo Vecchio, The Galleria (with the David Statue), and the Duomo Museum.

Of the main churches, the ones that are especially worth a visit is Santa Croce, because it’s more of a complete church than many of the others in the city which are actually somewhat vacant inside, and the Medici Chapel (which is really a showcase of renaissance opulence; vulgar in its own way, but also quite magnificent). The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata is brutally baroque in style, and really quite out of place in Florence. It would be much more at home in Rome. Again, it’s so over-embellished that it’s “too much, too much,” but in a good way, haha. One just needs to accept that baroque aesthetics are all about quantity, lol.

If you’re into medieval architecture, you should definitely try to get to either Siena or San Gimignano. In my opinion you are really missing out if you do not see at least one of these cities on your trip. Both are medieval cities a bit outside of Florence. Each has a mystique and ambiance not found in Florence at all. Siena is more culturally and historically important; San Gimignano is more scenic (it is a tiny town on top of a hill). In either city, you should try to visit the main cathedral (Duomo di Siena or Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta). Some tour guides try to persuade you that you can take both Siena and San Gimignano in one day, but in my opinion it’s too much if you want to actually enjoy them.

In my opinion, an excursion to Pisa isn’t really worth it. Though it has a famous tower, there’s really not much else going on there.

If you are a natural sciences kind of guy, the science museum (Museo Galileo) in Florence may also be to your taste. It contains lots of early scientific devices. It’s strange to think that this little town was once the world’s foremost center of scientific innovation.

You may accidentally pass through the San Lorenzo market – the vendors there sell all kinds of eye-catching fashion items and indoor decor which isn’t found anywhere else in Europe. Some of the items look quite striking BUT most of it is sur-par handicraft dressed up to look like luxury items. So if you decide to buy anything, buy it with the awareness that it’s probably not-that-great and you can only be pleasantly surprised.

There’s a famous and much-lauded ice cream shop named ‘Grom’ next to the main church (the Duomo), though I am not an ice cream man myself.

Like most things in Italy, the returns from sightseeing in Florence tend to increase manifold if you have some basic knowledge of the history involved; the Medicis, and the wars between Florence and the neighboring cities, and so on.