Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence

Piazza Santo Spirito is my beloved epicenter in Florence. The Oltrarno (meaning the “other” side of the Arno River opposite the Duomo) is known as the meeting place of excellence for local Florence residents. Recently, we stayed in an apartment a few blocks away so that I could experience this beautiful place on a daily basis. On the square, the merchants are selling everything you need (or just want!) from clothing to bags to hardware to fruits/veggies. The focal point of the square is the Basilica di Santo Spirito. Built in the early 1400’s, you will probably see art students with their easels from morning light to the golden hour drawing this landmark. Go inside and appreciate every nook and cranny of this preeminent example of Renaissance architecture.

The locals shop at this market that happens every day during the week on the square but, on Sundays, the market expands with even more arts, crafts and food items to buy-mostly cash only accepted. To give you an idea of pricing, I got a lightweight knit sweater for $10 euros, a vintage scarf for $5 euros, an old table runner for $2 euros-so many treasures to discover!

The cafe life is strong in Piazza Santo Spirito. We were lucky to snag a café table for our lunch on a busy Sunday. The waitress in charge was very directive in telling exactly where to sit at our four top table-she didn’t seem thrilled to have two people taking up the whole space, but we just smiled and rolled with it. The café lunch crowd was primarily locals enjoying family dinner but there were some tourists like us that they put up with. Very reasonable prices and great meals-Thom had veal meatballs on top of mashed potatoes (the Italians never serve meatballs with pasta), and I had a lovely light salad with pears, pecorino cheese, walnuts and lettuce with an aperitivo. We enjoyed watching the diverse crowd on the square out to enjoy the beautiful warm day. This is the Italian life that I miss so much when back in the US.

Hidden gem alert: Enjoy your coffee on the covered patio overlooking the square at Loggia Rooftop Bar at Hotel Palazzo Guadagni, which is also a great place for an evening cocktail. The view is awesome and it’s just a pleasant place to be. After a cappuccino or espresso and a pastry, bring your cash to the market on the square and gather food from the various vendors for dinner. I had the best figs of my life purchased from one of the market vendors-if you are in Florence during fig season (June to September), you are very lucky. When we arrived in late September, the figs were all gone. One more reason to go back to Florence soon!

Pitti Palace

Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti) is a fabulous Renaissance masterpiece situated on the south bank of the River Arno near the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence. Named after a Florentine banker Luca Pitti, construction on the palace began in the mid-1400s and has become home to centuries of history and art. The lovely Boboli Gardens is directly behind Pitti Palace. I would recommend allowing a day for each of these Florence “must see” sites.

Purchased by the Medici’s in 1539, this palace served as the official residence of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and other dignitaries as time went on. Eventually, the palace was donated to the Italian people and opened to the public. If you’re a fan of Versailles, then you will love Pitti Palace-lots of gold. However, it’s less crowded than Versailles! The palace is filled with amazing art and décor divided into five museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes and the Museum of Russian Icons (with the Palatine Chapel), the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art (1700s and 1800s) and the Museum of Costume and Fashion. The stunner for me was the amazing ceiling art. Always look up! Not just frescoes but also ceiling sculptures adding texture and interest. 

Warning don’t get too close to the precious artwork! My husband was explaining his interpretation of a large sweeping piece and his hand moved within inches of the canvas, setting off alarms and subsequent yelling by the security guard in the room to step away. Thom regularly gets into trouble at museums for this type of behavior and never learns his lesson. High fiving sculptures and walking into “no access” designated areas are also his hallmark.

Take your time, meander through the rooms, listen to an audio tour if that’s your jam and appreciate all the beautiful art. I enjoyed the Pitti Palace more than the crowded Uffizi Gallery. The location was also better for me as the palace is in the Oltrarno neighborhood where we were staying and close to lots of cafes and artisan shops to explore after our palace visit.

ENTRY DETAILS

Official ticketing page | Uffizi Galleries check online before you go because opening hours change with the seasons. You can get a daily ticket for $10 euros. We got the 5-day pass for $38 euros each where you have to get your timed entry to Uffizi first and then you have 5 days to also go to Boboli Garden and Pitti Palace and Archaeology Museum. You have one paper ticket to hold on to and show at these places to get in and skip ticket buying line. It’s very convenient and they way to go if you want to visit all these places, which I highly recommend.

Boboli Gardens

Think of Boboli Gardens as Florence’s open-air museum with a view. Located directly behind Pitti Palace in the heart of this busy city, these gardens are an escape into 111 acres of fabulous landscaping and art. The Medicis created this Italian garden style oasis in the 16th century, which became a model for many European gardens. Open to the public since 1766, there are statues, grottos, fountains, pavilions, and even a Porcelain Museum to explore. So much to see! In between visiting all the fabulous Florence museums, Boboli Gardens is a much-needed nature break. Stroll the many paths and work your way up, up, up to experience 360 views of Florence and Tuscany.

Bring a compact blanket, picnic lunch and water and you’ll be all set to relax. Boboli Gardens could be an all-day outing depending on how much time you have in Florence. At the end, you can take the north exit to visit Fort Belvedere (see my blog post of the Fort here) or the southwest exit to visit La Specola which houses the Museum of Zoology and Natural History. Or maybe it’s time for an aperitif, in which case there are many cafes ready to serve you right outside Pitti Palace. If you leave through Pitti Palace, you will probably see Morgante, the court dwarf riding the back of a turtle. Give him a pat for me!

ENTRY DETAILS

Boboli Gardens Boboli Gardens Tickets & Tours 2022 | Florence Best Deals 8:15-6:30 daily but check online before you go because opening hours change with the seasons. You can get a daily ticket for $10 euros. We got the 5-day pass for $38 euros each where you have to get your timed entry to Uffizi first and then you have five days to also go to Boboli Garden, Pitti Palace and the Archaeology Museum. We went to them all! You have one paper ticket to hold on to and show at these places to get in and skip the ticket buying line. It’s very convenient and the way to go if you want to visit all these places, which I highly recommend.

Uffizi Gallery

A “must see” in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery is one of the largest and best-known art museums in the world and holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance. Thanks to the Medici family who eventually lost power in the 1500’s, their art collection was donated to Florence to start the museum and now we can all enjoy it!

To prepare for your trip to the Uffizi, go online well in advance and book your tickets (see my “how to” details below). Then, once you arrive and work through the entry process, you will reach the top floor where all the galleries are located. You could spend a whole day just immersing yourself in art but don’t forget to look out the windows at the end of the first corridor for great views of Florence.

We did not do a guided tour but that is an option that many people do. We listened on our mobile devices to previously downloaded Rick Steves audio guides to the Uffizi-the free option to get some history and background of what you are seeing, which is how we like to roll. We like to go at our own space and skip places too crowded for comfort. We saw all the highlights, which include paintings and sculptures by Boticelli, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael and Michelangelo.  The long hallway with multitudes of statues and paintings was lovely with benches along the way to sit and admire all the art.

You exit through the top floor cafeteria where you can sit on the outside patio or inside and get some refreshments. As you exit, navigate away from the crowds and take the small alleyways to find your way home. This is our favorite part of Florence. Beautiful doors, buildings, archways, and wine doors can be found wherever you look. We even had a horse and carriage travel down the small street we were on, depositing presents on the cobblestones that we had to watch out for as we strolled. Eventually, we found the bridge over the Arno near our place and off we went for Sunday lunch.

HOW-TO GUIDE TO VISITING THE UFFIZI GALLERY

BOOKING ONLINE TICKETS

To visit the Uffizi Gallery, go to their official website and pick your ticket-a single ticket to visit the gallery or a five-day pass to also visit Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. We got the five-day pass because we were in Florence for two weeks and wanted to visit all three. It was $38 euros. Online, you pick the date/time you want to visit the Uffizi (you have to do this visit first and pick up your pass ticket) and you are ready to go.

ENTRY PROCESS

With our ticket confirmation email on our phones (no, you don’t need to print it and bring it like the online site says-they need to update that process) you go to the Uffizi and ask one of the officials at the many entrances to direct you to the appropriate place to pick up your online tickets to the Uffizi. Once there, it was easy to show the ticket booth person our email with the order number and they gave us our tickets. Now, out the door to the courtyard again and to the back of the line to get into the Uffizi during our time booked (15-minute window) and then we were climbing up and up the multitude of stairs. There may be an elevator somewhere, but you’d have to ask for access as it is not signed or suggested. Everyone went up the stairs-hope you are in good shape! When you get to the top floor (and only then) they tear off part of your ticket and you are off on your own (unless you came with a tour).

Forte di Belvedere

When we were recently in Florence, a friend told us to check out Forte di Belvedere, also known as Fort of San Giorgio. So, as we were climbing down from the top of Boboli Gardens, we saw a sign to exit via Forte di Belvedere and decided this would be a great detour to take. A cheerful guard waved us in and asked if we were there for ‘the view”. Sure! He gave us free tickets for the patio (there is a cost to tour the fort) and we navigated some very ancient ramp steps upward to find a lovely patio overlooking the city with stunning views, comfy furniture, bathrooms and table service for drinks from coffee to booze and snacks. What a lovely place to rest after walking all over Boboli Gardens!

Here’s the lowdown on this historical site that was built in Florence in 1590 at the request of Grand Duke Ferdinand I. In the late sixteenth century, the Medici’s were in power but decided they need a fortress to protect them from possible external and internal attacks. The fort could be reached by the Medici family, in case of emergency, from their Palazzo Pitti through the Boboli Gardens. Sounds like they were a little paranoid and probably rightly so.

But, despite the possible threat to their safety, the Medicis had to enjoy those views! Not only of the Duomo but you get 360-degree views from the patio and back grassy area. What a beautiful place for a wedding or concert! I’ve been to Florence before and researched our trip extensively this time and never knew about this fabulous place until a friend told us so I’m happy to pass on this hidden gem so that you can check it out next time you visit Florence. Arrivederci!

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