Perhaps you’d like to start with Day One?
Florence: Day Two.
We’re going in, y’all. You can say we’re getting in deep. Reeeal deep–only this time we’re finally not referring to our student loan debt. Huzzah!
We’re going in… places. All those spots we visited on Day One of 2 Days in Florence? We’re going INSIDE. We’re going to explore. We’re going to learn. And we’re going to potentially leave a lot of money on the table–I mean that literally. You’ll have to be alert and you’ll have to make some tough choices. But worry not, it won’t be as critical as, say… choosing sweatpants or yoga pants? Groceries or alcohol? Bake the cookies or just eat the dough?
I trust I can count on you. Now let’s dive into Day Two. (I meant for that to rhyme.)
DO EXPLORE INSIDE THE DUOMO.
Look at what a beaut she is–the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo). She’s all pink and green and fancy with flowery windows… Then, you enter. wah-wahhhhh. ⇠ I highly recommend clicking that link to get the full effect.
Despite her misleading and majestic exterior, her insides are really nothing to look at, especially if you’ve been inside other European cathedrals. If this is, in fact, your first–holy cow, can you believe this place!?! Wow!
Though not nearly as impressive as every single other Renaissance cathedral out there, Santa Maria del Fiore definitely deserves its place on your itinerary. My recommendation for making this worth your while is to rent an audio guide upon entering. The audio guide is something like 2€ and they’ll ask to hold your ID until you return–so don’t even think about jacking that mid-20th century used walkman that plays only facts about this church, no matter how bad you need it in your life.
The audio guide comes with a map of stops and interesting talking points inside the church. My favorites are:
- The clock–designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello. It’s a 24-hour clock with the day ending at sunset which doesn’t actually make a lick of sense. BUT it still works!
- The marble floor–For whatever reason, the floors of these Italian cathedrals are always so fascinating. The one here was laid in the 16th century and I love its illusion of being three dimensional and like something out of Marble Madness (so in case you were wondering how old I am, I’m that old).
- The portrait of Dante Alighieri—Dante Before the City of Florence was painted by Domenico di Michelino in 1465. It depicts scenes from Dante’s Divine Comedy including Hell on the left, Mount Purgatory in the middle and, proving just how highly Dante thought of Florence, Heaven on the right. I feel you Dante, I feel you.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE DRESS CODE.
As often as I see churches trying to recruit people, I sure got turned away a lot.
It took me three tries to get inside the Duomo, mostly because on each occurrence I visited during the scorching hot Italian summer. So let me get this straight–Jesus can be besties with a prostitute… but it’s shoulders and knees that get me rejected from church? Whoever came up with these rules must have done so in the dead of winter as the thought of covering any part of my body in Italy in the summer is downright unthinkable. As blasphemous as a 2:00 PM cappuccino!
Regardless, rules are rules and the church has plenty of them. Don’t be like me–don’t get turned away at the door more than a few times because you forgot, again, to bring something to cover yourself with.
DO HEAD UNDERGROUND INTO THE CRYPT.
Exploring the crypt won’t take you very long but it’s worth a visit if you’re not claustrophobic–and if you are, maybe Italy isn’t the best place for you? Those Italians of yore must’ve been just tiny, tiny people.
Located under the massive cathedral is the crypt of Santa Reparata–the former cathedral that once stood here. It’s included in both the admission and the audio tour so just… why not? Life is short–spend it underground looking at old rocks!
The church of Santa Reparata had actually been there since the 3rd century and what remains you can see here are pretty extraordinary–perfectly preserved mosaic floors, architectural remnants like staircases, walls, and foundations, and artwork. It’s pretty neat-o.
DON’T MISS THE TOMB OF BRUNELLESCHI, ITS REALLY HARD TO FIND.
Full disclosure: This was the only reason we went down here. For whatever reason, I enjoy seeing the tombs of dead famous people. It’s just strange to be so physically close to such genius and celebrity… like, the actual person is just mere feet away from you–like some form of really disturbing time travel. Ok, I’m weird. Let’s move on…
Turns out, Fillipo Brunelleschi’s tomb is really hard to find. Oh, what was that? We had a map? Well, yes. But either that map is less accurate than my impression of Robert DeNiro or that crypt is just disorienting af. Plus, a map in my hands is more pointless than a circle.
After searching for far too long and taking pictures of every tomb-shaped rock we came across just in case, we found him–in the place we least expected to: the crypt gift shop. Hidden behind a cage, some walls, and a postcard rack it’d be no challenge at all to miss this, so you’re welcome. Also, the crypt has a gift shop? But my bare shoulders are disrespectful? O…K…
DO CLIMB THE BELL TOWER.
I. LOVE. TO. CLIMB. THINGS.
I have no idea how I missed this opportunity all the previous times I’d been to Florence. It’s not like it’s small. It’s not like I didn’t know it existed. Whatever the reason for waiting so long, I finally did it–I finally watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh, and I climbed the bell tower too.
Giotto’s Campanile (campanile being a freestanding Italian bell tower and Giotto being Giotto di Bondone, the guy who designed it) was constructed between 1334 and 1359 with a small pause in construction in there somewhere because of a little thing called the Black Plague. Minor setback, I’m sure of it.
Climbing the tower offers you some of the best views in Florence, second only to those from Piazzale Michelangelo. To get these views you have to climb 414 steps up a narrow spiral staircase–a tight squeeze you’ll understand fully if you’ve ever had to jump up and down to get your jeans on. Again, this one is not for the claustrophobic–I can’t stress this enough! Don’t be the lady who has a panic attack on the 2-foot-wide staircase and refuses to move. No one likes that lady.
There are windows every so often for breathing and once you reach the top it’s like being birthed from a dank womb into a wide open world of light and air. You’ve never felt so alive!
Now, you tell me… is there a bell in here? I assume so, right? I read there are seven. How did I miss seven bells? Lord knows, but I’ve heard them!
Now, I noticed some people chose to climb the dome instead of the bell tower. And to them I ask, “Why!?!” When you climb the highlight of a skyline, you can’t see the highlight! Like when people visit New York City and climb the Empire State Building instead of Rockefeller Center–rookie mistake!
DO KNOW WHEN TO GO.
Sweet view, right? (I told you–climb the tower!) I took this photo around 10:00 AM on an obviously overcast day. Amanda took the same photo later in the afternoon after the clouds had disappeared at the sun came out. I thought her photo would kick my photo’s ass, then:
Amanda did just what you’re supposed to do–shoot with the sun at your back. But I’m going to tell you to ignore this, one of the most well known photography tips. But just this once… don’t make it a habit. Don’t be all, “Well Ashley said to…” No! Because as you’ll see, there’s even an exception to my exception of the rule.
Shooting with the sun behind you, in this situation, gets you an unavoidable and un-ignorable phallic shadow right on your centerpiece. Just what I wanted hanging on my wall! However, shooting in the morning as I did is risky too. I was lucky in that it was overcast that morning otherwise the sun would’ve been blasting directly at me and the dome would’ve created a shadow of it’s own on the church roof.
So what’s the perfect time? Well, I don’t know. BUT if I were to do this again, I’d go in the morning, as close to noon as possible (and always take cloud conditions into consideration). Luckily you can always check out the shadow situation from the ground before you head up.
DO CHECK OUT THE MUSEO DELL’OPERA DEL DUOMO.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is just the Italian way of saying, “Here is where we keep all the sculptures and artwork that was at one time intended to adorn either the interior or the exterior of the Duomo… and mama mia!”
This museum opened in 1891 and houses over 720 years worth of priceless art that you can mimic and take funny pictures next to. It offers the largest collection of Florentine sculptures in the world–and seeing as how it’s in Florence, I’m not sure that’s really a brag-worthy declaration on their part.
In this museum you will find the Gates of Paradise–the actual, real, original Gates of Paradise, not some phony brought on for season 3 after a series of contract disputes forced a replacement. There’s also a pretty notable wooden statue by Donatello, the Penitent Magdalene (that I find absolutely hideous) and my favorite, The Deposition by Michelangelo.
Michelangelo began to sculpt this pietà when he was 72 years old and intended it to cover his tomb. He also intended on being buried in Rome but that didn’t happen either. The man standing is said to be Nicodemus after taking Jesus’s body off the cross, but it’s also thought to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo, that sneaky little dude. Michelangelo worked for eight years on this sculpture before trying to destroy it because he thought it sucked. Umm, perfectionist much? He also worked on this every night by the light of a single candle so I finally understand that whole “tortured artist” thing–it’s badass.
Pro Tip, Again: Take an art teacher with you! She (or he) will explain why these statues have such big heads–and it’s not, “all the better to think about eating you, my dear!” It’s more like, “when you look at me from way down below, my head looks normal.”
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE BAPTISTRY.
The Baptistry of San Giovanni is the octagonal building located just outside the Duomo. It’s green and white and you’ll find most everyone is outside checking out the golden Gates of Paradise. Yes, she’s pretty, but doesn’t anyone care what’s on the inside? Is this the Miss Universe pageant? Because if it was, I’m pretty sure she’s way past the age limit.
Legend has it that immediately upon entering it’s physically impossible not to look up the gold mosaic ceiling. I, however, was mesmerized by yet another tile floor instead. This famous ceiling is covered in gold mosaics depicting scenes from the Bible, a huge Jesus, and a disgusting image of Hell–being eaten alive by a horned beast that, as I mentioned in Day One, still has six-pack abs.
There isn’t a whole lot else to see inside the Baptistry but it’s definitely worth ten minutes of your 2 days in Florence. If you have ten minutes to waste deciding what flavor of gelato to get, you have ten minutes for this. (Pro Tip: Get the pistachio!) Besides Pitti Palace, this is another monument that was closed the first two or three times I visited Florence so definitely check the open times beforehand. I swear to 20-foot golden Jesus there is no rhyme or reason to Italian business operation.
DO PICK UP THE SINGLE-TICKET PASS.
Access to all six of the Duomo-related sites is covered under one cheap ticket. With this pass you can get access to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the top of the dome, the top of the bell tower, down into the crypt, inside the Baptistery, and into the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo… for only 15€. After visiting the first site you choose, you have 48 hours to visit the remaining sites. I don’t know if you know this, but 48 hours = 2 days in Florence! Perfecto! More information on the single-ticket pass here.
DON’T PASS UP THE MUSEUM INSIDE PALAZZO VECCHIO.
…especially if you’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno. I didn’t even know there was a museum in here until my last trip so don’t feel bad if you missed it too. It’s cheap and won’t take up a lot of your time, and if you haven’t read Inferno, it might not be all that interesting. I’m just being honest here, folks!
BUT if you have read Inferno, your trip through the maze of the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio is going to be AH-MAZING. A good amount of the story takes place inside Palazzo Vecchio and everything is just as Dan Brown described them. You can see the Hall of the 500 and Vasari’s tapestries, the Dante death mask, the map room (+ secret passageway), and me, freaking out over seeing the Dante death mask.
YOU MIGHT LIKE: The article I wrote specifically on the Florence of Dan Brown’s Inferno.
DO CHOOSE ONE MUSEUM.
You’ve got time for one more museum. What’ll it be? Are you Team Uffizi or Team Accademia? Do you prefer larger than life world-famous masterpieces or teeny weenies?
I thought that’s what you’d say. You have chosen… wisely. To the Uffizi!
The Uffizi Gallery along with the Vatican Museums make up the top two most visited museums in Italy. “Uffizi” is Italian for “offices” as this is the building where the Medici’s housed the administrative and judicial offices of Florence. The Uffizi Gallery opened to the public in 1769 and houses masterpieces by almost every notable Renaissance artist: Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Cimabue, on and on. So in other words, a crap-load of Ugly Renaissance Babies.
The Uffizi just also happens to have on display my all-time favorite painting, the Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, whose size will astound you. The majority of artwork inside the Uffizi Gallery is from between the 12th and 17th centuries.
The other museum, the Accademia Gallery, has the David.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been to the Accademia so my opinion is certainly biased. I’d love to see the original David by Michelangelo and I will next time for sure. But we were in the same boat–we had to choose one and we went with the Uffizi. I don’t know what else there is to see at the Accademia other than the David but I do know the Uffizi is bursting with masterpieces. I’m very happy with our decision despite the fact that I thought I was going to be arrested after setting off the museum’s alarms more than a couple of times.
DON’T PUT YOUR HAND THROUGH THE INVISIBLE FORCEFIELD.
Art museum security just isn’t what it used to be. What was once an out-of-shape and probably liquored-up security guard strolling the halls nonchalantly is now a legit invisible forcefield surrounding the artwork.
Look at this picture. What I thought were handrails in front of the paintings are actually the barriers of how close you’re allowed to get to the art. Put your hand on it or over it and a wicked loud alarm blares throughout the museum. This is not a drill, people! It’s also really embarrassing. How did I manage to do this so many times?
DO ENJOY DINNER AT MY FAVORITE FLORENTINE RESTAURANT.
Tavernetta della Signoria is, without a doubt, my favorite restaurant in Florence. The food is unheard-of delicious and the service and location are perfect. After my first time there I kept their business card in my wallet for four years so I’d remember it when I went back.
After our time at the Uffizi, we were dumped out the back of the museum. One block over is Tavernetta della Signoria. It’s the perfect spot for lunch or dinner after exploring the Uffizi. Masterpieces for your eyes followed by masterpieces for your mouth. Bellissimo!
I haven’t eaten anything here that wasn’t the best I’ve ever had. Start with the classic bruschetta, just make sure you pronounce it “broo-skay-tuh.”
DON’T LEAVE YOUR ENVELOPE OF CASH ON THE TABLE WHEN YOU LEAVE.
Duh–rookie travel mistake! I had just hit the ATM and for whatever reason, accidentally left my envelope of cash lying on the table after we paid our bill and left.
Amanda and I were a block away and I heard someone running up behind me, approaching quickly. I immediately thought, “Oh shit, I’m about to get robbed again!” And sure enough, a hand grabbed me from behind. Before I could karate chop a bitch, I noticed it was our waiter who was holding an envelope of cash in my face. Well, I’m certainly not going to argue with that.
Our waiter, whose name I still don’t know and who waited on us our first time there four years ago, had run all the way down the street to return the money I left on the table like an idiot.
This taught me some very valuable lessons. Though I’ve had some pretty horrific experiences with getting robbed in Italy, for every asshole out there, there is also someone who wants to make the world a better place. It would have been so easy for him to keep that money but instead he RAN after me to return it. I was long gone; I never would have known. And while we should always be on alert when we travel, we also need to remember that not everyone is a criminal and maybe give some folks the benefit of the doubt.
Also, you should always remember: IT PAYS TO BE NICE TO SERVERS.
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