Ciao bella! I have just returned from a 4-day weekend trip to Italia, and it was honestly the trip of a lifetime. A weekend full of wine, cheese, more wine, and the best pasta and pizza I’ve ever had. I’d feel guilty with the amount of food I consumed if it wasn’t for the amount of walking I also did this weekend… I still can’t feel my legs. But every bite and every step was well worth it, because I got to experience all the culture- from food, to art, to wine- that Italy has to offer. Before studying abroad, I made a list of the top places I wanted to travel to, and Florence and Cinque Terre always sat comfortably at the top of the list. Checking off both places in one weekend was a feeling of complete happiness and relief.. how did I do both of my dream trips in one weekend? Well, technically… an easy 2 hour train ride. Mentally? By walking, exploring, and barely stopping from the second that plane touched down in Italy. Some things we planned and some were spontaneous – the best kind of plan – but everything we did made up the perfect trip. So here is how my flatmate and I Figured Out Florence – a guide on how to make the most of your trip to Florence in one weekend.
Fly into Pisa and spend half the day there.
My flatmate and I flew into the Pisa International Airport, where we then took a taxi the short distance to our apartment. We flew in late, so we went right to sleep that night and woke up early the next day to spend a few hours in Pisa exploring the rustic, Italian streets. Half a day is really all you need here. Beautiful city, but it’s small and the Leaning Tower is really the only Must-See site. We woke up and walked along the beautiful Arno river to the Tower. We got there at 10am and had our complete tourist moment… taking loads of picturing poking, leaning, kicking that Leaning Tower… Yes, we got a little carried away with our little photoshoot. But our hard work and balance paid off..
After the Leaning Tower, we explored some of the streets and found famous Michelin restaurant Osteria Cavalieri. If we had time, we would eat here, but we had a train to catch. The menu is full of classic Italian food and it smelled delicious. Instead, we went to a local bakery, had cappuccinos, and headed to the Pisa Central Train Station. On the way, we walked on Corso Italia back to the train station. It’s full of shops (name brands and designers), souvenir shops, cafes, and gelato places. Pisa is definitely a walking city, so WALK. Everything is so close together, you will stumble upon little side streets and hidden gems before heading to your train.
Once in Florence, eat at world famous sandwich shop All’Antico Vinaio.
Um… I’m still not over this sandwich. One bite and you’ll die and go to sandwich heaven. The only bad thing? No other sandwich will ever compare. It’s the most rated sandwich in the WORLD on TripAdvisor. Don’t be intimidated by the long lines… It. Is. Worth. It.
Go to Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David early the next morning.
Best decision of our lives and totally not planned. We accidentally blew out the power of our apartment by using our foreign blowdryer.. but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We ended up not doing our hair, saving time, and getting to the gallery early before the other tourists. We were one of the first in line at 9 am. After leaving the museum, the line was down the street and around the corner.. So either blow out the power of your apartment or set an alarm like normal people do and go early.
Head over to Uffizi Gallery around lunchtime.
This is when most tourists were getting food, so we got a croissant on the way over and ate a late lunch after. Well worth it. No line for the Uffizi and we walked right in. Be prepared to spend hours in this one… the Uffizi is HUGE. Two floors with endless rooms full of the best Renaissance art in the world. From Michelangelo to Botticelli to Giotti to di Vinci. Here are some must-see pieces:
Annunciation – Leonardo di Vinci
Venus of Urbino – Titian
Spring – Botticelli
The Birth of Venus – Botticelli
Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca
Last but definitely not least… My Doppelgänger… Yes, a 16th Century Renaissance man…
Grab an afternoon coffee at Don Nino while having a beautiful view of the Duomo.
We wanted a quick, cheap pick-me-up in the late afternoon, and Don Nino became that place for us. Freshly baked pastries, creamy coffee, free wifi, and a beautiful view of the Duomo is what sold us. I recommend a handmade cannoli or the chocolate Nutella muffin.
Go to Piazzale Michelangelo for the sunset with a bottle of wine.
One of my favorite parts of the trip. We climbed the stairs up to Piazzale Michelangelo on the other side of the river, and the journey was well worth the sweat. At the top, we had the best panoramic view of Florence. It was breathtaking seeing the whole Italian city laid out before our eyes. Add the colors of the sunset, and we had a postcard picture of Florence.
Eat at a local trattoria for dinner. The best classic Italian meals.
We chose a little local place, which ended up being perfect. Delicious, handmade pastas and freshly baked bread. Not to mention a bottle of white wine to split. Perfect for students on a budget looking for classic Italian food. I recommend walking around and going into a local spot for dinner. Avoid the ones with people out front claiming it’s the “best wine in Florence.” Just think of that scene in Elf with the “best coffee in New York”… Tourist traps.. Keep walking.
Finish the day off with gelato and a walk on the Ponte Vecchio.
Our favorite gelato place was on the same street as the sandwich place (Via dei Neri) called Gelateria de’ Neri. Don’t miss gelato in Florence – it’s the best. We then walked the short distance to the Arno river and sat along the side of the Ponte Vecchio, the picturesque bridge that crosses the river. The view of the twinkling lights, Italian buildings, and the moon was breathtaking. We sat there laughing and eating our gelato – a perfect end to a perfect day.
Last but not least… take a day trip to Cinque Terre.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Best decision I’ve ever spontaneously made after a bottle of wine. My flatmate and I came home after dinner, deciding what to do the next day, and discovered that Cinque Terre (my dream spot) was only two and a half hours away by train. I booked my train ticket so fast, my flatmate barely had time to take another sip of wine. We spent the whole next day staring at the memorizing ocean, having our jaws drop at the beautiful sights of Cinque Terre’s five colorful villages tucked away in the Italian coast. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. I felt like I was dreaming as I climbed the Italian coast. We hiked between two of the villages, which took us two hours between village 5 (Monterosso) and village 4 (Vernazza). We ended our day by eating lunch in Vernazza and heading back to Monterosso to catch our train. (Be on the lookout for my complete guide to Cinque Terre in my next post).
So to summarize… a trip to Florence is so much more than just seeing Renaissance art in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Yes, of course that is a huge, unforgettable part of the trip. However, visiting Florence is also eating the delicious local foods, viewing the historical Italian architecture, experiencing sights that look like paintings, taking spontaneous day trips by train, and being in a city that feels like a dream or a movie. (We felt like we were transported into Under the Tuscan Sun). Figuring out Florence was the trip of a lifetime. It will always have a special place in my heart.