The last time I stayed in Florence, in April 2016, I was certain I would not return. The crowds of tourists crammed into the compact historic center of the Tuscan capital, were too much for me. Eight months later, I was back. Florence's beauty was too much for me to resist.
Florence is home to some 380,000 residents. It lures 42 times that many visitors each year! Those 16 million tourists come to see Michelangelo's David, the Ponte Vecchio spanning the River Arno, Brunelleschi's dome on the Duomo, the 45 halls of art in the Uffizi Gallery Museum, and many other works of art, history and culture.
But everywhere you look in Florence, there is beauty. Much of it can be seen for free - all you have to do is walk and look, look, look. Near the train station is Santa Maria Novella church, a Gothic beauty. Across from the Duomo are the jaw-dropping doors of the Baptistery of St. John. The Duomo itself is a feast for the eyes: colorful, dramatic, huge.
Lampposts in intricate and intriguing ironwork punctuate street corners, and elaborate gates serve as sentries at the entrances of private courtyards. Statues abound, from the "fake" David in front of Palazzo Vecchio (the "real" David is in the Accademia) to the "lineup" of famous Italians outside the Uffizi.
Everyone, of course, should see David and the other famous sites of the city. But I also like to have time simply to "be" in Florence. I always find something new to marvel at, whether it be from the Renaissance or yesterday. During my recent visit, modern-day street art that said, "Be kind to each other," was followed just half a block away by a religious statue ensconced in glass on a street corner. A few blocks later, a shop window featured a display of gorgeous gold and red pitchers. If you rush to visit only the "must-sees," you miss so much of what Florence has to offer.
If you're in Florence in the winter, you will find thinner crowds and shorter lines. If you are there when most of those other 16 million tourists arrive, I recommend escaping to Oltrarno - south of the Arno, where there are fewer people but plenty of great restaurants, artists' studios and shops - or to the Boboli Gardens for a stroll among greenery and fountains and sculptures. That way you'll want to return. There's no point in fighting it. One simply cannot stay away from Florence's splendor.
-post by JG