Let the best of Florence find you
Florence, Italy –
The skies were clouding over as I strode briskly across that famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, ready for a productive day checking off Florentine must-sees.
Slight problem: The first museum on my list was open, but the ticket office was closed. OK, then, on to the Uffizi Gallery. Except this time ticket office and museum were closed; I had forgotten it was Monday.
A fine rain began to fall as I wandered listlessly past the open arches of the building next door, the statue-studded Loggia dei Lanzi. This wasn’t going at all as planned.
And then it hit me. Wait. This was the Piazza della Signoria, where novelist E.M. Forster’s adorable Lucy Honeychurch witnessed a stabbing moments after complaining about the dullness of life in “A Room With a View.” And those had to be THE steps where the brooding George Emerson carried Lucy’s fainting form.
Sunshine filtered through. I had found Florence. Or rather, it had found me.
If you’re planning a trip here, you could do worse than wander until you find what you didn’t know you were looking for. Here are starting points:
The Opera Duomo Museum, devoted to art created for the famous Florence duomo (cathedral), has been given a major makeover and expansion. A highlight is the exhibition hall featuring a replica of the former facade of the cathedral. A 15-euro pass (about $17) will get you access to the museum, as well as the cathedral dome and bell tower, both with steps to the top. Open daily except the first Tuesday of the month, but check website for unexpected closures. Piazza del Duomo 9, museumflorence.com/museum.
The Central Market (Piazza del Mercato Centrale on Via dell’Ariento) has a bright and bustling remodeled second floor, home to food stands, a restaurant, pizzeria, wine academy, cooking school and more. Open daily, 10 a.m.-midnight.
If there is one must-see in Florence it’s Michelangelo’s David. Yes, there are lines, crowds and a forest of smartphones waving in front of you, but all that falls away as you round the corner to the long gallery and confront 17 feet of cool, concentrated, confident youth. Galleria del’Accademia, Via Ricasoli 58/60. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 8:15 a.m.-6:50 p.m., about $14.
The Uffizi Gallery, set in an imposing 16th-century building, is home to outstanding art, including Giotto’s altarpiece, the Ognissanti Madonna, which revolutionized painting by portraying the human figure in perspective, not just two dimensions. Piazzale degli Uffizi 6. Tuesday-Sunday, 8:15 a.m.-6:50 p.m., around $10.
You can’t miss the Duomo, the Gothic cathedral encrusted in pink, green and white marble that is a striking feature of the city. The inside is less impressive, but is open most days 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and free.
Around sunset, head to the Piazzale Michelangelo, on the south side of the Arno, for terrific views. You can get here by taxi, the No. 12 bus or by walking about 20 minutes from the Uffizi Gallery.
■If you’re planning on visiting museums, consider buying tickets online; book entrance times to skip long lines.
■More into shopping than sculpture? Check out the Santa Maria Novella, an apothecary that traces its history back 600 years. Don’t miss the displays of antique remedies, such as anti-hysteria pills, as well as the beautifully packaged perfumes and other products available for modern consumers. Via della Scala 16.
■For a touch of local night life, the Piazza Santo Spirito on the south side of the Arno is lined with cafes and bars.
■A hot spot for gelato is La Carraia, Piazza Nazario Sauro 25R. Work up a literary appetite and order something in honor of Miss Honeychurch, who “loved iced coffee and meringues.” Enjoy your treats on the nearby Ponte alla Carraia where you’ll have more room, and, naturally, a view.