A Guide of Tuscany: Florence and Siena

Written by: Rachel Davies

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Time to read 9 min

No one can forget about Florence in Italy, or let's call it Firenze. There's something magical wandering the streets of Florence. I first came to Florence during my years at the Lycée while studying Italian with many other girls. We were desperate to practice the Italian language and learn more about the culture. Every Easter and half-term holiday, we would wander off to Italy. On my first visit to Firenze, we got off the train on an early morning in Santa Maria Novella, only to be chased by men as soon as we stepped off the train. Eight girls travelling alone had some effects, and these men spotted us in the crowd by miles. It took some convincing for them to let us off the hook.

I remember walking from the station to Piazza del Carmine with shoes that were killing me. It was so painful; I still remember it to this day! I returned to Piazza del Carmine the other day, and it still looks the same with the mention Pensione per feriale on it. I do not know if the nuns are still there, but you can stay there. At the time, staying in a convent meant we had to be back by 10 p.m. with no extension allowed. Imagine being 18 and not being allowed to stay out late. That indeed kept us disciplined.

I only rediscovered Florence after a long break. My recent trips to Italy mainly were to Rome, and Rome knows how to wow you. I had nearly forgotten about Florence. Only when I came in 2018 did I realise how much I had missed this beautiful city. It is less shabby chic than Rome, and learning about the Florentine history, it was a city of bankers with money, which means more austerity in the architecture compared to the exuberant Rome. It is smaller than Milano or Rome with a village feel and easy to discover by foot. Be brave when you leave your hotel and walk the city. The small streets and the sun shining on the wet pavement will create some atmospheric ambience and remind you that you are somewhere in Italy, making the experience even more enjoyable.

Walk along the River Arno

I love the landscape along the River Arno. Each time I take this walk, I think about the book by Elena Ferrante My Beautiful Friend when Elena Grecco is living in Florence, working as a teacher and we see her walking along the River Arno, which makes it a Florence landmark in the book and the TV series. Florence city centre is small, and the best to uncover it is on foot. Walk along the Arno River with a gorgeous view over the Ponte Santa Trinita or Ponte della Carreia. Nothing beats discovering a city through its river. Some great gelaterias are on the other side of Ponte Santa Trinita and Ponte della Carraia. Walking along the river, you will also have a beautiful view of the Ponte Vecchio.

A guide of Florence Italy

Il Duomo Cathedral Santa Maria Delle Fiore

Did you know that the Cathedral is one of the largest churches in the world? Standing tall and proud, this architectural masterpiece stands in the middle of the city, the main centre point on the horizon. Inside this magnificent Cathedral, you are greeted by artistry and craftsmanship. Ample gothic arches of Talenti, while the floor decorations in inlaid marble mosaic are by the grand ducal workshops of the 16th-17th centuries, elaborate frescoes such as the monumental clock frescoed by Paolo Uccello. 44 delicate stained glass windows cast a kaleidoscope of colours across the Cathedral, adding an ethereal touch to this sacred space.

Further into the Cathedral, you will find the dome, a technological marvel of its time. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, this architectural piece showcases the ingenuity and brilliance of Renaissance engineering. Take a moment and stand outside the square to let yourself take over by the Cathedral of Santa Maria Dei Fiori. Every detail exudes richness and craftsmanship to the point of devotion. Each time I walk by it, I marvel at the splendour and artistry of the whole building. You certainly can't ignore the place,

The rich cultural scene and the Uffizi

The Uffizi Gallery is another magical place in Florence. With the Louvre, it is one of my favourite museums in the world. Prepare to be captivated by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael's masterpieces. If you love art, The Uffizi Gallery is a haven of creativity and inspiration from the greatest painters and sculptors.

Finding a ticket is a challenging task. It seems always fully booked, and you are well advised to book online. It is cheaper to get in the early morning. I went again during my visit to Florence and needed to prepare for such a crowd. It was probably the European school holidays, and families had decided to gather in Florence en masse. 

Accessing the most famous painting was difficult, but you must be patient and wait your turn to admire some of Botticelli's paintings fully. Each time I'm in the Uffizi, I'm amazed by the sheer brilliance of Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" or Leonardo da Vinci's "Annunciation." 

These iconic masterpieces take centre stage, captivating your senses with their beauty and intricate details. The delicate grace of Venus emerging from the sea and the ethereal quality of the angel's wings in the Annunciation speaks to the genius of their creators.

While navigating the gallery, you are surrounded by Florence and never far from a view over the Dumo. It's easy to get lost in the museum. The visit starts at the top, but go to the lower floors where you can admire paintings by the Caravaggio, the Medusa, and Bacchus, among the most famous ones. When I came out of the gallery, it was nearly dark. I was wandering around Piazza Della Signoria and looked over to the Rivoire cafe, where waiters walked by in white jackets, and clients sat comfortably in velvet chairs, having a delightful conversation while eating pastries. It looks like the perfect place to chill out after a visit to the museum or going to the movie. 

Piazzale Michael Angelo

For the best point of view on Florence, take the bus or walk up it will be much faster walking up through the different shortcuts. When you arrive, you will be rewarded with a beautiful city view, with the Duomo taking centre stage. On the weekend, you might encounter some newlyweds having their picture taken and many cyclists flocking to the viewpoints. 

Piazzale MichelAngelo Florence Italy

Where to stay and eat

From small bars to restaurants, Italian food is a delight, even for someone like me who is on a gluten-free diet. There are many ways to accommodate your diet, and restaurants are accommodating. I invite you to start in the morning, enter one of these corner cafes and have a cappuccino standing at the bar the Italian way. Remember, no cappuccinos after 11 am. I will share a link to all the pizza places in town that serve gluten-free pizza. Let's forget about gluten-free and explore the local food scene. 

For breakfast and brunch

Vespe - Is a cafe offering brunch between 10am and 3pm. Their healthy food is high in demand which means you might have to queue. I queued for nearly 45 minutes don’t forget to add your name to the waiting list otherewise there’s no point queuing. They are very accommodating if you’re gluten free.

Raw You can’t go more healthy than eating at RAW. Everything they serve is raw, vegan, and gluten free. I discovered this lovely café in 2022 and have been going back since.

La Cité: Offbeat cafe with colourful decor, offering coffee, light meal, wine & beer, plus books.

For gluten-free pizza

Eating Gluten-Free doesn’t mean giving up on pizza, Here is a link with the best gluten free pizza you can find in Florence. It’s wonderful to delight on Pizze with your friends, browse trough these places to find the one that suits you best.

For Typical Tuscan Food

I trust professionals when it comes to finding the best restaurants in Florence I’m not a gastronomic guide that is why I’m sharing a link to the best 23 restaurants in Florence by Condé Nast

Shopping

Italy is a fantastic place to shop for fashion. There are many independent shops with unique items. I love that chain shops have yet to completely take over, and boutiques offer services and styles you can't find anywhere else. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming to enter, but feel free to browse and walk out freely if you haven't found anything. I love these boutiques. They are like a treasure trove, and it is so refreshing to see a selection of clothes chosen by the shop owner and their unique style. I also invite you to browse the shoe shops. I'm always taken by the shoe's design and quality. Italians know how to make shoes, and this is the place to buy shoes! They will last for ages if you look after them. 

I love a shop in Florence called Paperone, which sells beautiful stationery, journals and hand-painted postcards. Each time I visit one of their shops, I have stop myself from buying everything. We're not used to seeing this type of stationery anymore, and it is so delightful to touch the paper and find thank you cards with your initials and hand-painted bookmarks. It feels exceptional to buy these pieces.

Shop List

There’s a whole streets with Vintage shops in Florence along Vintage shops in via del Moro towards the bridge

Shoes I love Gilardini Shoes close the Duomo.

Where to stay

On a budget La terrazza di Jenny a B&B close to Santa Maria Novella Train Station
Mid Level Hotel Orto Dei Medici ,located in the centre of town. A hotel featuring antique furnitures and originals fresco and delightful garden.
On a splash a boutique Hotel - Corte Calzaiuoli Elegant Suites room with stunning features and attention to details,

Siena

Siena is about 60 km from Florence and easily accessible by train. I recommend adding it to your list of places to visit in Tuscany. One of the must-see sights in Siena is the Piazza del Campo, a spacious square at the heart of the city. Encircled by elegant palaces and lined with cafes, this vibrant piazza serves as a hub of activity and is an ideal spot to soak in the atmosphere of Siena. Every year, you have the famous horse race going on twice during the summer around Piazza del Campo. You have to book well in advance to have a chance to sit among the spectators during the race. Seeing the horses run around the Piazza del Campo is like an incredible event.

As we make our way towards the Torre del Mangia, a towering structure that offers panoramic views of the city, the allure of Siena's architectural splendour becomes undeniable.

The Torre del Mangia is a testament to the city's medieval past. Climbing its steps, we are rewarded with breathtaking vistas stretching before us, revealing the city's picturesque rooftops, narrow streets, and rolling Tuscan hills beyond. In moments like these, the timeless appeal of Siena truly unfolds, captivating us with its beauty and inviting us to unravel its secrets further.

From the iconic Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence to the mesmerising Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy's beloved Tuscany region will never fail to amaze you and and keep you mesmerised. With its ancient history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking landscapes, it is no wonder that Florence and Siena have are such a tourist magnet. These two cities stand as testimonies to the sublime beauty of Tuscany, and the remnants of the Renaissance era. .

Siena Tuscany

So, whether you are drawn by its artistic treasures, gastronomic delights, or rolling hills, Florence and Siena provide an incomparable glimpse into the charm and spirit of Italy’s beloved Tuscany.

Dreamy Tuscan landscape whose peculiar spell is to make you think that it’s yours forever. That you’re here to stay. That time actually stopped the moment you left the highway and drove down a pine-flanked road that steals your breath each time you spot the house whose sole purpose on earth, it seems, is to compress in the space of seven days the miracle of a lifetime.”
— André Aciman, Alibis: Essays On Elsewhere

 

Embrace the opportunity to explore the magical realm of Florence and Siena and you will never forget the experience.