Florence, Italy

You may have noticed that earlier this week, I updated my sidebar with links to some of our travel adventures. We’ve done so much exploring this past year that it’s become a recurring topic. So I thought it would be fun to make Travel an official Design Mom column that features daydream destinations, useful tips or products, and reports on our own trips.

Which reminds me, I’ve been wanting to share photos from our trip to Florence for ages. You may remember, Ben Blair was speaking at a conference there, so we turned it into a romantic getaway sans kids. Here’s a little writeup of our 10 favorite things in Florence + lots of photos, in case you’d like to see. (And please let me know if you have any ideas about the travel column. I love your feedback!)

First, the Duomo Cathedral. I loved catching a glimpse of it as we explored the narrow streets.

Until we were close up, I had no idea it was surfaced with colored tiles! I just assumed it was built from the same materials as the cathedrals in France and other northern European countries. But of course, building materials change from region to region. Somehow, it just surprised me!

The main thing I remember is just how massive the building is. Massive I tell you!

We criss-crossed the city by foot lots of times during our explorations and every time we’d get a good shot of the cathedral, my heart rate would sour. It really is stunning.

Second, the open air markets. The weather was chillier than we were expecting, so one of the first things we did was stop to pick up cozy scarves. And though there were tons of scarf options, the big deal was all the leather goods. Bags, belts and bracelets everywhere, in fantastic colors.

Third, the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella. They say it’s 600 years old — the oldest one in Europe!) It was highly recommended by many of you, and we really enjoyed it.

In fact, our scarves, and a little something from the pharmacy were the only souvenirs we brought home. I have several lovely images from the pharmacy, so I’ll share them in another post and show you what we bought!

Fourth, walking, walking, walking. Florence is a great city for strolling and getting a bit lost. There are interesting side streets and grand architecture in every direction.

Throughout the city, we would spot little alcoves in the buildings with statues. It seems to be a favorite Florentine architectural detail.

It’s also fun to arrive at the river and see all the bridges. What a kick it is to cross them and get amazing views of the city. This one is covered in buildings and shops.

Fifth, The David. This image is of a bronze replica that overlooks the city. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the real thing. But oh my goodness! Standing in front of the original marble David I remember thinking: I need to call every person I know and tell them to drop everything and get on a plane right this minute to come and see this sculpture. Have you ever seen the David? Did you feel the same way?

Sixth, taking in the views from Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s a square over-looking the city, and the bronze statue of David, pictured earlier, is there as well.

We arrived at dusk and the light was misty and beautiful. We could have stared at those views for hours. Can you see some of the bridges?

Seventh, climbing up even further to the church above the Piazzale Michelangelo. I can’t remember the church’s name. If you know, remind me and I’ll add it in.

Definitely worth the climb.

Eighth, the Bargello Museum. It’s an excellent sculpture museum and we enjoyed the collection, but my favorite part was the stone plaques attached to the courtyard walls. I wonder what they’re for?

The image of the lion at the very top of this post is also from the same museum.

One funny thing. We misjudged our time and had to skip the Uffizi. Since we had pre-bought tickets, we stopped long enough to find two people waiting in line, and gave the tickets to them. And I snapped this photo on the way out.

Ninth, seeing the city at night. Especially this view from a bridge.

Tenth (and last but not least), we loved the food! Pasta, pizza and at least 10 different stops for gelato, and we were only there for 2 days. : ) By the way, you may have noticed I don’t appear in any of the photos. Usually I man the bigger camera and Ben Blair uses his iPhone (he’s really good!), and that way, we both end up showing up in at least a few shots. But we seem to have lost a whole bunch of his phone images — including me eating lots of gelato. Darn!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the little tour. Have you ever been to Florence? What favorites would you add to our list?

P.S. — Who handles the camera at your house?

65 thoughts on “Florence, Italy”

  1. I would love you to start a travel section – we live in the south of France, so I’d love to see what’s hot in the north (we have a spring trip planned).
    I think that church is the San Miniato al Monte. Such amazing views!

  2. Beautiful images! The church on no. 7 is San Miniato in Montorio. The reoccurring bridge with the buildings is the Ponte Vecchio. Next time you go, make sure to see Santa Croce (the virtual pantheon of Florence where many prominent figures are buried – Macchiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo and many others). The frescoes by Masaccio in the Brancacci chapel are not to be missed either =)

  3. I loved Florence and stayed in a small inn very close to the Duomo, which is amazing indeed… unless you try and climb to the top of the dome with friends, forgetting you are both claustrophobic and afraid of heights. Heh.

    Seeing David was one of my peak moments in life. I will never forget it. Perfection.

  4. I absolutely felt the same way about seeing the David. Magnificent. Truly. We went to Florence – with kids! – last summer and loved it (despite the August heat). Gorgeous city. I loved seeing your pictures and getting transported back there. So much gelato, so little time!

    And I haven’t appeared in pictures for years. Every now and then I will shove the camera into my husband’s hands and demand that he take some, but even then we still seem to end up with pictures of the boys. I need to fix that!

  5. For the travel section, can you always include where you stayed? Was it a hotel? A apt rental? House exchange. With young children, hotels are often not the best option so I’m always interested in accommodations when traveling with young family members.

    And Florence, love the city. I lived in Rome for 6 months for a study abroad program and fell in love with Italy. Favorite cities were Venice, Bologna, Naples, Capri, and of course Rome.

  6. What a great post-I’ve heard many happy reviews of Florence.
    In our family, I’m the one most often taking photos-I work as a photographer, so it is second nature. But once in a while, he will stop and say, “Could I have the camera?” And I watch as he snaps several shots of some moment that he wants captured. When we’re taking one of those “lean-in-smooshy-face” photos, he’s the one who holds the camera because I’m 5’7″ and he’s 6’4″ so his arms are longer than mine and his photos are therefore less likely to have one of us cropped funny. :)

  7. Love the new travel sidebar – what can I say, it’s my speed ;) . Have lots of fond memories of florence, including losing the bumper off a rental car since I didn’t notice a significant curb. Hmmm. Also of going to the consulate for a security clearance for a summer internship and being led down to a suspicious basement, where they rolled out a fingerprinting machine from what must have been the 40’s, complete with liquid ink poured onto a slate. I studied in Bologna for a year so it was a frequent stop for us – actually headed back to Bologna this year for the 10 year reunion!

  8. Vielen Dank für die wundervolle Einstimmung auf Florenz! Freue mich schon auf die nächste Woche in der Toskana, auf Siena, Montalcino, die herrliche Adlertherme, den Blick vom Becken in die Toskana, Frühstück im Cabriorestaurant……juhu, wir sind schon am Weg, voll der Freude, Sissy

  9. Seeing David was…incredible.
    When I stood in front of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in the Uffizi I wanted someone to pinch me, it didn’t seem real that I could be standing in front of something so old and so beautiful.

    1. I agree with Susan and the Botticelli’s…in the Uffizi you are standing so close to the paintings and they are so vibrant…surreal…

      I thought I had pictures of the David…it is so clear in my mind that I had to go and check my photos…me, a girl from Colorado, with 2 kids (7 and 9) in standing inches away from the “real” David… I may have pinched the kids…I definitely said “you have no idea what you are seeing and why this is important”.

  10. I got to go to Florence when I was 16, and the Duomo is still my favorite cathedral (which is saying something!). I loved how intricate it is! Florence is also my favorite of the “big” Italian cities (although I’ve never been to the Amalfi coast…).

  11. THank you for a visit and a stroll through my favorite city in the whole world!!! The church at the top of the hill is: San Miniato al Monte… Florence is our favorite for all the sights and the dipping into designer shops and frankly the best food, especially street for in all our travels!!! I’m such a sucker for books in real life so my hubs and I sought out all the spots from “A Room with a View”… Lovely!!! Happy weekend to you all from sunny Cape Town!!!

  12. Oh I LOVE these pictures! Thank you so much! I’m dying to get to Italy, it’s been something I’ve been aching for (and planning for) since I was 16.

    I’m always behind the camera. Always. I don’t usually mind but it’s kind of sad to go back and look at pictures and not be in ANY of them. That’s why I’m part of Aleida’s challenge to try and be in more pictures with my kids…but my husband just never remembers!

  13. When I saw the David I cried. Cried because it was so beautiful. Cried for the magnificent talent displayed. Cried because it was a blessing to be there. And lest you think I stood there blubbering, they were pretty tears. Because they were tears of gratitude. I don’t mean to give improper reverence to an object, but sometimes you glimpse a soul and realize a God-given talent and your heart skips a beat.

    And p.s. didn’t you think the setting was absolutely perfect? Could he have been displayed more nobly? (Is that a word?)

  14. It’s true about the David! I was an art history graduate student and a bit jaded to be honest – and the David completely amazed me. No matter how many times you’ve seen it reproduced (both respectfully and profanely!) nothing prepares you for the real thing. And what a lovely trip you had!

  15. Ditto on the David. I don’t think I was prepared for how *big* it is…I just stood there slack-jawed for most of my visit.

    Love these shots of Florence! My one and only visit was during the winter, too, and the quality of light (and scarves!) brings back lots of memories. Beautiful!

  16. Love the idea of the travel column. You know how it is, when you love to travel it’s GREAT to get recommendations from someone you already “know” (even if it’s just virtually!). And since I have a six year old and we travel a LOT, recommendations that include family-related travel are useful too.

    I have never been to Florence but spent 10 days in Rome a few years ago at a conference. Incredible food, friendly people….When the husband’s next sabbatical comes up in a few years I’d LOVE to do it in Italy.

  17. florence is my most favorite city in the world…of the cities i have been too of course. and i thought the very same thing when i saw david…i thought it was the most beautiful piece of art i had ever seen.

  18. The Uffizzi is mind-blowing! It seems like on every wall is a well-known famous painting. Also, the architechtural details around the museum are gorgeous too. That’s something that surprised me so much the first time I went to Europe: the buildings are often as fascinating as the art.

  19. Would love a practical travel column –especially restaurants or eateries that were special in some way. I’m thinking of something like Gwyneth’s GOOP suggestions except for normal middle income folks.

  20. your pictures totally take me back to my honeymoon! I loved Florence and seeing the David is something I will never forget. I honestly didn’t think it would have such an effect on me. I figured, yeah it will be beautiful but I was in no way prepared for exactly HOW beautiful it would be. I could have stood in front of it for hours. HOURS. It was magnificent and it’s hard to put into words how it makes you feel. Truly life changing moment. Michelangelo was a genius. Brilliant.

  21. Gabrielle, I spent a semester in Florence when I was in college and have never been back. Your pictures brought back tons of memories. I would LOVE to go back and bring my husband. Maybe for a second honeymoon. Thank you for sharing your pictures, I loved the trip down memory lane.

  22. Wow! Brings back a ton of memories for me of a vacation I took there with a college boyfriend! The David is very impressive! I read the Agony and the Ecstasy before traveling there and it made the city come alive for me! I now try to read as much as I can about places before I go. Wonderful pictures!

  23. I have never been as impressed with seeing a piece of art in real life as I was with the statue of David (although The Birth of Venus is a close second). The massive size and detail only enhance the beauty of it. My kids and I stood around it for ages admiring all the details and talking over the story of David and Goliath.

  24. Dear G,
    I chuckled to read about your souvenirs… The last time I was in Italy (just last year, now that I think of it – LOL!), I brought home a cherry red, cast-iron mailbox! I’d seen similar boxes attached to building fronts and gates, and fell in love. So when I saw this one at the main Post Office in Milan? I scooped it right up – no questions asked. Packing it home wasn’t easy (cast iron!), but never a moment of regret. Amour!


  25. This brings back some great memories for me – my husband and I went to Italy on our honeymoon and Florence was one of our stops. We were only there for 2 days – wish we could have stayed longer!

  26. It has always been my DREAM to visit Florence! You and Mr. Blair are much blessed :) Oh, and I totally man the camera around these parts. My kids will have no idea what I looked like as a young mama!

  27. The last time I was in Florence was years ago with my friend Rebecca. We had an awesome time and ate delicious food for days on end. Still haven’t made it there with my husband, but this post may inspire me to plan something . . .

  28. I got to go to Florence just after college, with some friends, and I felt just the same way about the David. I could have stared for hours… it looked like it was alive. Absolutely astounding that Michelangelo could get stone to look like that. I’m glad others think so as well… when I told people back home, they raised a skeptical eyebrow. :-)

  29. This brings back so many memories. I was in Florence a few times on a backpacking trip through Europe in college–I think I had forgotten how much I loved it, until I saw your pictures. Those particular colors of Florence–so warm and orangey. And the gelato! Never such gelato, anywhere else. And I agree about Michelangelo’s David–I remember thinking that art history books had given me no inkling of how big it was, and supple, and alive.

  30. Oh, my heart skipped a beat looking at your photos. My daughter spent a semester in Florence last year and I was fortunate to be able to visit her. I loved Fiesole, and stopping for coffee at 4or5p.m. Every day. So many beautiful memories. Thank you!

  31. Stunning photos! Was this your first trip without the kiddos? I think it would be lovely for my hubby and I too, but haven’t taken that leap yet. Have any thoughts or tips on this?


  32. ahhh!
    i’m headed to florence in a little over 2 months and i’m SO excited!
    this post just gets my blood pumping.
    i can’t wait to spend time there.
    now you’ve given me a great start of what we can do while we’re there for 5 days.
    great, great pictures.
    do you use a canon? what kind of lens do you use, if you don’t mind me asking.
    i only want to bring one along and i’m always curious what everyone else prefers for travel.

  33. Oh how I love Florence. We went there for vacation at the end of a 2 year stint in London. It doesn’t look like you made it to the Oltrarno. We stayed there and despite the rather long walk to the city center, we loved it. We especially loved the Boboli Gardens. It was such a fun adventure for our daughter who was nearly 3 at the time.

  34. Gabrielle,
    a travel column sounds fantastic. I always get exited when you post pictures of your travels in Europe, especially with the 6 kiddos in tow. We have six as well and to us it seems so daunting to go anywhere. And when we get there after a long drive the hardest part is finding a good place to eat and a place for them to run around and stretch their legs. I would love some tips and tricks how you organize your trips? I was grew in Europe but it seems waaay to small for big families. I usually take only two with me at a time. Yet you make it seem easy.
    I’m expecting a family from Switzerland and have been planning activities for them that adults and kids can enjoy for the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area. I bet a lot of your readers live in interesting places and could give you a top 10 list of things to do.

  35. Oh Florence! I’ve always been in love with Baroque music and Florence is one of the cities that had the most wonderful ones! All of that city’s culture is amazing and I’ve never been. Thanks for the little tour, now I want to go even more!!! The travel column sounds awesome, you could have categories that show travel with and without kids too since you do both!

  36. Went to Florence again in October for my daughter’s 16th birthday…perfect for beginning artist. It’s great to see your photos. Love that city.

    Our ultimate love was the grotto in the Boboli Gardens.

    And yes, I felt the same way you did 5 years ago when I first saw David. The veins in his arms just overwhelmed me.

  37. Im so glad you went to the Bargello! No one ever goes there and it’s one of my favorites! It’s amazing you can see three of the four Davids there. And yes! The Michelangelo David is a very moving experience! Your photos from piazzalle Michelangelo really brought me back to Florence. I love winters and springs there because the tourists aren’t there yet and the city is your own.

  38. I completely agree with you about the David. I started crying when I saw it. There’s something that is magnificent and otherworldly about it, yet it’s so… human.

  39. Florence is one of my faves too. An art lover’s dream. I can’t wait to go back–and my daughter can’t wait to go back to all the gelato shops. There’s no way you cannot have it at least twice a day when you are there. I love the travel column idea! Top 10 lists are great. I agree that talking accommodations owuld be helpful and I also always enjoy information about the best local flavor–places to eat and shop–little gems outside the main tourist thoroughfares.

  40. Ohhh! I’m so disappointed you missed the Uffizi! Maybe next time.

    In 2009 when we took my then 7yr old, we visited the David statue. I had appropriately prepared her for the amount of nudity in art to be found during our month long trip to France, Italy & Switzerland so she would not be taken aback. When she saw the statue, she simply stood there…frozen. I wondered if it was too much for a 7yr old to take in. When I finally pulled her aside I noticed she was near sobbing. She turned to me and said “Mommy, why do I feel God’s love so much when I look at this statue?” Tears filled my eyes. She continued “It’s okay. I know why. Because the sculptor borrowed His hands.” It was truly a spiritual experience for us.

  41. Inspired to take a little wander over to Italy soon – I went to Rome last year and it was gorgeous (the gelato doesn’t hurt, either!).

    Those statues are just a grander version of the paintings which pop up seemingly randomly on the sides of buildings in lots of Catholic countries, dedicated to saints and other church people – actually, you can tell when you’re getting really far north in Scotland, because they start cropping up by the roadside (Protestantism never quite made it all the way up the Highlands). I think they’re super pretty!

  42. I love your pictures! I can’t wait to be back in Europe! I am the one taking the majority of pictures in my photography business so I find when I’m “off” I hand the main camera to my hubby and I take pics with my iPhone – i’m obsessed with Instagram right now!

  43. Love reading about travels. I am currently planning a trip with my hubby and 6 kids to Paris and London. Looking for all kinds of tips any place I can get them!

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