Perhaps one of my favorite cities in Italy is Florence. Nestled beside the rolling hills of Tuscany and along the Arno River, there is everything from country charm to posh galleries to contemporary markets. Overflowing with culture, beauty, and wine, Florence will steal your heart and have you asking yourself, “Do I really need to go home?”
Highly accessible by train, you will arrive at a station called Santa Maria Novella and likely take a bus to your next destination. Study the schedule before you arrive and purchase a bus card in advance, so you can ride hassle-free.
I highly recommend Ostello del Bigallo (Bigallo Hostel) for lodging. The hostel, located in Tuscany outside of Florence, is a converted monastery dating back to the 1400s and definitely honors its past. The beds are comfortable and housed in impressive rooms with high ceilings and gorgeous stonework. Every Wednesday, you can sign up for the homemade pasta dinner and bottomless wine, which is not only delicious, but a fantastic way to meet fellow travelers. I fell in love with Florence as I would jog on winding roads through local olive orchards and hilly farmland. Still need convincing? The hostel still has some of the original pear trees from the monastery’s orchard. Climb up and try a pear for yourself – you will not be disappointed, and it is an experience you will never forget.
From Ostello del Bigallo, you can walk about a mile down the hill to catch the bus into Florence. The schedule is easy to follow and runs fairly frequently, with the exception of Sundays. You will have one transfer to make it all the way to the center of Florence, and the ride is about an hour. If the weather is nice, I highly recommend walking down the hill to catch the bus on the outskirts of town, since there are local wine shops where you can snag excellent jugs of wine right from the tap for about 10 euro. This is especially helpful if you are heading to Florence to enjoy an evening relaxing outdoors.
That brings me to the next must-do activity: Piazzale Michelangelo. In my opinion, this is one of the most relaxing outdoor activities in Italy. People flock to sit on the steps, drink wine, sing and play guitar, and soak in the stunning views of the city. With a jug of wine and a picnic basket, you are guaranteed a romantic evening with your special someone or an unforgettable night with friends.
Of course, one of the main attractions of Florence is the Duomo and the ornate facades of the cathedral. It is absolutely worth it to purchase a ticket to climb to the top of the Duomo, where 360-degree views help you drink in the beauty of the city and respect the ability of the architects and builders of this creation. Take your time, take your camera, and take your sketchbook, as views like this are uncommon and should not be rushed.
Florence is a university town, which means that there is always something to do. From live music to drawing classes, do not be afraid to read the flyers posted around town or to ask a group of students where you can get in on some of the action. I practiced my figure drawing with a live model at a local stone-carving studio, which was a unique and unforgettable experience.
Finally, you should check out the old part of Florence, located on the opposite side of the river. You can take the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone arch bridge over the Arno River. While the shops may look appealing, hold out until you can get to the other side and explore the shops farther away from the river. Here, you will find more local restaurants and some of the best pizza in Florence, without all of the crowds or the inflated tourist price. Grab a pie and sit in a square with your friends – there is plenty of architecture to keep you occupied as you enjoy your lunch.
Florence is a city that absolutely lives up to its hype. Art lovers, food lovers, and history lovers will likely never want to leave. It is no secret that its narrow brick streets form a labyrinth that demands a minimum of a few weeks to even scratch the surface. There are many opportunities to study and work temporary jobs, due to the academic setting and diverse population of the city. If you can, stay for a few weeks and fall in love – you will not regret it.