Visiting Florence and its surrounds

A city break visiting Florence, Lucca, Pisa and Siena

With one of my friends studying at a language school in Florence, it wasn’t long before I arranged a trip out there to coincide with her course finishing so we could spend some time travelling in our favourite European country, Italy.

Milan’s stunning Duomo, and below, pizza and gelato in Florence

We planned that I would spend a few days in Florence during which my friend would show me around the city she had been living in the last few months and from where we could also take day trips out to nearby towns and cities then we’d travel by train up to Bologna for a few days, a city which neither of us had previously visited and finally, catch the train to Venice where we would end our trip.

Not being able to find any reasonably priced flights into Florence itself, I instead planned to fly to Milan, then catch a train to complete my journey. Being used to just being able to buy a ticket and hop onto a train in the UK, I assumed that the same could be done in Italy, my friend suggesting that this was the case too, but upon arrival in Milan and making my way from the airport to the Central Station, I found that all tickets on the intercity trains had to be pre-booked and as that weekend was a public holiday, most of the train leaving in the next few hours were fully booked!

Luckily, I had taken an early flight into Italy and it was still morning so, managing to get myself on a train leaving late afternoon, I checked my case into the station’s Left Luggage for a few euros and had a wander into central Milan, a city I was vaguely familiar with from a previous visit. After spending a few hours window shopping and gasping in awe once again at the breath-taking Duomo, I grabbed some lunch and walked back to the station ready to finally catch my train to Florence!

Arriving in the city early evening, I managed to navigate my way to the centrally located AirBnB apartment we had booked to finally meet up with my friend and once I’d settled in, we went out for drinks followed by a pizza dinner at one of the local restaurants and gelato for dessert.

A busy Piazza della Signoria

The next day, a day we had designated for sightseeing in the city, we awoke to heavy rain. Not letting the weather deter us, my friend took me round the city past its impressive Basilica, The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and up to Piazza della Signoria, the city’s main square, overlooked by Palazzo Vecchio. The square is home to a variety of sculptures including a copy of Michelangelo’s David.

The Loggia dei Lanzi sculpture gallery in Piazza della Signoria, and below, queues outside the Uffizi Gallery

The square was extremely busy with it being both a weekend and public holiday and looking out across the square from the steps of the Loggia dei Lanzi sculpture gallery, there was nothing but a sea of umbrellas in front of us!

From Piazza della Signoria, we walked to the Uffizi Gallery, a huge museum which houses famous works of art including Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Unfortunately, with the city being so busy over the holiday weekend, there was a 2 hours wait to get into the gallery for anyone who hadn’t pre-booked tickets so, as my friend had visited previously, I decided to give it a miss!

By the River Arno with Ponte Vecchio in the background, and below, crossing Ponte Vecchio

Instead, we continued on towards the River Arno to cross the Ponte Vecchio, the famous stone bridge lined with jewellery stores before walking up past Pitti Palace and along to Piazzale Michelangelo walking through the pretty Rose Garden along the way.

The panoramic views over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo were really beautiful.

The Rose Garden near Piazzale Michelangelo, and below, in Piazzale Michelangelo enjoying the views

In the square itself, as well as finding yet another copy of the artist’s David sculpture, we also found a gelato festival going on! Investigating further, we discovered that for a set price, it was possible to get a sample of gelato from each of the stands, exchanging your final ticket for a second sample of the flavour you liked most.

We didn’t need much convincing to take part and were soon parting with our money in exchange for a stamp card.

Eating gelato in Piazzale Michelangelo while enjoying the view, and below, at the Gelato Festival

After spending the afternoon going from stall to stall enjoying the gelato on offer, we were unanimous in our decision that the Nutella gelato was our favourite and both went back for seconds!

Artwork in the Basilica of Santa Croce

Full up on gelato, we waddled our way back across the River Arno and walked to the Basilica of Santa Croce, spending some time exploring inside the beautiful church.

The painted dome of Florence’s Basilica

Next,we walked back to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore where, seeing that the crowds from earlier had disappeared, we joined the short queue to go inside and see the amazing dome interior painted with a representation of The Last Judgement.

Finally, walking back to our apartment, we stopped at the Basilica of St Lorenzo, one of Florence’s largest and oldest churches.

Lucca’s Cathedral

The next day, we had made plans to travel out of Florence to the city of Lucca. Catching the train from the main station in Florence, we arrived in Lucca mid-morning.

After exploring the city and some of its churches, we had lunch in one of the pretty squares before visiting the Puccini Museum – Lucca is the city the famous Opera composer was born in.

Then, after visiting its impressive Cathedral, Duomo di San Martino, there was just enough time for spot of shopping before returning by train back to Florence.

We took another trip away from the city of Florence the next day, this time to the walled city of Siena.

Stood in Piazza del Campo in Siena, and below, enjoying a day out in Siena

We spent the day wandering through the city, having lunch in the beautiful Piazza del Campo – the city’s main square – before walking to its Cathedral, the striking Duomo di Siena, with its distinctive stripey decor!

I was up early the next day, our last full day in Florence before moving on to Bologna. We planned to spend the day out of the city again, this time travelling to Pisa, but first, I wanted to visit the Accademia Gallery, home to Michelangelo’s David sculpture.

Above, Michelangelo’s David sculpture, and below, at the Accademia Gallery

I arrived at the gallery about half hour before it opened so I was one of the first in the queue and was through the doors within a few minutes of it opening. The museum was pretty quiet at that time of day meaning I could take my time admiring the many works of art that were housed there.

In Piazza dei Miracoli

After visiting the Accademia Gallery, it was back to the central station to catch a train out of the city to Pisa. From the station we walked through the more modern part of the city grabbing some lunch at a bakery before reaching Piazza dei Miracoli.

Pisa Cathedral and Baptistery

The large, walled square is home to a collection of buildings including Pisa Cathedral but more famously, and the reason we were there, it is also where the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands!

Above, the view form the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and below, visiting the famous Leaning Tower

We spent some time trying to get the standard photo of us holding up the leaning tower before visiting the other buildings. Then I decided to buy a ticket to actually go up the Leaning Tower, an odd experience as you try to walk on the slanted floors but worth it for the views from the top!

Then, it was back to Florence for our last evening in the city. After a pizza dinner, we went out for drinks, stopping to take photos of the Duomo lit up at night.

Above, and below, Florence Basilica

The next morning, we wandered through the city of Florence one last time, stopping to take a few more photos of the Duomo seeing as the weather was finally a bit better! Then it was back to the station, this time to leave Tuscany behind and catch the train to our next destination, the city of Bologna.