Your travel guide to Florence
Whether you go to Florence to shop or gaze at the stunning Renaissance architecture, youre sure to get the opportunity for both while staying in Florence boutique hotels. Although the hub of world fashion has moved to Milan, the city of Florence still features amazing shopping opportunities near hotels that are surrounded by historical sites, Old World art and plenty of museums. In San Lorenzo Market, youll find piles of leather goods for sale as well as great prices on mountains of souvenirs.
Where to relax in Florence
When you first arrive in Florence, its easy to think that the entire city is filled with camera-snapping, tour-grouping crowds of visitors. And for many of the most famous sights in Florence, this is true. From the church of San Lorenzo and the surrounding street market, down past the Accademia, Duomo and Uffizi Gallery the tourists are often so thick that I’ve taken to attaching a small plow to the front of my bike just so I can get around. However, there are also many absolutely beautiful locations with a few Italians sitting around relaxing, and next to no tourists.
Looking west down the River Arno (standing on the Ponte Vecchio, look towards where Santa Maria Novella train station is), there is a huge amount of parkland just 15-20 minutes walk outside of the centre of the city, called Le Cascine. Walk straight down the river and you’ll come to a large road that loops around the city. On the other side of this, there is a few miles of wooded parkland that is quiet enough to sooth anyone’s crowd claustrophobia. As parks go, I don’t think that it is as gorgeous as city parks such as Hyde Park in London or Jardins de Luxembourg in Paris, but after the crushing pace of the historic centre, it's idyllic. Unlike the centre city where walls pen the River Arno in between the buildings, grassy slopes roll down to the edge of the river. On Tuesdays there is a large market along the wide strip of concrete that snakes along the riverside where Italians roller-blade and ride their bikes, unafraid of hitting tourists who are standing in the middle of the roads taking photos. Also around the park a little news and coffee stands, where you can find old Italians playing chess under the trees, or families sitting around in the grass.
Another quiet place to visit is behind the city wall that separates the area of Monte Alle Croci, where the San Miniato church is located. When you walk through Porta San Miniato, you can take an immediate right and walk up a steep hill along the back of the medieval city wall. Not only is there no-one around, but the road soon turns into a small, stone-walled country lane. The noise of the city has disappeared, and if you jump up and looking over the walls running down the cobbled road, all you can see are beautiful houses, fields and olive orchards. If you are visiting San Miniato, I highly recommend taking a detour and exploring this remarkable little passage where you can walk two minutes to arrive in the Tuscan countryside.
Gardens of Bobolino
While in this area of Florence, there are also the gardens in the Bobolino district. These gardens are not part of the official Boboli Gardens, but are well-manicured public gardens that rest on the hill sloping down towards the centre of the city. On any fine day you can walk around the gardens, sit and read by one of the many fountains, or just lie in the sun. With so many areas of Florence restricted to narrow, shadow-filled streets its an immense relief (especially for a country boy like myself) to get somewhere quiet and open. If you follow the main road that winds around the gardens and down the hill, past the Istituto d’Arte you arrive at Porta Romana, one of the many gateways into the historic city.
Right around the corner from the public gardens of Bobolino, is the spectacular and historic Giardino di Boboli. Although when you walk up to the Palazzo Pitti it may seem like just another tourist hot-spot, once you walk beyond the palace itself you’ll find some of the most beautiful court gardens you could hope to see in Italy.
The size of the gardens is immense, meaning that even on a day when the line to the museums inside the Palace are out the door, there is always somewhere within the gardens, hidden away between well-coifed hedges and curling ewe trees where there is no-one else to be seen. The palace itself was built in the late 15th century by Lucia Pitti, a wealthy Florentine banker. Unfortunately, the project was so grand that it bankrupted the Pitti family, and the Medici’s moved in a few years after completion. The Medici’s expanded the already large gardens, to a size that matches the distance of San Lorenzo Church to the Arno River.
Directly behind the building is the ‘Amfiteatro’, a sight for the duchy’s of Florence to entertain their guests. As you keep climbing the steep hill beyond the palace, visitors pass the noble ‘Fontana Neptuno’, and can carry on up towards the Porcelain Museum. Although the museum itself is just a small, 5-room building, the gardens outside look over the countryside surrounding the city. It is hard to believe that while you are looking across the rolling hills and beautiful vista’s of Tuscan country, the bustling city of Florence is right behind you. Few people stay up near the Porcelain Museum for very long, so its an ideal place for some undisturbed reading and a breath-taking view. If you continue around to the left of the Fontana Neptuno, the gardens continue down the hill, also heading towards Porta Romana. The paths wind through orchards, around fountains, through dense woods in a way that makes you seem like you’re walking some magical path through all of Tuscany condensed into a single garden.
Hotels for Fashionistas
Fashionistas staying in boutique hotels in Florence will have the opportunity to shop for designer clothing and high fashion as well. For big names in designers, including Gucci, Versace and Yves Saint Laurent, go shopping along Via dei Tornabuoni. High-street fashion near your hotel can be found along Via dei Calzaiuoli or nearby. The best shopping begins at the Duomo and runs through the city center to Piazza della Signoria. Duck down side streets to find hidden gems and bargains along the way.
Transportation from Your Hotel
Walking is by far the most efficient form of transportation in this compact city. Nearly anything of interest will be within easy walking distance of your hotel in Florence. Excursions to places outside the city can be accomplished via bike rental. If you need a break from walking, you can purchase bus tickets at many locations throughout the city or in the lobby of your boutique hotel. Taxis and car rentals are also available as alternative modes of transportation.
Outdoor Excursion Near Your Hotel
During your time in Florence, take a break from the opulent art and fast-paced fashion world to spend time in the great outdoors. Consider strolling through the green gardens of Palazzo Pitti. When purchasing your museum tickets, be sure to buy a package that includes them. Then stroll at your own pace through the lush, green mazes or sit and relax amid the grottos and fountains on the grounds. Both Boboli and Bardini Gardens are a must-see during your boutique Florence hotel stay.