Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Guest Post: Visiting Italy for the First Time? Start with Florence!

Yesterday I introduced John Gower to all, today I present you the FIRST post by the NerdWallet nerd/writer/analyst. Please join me in welcoming John and celebrate Italy together! Have you been to Florence? Do share YOUR travel experience.


Florence is known for being one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its streets are lined with so much historical art and architecture that the city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the capital and most populous city in Tuscany, a region known for its exceptional cuisine and wine. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance in Italy and Europe. Michelangelo’s “David” lives here. As a truly astonishing city for tourists and citizens alike, if you’ve never been to Italy and want to experience the most amount of culture in one place, Florence is the ultimate destination.

Italy is a country rife with famous and influential history. And although almost any major city or region in the country is sure to provide any visitor with an immense sense of Italian culture and history, Florence is perhaps at the center of it all. Florence is noted as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, which later spread throughout Europe and ended the Dark Ages. Even in modern Florence, the buildings, cathedrals, and art from this era still have an impact on daily life. Unlike other cities, you don’t have to go out of your way to experience history. In Florence, history is everywhere.

The historic city center is perhaps the best place to stay in Florence. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic core (in quartiere 1) is the most intoxicating and impressive part of the city. While staying in this part of Florence can be expensive, it is quite a unique experience to able to not only stay in a historic building, but to also be able to take a few steps outside your hotel and be surrounded by monument after monument. Staying in the historic center of Florence is literally like taking a step back in time; and because of the proximity of shops, museums, galleries, and restaurants in the historic center, you’ll really be able to immerse yourself in the Florentine lifestyle, both past and present.

One thing you don’t want to miss in Florence are the museums. The Galleria degli Uffizi is “the world’s greatest gallery of Renaissance art,” and even the hallway ceilings are themselves frescoes. The Uffizi features paintings from Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and van der Weyden, amongst others. The Galleria dell’Accademia, another famous museum, is home to Michelangelo’s “David,” probably the most famous and replicated sculpture in the Western world. It’s something you don’t want to miss while you’re in Florence. And if all the museums have you feeling a bit enclosed, climbing the bell tower at the Piazza del Duomo will offer you broad, majestic views of the city that is itself a living, breathing museum of art.

Italian cuisine prides itself on freshness and careful preparation, and eating well is an essential aspect of any trip to Florence. With osterias, trattorias, and pizzerias abound, there is no shortage of excellent food in the city. Il Gelato Vivoli is widely regarded as one of the city’s premier gelaterias, and is an excellent place to cool down, relax, and enjoy the Florentine environment. Housed in a structure over a hundred years old, the Mercato Centrale is another food destination that you don’t want to miss. The indoor, open-air market is a great place to get a taste of all the freshness that Italy, and Tuscany in particular, has to offer, from cured meats to cheeses and wines, and will you give a true sense of the best of Italian culture.

John Gower is a writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website dedicated to helping you save money with financial tips on everything from travel to the best apr credit card.