Florence is truly a city of magic. Traveling with my cousin and best friend, we stayed at an affordable hostel in the city center and used that as a base to explore. Although the one- and two-star hotels are often affordable, with the private room in the hostel we saved money on breakfast and had a base of knowledge from other travelers. Pulling from those sources, we started our time in Florence with a visit to the beautiful Boboli Gardens.
Then, we scheduled appointments for two signature attractions in the city. The Galleria dell’ Accademia houses Michelangelo’s David, the famous and gorgeous statue. We also visited the Galleria degli Uffizi, which is stocked with the most recognizable Botticelli masterpieces in the world.
Insider Tip: Although it’s possible to wait in line to visit the statue of David at the Accademia in Florence, it’s much better to make an appointment since they are offered for mere Euros more. Our hotel recommended it, and they were right—what an easy way to see it all! The hotel called and booked the appointments the day before, then we showed up at our requested time and we walked by the huge queue of visitors spending several hours in line during the sweltering in the heat of the day. We bypassed that and instead had an express pass directly into the galleries, using our energy to stand in awe of the artistic masterpieces of the Italian renaissance.
Visiting Galleria Dell’Accademia
We started out at the Accademia, and the statue of David is everything you have heard, and more. It’s subtle, but beautiful. I’m not an art-history buff, and I don’t know the intricacies of that period in renaissance art, but I do know that this statue is beautiful in person. The Academia also houses a small collection of paintings that I found less interesting. We glanced at these before heading directly to the hall with the David statue.
Shiny black floors gleam throughout the long hall, which is dim except for the prominent spotlights on each pristine white sculpture. The total effect is gorgeous. The hall was special built for the statue of David, and the corridor dead ends into the magnificent statue at the very end.
The sculptures leading up to the David set the tone for viewing the masterpiece. The displays house nearly a dozen half-finished other sculptures from of Michelangelo’s from that time period. The unfinished figures appear to emerge, some seemingly climbing out from the constraining marble. It was wild to see the meticulous detail and expressions on each face—sometimes half-finished and still hidden under stone. It’s as if the figures are trapped inside and Michelangelo freed them. But instead of freeing them like he did David, he died before completing each of the pieces on display. The figures are forever stuck with a fleeting glimpse of the outside world—half-finished expressions of serene joy and contemplation frozen for eternity.
David is undeniably the masterpiece once you reach the section corded off for the 17 foot tall statue. The statue was created from 1501 to 1504 and is carved from a single piece of Carrara marble. Over the centuries, David has become foremost work of art showcasing the beauty of the male form.
You can’t help but agree when viewing in person.
This sculpture of David is markedly different than those that came before it. Michelangelo’s sculpture takes a rare look at David before he slew Goliath. It’s a man contemplating the weight of the task he must accomplish, and understanding he may fail. It’s impossible to describe the nuance and curves when viewing them in the 3D. It’s just perfect. Jenn believes that the perfection comes from the sculpture’s ability to look supple and flowing—you can easily imagine David turning his head to drop into conversation. There is fluidity within the unyielding white marble, grace and movement in a still statue. It’s these contrasts that make it magnificent. David’s veins pop from the marble. His well-proportioned muscles ripple to the point that you might believe they would be warm and fleshy if you gave them a squeeze.
We spent more than an hour gazing at the statue. We walked full circles around it, making laps around the room from other angles. We even eavesdropped in on several tour-guides to learn of tidbits of knowledge. Once guide noted that statue of David is actually perfectly proportioned, although it appears otherwise—only his right hand is slightly larger—likely in a nod to David being strong of hand in slaying Goliath. Given the angle from which we view him, it creates an optical illusion that his proportions are off. Instead, Michelangelo intended for the statue to sit higher off of the ground.
Fortifying with Lunch and Gelato
After leaving the David, we found a small Mexican restaurant for lunch to have a chance of place in the flavors, and then we spent an hour hunting for one of the oldest gelato shops in the city. Jenn’s guidebook recommended a Vivoli as having the best ice-cream in the city, with a recipe that dates back nearly a century. We are inclined to agree! Although the shop was difficult to find with our map, it was well worth the effort. The lampone was the hit of of our two weeks in Italy—it had “little frozen puffs of happiness,” according to Jenn. Vivoli is easily visited on your day spent between the Galleria and the Uffizi.
Wandering the Galleria degli Uffizi
That gelato fortified us for the three hours we spent wandering around the Uffizi. Because we had an appointment here as well, we walked right in the door without any wait.
Like the statue of David, the level of beauty and art on display is unbelievable. The Uffizi has many works from Botticelli—most notably “Birth of Venus” and Primavera”—among other lovely ones that are definitely under-appreciated with the “Birth of Venus” in the same room!
Once done with the paintings, we wandered through the statues, finding the ones in the most interesting poses—not a particularly high-brow game, but it proved entertaining nonetheless.
We couldn’t take pictures in either of the two Galleries, so these pictures of the statues are pictures of the replicas from the piazza outside of the Uffizi. The “Rape of the Sabine” was particularly moving—the woman in the statue is being kidnapped. They have a replica of the David, too, which is the ideal spot to take a photo and such since photography inside is forbidden. A massive Poseidon fountain dominates the piazza, and there are a dozen or so additional key replicas of those actually displayed in one of the two Galleries.
These two museums are must-visits on any trip to Florence; they showcase incredible artistic prowess and contain the history and legacy from Italy’s most famous renaissance artists.
Quick Tips: How to See the Statue of David
When to Visit
The Galleria dell’Accademia is closed on Mondays! So plan accordingly. Beyond that, the Galleria is open from 8:15 a.m to 6:15 p.m. For real budget travelers, you can also join the hordes visiting the Galleria or the Uffizi for free on the first Sunday of every month.
Once you’re inside, most people will spend at least an hour inside the Galleria dell’Accademia. This gives you time to admire the statue of David and view some of the other works of art. If you don’t have skip-the-line tickets then you will need at least another hour in high season.
Plan a minimum of two hours for the Uffizi, and up to four hours if you’re into art and plan to see all on offer. Three hours is a good estimation for most travelers.
Buying Tickets to the David Statue
As noted, you should book online! For a mere 4 euros more you enter through a special entrance and skip the line—you can easily book your ticket through the museum website. You don’t need to book a tour, my friends and I used our Rick Steves Italy guidebook for history. While I usually use the Lonely Planet guidebooks all over the world, Rick Steves guides are particularly great in Europe and provide a lot of walking tour suggestions and cultural history that other guides lack. You can use the Florence section for more history on the museum and tidbits. If you do book a tour, don’t buy your tickets ahead of time as these will be included in your tour price.
What to Pack
In addition to packing something stylish for nights out on the town, don’t forget to pack a European plug adapter so you can charge all of your electronics! Italy is a stylish country, and if you also plan to sightsee for the day you should pack clothes that cover your shoulders so you can enter churches.