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.
TIP: Although it’s possible to wait in line to visit, it’s much better to make an appointment since they are offered for a mere four 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 a 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 David is everything that you have heard, and more. It’s subtle, but beautiful. I’m not an art-history major, and I don’t know the intricacies of that period in renaissance art, but I do know that this statue is just spectacularly 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 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 of Michelangelo’s other sculptures 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 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 and half-finished expressions of serene joy and contemplation.
David is undeniably the masterpiece once you reach the section corded off for the 17 foot tall statue. It was created from 1501 to 1504 and is carved from a single piece of 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 David is actually 100 percent perfectly proportioned, although it appears otherwise. 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.
Wandering the Incredible 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 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: Planning a Trip to Italy
Read: I recommend using the Rick Steves Italy book. 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.
Want to better understand local history and food? Day tours are mega convenient. If you don’t have time to wander solo, the Urban Adventures’ day tours in Florence use local guides and prioritize sustainability and responsible tourism—the Florence foodie walk looks fantastic, and there are customized tours, too.