Three Must See Florentine Cathedrals

  1. Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore

Better known as the Duomo, this focal point of Florence can be seen from any spot in town.

The Duomo was built in 1294.

The Duomo was built in 1294.

Florence’s biggest masterpiece, the Duomo took two centuries to build, mostly because the iconic dome was the largest dome in the world and no one knew how to make it. Filippo Brunelleschi’s design solved the problem and gave the dome the nickname cricket cage.

With its soaring multi-colored marble bell tower, large dome and beautiful 19th century neo-Gothic façade the Duomo is breathtaking, the inside pales in comparison.

Where the real beauty is, is up 463 tiny winding steps to the top of the dome. From the top of the dome Florence is laid before you. Go close to closing and you’ll see the city bathed in light with a beautiful sunset in the background.

The Duomo as seen from Piazza Vecchio.

The Duomo as seen from Piazza Vecchio.

For the best view of the Duomo climb 416 steps to the top of the bell tower. The dome in all its glory will fill up your camera screen.

Hours:

Cathedral: Monday-Friday: 10am-5pm

Saturday: 10am-4:45pm

Sunday: 1:30pm-4:45

Dome: Monday-Friday 8:30am-7pm

Saturday: 8:30am-5pm

Sunday: 1pm-4pm

Baptistery: Monday-Friday: 8:15am-10:15am/11:15am -6:30pm

Saturday: 8:15am-6:30pm

Sunday: 8:15am-1:30pm

Bell tower: Monday-Friday: 8:15am-6:50pm

Saturday: 8:15 am- 6:50pm

Sunday: 8:15am-6:50pm

Crypt: Monday-Friday: 10am- 5pm

Saturday: 10am-4:45pm

Sunday: Closed

Museum: Closed until 10/29/2015

Prices:

Cathedral: Free

A 10 euro ticket gets you into all 5 monuments in Piazza Duomo: Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the crypt of Santa Reparata and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

  1. Santa Croce    
santa croce

The facade of Santa Croce.

Not nearly as colorful and busy in its façade as the Duomo, the Santa Croce makes up for it in the inside. Light shining through the stained glass windows create pools of light in reds, yellows and blues.

The main alter in Santa Croce.

The main alter in Santa Croce.

Stained glass windows aren’t the only artwork in Santa Croce. It houses some of the most important art of any church in Florence. The highlights are Donatello’s Crucifix and Annunciation, and Giotto frescoes.

Santa Croce is the burial ground of choice for Renaissance celebrities with the most prominent being Michelangelo.

The tomb of Michelangelo.

The tomb of Michelangelo.

Second most prominent is Galileo Galilei, the guy who claimed, correctly, that the Earth was not the center of the universe. (Fun Fact: It was because of this controversial claim that he was not granted a Christian burial until 100 years after his death.) Others include Niccolò Machiavelli, a political theoretician who influenced the Medici family and composer Gioacchino Rossini.

Hours:

Monday-Saturday: 9:30am-5:30pm

Sunday: 2pm-5:30pm

Prices:

Full price ticket: 6 euros

Reduced price ticket: 4 euros for children 11-17 years old, for school groups and for groups that include a minimum of 15 people.

Free: childen younger than 11 years old

Residents of Florence and province

Disabled travelers and their own assistant

  1. Basilica of San Lorenzo

One of the largest churches of Florence, and some claim one of the oldest, the Basilica of San Lorenzo was built in 393 outside of the city walls.

The alter of San Lorenzo.

The alter of San Lorenzo.

San Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medici family, one of the most influential families in Florence. It is now the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family and their artist friend, Donatello.

The tomb of Donatello.

The tomb of Donatello.

This Renaissance style church houses many beautiful pieces of art like Donatello’s last works, two bronze pulpits, and the work of Brunelleschi and Michelangelo can be seen in the sacristies. The grandest part of San Lorenzo would probably have to be the Medici Chapels with its unusual shape and colored marble everywhere.

Hours:

Weekdays: 10am-5pm

Sunday: 1:30pm-5:30pm

Prices:

4,50 euros

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Best Views of Florence

There are hundreds of ways to see a city: out the window of a car, whizzing by on a moped, cycling through the alleys or even clipping along in a horse and carriage. But my favorite view of the city isn’t the side streets, the monuments, or the shops and restaurants; these are just snippets of the city. I prefer to see the city as a whole and the best way to do that is from high above. So here are the five best places to see Florence in all its glory.

  1. Piazza Michelangelo
The view from Piazza Michelangelo in Florence, Italy.

The view from Piazza Michelangelo in Florence, Italy.

Here is the most famous place in Florence to watch the sunset. Piazza Michelangelo offers a breathtaking view of the city. Sit on the stairs with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset reflect off the Arno River. It is quite a hike to the top so wear comfortable shoes. Also, it is really popular for tourists and locals so plan to get there early to grab a good spot.

  1. Fiesole
The view of Florence from Fiesole, Italy.

The view of Florence from Fiesole, Italy.

At the end of the Bus #7 route this small town offers a view of the city and surrounding countryside. During the whole ride up glimpses of the city can be spotted. Hike around town and enjoy Florence from various unique angles.

  1. Duomo dome (or bell tower)
View of Florence from the Duomo.

View of Florence from the Duomo dome.

The Duomo sits in the center of the city and if you are fit and able to climb the 400 plus stairs of either the Duomo dome or the bell tower you will be rewarded with a 360 view of the city from the heart of it. Just remember, if you want pictures of the city with the main monument, the Duomo, in it you won’t get it from the dome.

  1. The tower of Palazzo Vecchio
View of Florence and the Duomo from Piazza Vecchio near sunset.

View of Florence and the Duomo from Piazza Vecchio near sunset.

Not far from the Duomo is Palazzo Vecchio. This museum is fascinating but what is even more compelling is the sight awaiting you at the top of the tower-an unblocked view of the city including its biggest masterpiece-the Duomo. Go close to closing and you can enjoy watching the sunset over the city without all the tourist crowds.

  1. San Miniato al Monte
View of Florence from the church on the hill.

View of Florence from San Miniato al Monte, the church on the hill.

Uphill from Piazza Michelangelo is San Miniato al Monte. The view as seen from the front of the church is picture postcard perfect. The brown roofs, churches and piazzas that make up Florence are laid out before you outlined by the River and city walls. And if you look to your right you can even make out Piazza Michelangelo.

Rookie Mistakes I Made in Italy

I arrived clutching my purse, luggage and bucket list…prepared to conquer Florence like a boss. After living here two weeks, I have to say Florence has humbled me. As Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes So while not an expert, I consider myself experienced in the area of mess ups. Here’s a list of embarrassing rookie-mistakes, I made. Read and take caution.

  1. Gelato
The gelato found in mounds around tourists attractions are full of preservatives to keep that beautiful mound shape all day. It is not the real deal.

The gelato found in mounds around tourist attractions are full of preservatives to keep that beautiful mound shape all day. It is not the real deal.

Fresh off the train and ready to take on the world, my first stop was the gelateria. Because one should never tackle the world on an empty stomach. In the first piazza my eye was caught by giant glorious mounds of goodness. Sadly, it was a trap. One of the biggest, touristy, yummy looking traps I’ve ever seen. The gelato tasted blah and I was horribly let down after all the hype I’d heard. Very quickly I learned the fluff is just, well fluff. It has been frozen or chemically altered to create the glorious looking, but oh so blah fluff.  Avoid the bright dyed color imposter and look for gelato shops who keep their goods under metal lids.

  1. Shoes
    shoes

    Flats are not only comfortable but fashionable.

    Go for comfort not height. I have seen many a young woman ruin their vacation by trying to waltz around the Florence cobblestone sidewalks in heels and end up tripping and spraining an ankle. So ditch the heels for a more popular Florence fashion, closed toed flats and ballet flats. Or go for the traveler’s favorite, tennis shoes! Florence is a small enough town you can walk anywhere. So put on some comfy shoes and enjoy a stroll through the historic streets.

  1. Lunch Time
    Be forewarned that personal pizza's are the size of a large plate and can take some time to eat.

    Be forewarned that personal pizza’s are the size of a large plate and can take some time to eat.

    Friendly reminder YOU’RE NOT IN THE US ANYMORE! Meal time in Italy isn’t a timed race or something to be eaten during the time it takes you to get from point A to point B. It is an event. Something to be planned around. If you sit down at a café or restaurant be prepared to wait. The food is usually cooked fresh, which takes time. And the Italians will expect you to take your time enjoying it. So make time for a leisurely, pleasant lunch that doesn’t give you indigestion because you ate too fast. But, if you’re in a hurry and don’t have 45 minutes to an hour to spend on lunch, pick up a sandwich or a pre-cooked slice of pizza from a small shop.

  1. Cappuccinos
    Cappuccinos in Italy are a breakfast only treat.

    Cappuccinos in Italy are a breakfast only treat.

    Ordering a cappuccino after 11 am shouts TOURIST and gets you some weird looks and even weary head shakes from the locals. Italians are convinced that drinking milk after any meal will mess with your ability to digest food properly. Any helpful waiter would refuse your request for an afternoon cappuccino because it’s bad for your health.  So pick instead one of the several other coffee choices with which to finish your meal.

  1. Fruits and Veggies
    Keep your hands off these eye catching foods or risk getting more than you bargained for.

    Keep your hands off these eye catching foods or you risk getting more than you bargained for.

    Don’t touch the fruit! Angry Italian grandma will begin shouting mean things in Italian with lots of hand gestures. If you are in a supermarket look for the plastic bags used to put the fruit/veggies in, underneath will be plastic gloves to wear to make your selection. Also, at many market and stands it is considered rude to pick out your own fruit. The vendors will do it for you. So hands off!

  1. Curfew
    Credit Cards

    People live above these picturesque alleyways so keep your voice down.

    While most of the bars and clubs stay open into the wee hours, that doesn’t mean everybody in Florence is up. Don’t be loud in alleys. If you carry your party to a higher decibel, then you’re running the risk of being drenched in water from unhappy residents who live in the upstairs apartments. Alleyways near secret bakeries are prime real estate for drenchers. So keep it down.

  2. Piazzas
    Central Market

    The Central Market Piazza in Florence, Italy, might be the only exception to this rule since it is full of street vendors selling their knock offs and souvenirs for discounted prices.

    Piazzas, or as I like to call them tourist water coolers because it is where groups usually meet and where tourists feel the most comfortable shopping and eating, can be quite intriguing. But while convenient because everything is near each other, convenience comes with a hefty price. The shops and restaurants prices are as much as double or triple the amount smaller places charge on side roads.

  1. Overbooking
    While tours are great don't forget to take some time for self exploration.

    While tours are great don’t forget to take some time for self exploration.

    First, don’t underestimate jet lag. It WILL take you down for the count for a little while. Give yourself time to recover or you will be miserable your whole visit. And, after you get over the jet lag, still don’t cram pack your day down to the minute full of tours. Things go wrong. You find some things catch your attention and hold it for longer then anticipated. After all there is some beautiful places in Florence. Things are late, especially in Italy, known for being laid back. Many things can cause you to get off schedule. Don’t stress and plan some free time into your day.

  1. Exploring
    Wander around and relish in all the beautiful secret sites you're sure to find.

    Wander around and relish in all the beautiful secret sites you’re sure to find.

    They make maps for a reason. So you can get lost. Ditch the guided tours, put on your tennis shoes, pack your sunscreen and just go. Make some random turns down streets you’ve never been down. Hop on a bus and get off at any stop. Just get totally and completely lost and see the side of Italy not experienced by tourists…the real Italy. Don’t be a Facebook tripper worried about getting that perfect photo or tagging yourself in as many monuments as possible. Experience and explore instead.

  1. Impatience
    Many stores close for hours during the lunch hour. Plan accordingly.

    Many stores close for hours during the lunch hour. Plan accordingly.

    Italian culture is known for being laidback. And just because it inconveniences you that stores and shops are closed for hours during the afternoon doesn’t mean they are going to change tradition to make you happy. Be aware of the inconveniences and plan accordingly. Remember you are a tourist in their culture. Accept and try to embrace the relaxed easy going nature of Italian lifestyle. You’ll feel so much better. I promise!

  1. Credit Cards
Always keep cash handy because you never know where you'll end up.

People don’t turn down cash so keep it handy.

No matter what the commercials say, credit cards are not accepted everywhere. To save yourself major embarrassment have local currency before you disembark from the plane. I learned the hard way. When I landed in Italy I couldn’t find an ATM or currency exchange places. I still tried to buy an euro worth of cooked bread but when I got to the cash register I couldn’t pay. (Credit cards not accepted!) Talk about embarrassing. Save yourself the humiliation and always travel with local currency.

  1. Vendors
Street vendors are persistent so if you're not interested be firm when you say,

Street vendors are persistent. So, if you’re not interested be firm when you say, “No, thank you.”

Do not hesitate. Do not slow down. Do not make eye contact. Do not engage in conversation. Do not reach for your purse. Do not take two steps closer to the wares. Unless, of course, you want to buy something. All these are signs to a vendor that a sale is about to be made. Like a bad ex who doesn’t get the signs that the relationship is finato, the street vendors will keep hassling you until A. you buy something or B. you walk out of the sales area. Save your breath and your time by avoiding streets like the Via Dell’Ariento if you’re not in the mood to buy. Be firm. Let your no mean no unless you’re the one haggling them.

10 tips for traveling the world

A hands-on approach is the best way to learn. So ditch the classroom and go explore the world. Traveling is sometimes testy, so here is a cheat sheet to help you make the most of your adventure.

10. Basic Vocab

Know how to say “thank you” in as many languages as possible. It wouldn’t hurt to know hello, goodbye, bathroom, exit, eat, time, food and alcohol. You know, the necessities.

There are also many apps available to make the language gap easier.

If you’ve taken any language courses ever, then you are probably already aware of Google Translate, the free online site that can actually say what you want to say in the language you want to say it in.

For signs and menus and other written words there’s Word Lens, an app that uses the camera on smartphones to scan, identify and translate foreign text.

9. Transportation

If you’re leaving the Midwest, than you might be surprised to find that not everyone has their own vehicle and not every vehicle that is owned is a truck. As you travel you’ll be relying a lot on public transportation buses, trams, metro, taxis, trains and your own two feet as you get lost. While you have a Wi-Fi connection, take a screenshot of the directions so you won’t waste roaming data while you’re out exploring. Before you go also look into day passes and discounts for cheaper public transportation travel.

8. Electronics.

Traveling Tips

You’re out exploring the world and experiencing things you’ll never do again, you want to document the moment with a picture, a Snapchat, a post to do that your electronics charged.

If you’re staying in the U.S., yay you don’t have to worry but if you’re jetting out of the U.S. be aware that not everywhere has the same power outlets as us. Trick: Many of the flat screens TVs in hotel rooms have USB ports.

But still bring a universal power adapter, and buy it before you leave because touristy items like that are always overpriced. And while you’re out shopping, if you’re travel will take you out of the country, don’t forget to get an international data plan for those time you get lost or you just have to share a picture of the meal you’re about to eat.

7. Tips

If you’re leaving the fast food behind while you travel, then it is important to know the customs of tipping. While you might get an eye roll for leaving a dollar tip at Olive Garden that same dollar could seriously offend a waiter in Asia.

Traveling Tips

6. Baggage

First learn how to pack light. Roll your clothes or use the vacuum-seal space saver bags to fit more in the bag. Remember to leave room for souvenirs. You’ll not be happy if you have to pay to check in two bags, one just for souvenirs, on your flight home.

Carry-ons are more than just an entertainment bag. Pack a toothbrush, snacks and a change of clothes next to the laptop and People magazine just in case something happens to your baggage. Also pack an empty water bottle to fill before the flight, no four dollar water in the airport.

Wear comfy clothes for the flight but remember pants with deep pockets are like an extra carry one so fill-er-up.

Next you cheat. Request a fragile sticker for your suitcase.

Traveling Tips

This ensures that it ends up on the top of the luggage pile and the first on the conveyor belt at the baggage claim. It also helps if you tie a ribbon to the handle of your luggage it’ll make your luggage easy to spot out of the hundreds of black suitcases circling the baggage claim.

5. Money

Tell your bank if you’re traveling out of the country. You don’t want to land in Italy, early morning, go to buy a cappuccino and have your card rejected. One does not want to be arguing with the bank on phone without a cup of coffee first.

USD

GBP

CAD

EUR

AUD

1

0.67191

1.25232

0.91196

1.27519

1.48830

1

1.86382

1.35726

1.89786

0.79852

0.53653

1

0.72821

1.01826

1.09654

0.73678

1.37322

1

1.39830

0.78420

0.52691

0.98206

0.71515

1

Know the exchange rates it’ll help you when planning your budget to.

Don’t rely on a credit card for all your transactions because some places don’t take them.

Always have some local currency and some U.S. bills as back up. Carry smaller bills so you’re not flapping a $100 dollar bill at the market asking for change for a cheap souvenir.

And if you’re traveling Europe always keep change handy too because it costs to use the restrooms.

4. Culture Shock 

Not matter where you go, it won’t be home. So be prepared to feel uncomfortable, confused and lost. The best way is to start with an open mind. Don’t compare it to home because it’s incomparable.

Traveling Tips

Be prepared for culture shock there and when you get back. Re-assimilating yourself back into the life you left behind is hard. Time did not stand still while you were out gallivanting around. Your friends will have stories; you’ll feel like you missed out. Everybody will be talking about that ‘one time’ but you weren’t there.

And the same goes vice versa. They weren’t with you on your adventure and sadly they might not want to hear about your escapades a million times over.

My recommendation is to limit your time on social media while on your trip because you don’t want to ruin your trip with homesickness. And when you get home make a scrapbook. Use it to relive your trip when everyone else is tired of hearing the stories.

3. Hide your Goodies

Bras, socks, pockets, hidden purses, fake wallets and empty Chapstick containers make for great money holders. Pick two or three options and divvy up your cards and cash so pickpockets can’t wipe you out in smooth move. It’s harder to steal money from a bra then it is a back pocket.

Traveling Tips

P.S. A fanny pack doesn’t count as a hiding place; instead it marks you as a tourist. Keep your money hidden, be smart and don’t go waving your money around like you’re at a bar trying to impress the ladies. For your credit cards buy a RFID blocking wallet which will help keep electronic pickpocketing from happening.

Also, take pictures of all your important documents, passport and driver’s license so if they do get stolen you have proof of who you are.

2. Get lost

It scares many people to venture off the tourist trail. To leave the brochures, cheap souvenirs, credit card machines, the surety that they will speak English behind lets you stumble upon the resident’s favorite places, mom and pop shops and meet the locals.

Traveling Tips

Go out and get lost. Leave the itinerary at home and go explore what’s around you.  You’ll find everything you feared, especially the language barrier, isn’t really that big of a deal.

1. Be open

The parts of traveling you’ll remember the most are the unplanned experiences and last minute adventures not the itineraries and tour groups.

Traveling Tips

Have confidence to explore. Never say no to a new experience. Eat the street food. Skip the taxis and try to maneuver your way around on the subway. Haggle at the market. Talk to strangers. Explore.