Bring the City Alive at Night
It's easy to find an itinerary that will take you through the beauty of downtown Florence during the day, pointing out the famous monuments, the infamous museums and the elegant palazzos. But in the summer heat, the idea of venturing outside of the cool interior of your hotel, restaurant or museum is not enticing.
Here are three possible itineraries for a wander around the city once the sun has gone down and the tourists start to desert the streets for their hotels and B&B's.
It is the perfect time when the temps begin to vacillate between hot and warm and a few cool breezes start to revitalize those who remain in the city or after the last weekend in October which signals the rolling back of time, and all of a sudden sunrise comes earlier and sunset descends with lightening speed in the evening.
We may have highlighted these itins for escaping the summer heat - however, with a few minor changes (take your refreshment indoors) and these three ideas become the perfect way to extend your day and make the most of your limited time in Florence.
The starting point is the same for all three (Piazza Michelangelo) because before, during and after sunset, there is probably no better place to be to start a panoramic tour in the evening. And, though you can walk up to the piazza - our suggestion is, make it easy; catch the bus number 13 and get off at the square. When possible, I tried to be precise with the road names, but sometimes the fun is getting just a little bit lost while wandering around.
Itinerary number 1
Length: 4.9 km & Walking Time: about 90 min
From Piazzale Michelangelo, (with the square to your back) stroll to the left, down the wide sidewalk of the Via Michelangelo, where you will end up in Piazza Ferrucio. This square is named after Francesco Ferrucci, also known as Francesco Ferruccio, a Florentine war hero from the 1500's. A stop on the bridge Ponte S. Niccolò will give you a brilliant perspective of the city skyline (see if you can identify Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio, the Giotto Bell Tower and the Duomo).
From here, walk towards one of the still standing "doors" to the city, Porta alla Croce built in the late 13th century in the center of considerably newer (1876) Piazza Beccaria. This busy intersection circles around the antique entrance and what once made up part of the fourth set of walls around Florence.
Once you have crossed the road, under the arches of the "porta", I suggest you head towards one of the newest "happening" streets in Florence - Borgo la Croce. With small cafes, bars and meet ups lining the road; you can visit a few of our favourite gelato shops, stop for a drink at one of our favourite happy hour spots (look at Donna's 2nd choice) or simply enjoy the thriving outdoor nightlife.
This route will take you next to the Loggia del Pesce (fish market), commissioned by Duke Cosimo I de' Medici to Giorgio Vasari. These newly restored nine arches separated with 8 "tondi" in blue and white terracotta depicting different types of fish, once stood next to Ponte Vecchio. It was dismantled in the late 1800's with the remodeling of Florence and only put on display again in 1955 in Piazza Ciompi.
I suggest that you follow via Pietra Piana until you come to Borgo degli Albizi, enjoying the little stores and busy streets. Once you find Via del Proconsolo, turn left to pick up via di Dante Algheri and walk in front of the museum at Dante's house. What many don't know is, that according to official documents his real home was just a tad bit further down (on the right) directly across from Torre della Castagna which was already standing in the year 1038 (left hand side).
Take a left infront of his "real" house and follow via dei Magaazini which will open into Piazza Signoria and the important Palazzo Vecchio, next to the Uffizi and Loggia dei Lanzi. Take a moment to enjoy the romantic atmosphere, listen to the street muscians before following the road via dei Calzaiuoli, passing by Orsanmichele to finish in front of the Duomo.
Itinerary number 2
Length: 3.8 km & Walking Time: about 60 min
This itinerary has you winding down the paths underneath the Piazza Michelangelo, you might need to make use of the torch or flashlight on your cell phone to navigate the trail. You will end your descent in front of the Tower of San Niccolò.
This path is perfect for those who want to live a bit of the nightlife of Florence: to the right and to the left you will find a collection of little restaurants - touristy but at the same time not too touristy that the Florentines themselves shun them. You will find a selection of menus that vary from the exotic (Icchethai) to the expensive (Borgo San Pietro) and from local specialities (il Calistro) with outdoor seating (and heaters for the winter!).
Once you had enjoyed your stop, continue your walk parallel to the Arno River towards Ponte Vecchio, but turn right at the first bridge for some great photo opportunities. Once on the other side of the river, veer to the right to find the Biblioteca Nazionale. It is here that the Mud Angels had the most memorable impact after the November 1966 flood when the library became the sad symbol of the massive destruction wrought by the rising river waters. Founded in 1714, it is one of the largest libraries in Italy and one of the most important in Europe. It is not open for tourist visit, so you can only really appreciate it from the outside.
Turn towards the city center and take your first right heading towards the square where the Calcio Storico is played out in the shadow of the the amazing church of Santa Croce and the imposing statue of Dante gazing down with a disapproving glare. (maybe his team wasn't winning?)
On the far right hand corner of the piazza, with the church to your back, you will see a plaque which indicates the different flood levels that the Arno River reached in the past.
Head down via Torta, where you will take a right on via Isola delle Stinche towards a refreshing gelato, (Vivoli is in this area). Leaving the gelato shop behind you back track along via Isola delle Stinche and take your first right on via dell'Anguillara, which becomes via della Condotta and then via di Porta Rosa. Just enjoy the neighborhood.
You will find the (now empty) Mercato Nuovo and the Porcellino (little pig) a bronze copy of a Roman copy of a Hellenistic marble statue, that Pope Pius IV donated to Cosimo I in 1560. That is a mouth full! Tradition has it that with a pat on the nose, your return to Florence is assured.
The complete procedure for a return to Florence (or good luck) would be to put a coin in the mouth of the boar after having rubbed the nose. If the coin falls thru the grate where the water drops your luck will increase.
This is actually a copy of the original bronze statue by Piero Tacco (yes, another copy! the original is in Museum Bardini).
This is a good time to look for a circular stone on the floor of the market which symbolizes the spot where the "carroccio" would stanc — which is not easy to find when the stands with leather, silk, and gadgets are on display. The carroccio was a four-wheeled wagon from the medieval times which served as a "war altar", holding the town standard (banner) and drawn by oxen and this is where priests held services before the battle.
Take your time strolling down Via Calimala through Piazza della Repubblica ending in front of the Duomo.
Itinerary number 3
Length: 3.9 km & Walking Time: about 70 min
With the piazzale Michelangelo to your back, you will head towards your right where if you look up you will see the illuminated church of San Miniato. Right after the bar/cafe there are steps called "Scalea del Monte alle Croci" which take you down past the Rose Garden and Iris Garden. Follow Via del Monte alle Croci to the Porta San Miniato, and what is often known as the "Bohemian corner of Florence".
Here you will find a mix of bars (il Rifrullo and others), the art studio of Clet Abraham (the artist behind the funky street signs) and a few cafes which are practically an institution (Negroni Cocktail Restaurant). This last place is named after the Negroni, a cocktail whose origins are said to originate right here in Florence in the year 1919 and named after Count Camillo Negroni.
Another "institution" would be the nearby pizza place (I Tarocchi Pizzeria) established in 1979 with what was once considered an innovative menu (pizza and spaghetti at the same place) and decor (paper placemats with the menu printed on them).
All this surrounds Piazza Nicola Demidoff named after Count Demidoff a Russian statesman and diplomat who immigrated to Italy becoming a prominent patron, philanthropist, and businessman in Florence. This gazebo covered marble statue, was situated here during Florence's attempt to update itself as the capital of Italy in the late 1800's by offering more parks and modern architecture.
Walk along the river, Lungarno Torrigiani, from where you can see the Ponte Vecchio, and the Uffizi museum. Take a quick walk to the middle of the bridge for a few photo opportunities and then back track up Via de' Guicciardini to view the magnificent Palazzo Pitti. The large stone paved slope in front of the palace, is a great place to do a bit of summer star gazing ... even if it isn't the darkest corner of the city.
Via dei Velluti, in front of Palazzo Pitti, is a little road that will take you winding through some of the quaint back roads on the Oltrarno. I suggest that on this itinerary you take a right on via Toscanella towards Piazza della Passera, a small, quaint corner of Florence where you can opt to enjoy the tranquil environment. But I suggest that you hold out for a gelato!
Continue towards Via dello Sprone and Piazza dei Frescobaldi to continue strolling along the river until you come to La Gelateria Carraia (by the bridge alla Carraia- a personal favorite!)
With your stomach, full cross the bridge and walk back towards Ponte Vecchio until you come to the next bridge (Ponte Santa Trinità) and turn left onto Via de' Tornabuoni: this street is synonymous with fashion in Florence.
This road will lead you to Palazzo Strozzi where you will turn right and head towards Piazza Repubblica and several historic cafes - many with live music in the summer (and if you really want, there is Hard Rock Cafe to your left). Last stop, the Duomo, which is truly impressive at night with the white and pink and green marble shining under the moon.