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 glamorous 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 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 lightning speed and you are looking to fill those evening hours.
Here are three possible itineraries for a wander around the city once the sun has gone down and other tourists start to desert the streets for their hotels and B&B's.
We may highlight these itineraries 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 bus number 13 and get off at the square. When possible, I tried to be precise with road names, but sometimes the fun is getting just a little bit lost while wandering around.
Itinerary # 1
Length: 4.9 km with Walking Time about 90 min
From Piazzale Michelangelo, (with the square to your back) stroll to the left, down the wide sidewalk of the Viale Michelangelo downwards along the main road and you will end up in Piazza Ferrucci. 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, Giotto's Bell Tower and the Duomo).
In the summer, stop along the river at two areas where you can sit and enjoy a beer, some music and the river as it meanders through the city. Decide where when you are crossing the bridge S. Niccolò: on the right hand side, along Lungarno del Tempio, watch the water flow from the garden chairs on the bank (at il Tempio) or, on the left side, there is a summer bar that features live music and a big screen for those exciting summer football matches (at the Fiorino sull'Arno, along Lungarno Pecori Giraldi).
From here, continue straight ahead along Viale Amendola to one of the few still standing "doors" to the city, Porta alla Croce, built in the late 13th century and standing in the center of the considerably newer (1876) Piazza Beccaria. This busy intersection circles around the ancient entrance that was found along the fourth set of walls that surrounded Florence (the walls were destroyed in the 19th century).
Once you have crossed the road under the arches of the "porta", I suggest you head towards one of the "happening" streets in Florence: Borgo la Croce. With small cafes, bars and other meet up places 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 works well in all types of weather!
This route will take you right 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 depict different types of fish and once stood in Piazza della Repubblica. 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 (skip the Duomo for now, you'll come back to it soon) and then right on via di Dante Algheri to walk in front of the museum at Dante's house. What many don't know, according to official documents, is that his real home was just a tad bit further down (on the right) directly across from the Torre della Castagna which was already standing in the year 1038 (on the left hand side).
Take a left in front of his "real" house at Piazza San Martino and follow via dei Magazzini 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 musicians before following the road via dei Calzaiuoli, passing by Orsanmichele to finish in front of the Duomo.
Length: 3.8 km & Walking Time about 60 min
This itinerary has you winding down the paths underneath Piazza Michelangelo. You might need to make use of the torch or flashlight on your cell phone to navigate the trail, with your descent ending 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 of the tower you will find a collection of little restaurants: touristy but at the same time not too touristy that Florentines themselves do not shun them. You will find a selection of menus that vary from the exotic (Thai at Icchethai) to the expensive (Mediterranean at Borgo San Pietro) and from local specialities (Florentine at il Calistro) with outdoor seating (and heaters for the winter!).
Once you have enjoyed your stop, continue your walk parallel to the Arno River towards Ponte Vecchio, turning right at the first bridge for some great photo opportunities of the bridge. 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 visits, so you can only really appreciate it from the outside.
Turn back towards the city center on Via dei Benci and take your first right towards the square of Santa Croce 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 through the centuries.
Head straight down via Torta, where you can take a right on via Isola delle Stinche towards a refreshing gelato (Vivoli). Leaving the gelato shop behind, you backtrack along via Isola delle Stinche past Via Torta to take a right on via dell'Anguillara, which becomes via della Condotta and then via di Porta Rosa. Just enjoy the neighborhood as you head back into the heart of the city center.
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 through 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 now 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 stand — 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 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 battle.
Take your time strolling down Via Calimala toward Piazza della Repubblica before ending in front of the Duomo.
Length: 3.9 km & Walking Time about 70 min
With 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 at the corner of the Piazzale (before San Miniato), there are steps called "Scalea del Monte alle Croci" which take you down past the Rose Garden. Follow these steps down to the Porta San Miniato to 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 cafés 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 place mats with the menu printed on them).
All this surrounds Piazza Demidoff, named after Count Demidoff, a Russian statesman and diplomat who immigrated to Italy becoming a prominent patron, philanthropist, and businessman in Florence. The gazebo covered marble statue was placed 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 to the city.
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 Ponte Vecchio for a few photo opportunities and then backtrack 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 stargazing ... 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 streets in 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, one bridge before Ponte Vecchio) 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 want a cocktail or live music, there is Hard Rock Cafe to your left at the far corner of the square). Last stop, the Duomo, which is truly impressive at night with its white, pink and green marble shining under the moon.