24 Hours in Florence

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Dear Reader,

I hope that you someday have the good fortune to find yourself in Florence with 24 hours to kill. If luck and opportunity coincide to bring you this serendipitous fate, you need to be prepared. I have selflessly taken it upon myself to prepare you for any such eventuality. You're welcome. No, really. Oh, quit it - I'm blushing.

My mum grew up in Florence so we go back often, and she certainly comes in handy as our dedicated tour-guide. Florence is at once sprawling in its suburbs and gloriously compact; and let me tell you, this city never tires. The walled old town is pedestrianised and can be easily navigated by foot, but buses too are cheap and frequent. You could while away days wandering its back streets and winding alleys, but when time is of the essence, it can be covered in twenty-four hours. I'll leave the sightseeing to your Lonely Planet guide, but let me hold your hand through some lesser-known must-sees. 

Once you've seen the river and posed on the Ponte Vecchio, stop for a cheap and cheerful lunch in a traditional Italian canteen: the Ristorante Self-Service Leonardo. It's bang in the centre of town, minutes from the station and the famous Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Think Italian family kitchen meets school cafeteria. If you're looking for luxury dining then maybe think again, but I'd choose red gingham tables and a view of the busy Florentine streets any day.

'A sated stomach is always accommodating' - Buddha. Okay, I may have invented that last one, but you get my point: ice cream. Believe me when I say that it'll be worth dragging your food-baby to the Bar Vivoli. It's a five minute walk from Ristorante Leonardo, so you have no excuse. If the Roman gelateria Giolitti is notorious for serving the best ice cream in the world, then the Florentine Bar Vivoli surely comes second best. I'm sure their mothers think so, anyway

Head south of the river to the Oltrarno area to find the Piazza Santo Spirito, a quiet and leafy neighbourhood, unpretentious and free of tourists. Idle old men sit in the many cafés which line the square. Facing the piazza is the beautiful minimalist Basilica Santo Spirito, a 15th century Renaissance church with a vast sandy facade.

Just a few minutes walk away is the penultimate stop on our pilgrimage, an outrageously cheap shoe shop named 'Otipopse'. On my last trip to this sacred spot, I snagged a pair of desert boots for €15 euros. I know.

Finally we come to our last stop: the Boboli Gardens. If you're in town in high summer, find refuge from the sweaty madness of the Ponte Vecchio in the Gardens, an oasis of calm and quiet amid a sea of fake Ray-Bans and tourists yielding parasols. Climb the hill to reach a grassy plateau with an incredible view over the city: it's a lovely place to end your day as the sun goes down.

Florence, it was a pleasure. I can think of worse ways to spend 24 hours.


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