Where to go in Venice and Florence?
August 20, 2007 7:51 AM   Subscribe

The boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Italy in late October. We are still struggling with one thing, though: what to do during planned day trips to Florence and Venice. If you had to recommend one or two destinations or experiences that really epitomize the spirit of these two cities, what would they be?

So here's the deal. We are going to be in Italy for a week and a half. We will be spending a couple days in Rome, and then moving to Bologna where we have rented a studio apartment for a week. From Bologna, we are planning two day trips to Florence and Venice. We have a good idea of the things we'd like to do in Rome and Bologna - we're just overwhelmed by the number of things available to do in our day trip cities, and we're not sure what to focus on.

I think we are most overwhelmed by Florence. Reading guide books and sites online about the city mention the beautiful art and museums. However, we also read about the long lines at the museums and wonder which ones are worth it, or if we should even be visiting a museum at all.

The same applies to Venice. The only thing we've settled on it taking a ride in a boat down the grand canal, but we've heard differing opinions even on that. In a city with so much history that so many people love there has to be a good way to get a feel for what a unique place Venice is.

We are obviously planning on doing some meandering/walking in both cities, and taking the time to sit and eat some good food and do some light shopping, but we both feel like we want a goal during our day - a place to walk to and visit inside, a tour to attend, a unique experience, something! - and since our time is so short it's hard to figure out what would give us a brief but true taste of these cities.

Any suggestions?
posted by warble to Travel & Transportation around Florence, Italy (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'd totally wait in line while in Florence to see the statue of David.
posted by onhazier at 8:02 AM on August 20, 2007

In Florence, do not miss the cathedral. It's beautiful. Plus, if you or your boyfriend are into engineering or architecture, read up on Brunelleschi's construction of the dome, which is one of the greatest feats of human ingenuity.
posted by nasreddin at 8:09 AM on August 20, 2007

2nd vote for the Duomo.
posted by Leon at 8:21 AM on August 20, 2007

In Venice, the best thing to do to get a feel for the place, is not look at your map, and get lost.


You'll eventually come across the Rialto bridge, and San Marco Square (have some coffee/food and people watch), both of which are great.

But I *highly* encourge you to just walk around in Venice. Explore it on foot, get lost in the canals and many winding alleyways. It's the best way to get a feel for, and see that mesmerizing place Venice truly is. There are only 3 bridges that connect the two 'sides' of the island, and you'll eventually find your way back. (maybe make take a ride on the river/water taxi to get back to the train station of wherever you need to go to get back after your day trip). Skip the museums.

So, get lost.

It's great. :-)
posted by raztaj at 8:31 AM on August 20, 2007

In Florence, you can reserve tickets in advance to see the main gallery (Uffizi I think). Personally, Florence was the low point of my Italian trip; the whole city center is like a tourist carnival. It got pretty old. I only started really liking the city once I went for a long walk and got far away from the center. (David was pretty breathtaking, though.)

In Venice - yes, a tourist carnival as well, but the setting is so much more amazing. The key to Venice is to walk, and walk a lot. Go exploring. It's a big city and most tourists miss out on most of it. I wouldn't worry too much about having a goal or a tour to do. Just spend an entire day walking. Make it your goal to cross the grand canal at every one of its bridges, or something like that. Oh, and even though it is the most-famous tourist destination, you should visit St Mark's. Try doing it at night, though. (bring a map, you will get lost.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:33 AM on August 20, 2007

Just took a short, fast trip to Venice and Florence.

In Florence, see the Uffizi, the Medici tomb, and the Duomo.

In Venice see San Marco and the Doge's Palace.

In both cities (absolutely in Florence), make reservations over the phone ahead of time. For more info on this, check Rick Steve's Europe Through the Back Door guides. You won't believe how much time you'll save by making reservations! Definitely spend money on the latest editions.
posted by J-Train at 8:34 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, no one thing in Florence stood out for me more than any other.
- David: I believe you have to call ahead for tickets. Was definitely cool to see, but on the expensive side.
- Uffizi museum: If you're going to hit one museum, I'd go to this. The line wasn't long for us, though I forget what day/time we went.
- We also went to Santa Croce, where Galileo and Michelangelo and some others are buried.

I really feel like you're best off just walking around, seeing the Duomo, and getting a feel for the city. Hit the Uffizi if you feel like it. Florence is small enough that I think you can walk by everything notable in a day.
posted by rachelv at 8:35 AM on August 20, 2007

(Also want to 2nd J-Train's recommendation of the Rick Steve's books. Best guides for sight-seeing EVER. Just don't rely on them for restaurants and going out.)
posted by rachelv at 8:36 AM on August 20, 2007

I used to live outside of Venice for a bit. If you are going to the city (which can be explored in a day), just take the train into Venice, throw away your guidebook and start walking. The historical area of Venice is surprisingly small, and you will find all of the big touristy spots without any kind of map. Get there early, eat some real italian pizza at an outdoor cafe, go to San Marco square, and get lost. Have fun :)
posted by ShootTheMoon at 8:54 AM on August 20, 2007

I second ShoottheMoon: from the train station just walk toward ponte di Rialto and Piazza San Marco. You do get a better feel for the city by walking. There are signs every so often and you can not really get lost. I would also take a vaporetto from piazza San Marco to the isle of Murano to see the glass blowers: you'll see Venice's cemetery on the way. Be careful coming back to get off when everybody does or you'll find yourself in a part of town where you can get lost.
In Florence the Uffizi is a must. I also suggest the Museo della Scienza, right behind the Uffizi toward the river Arno, where a lot of the instruments by Galileo are kept.
posted by francesca too at 9:14 AM on August 20, 2007

The most amazing things in Venice really are the tourist attractions -- tourism has been Venice's main industry since about 1400, and they do it very well.

Taking the vaporetto down the Grand Canal is worth it.

Definitely go to Piazza San Marco, and into the church (you'll both need to make sure your knees and shoulders are covered). The lines are shortest first thing in the morning, and sunrise in the Piazza is fantastically beautiful.

If I were spending just one day, I'd probably also take the vaporetto to the Salute stop and walk all the way out to the Dogana, from where you can look out across the canals to the Piazza, into the lagoon, and across to Palladio's S. Giorgio Maggiore church, all with the backdrop of the Salute church. (It's the biggest make-out spot in Venice, with good reason!) That neighborhood, near the Accademia, is also great for wandering around.

And I would spend at least part of the afternoon paying too much money for gelato at Da Nico, partly because it's wonderful gelato but mostly because their floating deck, on the Giudecca Canal, offers the most lovely way to sit and watch the water and hear the church bells and the seagulls and to people watch. (If you'd prefer a drink to the gelato, try un spritz ("spreetz"), which is white wine or prosecco, seltzer, and campari, and is amazingly much better than it sounds. It's the city's unofficial favorite drink, and don't drink more than one, because it's also stronger than it sounds.)

The Rialto Markets are also spectacular. Go in the morning (most of them shut down in the afternoon) and then stop for cicchetti and un'ombra at the Cantino do Mori, which legend claims is the oldest bar in Venice.
posted by occhiblu at 9:14 AM on August 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

If I could only see one thing in Florence it would be Santa Maria Novella. It is stunning. The Spanish chapel and the Farmacia adjacent to the church itself are wonderful too. The Medici tombs are jaw dropping, but were under a lot of scaffolding last time I was there, which was mid-June. Still amazing though.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:24 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you can take a short bus/train from Florence and visit some of the hill towns in Tuscany. The country side is gorgeous. Siena and San Gimignano are both amazing.
posted by Heminator at 11:08 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was visiting as a student, I stayed in Padua/Padova, which was cheap and pretty on its own, and took the train into Venice. While getting lost as the above suggested, I wandered into this semi-permanent art installation on the far eastern side near Parco Delle Rememberance. I thought it was a cool discovery.

I wouldn't *really* throw away the map though, because otherwise you'll get super lost at the end of the day, and might miss your train or something. Make sure that your map shows canals and canal crossings in minute detail. Mine maked canals as roads, which made getting home quite the challenge.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2007

Do EXACTLY what Occhiblu says and when in Florence see the Duomo, the Ferragamo museum (Hey, I like shoes so sue me!) and do not miss sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo
posted by Wilder at 11:12 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Make sure you grab a coffee in Florence's 200 year old coffee shop, Gilli's. As you walk from the Duomo to Piazza Repubblica, it is on the NE corner.

Also, as a badge of honour, you must do the 440 or so steps of the campanile (bell tower) next to the Duomo.

The Statue of David in the Galleria del' Accademia is more breathtaking up close than anything that has been written about it.

The Uffizi is amazing, although if you love your galleries as much as I you will need several hours to do it justice. As others have said, book well in advance.

If you are in the market for gold jewellery, a visit to the Ponte Vecchio is essential.

Lastly, dinner at a place called Osteria de' Benci will be well deserved. The T-Bone steak is utterly amazing!

Have fun - as you can probably tell, I did!!
posted by mooders at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2007

The one thing in either of those cities I would consider can't-miss is David. It is utterly stunning. Even waiting in line to see him is great, as there are many other Michaelangelo sculptures on display, including some unfinished ones that show the way the Michaelangelo carved straight back into the stone. I spent a lot of time in Florence and David is the one thing where I most clearly remember my jaw dropping.
posted by PhatLobley at 11:29 AM on August 20, 2007

I went to Florence (and Venice) last year with the intent of seeing all the art I could possibly see. That was cool and all but it was too much. In the end the best times were spent just walking around eating gelato. I can also recommend highly the Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace. There's some art there, yes, but the gardens alone - and the view you get back across the river to the Duomo and the rest of Florence and the countryside - are a really lovely way to spend a relaxing afternoon.

I would not wait in line for the Uffizi, which I found a serious disappointment. I loved seeing David, so I would do that again.

As for Venice, just take the vaporetto down the Grand Canal and then get lost. So lost that you think the only way back is to swim. And then get lost some more. Eat gelato there too!
posted by marylynn at 11:58 AM on August 20, 2007

If I had only one day in Florence, I would book tickets to see the David at the Galleria dell'Accademia in the morning. Then, I would walk to the Duomo and climb the Bell Tower. From there, walk to Santa Croce to see the tombs of Galileo and Michaelangelo. Then, walk across the Ponte Vechio by way of the Piazza della Signoria. There are some great wine, cheese, and meat shops along the way. Take a left after the bridge and walk along the Arno to the steps leading up to the Piazza Michaelangelo. It sounds like a lot, but Florence is very compact and walkable. You should not have much of a problem doing all of this in one day. The Uffizi was great, but it is huuuge and you could spend most of your day here. Good luck and have fun!!
posted by swizzlepants at 12:09 PM on August 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, if you're after day trips slightly outside of Florence, Siena is beautiful, very close, and the trip takes you through some amazing countryside.
posted by mikw at 2:25 PM on August 20, 2007

In June, Santa Maria della Salute in Venice was *covered* in scaffolding on the outside. I was sad. If I was new to the city and my time was limited, I would try to queue up early to go up the campanile in Piazza San Marco - I would time my trip so that the bells were NOT about to ring. Oi. But dear lord, the view. Please, if you have dinner in Florence, go here. We loved it so much on our honeymoon that we had dinner there all 3 nights we were in Florence - get the pork roast.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:03 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

occhiblu + swizzlepants = perfetto!
posted by progosk at 5:07 PM on August 20, 2007

Just one thing on Venice - find out when the lights are on in the Cathedrale San Marco. The mosaics involve a lot of gold and having the lights on makes them much more dramatic and beautiful. We went in before and after they turned on the lights and were so glad we went back in.
posted by crinklebat at 11:44 PM on August 20, 2007

Mercato Centrale.
posted by bifter at 5:49 AM on August 21, 2007

Late to the thread, but when I was in Florence I really loved biking the Tuscan counryside via I Bike Italy. If you ever saw the movie Room With a View, the film was made in the area we biked. It was a nice physical day past olive groves and a visit to a winery. Really wonderful fun if this is your sort of thing.
posted by dog food sugar at 10:43 AM on August 21, 2007

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