The first time I visited Florence, I didn’t exactly fall in love. I spent over an hour in traffic trying to get into the city centre, then another 45 minutes trying to find somewhere to park. I shuffled along to the Duomo with the masses, was served up a microwaved lasagne for lunch (it was still in the plastic container when it was brought out), and climbed up to Piazzale Michelangelo for the famous view, only to find the city suddenly shrouded in grey rainclouds.
A few years passed, and I was determined to give it another go. And this time – despite sweltering 38 degree temperatures – Florence well and truly won me over.
The Bardini Gardens are a lovely little haven, and a great place to escape the crowded streets for an hour or two. There’s an English garden with shady woodland, a little stream, rose gardens, grottoes, and a terraced garden with a Baroque stone staircase leading down the centre.
How gorgeous is this tunnel of wisteria? I’d love to come here in spring when the flowers are in bloom.
The ticket gets you access to the gardens, the Villa Bardini, and the Boboli Gardens just down the road. We were given a discount as the Villa Bardini was closed – they’d had a wedding there the night before, so I guess they were still cleaning up. If you’re set on seeing the villa, it might be worth calling ahead just to check it’s open.
Tickets to climb the Duomo (10 euros) also cover entrance to the bell tower. Unless you can arrive at the dome before opening time (8.30am), I’d suggest climbing the bell tower instead – there’s never usually a queue, there are several rest platforms on the way up, and you get a fab view of the dome.
If you do opt for the dome, prepare yourself for a lot of queuing – both outside and in claustrophobic passageways on the way up. You do get an amazing close-up of the frescoes, though…
And as for Piazzale Michelangelo – the view was a tad better this time.
It does get pretty busy, though – if you want a quieter spot to enjoy the sunset, walk a few minutes up the road to San Miniato al Monte. If the church itself is open (it tends to close around sunset in summer), pop inside – there are some lovely frescoes and mosaics.