Bryan half jokingly said “this year, we went to an Italian restaurant for Bryan’s birthday, and we went to Italy for Jen’s birthday.” Although technically true, of course our fall itinerary just worked out such that we were in Boston for his birthday (and got to celebrate with his best friend), while we were in Europe during my birthday.
A few weeks before my birthday, Bryan said, "I can take a couple days' vacation the weekend surrounding your birthday. You decide where you want to go."
After some contemplation (and also taking into account what was close by yet feasible), I chose to go back to Florence, a city we hadn't visited since our honeymoon in Italy (!).
Florence is a beautiful city that is richly abundant in history, art, and culture. It’s the heart of the Renaissance, after all, and there’s crazy amounts to see and learn. Two days were barely enough to scratch the surface.
The first night after arriving we did a self-guided tour of Florence using Rick Steves' Renaissance Walk (free app, and this particular tour is also free). Although we had visited Florence 20 (!) years ago, we could hardly remember much, so it was helpful to have an overview of the city first.
The weather was crisp and cool, and the walk was pleasant. We followed the path laid out by the tour and just soaked in the city. The walking tour was great because it gave us some background history as well as pointed out interesting tidbits to notice.
Florence's Incredible Museums
You could spend a week alone just exploring the museums in Florence. When we last visited Florence in 2001, the most famous museum, the Uffizi, was closed to visitors because it had been bombed by the mafia in a 1993 attack. Even though we visited 8 years after that, tenovations were still underway at that time and the museum was largely closed to the public. As such, it was extra special that we could finally see it this time!
The renovations are now complete and the museum is open and bustling, though there are still remnants of the bombing.
"The vault bears the mark of a window blown by the force of the mafia bomb on 27 May 1993."
It's a sober reminder to really treasure the things that we see here.
The Accademia - The Statue of David
The Accademia is the museum that houses the statue of David, one of the most incredible statues in Florence.
We both have very clear memories of the first time we saw this statue during our honeymoon. Even though there's a copy of the statue outside in the square, it's nothing compared to the original.
We pre-booked tickets for a guided tour of the Duomo Terraces. The views from the top are stunning, and you get to learn some history about the building's various architectural features, which was really fun.
Florentine Steak at Buca Lapi in Florence
For dinner the first night, we headed to Buca Lapi, recommended by Bryan's Italian co-worker for authentic Tuscan food, including delicious fresh pastas and their famous Florentine Steak!
Florentine steaks are typically very thick-cut, bone-in T-bones or porterhouse steaks cooked with a lovely charred crust and a nice, rare interior.
Lunch at the Central Market + Gelato!
For lunch we visited the Central Market (Mercato Centrale / San Lorenzo) and wandered around. I enjoyed a fantastic artisanal gelato at My Sugar, which is located not too far from the Mercato.
Birthday Dinner at Il Palagio in the Four Seasons
After a long day of museum hopping and walking around, we celebrated my birthday at Il Palagio in the Four Seasons.
The meal was lovely, and I'll write a separate post just on this elegant meal.
Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens
On the last day, we spent a morning exploring the beautiful Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens.
This massive park is beautifully sculptured, and you can get lost meandering through the many tree-lined paths, perfectly shaped bushes, and art pieces spread throughout.
It's a lovely place to spend a few hours.
Last Lunch at Il Profeta
On our last day for lunch, we asked our hotel for recommendations of places close by (since we had a train to catch that afternoon!). We enjoyed a delightful lunch at Il Profeta, a casual and rustic trattoria with a long history and phenomenal service.
The prices were reasonable and the food was very nice. However, it was really the exceptionally warm and friendly service that made the whole experience unique and special.
We loved their famous signature (vegetarian!) pasta that was also John Travolta's favorite (and is now named after him). The sauce is trade secret, and all they will say is that it's vegetarian.
And that's a wrap! After our lunch we headed back to the hotel to grab our bags before catching our train back to Milan.
It was indeed such a special birthday weekend to be able to wander around Florence, enjoy the Chianti region (more on that next!), and revisit a honeymoon spot after so many years.
Hopefully we don't have to wait yet another 20 years to return to this beautiful place.
Planning: 2-day Itinerary for a Weekend in Florence
In case you find it useful, below is our itinerary for Florence. I tried to hit all of the "must see" places, plus added activities that I particularly enjoy, such as climbing buildings (e.g., Duomo Terraces), and incorporating plenty of walking and good food!
During popular seasons (and certainly during times when there are Covid restrictions on absolute numbers of people), it is crucial to pre-book all of your entry tickets. Everything is available online and you can pay for the tickets using your credit card. The online tickets are typically QR codes, which are just emailed to you. It's so much easier and much less stressful if you have all your tickets lined up.
TRAIN FROM MILAN TO FLORENCE
6PM - 7PM Renaissance Walk (get acquainted with city)
7:15PM dinner at Buca Lapi
8:15AM - 11AM: Uffizi Gallery
11:00AM Bargello (statues)
12:00PM Lunch at Mercato Centrale/San Lorenzo
3:30: Duomo Terraces or Duomo Tower
4:15 Duomo Museum
5:30 PM: Accademia (David statue)
7:00PM Dinner at Il Palagio
10:00AM Palazzo Vecchio, walk across Ponte Vecchio to see Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens
12:30PM Casual Lunch in Oltrarno neighborhood or near hotel (Il Profeta)
3:00PM TRAIN OUT OF FLORENCE
Next up, our 1-day tour of the Chianti Wine region! (a day trip to Florence!)