30 minutes is all it takes by train from the station in Bologna to the station in central Florence.
I was in Bologna as a guest of the Emilia-Romagna tourist board last October. Since then, I have suggested to many that it is a place from which to visit Florence. But more, you'll appreciate Bologna because it's less expensive, safe for exploring at night (walking in the evening is a common pastime in Bologna) has fabulous food and is close to many other Italian cities you'll want to visit.
But this time I'm writing about my day trip to Florence. With only one day I focused on the outside of Florence. I didn't go into the museums or climb the Duomo but there was still much to enjoy.
Il Duomo is The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
The Florence cathedral is The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, which is more commonly referred to simply as Il Duomo. Duomo is the Italian word for a cathedral. But go ahead. Google “Duomo” and after Wikipedia's definition of the word are sites that talk specifically about the Florence' Duomo. Why? Because the magnificent dome was an engineering feat. It was the largest dome in Europe from it completion in 1436 until modern times – unfortunately, this uncertain time frame is repeated on many sites and I couldn't find any definite time period for this. The dome was designed by Brunelleschi. You can climb to the top which I did in 2002. The cost is €10.
Want to have a great meal near the Duomo. A tour guide I met in Canada who takes tours throughout Italy as well raved about Il Desco, a small, family-run, farm-to-table restaurant that is also affordable.
One day in Florence – beyond Il Duomo.
The Duomo is the biggest attraction to the city but there is so much more.
Michelangelo was born in Tuscany and is frequently associated with Florence for his relationship with the Medici family. Many of his works still reside there including the original David which is in the Galleria dell'Accademia. But I didn't have the time to go to the Accademia in my one day tour. Instead, I enjoyed the replica that is situated in the famous statue's original location in the Palazzo della Signoria not far from the Duomo.
From the Palazzo I went past the Uffizi Gallery. If you want to include a visit to this enormous gallery buy your ticket online in advance and plan to arrive prior to opening which is 8:30am, Tuesday through Sunday. I did not plan to go so past it I went towards the famous Ponte Vecchio famous for still having shops built along its length as was common in medieval times. (This is not completely uncommon. There are similar bridges in Venice and Bath, England and, I'm sure, many more places.) The bridge shops were originally butchers but they have long been converted to jewellery stores. I had a couple of interesting conversations about the nationality of the shop customers. While for many decades they had been American, in the last decade there has been a shift with their major customers now being from Russia and China.
Not far past the other side of the Ponte Vecchio are the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens. The Palazzo has an interesting history starting with the Florentine banker who had the palace built in 1458. It was then purchased by the Medici family in 1549 and was later used by Napoleon in the late 18th century. In the 1860's it was used as a royal palace for the newly united Italy and in the early 20th century it was donated to the Italian people as a gallery. It's open to the public and holds a number of collections including that of the Medici family.
But I spent more time in the Boboli Gardens which is known for its sculptures which date from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The gardens are beautiful and the sculptures very fine but it was the view of the city from them and the grotto on the side that I most enjoyed. To have a view of the city from on high put the Duomo in perspective. And then there is the grotto.
The Grotta del Buontalenti, like many grottos, is attached to a garden, in this case the Boboli Gardens. It was commissioned by Francesco I de ‘Medici and begun in 1584 by Vasari (of the Duomo's dome). It includes work by Michelangelo (his pieces are replicas as the originals were moved to the Accademia like his David) and others. It's a baffling combination of grotesque figures and beautiful statues in classical form. It's complicated. I suggest that you check this blog out for more on the grotto.
From the grotto, I simply made my way back across the bridge south of the Ponte Vecchio and through the streets of Florence to the train station. Another 30 minutes and I was back in Bologna.