By Rick & Sandi Griffin & McKenna, on November 22, 2013

How to explore Florence by foot

If you love wine, art, and history as much as I do, then a trip to Florence, Italy is an absolute must for your travel bucket list. After all, Florence is the capital city of the incredible wine region of Tuscany and is widely considered the birthplace of the Renaissance.

While on a Mediterranean cruise aboard the Carnival Sunshine, my daughter Kacie and I were excited to hit the streets of Florence by foot on our own, since we had so many great recommendations from others. After docking in the port city of Livorno, we took a 40-minute bus ride across the beautiful Tuscan countryside into Florence. We couldn’t wait to walk the streets of Florence, home to the likes of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Botticelli.

Upon departing the bus, we were escorted to a nearby church called the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, where we were to meet up at the end of the day for our return trip to our Mediterranean cruise. We were reminded that should we need to use the restroom, pay-to-pee toilets were the norm here in Europe. I reached into my pocket to retrieve a few euro coins for my daughter, Kacie, only to have them intercepted by a gypsy woman who was boldly approaching anyone who looked like a tourist. She used the language barrier to her full advantage when I tried to explain that the coins were not for her. Rather than create an international incident, I let her keep the money and told Kacie that she’d just have to hold it (I was kidding, of course!)

Staying sufficiently energized is important when touring any city by foot so our first order of business was to find espresso. Our quest took us to the architecturally spectacular Piazza Duomo, where we found a cute little Italian sidewalk cafe on the street behind the huge gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Over espresso, we plotted our route and decided that our next stop should be at the Galleria del’ Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. Unfortunately, we didn’t have reservations and were told that the wait was nearly four hours! Since we only had one day in Florence, we opted instead for a little shopping.


Though we were disappointed that we didn’t get to see the actual statue crafted by Michelangelo, we didn’t really feel like we missed out. David is like the mascot of Florence – his likeness is everywhere. In addition to the full-size replicas in a couple of the piazzas, miniature replicas of David can be found in just about every gift shop and retail shop around Florence.

Viewfinder Tip: Lines for Michelangelo’s David can be hours long, so book a tour that allows you to see the famous sculpture at a designated time.

Nearby, the San Lorenzo Market is a maze of shops that stretches for several blocks. We could have easily spent hours haggling with vendors and browsing the wide assortment of shoes, scarves, crafts, art, leather, masks, jewelry, and, of course, food; however, my rapidly shrinking wallet reminded me that there was still much of Florence to see.

Upon leaving the market, we passed a popular fountain featuring a bronze wild bore with a shiny snout. We asked around and learned that the bore is known as Il Porcellino. Legend has it that if you rub its snout, you will one day return to Florence. That explains why it was so shiny.

Next we headed to the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge. It’s a pedestrian bridge crossing the River Arno and is lined with retail shops on both sides. Its medieval construction with ominous protruding structures makes the Ponte Vecchio worthy of a postcard. After crossing the bridge, we met up with our Twitter friend, Elyse Pasquale, who lives in Tuscany part time. Elyse took us to the Piazza Santo Spirito for an authentic meal at Cafe Cabria. It pays to trust the locals. The food was incredible and prices were significantly less than restaurants in the more touristy parts of town.

After saying arrivederci (“until we see each other again”) to our friend Elyse, we headed to the Piazza della Signoria – which I originally thought was Italian for “square with lots of nude male statues” – before we had to make our way back to the cruise ship. It has a great central location in Florence that also makes for good people watching. Additionally, Piazza della Signoria houses a full-size replica of the statue of David and the famous Fountain of Neptune.

As we arrived back at the designated meeting place for our return trip to the Carnival Sunshine, we couldn’t help but chuckle when we saw that same woman who had taken Kacie’s bathroom money, still hard at work. It topped off a fun day in Florence by foot.

What is on your Italian bucket list?