The Good, Bad, and Ugly on the Florence Walking Tour

Ponte Vecchio

Florence is not the biggest city in Italy, but with so many attractions to see how do you decide what to do? My suggestion is to take a small Florence walking tour on one of your first days. The small walking tour is a great way to see some of the main tourist sites and get access to one of the most impressive sculptures of today. It is also a wonderfully unique tour by a local to see all the good Florence has to offer along with hearing the bad and ugly to have the full complete experience.

How to Schedule a Walking Tour

I scheduled my walking tour with Livitaly. Livitaly has numerous tours for you to choose from in Florence and all around Italy which you can book online. The one I went on is the Florence Small Group Walking Tour. This tour includes special attention around the Duomo and skip the line access to David at the Galleria dell’Accademia. Which in itself is worth the price of the walking tour as the line to see Michelangelo’s David is long.

Beginning of the Tour

The tour starts in Piazza Della Signoria. You meet your tour guide right in front of one of the main cafes in the piazza. They will have a Livitaly sign so; you won’t be able to miss them. My guide was Raffaela and lives in the area where we were walking so; I couldn’t have a better guide for this historic area.Raffeala tour guide

Piazza Della SignoriaPiazza Della Signoria

Piazza Della Signoria is a hub of activity, very noisy and crowded, but also a great place to start a tour. You will learn about the history of the square which was the political center of Florence and of the Medici royal family who lived in Palazzo della Signoria before they moved to Pitti Palace. That is when the name changed to Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), and it became offices for the government. Now it is a museum that you can visit. There are several statues out in front of Palazzo Vecchio that includes a copy of David that replaced the original when it was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia. But, the two smaller ones on the left of the entrance are originals along with Neptune’s Fountain.

Loggia della SignoriaAlso in the square is Loggia della Signoria which is an open arched gallery filled with statues. The interesting thing is that these statues were taken away from a person in power (sorry can’t remember the name) that loved his collection of art and placed here as a sort of visual punishment. That they no longer belonged to him and now belonged to everyone to admire. The ironic part is that this was so well received that Florence wanted more of these outdoor art galleries showcasing statues for everyone to enjoy. Now you can find statues outside of buildings and in parks sprinkled throughout the city.

Ponte VecchioCenter of Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio bridge is one of the most packed areas to see in Florence. The medieval bridge has high arches in the center for you get some great photos of the Arno River. It is also lined with shops just like it would have been back in the orginal days although today they are all jewelry shops. If you are interested in purchasing jewelry or any particular item, your tour guide is very knowledgeable about where to find the best prices. Go ahead and ask your questions; that is what they are there to make your time in Florence ideal.

When you see the walls along the Ponte Vecchio area of Florence, you can’t imagine how the River Arno could have been so high as to crest over the walls along the walkways and flood Florence in 1966. This was part of Florence’s history that I learned more about during my time here. Initially, I heard about it on the Florence walking tour, but even visiting Basilica Di Santa Croce later I found out how devastating this flood was to the city. There is so much history that you would never know about while traveling on your own without the in-depth knowledge of a local tour guide.

Secret PassagewaySecret passageway in Florence

If you look up, the passageway isn’t that secret. But, what is interesting is that this above ground passageway goes all the way from Palazzo Vecchio to Pitti Palace. As you walk along the streets, you might see the covered arch between buildings or by Ponte Vecchio. The rest of the passageway goes through the buildings, which is how I didn’t know that this was even there. This passageway was initially created for security and safety reasons. The Medici family used this passageway to go from one palace to the other without having to be among the common folk. The interesting fact is that the small circular windows along the passage by Ponte Vecchio are designed to allow the royal family to hear conversations from the street. Here is the classic big brother watching over you. But, the Medici family had valid concerns with constant threats on their family so, they needed to be aware of any plots taking place.

Results of World War IILeftover bombed wall from WWII

Italy has its share of bad history during World WarII. After a full year of German occupancy, Allies bombed central Florance destroying buildings and killing civilians. Our tour guide who lived here her entire life was able to tell us some personal stories from her grandmother from the war that was poignant. When the Germans retreated they also bombed every bridge in the city except thankfully Ponte Vecchio was spared. The above photo is the one wall in the town that was not restored after the war. This is to remind us of what war does to places and people. The below photo shows the difference of orginal buildings right next to restored buildings after being destroyed in the war. You will see a lot of varying building ages from the 1950s next to medieval buildings on the Florence walking tour.Difference in buildings (original vs restored) after WWII

The Fountain of PorcellinoThe Fountain of Porcellino

One of the sites I wanted to see that I was not able to find on my own is the Fountain of Porcellino. Raffaela was more than accommodating and took us over to where the fountain is located. The bronze boar statue is famous among tourists. Legend is that if you put a coin into the boar’s mouth, and it falls through the below grate on the first try you will receive good luck, and if you rub the boar’s snout at the same time you will ensure a return to Florence. Well, folks…I’m returning to Florence with Good Luck!

The Ugly Side of Tourism

Unfortunately, as any city increases with tourism, the ugly side shows up at the same time. Florence is no exception. Our guide made a point to remind us of which areas to watch our belongings (Ponte Vecchio and the market areas), especially with the crowds of people. There was one instant that I was grateful for having a tour guide; we had a gypsy walk by us and request money. Raffaela spoke in Italian and made her walk away from us multiple times. What she also told us is that they can become very aggressive and you have to watch out for the ones all in white with their faces painted white as well. This particular gypsy costume is used by pickpockets, and when they take something, they will run around the corner and wipe off the white paint and change their clothes. When you try to describe her to the cops, it is hard to describe the features as they were disguised. This is not to discourage you from visiting  Florence; it is just a reminder to be aware of your belongings in the crowded tourist areas.

DuomoDuomo in Florence

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (a.k.a. Duomo) is an amazingly beautiful complex of buildings. It includes the Campanile Di Giotto – The Bell Tower, St. John’s Baptistery, and the Cathedral. This particular tour did not go into the Duomo, but instead, we were told quite a bit of history of the building and area. My specific interest pertained to the golden doors with panels depicting Biblical scenes on the St. John’s Baptistery. The Gates of Paradise are named such because back in history, you were not allowed to enter the church unless you were baptized. As the baptistery was separate from the church, once you were baptized, you were able to go across to paradise through the golden doors. The land between the St. John’s Baptistery and the Cathedral is called Paradise. The other interesting facts I learned about the Duomo pertained to the colors of the marble (Red came from the south of Tuscany; Green from Prato; and the white marble came from Carrera).

Seeing the Statue of DavidClose up of Michelangelo's David

The highlight of this small Florence walking group tour is definitely the ability to skip the very, very long line at the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. The statue was initially supposed to be put on top of the Duomo. This 17-ft statue carved out of marble weighing 6-tons would not have been able to be installed on the cathedral. As a result, they placed it in front of Palazzo Vecchio. The Renaissance statue symbolizes the ‘defense of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were fixated towards Rome.’ And it is also seen as the perfect male specimen. What do you think?Michelangelo's David at the Galleria dell'Accademia

Summary

My time spent on the Florence Walking Tour by Livitaly was informative and entertaining. If you would like a chance to see more of Florance in a small intimate group, consider signing up for one of their tours in Florence. This is a great way to see the tourist sites, some of the obscure areas, opportunity to skip the line and learn something you wouldn’t generally while exploring the city on your own. If you are exploring more of Italy and that includes Rome, check out this 3-day itinerary for Rome.

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Further Reading

If you would like to see more of my nomad travels, check out my post on my first month of traveling full-time: One Month of Nomad Travel. If you are coming to Italy for a visit, check out these posts:

Thank You to Livitaly Tours for offering this opportunity to go on this fun and super informative small Florance walking tour. As always opinions are 100% my own.

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