4 Tips for Planning a Day Trip to Florence
1. Don't Drive in the Historic Centre
If driving to Florence, it’s important to remember that in an effort to limit the amount of traffic in the city, vehicles are only able to drive within the city centre if they have registered their license plate with the local police. The only way I know of doing this as a tourist is if your hotel or car rental is within one of these zones, but otherwise tourists are unable to acquire a permit. There are cameras which record your license plate number at the entrances of the Zonas a Traffico Limitato and if you are caught entering the wrong place at the wrong time you’ll be sure to face a hefty fine.
Navigating the streets of any Italian city is hard enough, but doing so while also keeping an eye out for the ZTL’s can make for an entire new challenge. There are signs warning you of the zone you are about to enter, but if you don’t know the rules around each of them, or how to read Italian, they can be little help. If you’re following a GPS it will likely ignore these signs as well, and send you along the fastest route even though you don’t have legal access to these streets. Even if you notice the sign at the start of a street, chances are you’ll be unable to turn around and find an alternate way out of where you are. They create a daunting task and can turn something as routine as finding parking into an extremely stressful - and pricey - situation.
What’s a driver to do then? We decided to avoid any chance of accidentally ending up in a ZTL by keeping far from the Historic Centre altogether, and found a parking lot at a shopping centre with access to public transportation. We were able to purchase transit tickets in the shopping centre and then took a tram into the city for the day. The tram station is called Nenni-Torregalli and is right across the street from the COOP Supermarket on Viuzzo delle Case Nuove. Parking here was free and saved us so much stress that day - I would highly recommend taking this route. Plus the shopping centre has free clean public washrooms (which are hard to come by in Europe) and snacks to get you set for your drive to wherever you are calling home for the night.
2. Firenze and Florence are the same place.
This might seem all too simple, like Rome and Roma, but we genuinely didn’t make this connection until we were practically in the city. As we were driving, following our Google Maps directions to the shopping centre noted above, we kept seeing signs to Firenze and nothing saying Florence. We were a little confused about if we were going to the right place until finally I Googled it and saw that Florence is just the English word for Firenze. I will never understand why we, as English speakers, feel the need to rename cities – and countries even – and my North-American ignorance was definitely showing.
3. Take a tour!
When we arrived at the Duomo we were surprised to find a line up over an hour long to get inside. A tour company saw us looking around stunned and asked if we wanted to join their guided tour of the Cathedral, Baptistry, Museum, and area that was starting immediately. We impulsively decided to join and were very impressed with all the we learned about the city and enjoyed the skip-the-line access that comes with group tours. Especially since we only had the one day in Florence, it was nice being able to avoid waisting time standing in long lines. But if a guided tour of the Duomo isn't in your budget, you can always join a free walking tour to get your fill of Medici History.
4. “Genuine Italian Leather” doesn’t always mean genuine Italian leather.
The streets in Florence are lined with people trying to sell you their leather goods, and while you might be able to find a good deal you are more likely to fly home with a cheap knock off. The easiest way to tell if something isn’t quality is if the seller is willing to barter with you. If the price is set, that usually means that the shop owner has a legitimate business and knows their expenses and a fair price. If they start dropping the price significantly as soon as you turn to walk away, keep walking, as the item, or operation, is likely not worth your money. Two places in Florence that I found to be trustworthy were the Scuola del Cuoio (or leather school) and a small shop called Furò e Punteruolo.
The leather school is famous for training artisans from around the world in the fine skills of wallet, belt, purse, and coat making, and has a store for selling these hand made goods. Though the prices here weren’t as discounted as we expected, you are paying for quality and supporting a great institution. We stumbled across the Furò e Punteruolo and I loved the simplistic style of the products as well as the customizable pieces the owner created. You could tell his items were not shipped in from china because you could see his work studio right there behind the cash register. He was even busy working away when we walked in. I ended up purchasing 2 belts from here – 1 for myself and 1 for my sister – which he measured, cut, and punched holes for me on the spot. The leather is so soft and has stayed in great condition since. The owner was also able to give me a discount for paying in cash and saving him the credit card transaction fees.
We had some of the most delicious unique pasta dishes at “The Yellow Bar” on Via del Proconsolo a couple blocks down from the Duomo. The pasta was made fresh in house and was one of my favourite dishes in Italy.
Check out more pictures from our rainy day in Florence below. Click any image to enlarge.