Seems like every traveler I know who has been to Italy says Florence is their favorite city. Based on that information, and my clinical overexposure to While You Were Sleeping and the Florence obsession of Lucy Eleanor Moderatz, I originally scheduled a solid week in Florence for my two-week Northern Italy trip. Yeah. I was committed.
Fortunately, some other cities caught my interest and I slowly took days away from Florence for them, until I was left with only four in the cradle of the Renaissance (hmm…when I say it like that, it feels heretical).
Now, before I go any further, I have to tell you that if someone were to offer me a trip to Florence, I would never, in a billion years, turn it down. Because even an overrated city in Italy is still better than pretty much any other city in the world. Also, look at that photo up there. That is a very beautiful city. So I don’t hate Florence. I was just really expecting to be wowed by it. And I totes wasn’t.
Here are my reasons Florence is overrated:
1. Too damn crowded
I’ve tried to figure out why this bothered me so much, because I actually really love New York and I love Rome, which are technically more crowded. I don’t know if it’s because maybe all the crowds are concentrated in one area or what. All I know is that I just felt like I was shoulder to shoulder with people the whole time I was in Florence. And I wasn’t even there during peak tourist season. I shudder to imagine Florence in the summer. Eek.
Even the Duomo itself is crowded shoulder to shoulder with the surrounding buildings. A building like that deserves to breathe. It deserves to be the center of a vast, open space where visitors can behold it in all its glory. Instead, we’re smashed up against it because the next building is ten feet away. This is about the most panoramic shot you’re gonna get of one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
2. It stinks
Florence stinks. It smells like a combination of sewer and cigarette smoke everywhere you go. Except the combo changes every couple blocks. You never know what surprising stench awaits around the next corner.
3. The Arno is nasty
I mean, so is the Tiber in Rome, but it’s not like all rivers running through cities are nasty. The Adige in Verona is beautiful. And maybe I hold Florence to a higher standard, because everyone says it’s their favorite. I guess I was expecting some sort of romance near the Ponte Vecchio, and all there was was a muddy river.
Okay, maybe it was a tad romantic. After all, I was with this handsome fella.
Speaking of the Ponte Vecchio…
4. Ponte Vecchio is a disappointment
Way to take an ancient, beautiful bridge filled with stories and significance, and turn it into a tourist trap crawling with slimy “art dealers”. No, thanks. I’d prefer the butchers of yore. And I’m a vegetarian, so…
5. Where’s the personality?
I’m 100% certain that Florence has a wonderful and unique personality, and if I spent weeks or months there, I would get a feel for that. But some cities give you that taste even on a short visit, and I just didn’t get that from Florence. I attribute that to the fact that…
6. It’s a city of students and tourists
Look, I chafe at travelers who hate on “tourists”. We’re all tourists. I accept my status as tourist when I’m…touring a place. And I don’t resent my fellow tourists for being in the same place at the same time, doing the same thing. We’re all doing the thing.
But there’s a difference between a city with lots of touristy sites and a city of tourists. And again, I know that if I were to live there, I would see the other side. And I know there are real Florentines, people who live and work here. I met some, and they were absolutely lovely.
But damn. There are lots of big touristy cities (Rome, NYC, London come to mind) that don’t feel like this. Florence just made me really happy to retreat to my farmhouse hotel in the Chianti hills every night.
So there you have it. Let the stoning begin, because Florence is not my favorite city in Italy. Not by a long shot. Of the well-known cities, I put Rome, Venice, Milan and Verona far ahead of it (though luckily for Florence, there’s Pisa, which I actually do hate).
Having said all that, I’m definitely glad I went. People should go to Florence. That cathedral is astounding, even when I’m smashed up against it. I’d been dreaming of David and the art in the Uffizi for well over a decade, and it did not disappoint (though I could do without the aggressive elbows of other tourists). The San Lorenzo market was a sight. Wandering the city and making sense of all the Renaissance history I’ve consumed over the years was definitely worth the unpleasant side notes. Just being in Florence, where so much brilliance, intrigue, and civilization-altering stuff went down, is pretty amazing. Like I said, I would go back if someone offered me a free trip. And I could definitely live the rest of my life in Tuscany: Siena or any of the little hill towns are just as dreamy as everyone says they are.
But Florence? Florence is kinda overrated.
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