We will be writing a series of articles over the course of the next few years describing Elena’s favorite places growing up in the beautiful city of Florence, the center of Renaissance Italy. Many of you reading this will have already been to Florence, some more than once, but all of you will find something interesting and different in these articles.
Much of what Elena will describe will be from her favorite walks in and around the city, walks that she took with her parents decades ago and that she subsequently wrote about in her hiking guide to the hills around Florence. Elena's Florence Part 1 starts with her favorite walk and one which everyone born and raised in this city loves and comes back to time and time again.
The Best Walk in Florence: Ponte Vecchio to Arcetri and back via San Miniato al Monte (about 3 miles in red on the map below)
(Shorter version is about 2.5 miles using the connection in blue)
What could be better than starting a walk on the Ponte Vecchio and then in a matter of minutes escaping the crowds and commotion of central Florence? This is an uphill walk for the first half and then downhill by a different route back to the center. And if it gets a little too strenuous or if it's too hot for you there's a slightly shorter option that still allows you to take a different and very scenic route home.
Allow yourself about 1 hour and 45 minutes for the full walk providing plenty of time for stops and photographs and if it's lunchtime when you're scheduled to return, first book a table at Beppa Fioraia where the food is good and there's a lovely outside garden (request an outside table when you book). It's where we sat outside for lunch in February (see last photo at the bottom of this article).
1. Head south off the Ponte Vecchio and go straight for about 80 yards to Piazza Santa Felicita on the left side of the street, and then go through the arch on the left of the Piazza past the church.
2. Emerging through the arch take the street on the right (through the vehicle no entry sign), called Costa San Giorgio. This is where the uphill section starts and eventually you will be rewarded for your effort.
3. Carry straight on and after about 450 yards you will see Galileo’s house on the right hand side at 17, Costa San Giorgio.
4. Continue on and a little further up you’ll soon be out of the built up part of Florence and the overbearing houses on either side of the road will give way to more open surroundings.
5. 100 yards up from Galileo’s house you will arrive at Villa Bardini on the left where you can choose to buy a cheap ticket to enter the gardens of the Villa (this ticket will also gain you same day entry to the Boboli gardens on the other side of Forte Belvedere). The Villa gardens will give you your first panoramic view of Florence so, if you must, take a very short break and enjoy the views. A separate ticket is required for the Villa itself and you should check ahead of time to see if their current exhibition is of interest and see it after the walk.
6. A little further up you'll come to a fork in the road. Stay on the left to continue on Costa San Giorgio. A few yards further on you will go through an arch and arrive at the entrance to Forte Belvedere, a place that’s also worth exploring another time. Forte Belvedere was built in the 16th century to protect Florence from its many enemies, and also to protect the Medici family in their nearby residence, the Pitti Palace.
7. Carry straight on past the fort to continue the walk but if you’re already out of time or out of breath you can turn left here onto Via di Belvedere and follow the old city walls of Florence down into San Niccolò. But as you've only gone a total of 800 yards to this point you should really carry on.
8. As you continue on the walk, you’re now on Via di San Leonardo, the most beautiful little street in Florence according to the locals and you will stay on this road for about a mile.
9. Continue straight on for about 1,100 yards until you come to Tchaikovsky’s house on the right and a busy crossroad in front of you. This will only take about 15 minutes because the steepest part is behind you and this section is only gently sloping. When you get to Tchaikovsky's house on the right hand side just before the crossing you will have covered a little over 1 mile from the start of the walk.
At this point you have a choice to either (1) continue on the walk by crossing straight over or (2) turn left onto Viale Galileo Galilei for a shorter route back. (Although Viale Galileo is a busy road there is a wide protected pedestrian walkway for you to follow. From here to San Miniato al Monte is a little over 1 mile where you will join the returning longer version of the walk at 16 further on in this article for the remaining short distance back into Florence).
10. To continue the walk towards Arcetri cross the road and continue straight on. The uphill resumes here but nothing particularly steep.
11. After about 350 yards you will come to a fork in the road. San Leonardo goes right at this point but you need to bear left onto Via Vincenzo Viviani.
12. Another 350 yards further on there is another fork in the road. Go left again and you will see from the sign that the street name is now Via del Pian dei Giullari.
13. During this stretch of road if you're tall enough you will be able to see views of Florence itself and across Florence all the way to Fiesole on the hills opposite (photo left below) but if you can't see them don't worry because better and easier views are coming up. Another 400 yards further up the road there is yet another fork and again you turn left onto Via della Torre del Gallo. The uphill part of the walk is now over and it's all downhill from here.
14. 400 yards further on the road opens up into Piazza degli Unganelli and you'll start to get some good views of the center of Florence (right photo above) but the best is yet to come.
15. Exit the piazza to the left onto Via Giramontino and continue for about 400 yards until it merges with Viale Galileo.
16. Turn right here and after 900 yards you will see the brown sign on the right pointing to San Miniato al Monte. Go right here and a few yards further on is the famous church and some of the best views of Florence.
17. San Miniato and Piazza Michelangelo are best visited separately on a much shorter walk from the center and we will cover them in another itinerary.
Meanwhile, after taking your photographs of Florence on the steps, continue down the hill (to your right as you face Florence) and in fact you can stay on the path above Via Galileo if you wish.
18. After a very short distance as you are about to enter Piazza Michelangelo you will see some steps across the road on the left. Take the crosswalk over and go down these steps a little way and you will find the Giardino delle Rose on your right. If it's early summer then all the roses will be in bloom and there are hundreds of different types in this lovely garden but whatever month it is you can take a photo of Florence through the permanent picture frame that is kept here (below). Hopefully they will have moved the two cranes on the left hand side when you visit because they've been there for several years already.
19. Turn right out of the Giardino delle Rose and continue down the steps a short distance to where it joins Via del Monte alle Croci. Go straight on towards the Florence city walls and the gate visible ahead.
20. Well before the city walls take a left turn on Via dell'Erta Canina and 200 yards along you'll find the restaurant Beppa Fioraia for lunch. Or you can continue on into the San Niccolò district of Florence and go left along the river Arno back to the starting point.