There are a number of great cities well suited to urban hiking but near the top of that list is Florence, Italy.
What makes this city so special? It’s because the Enlightenment or Renaissance actually began in the early years of the fifteenth century in Florence. At the time Italy was divided into many city-states each with its own government. Florence was a city state and a Republic with a constitution which limited the power of the nobility and ensured that no one person or group could have complete political control. In fact the power resided in the hands of middle-class merchants, a few wealthy families like the Medici, important art patrons who would later rule Florence and the powerful guilds.
This unique political environment attracted intellectuals, the wealthy and artists from all over Italy and much of Europe and added to the wealth and influence of this remarkable place. Some of these notable residents included Dante Alighieri, poet, Filippo Brunelleschi, famous architect, Giotto di Bondone, painter, Michelangelo, the famous sculptor and painter of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Medici Family, Girolamo Mei, historian and humanist, Lorenzo Ghiberti, sculptor, Donatello, sculptor, Leonardo da Vinci, painter, inventor, and scientist, Niccolò Machiavelli, famous poet and philosopher, Giorgio Vasari, painter, architect, and historian and Galileo Galilei, Italian physicist, astronomer, and philosopher.
Resulting from that environment is the worlds most stunning collection of art, architecture, gardens and trade skills that survives even today.
The city is divided into two halves by the Arno River each with its own incredible attractions. The north half is home to the cathedrals, high end shopping and the train station, while the southern half is home to more museums and galleries and the incredible Piazzale Michelangelo with its amazing views of the city.
This urban hike starts at the Ponte Santa Trinita, the arched bridge over the Arno River and covers the southern city half. To walk the entire circuit will take two and a half to three hours without visiting the palaces , museums and gardens.
Begin the walk by going south from the bridge along the Via Maggio. A half block on your left is the Palazzo Frescobaldi palace and gardens. The Frescobaldi gardens, accessible through a long entrance hall, is a large grassy space with beautiful azalea bushes and an imposing fountain, an original element that has survived from the 16th century in the old courtyard. Two bronze sculptures by contemporary artist Arnaldo Pomodoro are found amongst the gardens flower beds.
In another block turn right onto Via dei Michelozzi. After a block you’ll come to Piazza Santo Spirito turn left and walk a couple of blocks along the Piazza. Piazza Santo Spirito is the main square in the Oltrarno area of Florence which is known for its artisans and street markets and has a bohemian and arty character.
Turn left at Via Mazzetta and stroll past numerous neighborhood shops and take-away food shops until you come to Piazza de Pitti and turn left.
On your right for the next several blocks you will pass the Pitti Palace. In the Palazzo Pitti are a number of art galleries, a costume museum and a modern art gallery. Tickets are required for admission to many of these famous collections. Behind the palace are huge and beautiful gardens featuring the Grotta del Buontalenti del Giardino di Boboli or the Buontalenti Grotto in the Boboli Gardens. A fascinating place, where you feel like you walked into a fairy tale. The Grotta also known as Grotta Grande or the Big Grotto was built by Bernardo Buontalenti between 1583 and 1593, and was commissioned by Francesco I de’ Medici.
As you approach the river you will find yourself at a square and the entrance to the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge featuring a number of jewelry and craftsmen shops. Take some time to stroll the bridge.
From the Ponte Vecchio again go south at Oltrarno, head left down Via dei Bardi and continue about three quarters of a mile. You will pass the Bardini Museum on your right with access to the Bardini Gardens. The road changes into Via di San Niccolò and takes you to the door of San Niccolò in piazza Giuseppe Poggi, which was once one of the gates to the city during Medieval times.
To your right are staircases and paths leading up from the “old door”, which now resembles more of a tower than a door. Take the steps up, cross the road past the fountain until you reach the top, where you will find a full size copy of Michelangelo’s David and an incredible view of all of Florence.
Descend through Giardino della Rose, a terraced rose garden, to the wall at Porto San Miniato and turn left on Via di Belvedero. Follow it to Porto San Giorgio where turning right you will see the Villa Bardini and its large gardens. You can walk the gardens paths back down to Costa S. Giorgio toward the Via de Guicciardini where a right turn will take you back to the Ponte Vecchio.
A 3 hour hike around some of the major attractions in Florence Italy. Visit the Pitti Palace and gardens, Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking Florence and the iconic Ponte Vecchio.