travel diary

An outsider's experience of Florence

Once a large Renaissance city, Florence is now a small modern city, with a population of around 300,000. It’s very pretty; artistic but not bohemian. After the dark ages, Florence was the city that showed the world that art, beauty and prosperity was possible again. And now in the 21st century, it’s not lost in the past. It has flourished for 800 years.

There has been wealth in Florence for a long time. You only have to wander through the Boboli Gardens and the palace below to realise that… it’s ridiculously exorbitant. We’re living in an old palazzo from the 19th century. The building is four storeys tall, with 2,000 m2 of floor space, and there are palaces on every side of every road around us. It’s not unusual.

Looking across the Arno River in Florence, Italy

Despite being a mishmash of tourists, locals, students, scooters and bicycles, Florence is a quiet town (as long as you avoid the stream of people between the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio). The inner city is clean with the only cars belonging to residents. And of course, in every suburb you'll find a large range of markets, restaurants, trattoria and shops.

We have so many favourite places here... There’s the pizzeria with barrels for tables, great pizza and cheap wine. The Boboli Park up on the hill is beautiful. The church I like best is a Baroque one called San Gaetano which you won’t find on any tourist map. The Museum of Archaeology is also a favourite of mine (and, judging from the number of visitors, not many others). And everywhere is the Giglio, the symbol of Firenze.

Belts and handbags at the leather market in San Lorenzo, Florence
Washing hanging from apartment windows in Florence
Antipasta and red wine in Florence

One thing we’ve enjoyed about Florence is the way that even though most people who work in hospitality speak English, they’re always happy to accommodate our Italian. They don’t automatically switch to English when they realise we’re foreigners like they do in Venice or Rome. In Florence, we start talking in Italian, and they answer in Italian. Then they ask us something in Italian, we can’t answer, so they switch to English. Then we go back to Italian, and so do they, but they make the process seamless.

Since being in Italy, we've come to understand that Italians tend to identify with their regions more than their country. Even Italians are tourists when they go to other regions of Italy. Yet while we’re here, Florence has been home. We’ve only lived here for a short time, but we’ve been part of this community during that time. Even though there is a tight niche of Florentines, we feel like we can still experience their city. We’re accommodated and everyone treats us well. To truly belong though… that would be a different challenge. I believe we could live here for the rest of our lives and never feel like we really belong here.

Looking back at Florence and the Duomo from the Boboli Gardens

For me, Florence has given me the missing link. I love ancient history and the classical world, and sometimes I feel like that was all lost during the Dark Ages. Learning more about the Renaissance here, and about Florence’s history and all its stories has helped me to find that link between the modern and ancient worlds.

When we first arrived, it was hard to believe we'd spend so much time in this small city which most tourists only visit for a couple of days. Now that we're leaving, I find myself eager to return, to walk these streets and visit my favourite places again. Goodbye, Florence. We’ll always have a very soft spot for you!

Planning a trip to Florence? Read our guide on where to stay in this beautiful city.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 1 August 2022

Italy

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