Florence - Sunsets and views to remember
It is a dream come true for many of us just to be walking the streets, seeing the museums and monuments, visiting the shops and eating the cuisine of Florence, so I hesitate to say that it gets better…but it does...and it happens at sunset! If you are visiting for just a day and able to stay until dark then you must, because Florence at this hour is something not to be missed. If you are visiting for longer, then you don’t have an excuse not to take the time to be present at this event as many times as possible. In a picturesque city such as Florence, the places you could happily watch the sun go down I’m sure are uncountable…but if you want to be out in the open and above it all, if you want to have a front row view of this magical city as it’s colors change in the sun’s fading light, if you want to see Brunelleschi’s dome glow against the contrast of it’s shadow, if you want to see the towers and churches become like beacons of light rising up above the city line, if you want gaze down and the Arno river as the shape and shadows of Ponte Vecchio appear in reflection on the water, if you want to watch the darkening silhouette of the city take form against the bright colors of the changing sky, and if you want to be bathed in the that famous Tuscan light as it all unfolds before you (Yes please!)…then you want to be in Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset!
By the time I first set my eyes on this piazza…and that view, I had already visited Florence twice. I knew about it but hadn’t made my way up to see it because it felt out of the way from where I was, and really….I just didn’t know what I was missing. Finally in Florence for an extended stay while attending an Italian language school, I decided to take the trip up the hill to see what all the talk was about. I went…I saw…I was hooked! You will be too!
After that first visit I spent as many evenings as I could walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo…slowly…happily. It was one of the things I loved most about being in Florence for a more laid back visit, and it was a perfect way to end the day while working off the gelato calories that had undoubtedly been consumed that day. The ramps and steps that lead you up through the trees (info below) is the way I loved and the way that I always took. In part because it was closer to where I was staying, and I had the time, but mostly because it was just more beautiful. The breathtaking views of Florence and different sunsets I experienced in this lovely little piazza have left a lasting imprint on my heart, so much so that when I think of Florence now, they always come to mind first as being the most memorable and magical.
For being in the historic center of Florence, Piazzale Michelangelo is actually quite young, having only been built in the late 1860’s as part of an urban renewal project. Architect and Florentine native Giuseppe Poggi designed the piazza as a dedication to Michelangelo and his works, with bronze copy of David front and center overlooking the piazza and Florence. Poggi also designed a building that was to become a museum to showcase Michelangelo’s work but it never came to be, and today houses a restaurant with a great view - La Loggia del Piazzale Michelangelo. At the base of the terraces of La Loggia there is an epigraph with a dedication to Poggi.
To each side of Piazzale Michelangelo there are landscaped gardens. To the west there is a rose garden designed by Giuseppe Poggi in 1865 as part of the same river bank makeover as Piazzale Michelangelo. The garden is free to visit and open year around to the public, although it is at it’s peak of beauty and blooming in the spring. To the East is a botanical garden specializing in irises, the symbol of Florence. The iris garden is also free and open to the public but only from the end of April to the end of May approximately (Check website below for exact dates).
Visiting Piazzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo is located in the Oltrarno District of Florence…It is south of the Ponte Vecchio and the Ponte alle Grazie bridges and there are a couple of ways to go by foot. First - from Piazza Poggi which is right off of Lungarno Serristori (the road that runs along the Arno) in the San Niccolò neighborhood. From here you can make your way up the “Poggi” ramps or take the stairs that wind you through the trees. It can get you up to the top quickly enough but it can also be a more relaxing walk with shaded areas, and places to stop and rest while taking in some great views. Second - from Via del Monte alle Croci (at the base of the west side of the hill) you can find the Scalea del Monte alle Croci steps. These steps are a bit of a hike but they are a great way to get straight up from the bottom to the top. The majority of people seem to take this way which makes the ramps, although obviously not people free, a more peaceful way go.
If you are not feeling like a hike up steps or a leisurely stroll then you can hop on a bus to get to the top. Buses 12 and 13 will drop you off right in the piazza. If you have your own car, there is parking in the piazza as well as street parking on Viale Giuseppe Poggi. Give yourself plenty of time before sunset as you are not the only one hoping to catch a glimpse of that fantastic and unforgettable skyline!
The parking lot in the piazza is shared with stalls selling snacks, drinks and all of the classic souvenirs…just in case you find yourself in need of something. Public restrooms are located up Viale Galileo (towards the San Miniato Church). Use is 1 euro and like most public restrooms in Italy it is not much to look at. Hey…not everything in Italy can be gorgeous right!
As a little side note - I always suggest bringing a small pack of tissues or wipes out with you for the day in Italy. It seems more often then not there is usually no toilet paper in these public restrooms :)
more beautiful views in Florence
Piazzale Michelangelo - If you can’t make it for sunset then pretty much any other time of the day is beautiful too! (1st row pics)
San Miniato church - Just up the road (and more hill) from Piazza Michelangelo, on Vialle Galilleo, stands San Miniato church. There are more steps to climb but the church is definitely worth it…and so is the view. This is another picturesque spot to watch the sunset. (2nd row pics)
Fiesole - If you want to get out of the city a bit and see Florence on the other side from Piazzale Michelangelo then take the short 20 min bus ride from Florence up the hill to the town of Fiesole. Not only is the view amazing but the town is charming. At the top of the hill there is the San Francesco Monastery as well as a park with trees and benches, perfect for taking in the sites of Florence below. (3rd row pics)
Boboli Gardens - I’ve been here several times and at different periods of the year and it is always lovely and worth a visit…especially if you are wanting a break from the crowds in the streets. Relax, walk around, enjoy the fountains, statues and art…and of course…the view. (4th row pics)
Duomo or Campanile di Giotto - If you want to be surrounded by those Florentine rooftops, and see the city from the inside out, then consider a visit to the duomo or campanile of Florence’s cathedral - Santa Maria del Fiore. I have never been up the bell tower so I cannot give great advise as to what the climb will be like but the climb up the to the rooftop of the duomo is not for the faint of heart or anyone who may suffer from claustrophobia. There are a lot of steep steps and the space is cramped. The incredible view and the up close and personal look at the duomo is absolutely worth the effort if you can make it. If it’s not for you then skip it and enjoy a visit to any other of the wide open views above! (5th row pics)
Links to official pages
La Loggia Restaurant - Website in English and Italian
The Iris Garden - Website in Italian
Boboli Gardens - Website in English and Italian
Duomo and Campanile - Website in English and Italian
San Miniato Church - Website in Italian