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How to discover Florence, Italy without the crowds

Not really gonna happen, sorry.

 

And yes, while the headline is completely misleading, this post has a point.

 

I wrote it after having a recent conversation with some people I met in Florence. They liked the food but hated the crowds, with one of them saying “too touristy.” While I considered that truth, I was also physically reminded that I was in front of someone who wasn’t entirely aware that they too were a tourist. They were in no uncertain terms coming to visit a city they heard they should see. I came away from that conversation thinking about it this a little more deeply.

 

The thing about a city like Florence, one that regularly tops the “reader’s favorites” lists on Conde Nast or Travel& Leisure is that the local population totals around 350,000 while the number of visits equal roughly 16 million people in 2015 alone, with around 13.6 overnight stays according to official numbers. That’s a heck of a lot of people in this tiny Renaissance city that once held around 60,000 people in the 15th century.

 

It can cause problems of course. For some reason people seem to think you can visit the city in few hours. And sure you can. But you probably will hate it, like this guy who I suspect knew he would get plenty of website hits with a title like “I was supposed to like Florence”. Despite what some say about Florence, it wasn’t put on this earth to entertain you like a trained monkey. It is what it is, enjoy it or move on. I’m sure that even he know that if you visit a city like this for just a short time, hurrying along one famous iconic monument to another with barely a break — you won’t see what most of us love about this place.

 

You won’t have time to wander the backstreets behind piazza tasso, watching the older men argue on the few benches that do exist in city parks. You won’t see the local baker near Santo Spirito cheekily pull out a slice of steaming-hot schiacciata for a very happy little girl on her way home from school. You won’t be on your third gelato of the day, lost in some Florentine suburb that you didn’t really plan to visit but happy you did. You won’t make your way up to Forte Belvedere to see contemporary art playfully interact with ancient Medicean history, or checking ancient armor in the city’s very underrated Stibbert museum. You won’t dig into hot coccoli which means “cuddles” in Italian, served with creamy stracchino cheese and salty prosciutto at Brindellone. Nope you won’t have time for that, you’ll be busy sweating in the line for the Uffizi and wondering what all the hype is about regarding this Renaissance stronghold, all overhearing someone’s pick-pocketing experience on Trenitalia.

 

In fact the “hit and quit it” mass tourism you often see from cruise ships and large groups is what inspired projects like “save Florence” Prince Ottaviano de’Medici di Toscana, President of the International Medici Association who laments the influx of so many people, fast-food joints (yet somehow he fails to mention the asinine microwaved crappy Italian places that line the city’s most popular streets). While I totally agree that that we all want the type of traveller that stays longer and spends more time (and money), I just wonder how Price Ottaviano seems to think he or anyone can filter who visits the city. Is he going to check someone’s FB account to see if they’ve taken too many imperfect selfies? Will they get sent back?

 

The thing is some families have to travel in high season and don’t have that much vacation time. Should we mock them for daring to visit for a day? Or should we just accept the reality that it isn’t going to change people traveling to extremely popular places. In my eyes, people already are making plenty of strides to not travel in-masse, from the response I get on this blog, people seem to be more concerned with ever on trying to experience something more authentic than your average Florence-Siena-San Gimignano bus tour.

Ponte Santa Trinita is the city's "sunset bridge" with dozens of people lining the sidewalks to capture nature's glory. Or just to make out.

Ponte Santa Trinita is the city’s “sunset bridge” with dozens of people lining the sidewalks to capture nature’s glory. Or just to make out.

 

Another point: ok, you want to get people to visit other areas of the city, but I personally think it would be a shame not to visit Michelangelo’s David. Again, you have to offer people reasons to visit its suburbs — a first logical step is really making a concentrated effort online to promote them. Look at the FirenzeTurismo FB page and you’ll see your photos of the Duomo, the Arno river or Palazzo Vecchio captured in a puddle. What you don’t see is many photos of the outlying suburbs of Campo di Marte, Settignano, Cure, Sesto Fiorentino, Statuto, Gavinana etc.

 

We all remember when Cinque Terre threatened to reduce the number of visitors after these tiny, ancient fishing villages remained constantly crushed under the weight of mass tourism. However, after the initial media storm, we didn’t really hear anything after. Can someone clue me in on whether they were successful in this?

Tiny people in small places, this fun shot was taken courtesy of photographer Christine Juette, who managed to make this tall Tuscan Texan into a ant-sized human.

Tiny people in small places, this fun shot was taken courtesy of photographer Christine Juette, who managed to make this tall Tuscan Texan into an ant-sized human.

 

I admit to being completely biased on the seductive allure that Firenze has on its visitors (and residents), it also remains one of the most important places in the world for cultural heritage. 60% percent of the world’s most important artworks are in Italy (lets be subjective about this) with nearly half in Florence alone. Case in point, it’s a city that many find worth visiting. One that they dream about, and tag their friends in instagram shots of the Duomo with words like “sigh” or #LifeGoals.

 

I know people who have literally spent most of their life savings visiting Florence year after year, staying in the same hotel or apartment. It makes them happy, and the city benefits too. It’s not all take take take like some would like to believe.

 

Luckily, many are smart enough to realize that living in Italy vs. visiting are two very different realities.

Everyone has their reason for being here, and they all have a place as far as I'm concerned.

Everyone has their reason for being here, and they all have a place as far as I’m concerned.

 

 

I should probably say, this of course is nothing new, what I’m writing certainly isn’t revolutionary.

 

If you want a little real-talk, lets go there. Tourists are to be mocked, avoided, scorned, pitied while independent “travelers” are the coolest thing since Pokemon Go. Terms on the internet seem to prove this. “Off the beaten path, boutique, hidden, lesser-known, alternative ways to visit Florence” are all powerful terminology that we writers know seem to resonate with people coming abroad. On this blog you’ll see plenty of written advice on visiting the city or even a post offering “seen everything in the city, here’s where to go instead.” I wrote about this exact subject on ITALY Magazine.

 

I get it, I find myself scrolling through blogs abroad before we visit any given destination, looking for a non-touristy tour (oxymoron’s welcome) or that restaurant where “all of the locals go.” The point of traveling is discovering new things and we all like to pretend we discovered something,  but with so much information on the internet, is there anything left to discover?

Is there anything more beautiful than #YourFlorence after a torrential rainstorm? 💫

A photo posted by Georgette Jupe (@girlinflorence) on

It’s just a few personal thoughts I’ve felt of late. Namely regarding travel, how people like to think of themselves when they travel, what they do when they’re here, how people feel who live in the cities, where people travel to.

 

When people complain about tourists in Florence, I gently remind that I myself, the second I step foot out of my treasured city, exist as a tourist too

 

I fumble my phone while trying to access google maps. I make an obnoxious amount of noise rolling my slightly-broken suitcase down Prague’s shimmering cobblestones. I pretend to not be an obvious tourist trying to minimize how much I open my map in public. I’ve overpaid at restaurants and heard people talking about me not knowing I speak Italian. I make language gaffes and I’ve definitely spilled sauce on my shirt. In a sense what I am trying to say is that I am human and you all are too.

Nico and I have our awkward moments traveling like the rest of you. Photo credit: Christine Juette

Nico and I have our awkward moments traveling like the rest of you. Photo credit: Christine Juette

 

It’s almost impossible to visit a city like Florence, Rome, Venice, Paris, Istanbul, famous Thai islands, NYC without running into other people. You’ll see them, wide-eyed and arranging camera equipment, waiting in lines, paying far too much for gelato and just generally being tourists. I admit that at times I get annoyed when I need to get somewhere quickly and ponte santa trinita becomes a human congo line of selfies, but that’s ok, I definitely chose to live in the historical center because it makes my personal life better, not worse. The traits I find personally most important in people I choose to be in my life are compassion, patience and humility.

 

I say be gentle, be kind and let it go.

 

There are things you can do, you can go to places in Le Marche, Molise, Lunigiana in Tuscany or Cucuron in France. You could visit in November of February a time in the city that I absolutely adore, but guess what, there’s still people here who have clued into the fact that off-season is the best time to come. We have the internet to thank for that. You can wake up at 7am like I did and stroll through a sleepy Florence, with all the best vantage points all to yourself at such an early hour.

 

I’ve been to Rome countless times, and I’m going back this September for a week (yay) with my husband and alone. I can’t wait to walk along the Roman Forum after dinner, seeing the artfully-placed light fixtures dance among the ancient ruins. I can’t wait to discover new places and take cheesy photos of Neptune’s fountain, as you do. I get excited peering up the Pantheon’s oculus which dates back to 27 BC, before meeting friends for a cheeky aperitivo during the golden hour.

 

More fun news, I am planning a last-minute trip next week to Croatia (Split – Hvar – Korcula – Dubrovnik)  with one of my best friends that I met on a plane on my first trip to Italy. I admit that I totally wrote off going anywhere during August because of the crowds & cost, but you know what? It’s a chance to see one of my best friends before life gets in the way, and that is way more important than some haughty refusal to travel in “high season.”

 

Now that I’ve said my two cents and then some, what do YOU think about the state of travel, how we see ourselves, and over-crowded cities in Europe? 

 

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63 Comment

  1. Reply
    Annie
    10.08.2016 at 12:41

    My sister and I first came to Florence over 40 years ago. For the past 9 years we have been spending a month in Florence every year in May. I can tell you we have only just scratched the surface of this amazing place. There is no way you could see Florence in a day!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2016 at 12:48

      Ciao Annie, that is so awesome that you guys come and spend a month in Florence. Having a connection like that another city in the world is something to truly cherish. Firenze is a day is not really recommended, and as you said you can be here long term and still not discover it all. I get really stressed when I try to visit too much in a short span of time.

      1. Reply
        liz
        24.08.2016 at 0:09

        Hi Annie , I too came to Florence for the first time 40 years ago with my sister. I’ve returned every year for the past 20. I have a recurring dream that I’m in Florence it’s my last day but for some reason I haven’t been able to convince my travel companions to walk through the main streets even once! My husband also spent a year in Florence with OCAD. Happily we go every year and return inspired.

  2. Reply
    Katy Clarke
    10.08.2016 at 12:51

    Great post Georgette. I have been thinking about my travelling style a lot recently and have come to the conclusion that it has changed significantly over the years and will continue to change. I think for many people when we first visit places we want to see the highlights because, let’s face it, they are highlights for a reason. If we are lucky enough to enjoy a return visit then we like to explore more deeply. Living in London it is easy to be annoyed by tourists too but I try to remind myself that for some this might be their only opportunity to see the city.They may have saved for years to come so who am I to spoil their experience. Strangely I have only visited Florence once as a very poor student many years ago. I can’t wait to return during the “off season”

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2016 at 13:00

      Thank you Katy for your comment. My travel style has changed a lot as well, I find myself almost going overboard trying to plan “the perfect trip” (also because I write about it) and I sometimes forget that I need to stop obsessing over finding the best, hidden spots. Sure its true that planning is as fun as the trip itself, but it can be borderline stressful. I can only imagine that London is inundated with people but as you said, you never know the situation of those walking around the city. Maybe its a first visit, maybe they’re passing through, maybe its their second home. If you don’t mind coming to Florence when it’s colder, I really adore the city in November. Plus you’ll have plenty of reasons to visit the countryside and the many local food festivals during that period :).

  3. Reply
    Patricia
    10.08.2016 at 13:06

    Love this! Yes, the number of tourists who seem to walk like cattle (making my bicycle commute at least 1/3 longer and 10x more dangerous) may be outrageous, but what I like to do is remind myself that we are ever so fortunate to live in a city that is so world famous. And being that I have only lived here for a short period, I’m totally guilty of trying not to pull out Google maps too often ha!!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2016 at 15:30

      Ciao Patricia, I actually gave up riding a bike in the center of town because of the amount of people. Honestly I enjoy walking more but I can see how it can be a pain in the ass for someone with a regular commute. You are right that we are very fortunate to live in such a city and mainly its from our own choosing.

      ps. I always remind Nico of the time when we had to look up things on REAL maps or print out copies of map quest to set on our car’s dashboard. Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?

  4. Reply
    Jan
    10.08.2016 at 13:59

    Thanks for this post. The first time I came to Florence I was only there a couple of days. I, too, the harried tourist, disliked the crowds. Of course, I was part of that crowd. So, a few years later, my husband and I booked an apartment for a month from early October to early November on Via della Chiesa. I fell in love and still dream of returning to “our” neighborhood. I read your posts to get my “fix,” see photos of familiar sites, and read about a place I love.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2016 at 15:32

      It happens to us all. My first week in Florence was me spent thinking “did I make a mistake?” It seems like your husband had the right idea and I adore via della chiesa, you have so much great places (mama’s bakery, note bar, chicco del cafe) on that street. Thank you so much for being a regular on the blog, I really do appreciate it.

  5. Reply
    Tom Ross
    10.08.2016 at 14:13

    Thank you for this insightful post. We just returned from our second visit to Italy — both through Adventures by Disney tours — and we came to the conclusion that now that we have hit many of the must-see attractions we can return on our own in the off-season, away from the crowds. I appreciate you pointing out the fallacy of such thoughts. As much as we have loved these 2 tours, using them we are limited to the summer during the high season. I told my wife that the crowds really got to me on this latest trip, that it chipped away at the experience, while fully acknowledging that we were part of the problem. There were times while in Sorrento, Capri, Florence that I actually felt bad that we were always getting in the way of the locals trying to go about their business, getting to work, trying to drive home, going out to eat. They seem to handle it much better than I would. I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t know the answer. We absolutely have fallen in love with Italy, the people, the beauty, the food, the experience of a meal, the art and architecture. We would have loved to be able to walk Positano, hand in hand, slowly window shopping and taking it all in on our way down to the beach. Instead, and it was actually comical, we were like a herd of cattle prodded along in a chute, unable to stop otherwise we’d be gored. We got to the beach and turned to each other and said, that’s it? So we turned around and walked back up, going against the flow, to try to see more of the town.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2016 at 15:35

      Ciao Tom! Its completely normal. I remember recently saying in Prague “wow there are so many people here, even more than Florence, how annoying” as I walked, backpack on bag, map in hand not realizing I was adding to those numbers. The fact that you were even aware of the effect you had on locals already in my eyes says a lot about you (in a good way). There is no answer, like you pointed out, its just about having patience and perhaps arranging the next visit in a different way. I went to Cinque Terre the first time with a group tour and I had an absolutely horrible experience, it wasn’t just the constant rain that weekend, but it was that feeling of people like “cattle” as you mentioned, passing by like ghosts on these beautiful pristine towns that are totally unprepared for that. Instead I know now to go to Portovenere (which still gets it fairs share of tourism but still less) and other Ligurian coastal towns like Levanto and just take a boat to the five villages if we wish. So much of a better experience.

      1. Reply
        nicki
        10.08.2016 at 19:15

        Hi Tom,
        I have lived in Positano for 17 years and yes, it turns into tourist hell in the summer, the village was just not built to cope with the sheer amounts of day trippers that pour in by bus and boat every day. It actually seems to have got worse in the last few years, especially now in August. To be honest most of my friends and I try to avoid spending time in the busier areas. We use the private service tunnel to get to the beach to avoid the crowds on the only other street down. We prefer to go out on a boat for the day, rather that sit at the beach..and around about mid July we find a space to park the car and then don’t use it at all until september otherwise we would never be able to park it again! But in a way the noisy crowds remind us how amazing our town will be once the season ends and we have it all to ourselves again with wide empty beaches and free tables in restaurants! It can be a huge hassle battling through selfie sticks on your way to work, but in the end it is only for half the year, the quiet empty winter balances out the busy summer!

  6. Reply
    Robin
    10.08.2016 at 14:21

    Despite living in Florence for a year now, I am still a newbie traveler…..but I prefer to take in a new city (Amsterdam, Istanbul, Helsinki, Paris) at my own pace. I like to read up on a new city before arriving,, but once I’m there I want to enjoy what I see and do, rather than rush from one A-list location to another. And if that means that at the end of the short trip, I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of what that city has to offer, so be it. I leave with some familiarity of a new and exciting place, with motivation to return and discover more during another trip.
    I sympathize with tourists who do not have the luxury of unlimited time or even a good chance of being able to return….but I hope they take some bit of my philosophy….just enough that their trip is a joy and not a disappointment and a burden.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2016 at 15:37

      You have a very healthy attitude towards traveling Robin and that’s pretty awesome. I too agree that leaving knowing there is more to see isn’t the worst thing in the world. If anything, it gives you a reason to come back, maybe stay a little longer or in a different place. A lack of time for vacation is a real truth. Not everyone is fortunate enough to work remotely or be able to take a month-long sabbatical. I often remind this to my European friends who complain about Americans coming for such short times. However, I do think you can make the most of your time abroad if you don’r overpack your itinerary.

    2. Reply
      Tom Ross
      12.08.2016 at 0:48

      Hi, Nicki,

      Thanks for the reply. I read an article a couple of weeks ago which stated the government of Italy is trying to figure out what to do — that it’s a double-edge sword for the country: tourism brings money, puts a lot of food on the plate, but can the infrastructure and ecology of the country withstand the pressure, and what can be done to alleviate the pressure on the residents? Interesting problem to have. But like I said to Georgette, I really feel for the residents. While in Capri I felt bad as workers tried to maneuver their little scooters with goods and materials through the narrow streets as tourists, tuned into their cameras and tour guides, were oblivious. They handle it well, though. We loved Positano and want to return badly. We felt that we didn’t get to experience it. I love how you have adapted. I noticed all the parked cars and even asked our guides about them. They said exactly what you said. This time of year, you find a spot and you keep it, lol. And I love what you do with the boat. I was thinking the same thing, that that would be the way to go. On our tour, while in Capri, they took us out on a boat to see the grottos and then swim. My God, the water was so refreshing and lovely. We could have swam for hours. I enjoyed your post. Take care.

  7. Reply
    Ina
    10.08.2016 at 15:13

    Great post (as yours always is)! In the broadest sense, yes, we are all tourists. We will arrive in Florece Sept. 7 for a glorious month in Your city then on to another month of Rome and south, then Sicily. I hope to say “hello” to you in person as one Texan to another when there.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2016 at 15:40

      Thanks Ina, you are very kind. I wish you the best of luck on your September trip. Don’t forget to take the number 14 bus to Girone for the truffle food festival that will take place the entire month of September (if you like truffles). Hopefully we’ll run into one another, you’ll probably recognize our beagle Ginger first!

  8. Reply
    Jim Bono
    10.08.2016 at 15:42

    I have been lucky enough to visit Italy 3 times. I have always managed my own itinerary and traveled with family. Of course there are crowds – (e.g. Vatican Museums) but much of the difference between a good experience and a frustrating one is not the presence of crowds, but the the interior attitudes with which we chose to travel. The best piece of advice I got on my first visit to Rome (from a local) was “Do not try to do Rome. Let Rome do you.” I did not completely understand this at the time, but if you can detach a bit and accept each situation as a gift, then our responses to crowds and queues do not have to come with the grating impatience that can typify the experience. If you can do that – then the timing of June vs. February doesn’t matter.

  9. Reply
    Jim McLaughlin
    10.08.2016 at 15:49

    Ciao, Georgette,
    Thank you for the great observations about visiting Florence. We were there for five days in June as first-time visitors…dare I say ‘tourists’? It was certainly crowded with throngs of people(tourists) just like us. Yes, I was one of them, but wherever I travel, I always try to be as non-touristy as possible. I spent my junior year of college living with a family in Madrid and saw firsthand how many locals have to suffer the demands and often, the insults of tourists. Prior to our recent trip to Geneva and Florence, I spent months learning as much French and Italian as I could. As you well know, even knowing the most basic elements of someone else’s language can lead to the most wonderful and unexpected experiences in a foreign country. Our Trenitalia trip from Geneva to Florence was outstanding. In Florence, we stayed in a 14th Century Palazzo within a stone’s throw of the Duomo. A direct descendant of the family that built the Palazzo checked us in. To the Marquesa, we weren’t tourists, we were family. My wife was traveling on a grant to research a literary mystery novel she’s writing so we had to visit some less well-known sites. Every morning, we watched as thousands of tourists lined up around the Duomo, the Uffizi and countless other world class venues as we explored the less crowded side streets. To take a break from the research, I hooked up with a wonderful company called Florencetown.com(see my reviews on TripAdvisor). We took a day trip to the Tuscan countryside where we toured the area on Vespas then sat down to an incredible family-style lunch. The next day, I returned for a cooking class after first visiting a small farmers’ market. This was a small neighborhood local market….not the Mercato Centrale. There were four young American ladies in our cooking class group. At one point I looked around and said to them ‘…I think we’re the only Americans here!’ I am still corresponding with the Florencetown staff who are now friends. One of the chefs hopes to visit us here in the states this year. My point is exactly the one you made: tourists complaining about all the other tourists need to listen to the words coming out of their own mouths. Florence is a gift to the world, not a select few. I am happy to spend my tourist dollars to help keep tiny mom and pop shops and other businesses open for all to enjoy. I also hope to return next year!

  10. Reply
    Sarah
    10.08.2016 at 16:38

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Georgette! I lived in Florence for 16 months in 2006 and 2007, and some of that time was spent with other study abroad students. It always confused me a little to hear my fellow american students complain about tourists, although I eventually realized that’s what made some people feel like a local (as opposed to learning the language, making new friends, and getting lost in the back streets). Your post is such a wonderful reminder that the best way to be a curious and respectful traveler is to remember with humility (not self-consciousness) that you are a “tourist,” and it’s because we’re lucky enough to visit somewhere we don’t live. Thank you for sharing!! I love love your blog! Hope to run into you next time we’re there (possibly April?)
    Sarah

  11. Reply
    Novella
    10.08.2016 at 17:50

    Florence (and many other cities in Italy) are treasures of humanity. I have been all around Italy countless times, I am italian myself and I love travelling in my country. Tourists are everywhere, and I bet the guy who wrote the article would be pissed too if he was working in the city center, having to stand a 10 hours’ shift with tourists (like him and as you said like us all when we travel) breaking balls (I worked in Camden market for four years so I totally get it :D). Global tourism has its ups and downs, but you CAN’T dismiss a city like Florence (or any other place for that matter) after 24 hours, cause you did not see any of it.

  12. Reply
    Crystal
    10.08.2016 at 22:24

    I adore this post! I traveled to Italy for the first time two years ago (after having a life-long fantasy of visiting) and it surpassed my expectations. But I also had to work to get over my own expectations. I had to realize and accept there was a reason the touristy places were so busy and that, as a tourist, it was okay to love those spots too!

    That brief trip has inspired me to return for longer and immerse myself more and find some smaller pockets. Yet I know that I will always be non-local and that the hardest person to convince of the okay-ness of that is, is me. I love reading your blog and your posts in part b/c you seem to be flourishing in that balance of knowing your roots and embracing your current setting. Thank you for that.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      11.08.2016 at 11:09

      Ciao Crystal! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Honestly I get you on the “getting over my own expectations” point, I definitely have done the same thing in cities like Paris. You will end up returning several times and discovering a new neighborhood you had yet to see before. Thats the way I like to do things, never judge a book by its cover but instead give a place a few chances. Thank you for following the blog, again all of fall’s support means the world to me and is motivation to keep writing among my ever-increasing work schedule.

  13. Reply
    Gillian Macdougall
    11.08.2016 at 0:10

    My last two overseas holidays have been to Rome (2 weeks) and Venice (almost 3 weeks) and it was wonderful to just be able to have my own itinerary and wander without having to be somewhere to get on a coach to go somewhere else! Next May I am going to Florence with a friend for 3 weeks and we are planning on doing the same thing. I would never take another coach tour again I don’t think.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      11.08.2016 at 11:07

      I could see a coach tour being appealing if you are a certain age and maybe getting around could physically be harder for you. Heck my ex-boyfriend’s family adored coach tours and they were as Florentine as Florentines get. However if you don’t mind doing it alone, it’s so, so much better. You don’t want to have to limit yourself for an hour or two in a city that deserves multiple days. Travel shouldn’t be stressful it should be fun and on your own terms. I wish you luck on your next trip to Florence!

  14. Reply
    Sandra
    11.08.2016 at 0:50

    Great post, Georgette. I live in Dublin, which is really popular with tourists (although nothing like the scale of Florence) and I love them! I’ll always ask people puzzling over a map if I can help them, and tell them the best pub en route to their destination. I want them to go away feeling warm and fuzzy about Ireland! We’re all tourists the minute we go on holidays – even if I also do my best to hide the fact from the locals too. I’ve visited Florence for every duration from 1 day to 3 months, and I adore it. How can such a beautiful city not be on everyone’s must-see list?! If 24 hours in mid-July are what you’ve got, do it! If you’ve more time, take it! You’ll never be done with Florence. The only thing that drives me crazy is people looking at everything through their phone screens. I want to say “It’s beautiful – just look at it”. Yes, tourism brings crowds, congestion and horrendous souvenirs, but how lucky we are to get to be tourists at all! Florence is always in my heart, and your brilliant blog and Instagram keep her on my mind. Thank you!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      11.08.2016 at 11:06

      Sandra, you must be such a wonderful person to go out of your way like that to help what I am sure are many many people who come to visit Dublin. I still want to go btw! While visiting on a longer stay is so much more special, I get that not everyone has that opportunity and thus let us locals deal with it without being too crazed about it all. I agree with you about the phone screens, I had to move a lady out of the way of a bus recently because she was literally starting at google maps like a zombie and not looking at the road. I always think that if anything tourists have been improving in their own way, so many people email me or seek to visit another side of Florence and we have to remember, in some countries the very idea of “tourism” is a recent reality for them. That’s why they tend to come in groups.

  15. Reply
    Maribeth
    11.08.2016 at 18:31

    I live between southern France and Maui–have also lived in Santa Fe, NM. You learn when the tourists are coming and plan around it. I had to ‘do’ Florence in a day, but loved it so much, I’m coming back for a week in September…hopefully longer next time! Just enjoy what beauty you are able to behold for the length of time you have…it’s all good!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      12.08.2016 at 11:05

      I can only imagine what Hawaii is like in high season, heck Nico and I were in Thailand for our honeymoon and it was definitely a popular time to come yet somehow, we had fun anyway ;-). September is a great month to be in Florence, you have the buzz of the city after a long August break in full force.

  16. Reply
    pat
    11.08.2016 at 19:53

    I don’t feel lucky to live in Florence, Too many problems. But the point is not the tourism but tuscan people. they are rude and unpolite. the best part of florence are tourists. they are colored like a song of cindy lauper, smiley, polite and they do not annoy me like florentines do. sorry for my english: I’m italian. be patient with me 🙂

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      12.08.2016 at 11:01

      Interesting perspective. A lot of people say Tuscan people are rude but I haven’t experience more rudeness in my 10 years here than I have anywhere else (Los Angeles, Texas, NYC, China).

  17. Reply
    Marco
    12.08.2016 at 9:17

    Ciao Georgette, thank you for this awe inspiring post!
    I’m a local, and I do what locals do: get out of the city center. But I do get sometimes stuck on my motorbike, waiting for the endless line of cruise ship tourists (or should I dare to say cruise sheeps) to cross the street. The first reaction is impatience. But then, like Patricia pointed out in her comment below, I remind myself how lucky I am to be living in this city. And that I should be thankful for the many work opportunities that this constant flow of tourism brings, even if you don’t directly work with tourism.

    As soon as I read the title of this post I thought, “I have the answer!”, but on a second though I would be endorsing something of mine, and that’s a no no. But then I read through the post and you completely nailed it: get out of bed early and enjoy the first few hours of the new day.
    Climb up to the Piazzale Michelangelo on a nice day and get some real selfies (no stick needed). Stroll around the empty narrow streets of the city center, where only a few bars are open, getting ready for the crowds-to-come. Just watch out for the delivery vans, they’re a bit wack.
    Then go back to the hotel and enjoy your breakfast when most of your peers have finished theirs.

    Btw I’m acquainted to Alberto from MySugar, we are on a similar path in the gelato field…I’ve been hearing about you and this blog from many people. I somehow have a feeling we will meet soon, but up until then, congratulations on the great blog! Ciao 🙂

    1. Reply
      pat
      12.08.2016 at 21:45

      Tonight the lungarno was crowded. But no noises, no rubbish, no traffic. Only peace when florentines go to maremma 🙂 So ok lo dico in italiano. Se si va in alcune città turistiche in italia meglio giocare d’astuzia e venire quando gli abitanti sono via in vacanza. Invece, in città d’affari ma con molti punti d’attrazione come l’arte contemporanea, design, moda etc meglio andare quando le città sono vitali e si sta meglio. Al sud potete andare tutto l’anno. troverete molti locals con un gran senso di ospitalità che vi faranno sentire i benvenuti.

  18. Reply
    Jenny
    12.08.2016 at 12:29

    I love your blog and this is an excellent piece.
    I have visited Florence many times and I am as guilty as the next person of complaining about tourists whilst being one! There are ways round that though, like you’ve said – visit less well know places, be out and about at less busy times i.e. early morning or late at night etc. And, personally, I think sometimes relaxing into the tourist feel rather than fighting it can be just as fun – we often eat at one of the restaurants in Piazza della Signoria even though there is better food to be had elsewhere (at better prices), and certainly it isn’t an authentic local experience, but the setting is amazing, there’s no need to resort to our extremely poor Italian because English is spoken and you don’t feel like you stand out because most of the other patrons are tourists too!
    However, in an attempt to be less typical fair-weather tourists me and my boyfriend are spending the first week in December this year a stones throw from the Pitti Palace and I’m so excited to see my favourite city in a totally different light 🙂

    1. Reply
      pat
      12.08.2016 at 21:46

      oops ho sbagliato. era in risposta a Georgette. Scusa.

  19. Reply
    Linda
    12.08.2016 at 12:31

    Great post Georgette! I think about this a lot too and the state of tourism in Italy as we have definitely seen a change in it over the years and also seen changes in our own industry that are not so wonderful. You can certainly substitute “Rome” or “Venice” for Florence in this article! I agree with a lot of what you said, and I don’t think people should be shamed for wanting to visit a lot of the iconic places in a city, but what gets me is when people think that’s all there is to a city and base their judgement on a city after spending very little time in it or if something bad happens to them there. I also think people need to be better educated about how to behave as tourists. There is a lot of irresponsibility and entitlement out there by tourists behaving badly which seems to happen more and more often every high season. Yes, Prince Ottaviano’s wish is folly – there’s no way to filter out certain types of tourists. I would love to do that at The Beehive, when we have guests who behave badly and/or who treat our staff like serfs, but you don’t really know what a person will be like until it’s too late.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      12.08.2016 at 13:30

      Hello bella, I thought of you guys too when I wrote this. You see it even more than myself on the daily and probably have a completely unique perspective being a hotel business owner in one of the most popular cities in the world. I get really frustrated when I hear the “I was in Florence for a few hours and man too touristy.” It’s like really, do you not look at yourself in the mirror and get that YOU add to the visitors? Why scorn that? I totally agree that many people need a lesson in their behavior. I feel like some completely lose their common sense when they come abroad and forget that the hotel/workers are humans too and aren’t available to their every query. Price Ottaviano has a long road ahead of him but I would love to see them actually strive to promote other parts of the city in Florence, they just need to do it!

  20. Reply
    Monica
    14.08.2016 at 19:26

    I think tourism in Italy is definitely a different beast! I too get grumpy at tourists in my adopted hometown (Berlin), clogging the bike lane with their awful segways. *Fist shake* But Italy’s sheer ratio of tourists to locals is pretty out of control, just like it is in Paris or Barcelona. It’s difficult because, as you said, every time you step out of your town, you’re a tourist too. I think all we can do is try not to be obnoxious, consider other people, and always remember that we are guests! I promise I will do all those things when I’m in Florence next month 😀

  21. Reply
    Maribeth
    15.08.2016 at 12:43

    Wise words, Monica. Your energy will ripple out! I plan to do the same when I’m there end of next month.

  22. Reply
    Natalie
    16.08.2016 at 7:24

    Love this. Especially the recognition that “I exist as a tourist too.”

    I had NO IDEA the share of population vs. visitors to Florence. That is incredible. But wise words about what it means to be a tourist/traveler/visitor.

    Also, you and the hubby are so cute! Great photos 🙂

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      16.08.2016 at 12:11

      Hello Natalie, it’s pretty crazy how many people love this city. And I don’t blame them! After all I chose to make this my home. However we really have to just deal with the fact that unless they do something significant to help educate the masses on other places in Italy to visit, this is our reality. Thank you for the kind words and I look forward to hanging out soon in Rome girl!

  23. Reply
    Marisol Perez
    17.08.2016 at 19:59

    Loved your article! I dream of the day I can return to Firenze! My husband and I visited last year in May and the crowds were not bad. Love your photos! 🙂

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      22.08.2016 at 8:05

      Thanks Marisol! The crowds can be insane depending on the season but to be honest, Florence is never really “empty”, people just tend to come more between March and September

  24. Reply
    Ronda
    19.08.2016 at 1:25

    I like your perspective, My first trip to Italy was in February years ago. I loved the uncrowded streets, the time to linger over dinner and everything about it. I’ve been lucky enough to return several times. It hasn’t always been as open, as easy to access but its beauty never fades for me. There always seems to be a way to find just that little tucked away corner where you can feel you are experiencing Florence at its best.

    I really enjoy reading your blog. I’ve dreamed of moving to Italy since that first visit. My Italian is getting better so perhaps one day. Ciao!

  25. Reply
    Linda
    23.08.2016 at 21:22

    I will be visiting Florence next month and am so excited after reading your blog. I stumbled upon it by a very happy accident. But to tell you the truth, I feel overwhelmed because I would love to go to every restaurant, bar and museum you mention. I was a cruise ship tourist 3 years ago and did the city on our own, but at least from reading your blog I have more of a direction. I have to return to Ufizzi because i didn’t get enough of the beauty of the art there. But i will limit myself to one or two more because it is the city I can’t wait to get my teeth into. I am a New Yorker who works on Wall St. and there are more tourists downtown than you can imagine. Lunchtime is the busiest and you have to work your way through crowds just to get a bite and get back quickly. I remind myself how respected I have been in Italy and that is what gives me the patience to pass gracefully through a crowd of camera carrying tourists. If you had one restaurant to have dinner in , what would it be? Sorry to put you on the spot!!

  26. Reply
    anne
    23.08.2016 at 23:11

    Hi Georgette: Can you please, please tell me, as I have searched high and low to no avail, where can I buy hair appliances when I am in Firenze? I walked up and down every street in the Oltrarno last time I was there and only found a very expensive flat iron in a couple of salons that sold Aveda and one that sold Kerastase. I asked a shop owner and even she wasn’t sure. I really don’t want dual voltage, I want something for Italy since I am coming there so often now. Thank you so much! I love your blog, it is what prompted me to get off my arse and get over there the first time! I visited March and am returning for art class/workshop for two weeks in November. All thanks to you! As for the crowds, what can one do, when there is so much to see and so much history and art to love! I truly wish more people appreciated these kind of things (particularly the numbskulls in my office! LOL!)

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      24.08.2016 at 12:50

      Hello Anne, I feel your pain. My advice is to skip the pricy salons and instead take a bus outside of the city (max 15-20 minute ride) to a Euroonics store to pick up hair accessories. This is where I buy my flat irons etc. Here are the hours and address of where I go http://cds.euronics.it/negozio/firenze-v-le-giannotti-centro-comm-coop-gavinana/2245

      1. Reply
        Anne
        24.08.2016 at 20:51

        Oh thanks so much! I am going to rent a Vespa while there so I can get out of the historic center so this is great! Surprising how little information there is about the surrounding areas of Firenze. I think being a good tourist means finding these areas as well as the must see stuff everyone is there to see. It is nice to see actual Italians once in a while when in Italy, and I think that’s the best way to do it.

        1. Reply
          GirlInFlorence
          27.08.2016 at 11:26

          That’s a good idea. There IS a lot to experience outside of Florence and some really great restaurants. Check out 588 restaurant at Borgo i Vicelli or Fattoria LaVacchio in Pontessieve. If you want a truly cool experience head up to Garfagnana and Lunigiana, areas of Tuscany that remain lush and green and much more rustic. I love it there 🙂

  27. Reply
    Ceil Wilson
    26.08.2016 at 18:22

    Hi Georgette, I have visited Florence 4 times already, and have just begun to scratch the surface. Now I am here for 11 months, working in our organization’s Florence office with my husband. So I have months to explore this place!

    We found an apartment in the center, but in the D’Azeglio area. It feels more like a real neighborhood here, where Italians live. That’s part of the reason I chose this. It seemed to be off the main “tourist track.” We have been here a month, and right now lots of the shops are closed for “agosto”. I am looking forward to when things pick up a bit!

    At the same time, I do enjoy helping the tourists who are standing bewildered on street-corners, holding their maps and trying to figure out where they are. I have been in the same boat so many times!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      27.08.2016 at 11:23

      Hello Ceil, you could be here a lifetime and still not discover it all. Just as a local Florentine ;-). I like the D-Azeglio area, everything is closed pretty much until next week but things are much more open in Florence than let’s say Milan. I’ve been enjoying this August quite a bit actually.

      I feel ya on helping tourists. Nico and I constantly get asked for help, maybe him more than me and we always try. In Croatia, where I was recently, people were so nice in helping my friend and I navigate certain areas. I really appreciated it and vowed to remember that the next time I get annoyed walking across ponte santa trinita.

  28. Reply
    Linda Chartier Scala
    27.08.2016 at 9:19

    Very honest post. I don’t think many people like to admit the obvious that they are indeed tourists or not “local” ( sorry, I have been gone from the USA full time since 2003 and still am and always will be the “Americana” . I gaff when someone has been in Italy 2 years and thinks they are practically born here) . This season our area of Italy ( Siracusa/Ragusa provinces )has experienced a tourism boom that has surpassed Venezia (Ortigia has) and left me at times running for the hills. Like you , I have to remind myself that beyond a few kilometer radius – I am the visiting stranger. It is not so much the tourists as the bad tourism that unsettles me . I have witnessed a surge of Internet and media based “insider, local” tours offered by people arriving yesterday and without even the slightest grasp of the language or culture. On the other end of that is the large cruise ships coming in now. You cannot fault the passengers and we sometimes feel sorry for them dumped out into 40c heat in a city where they have only 2 hours to try to see everything. We earn our living they tourism so I am certainly all for it but the quality needs to be there.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      27.08.2016 at 11:20

      Thank you for your comment Linda. I have always wanted to visit your area of Sicily but I might just have to come in off season, not that it doesn’t mean there won’t be people. You are so right in the book of tours offered by people who don’t actually live in Italy or have a current understanding of the said area they are meant to be an insider of. I actually just had a discussion about this the other day. I saw the cruise ship phenomenon recently in Croatia’s charming town of Dubrovnik, they off-loaded thousands of people to the point that there was a crushing line to get through Pile gate. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I feel bad for the passengers too, I know they have been “sold” on these destinations yet it seems like they end up finding some cheap cafe to get out of the sun for awhile. Hardly a slow travel experience..

  29. Reply
    Tiffany
    27.08.2016 at 15:16

    As a former New York City girl, I can relate. But as much as I cursed the tourist, I know how much they benefit a city like Florence. I loved Florence so much in the short time I was able to spend there. As to the tourist who come and see it in a day, they are better than the people who never leave home and have closed minds. So as much as I hate the cruise ship and tour bus visitors, I see the benefits of them too!

  30. Reply
    Helena
    01.09.2016 at 22:17

    Georgette,

    We (my youngest daughter and I) are doing our last day in Florence tomorrow, and I wish I had found your blog a lot earlier. Before we left. We rented an apartment near the Mercato S. Ambrogio in Via Dei Pepi. We have been walking everywhere, 5 to 6 hours per day and have grown to love the city. I think it is to be enjoyed at a pace of its own, like the food and wine and the time here has not been enough.

    One day, I hope to return for a few months, bring my Dachshunds and just pretend that I am one of the locals.

  31. Reply
    Erica
    02.09.2016 at 0:47

    Logically I should have found your blog about six years ago, but somehow I just stumbled upon it today while looking for– you guessed it– tips for visiting Florence. I really loved this post because I travel a lot, I interact with travelers a lot, and I’ve always thought it was funny how we all judge each other over these kinds of lifestyle choices. There are the travel hipsters who snub Paris because it’s too obvious and go to Bulgaria for a month instead, the cruise ship passengers who only see capital cities and never spend more than 4 hours in a single one, and everyone in between. But at the end of the day we’re all tourists in the eyes of the local population.

    I think you make a good point about overcrowding. I didn’t even realize Florence was so small compared to its level of international fame. In Rome and Naples and Milan I feel like the influx of tourists is easily absorbed, but your stats on the visitor vs local population kinda blew my mind. Now I’m just impressed the city continues to function. I blame Under The Tuscan Sun and Eat Pray Love. 🙂

  32. Reply
    alys blakeway
    05.09.2016 at 23:39

    I read your thoughtful post with great interest. I remember how snooty I used to be as a student. In the Uffizi I heard a couple saying “Which are the famous pictures?” and I scorned them. I conveniently forgot that as a student I had free entry and a whole month to look at the pictures in. The couple I overheard probably only had one day to view the pictures in because they had to get back to their native country to work (something one’s parents did!). But I do hate that “herd of cattle” feeling, which I experienced in Sorrento. In Oxford my friend who lives there told me they have traffic police not for cars but for tourists on foot. I just wish Florence could send some of its surplus tourists to us in Le Marche; you have our pictures (brought to Florence by the last of the della Rovere) and Rome has our library (the Pope helped himself to it), so we’ll have your tourists. Fair dos!

  33. Reply
    Abigail
    06.09.2016 at 9:50

    This post really resonated with me, I too am an American expat here in Italy and there is something I hate about being a tourist, yet as a tall blonde I have had to come to terms with easily being identified as a tourist whenever I travel around Italy, it is a challenge and you write about it so eloquently!

    After three years in Italy I have finally started my own blog, please check it out!! Hoping to be back in Florence with the husband in the next month, after traveling lots it remains one of my all time favorite cities.

    theitalianizedblonde.com

    Thanks <3

  34. Reply
    Amy O
    07.10.2016 at 20:44

    Our blended family is traveling to Rome and Florence in April for our first international journey together. I don’t make the kind of money to make this a tradition, but my ‘bucket list’ goal in taking our children is similar to what you describe. In our 10 planned nights between the two cities, we could try to soak of every top 10 list for days on end. But, we want our children to learn to be citizens of the world and not tourists of it. I want them to learn to get lost (carefully) down a beautiful alley way in a foreign country and be okay with it. So yes … we will be the ones standing in line to see David. But, I hope to also be the family who is jostling a soccer ball in the open greenway nearest our flat.

  35. Great points, Georgette, and having just spent some quality time there I truly appreciate your words. My boyfriend who had been to Florence before and fallen in love with it, suggested that we stay for a full week. What a leisurely, wonderful, beautiful week it was and gave us such wonderful memories that we will cherish forever. I wish everyone could take the time to soak up Florence at a leisurely pace. Do you mind if I quote you (and link to here) in my article about the visit? – Suzette

  36. Reply
    Maureen Sellick
    26.03.2017 at 15:12

    My husband and I are in love with Florence, having been 4 times, never less than 10 days, staying in the same apartment. On one holiday we stayed for a month in November/December. Wonderful, less people and we were able to experience Advent and Christmas preparations, do day trips and see parts of Florence off the tourist beaten track. On our last trip we planned to go, again, to Piazzele Michaelangelo and Chiesa San Miniato al Monte, from our apartment in via Ricasoli. It was a Saturday and we wanted to avoid the crowds going the usual way. We followed a route through “back streets” and came across piazzas we weren’t aware of and wonderful street life including a wedding party walking down the street. Then coming back,walking down the beautiful via Michaelangelo and then to Santa Croce. And it is worth going to the San Ambrogia markets, much better and less touristy than Mercato Centrale, although I do like coffee upstairs there. I love crossing Ponte Santa Trinita and exploring the Oltrano too. I could go on forever! We will be back, maybe March next year!

  37. Reply
    Cindy
    26.03.2017 at 15:27

    Not sure if this is a repeat post-but one that always rings true.
    One thing to consider, Italians really value sightseeing and world travel themselves. When we went to lake Como in June it was an amazing surprise that we were traveling with an Italian couple who lived an hour away from it their whole lives but who had never been there:). We all enjoyed ourselves, stayed in an off the beaten path hotel that offered awesome views and great accommodations for a bargain price. My husband doesn’t do walking, heat, lines, or crowds-so I get very creative in timing our travel endeavors to make the most of our vacation destination. I don’t know what I am in Italy now-we have enough friends that we have very limited time to do anything other than visit with everybody. In our last trip we were lucky just to have an afternoon free because there were always fun social plans made for the evenings…

  38. Reply
    Ann Marie
    27.03.2017 at 13:53

    Hi Georgette, i never understand how anyone can spend just a few hours in Florence. My husband and I try to spend a few weeks there at a time, renting the same apartment on Borgo Pinti. For me, it took a while to understand Florence if that makes sense. There are the major highlights of course, and I can’t ever walk past the Duomo without a sense of wonder and reverence, but there are tons and tons of ever changing negozi and restaurants, and artisans, and spots for caffè and vino. The city is indeed chock full of major sites and artwork, but to me, I have found that the spaces surrounding all of them, both big and small, really support ancient Florence in all her glory.

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