Europe18: Florence

June 16, 2018 | 9 Comments

Last week, after my two days in Verona, I headed south to Florence. I have not been to Florence since 2007 which was part of my first ever overseas sketching trip. So it was fun to revisit the city and not feel pressured to tick everything off a must-do list, because I did most of it in my previous two trips (my first visit was around 2012 before I was a sketcher).

I have been saying for years that I’m not a huge fan of Florence (what?? I hear you say). The main reason for this radical statement is the excessive number of tourists making it into a Renaissance theme-park with very few Italians.

Yes, there are a lot of amazing Renaissance masterpieces but I prefer cities with a broader historical range. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the dome of the Duomo and it does make Florence special, but as a town as a whole it’s not my favourite – I prefer Rome and Venice as they are more historically rich and then a lot of smaller towns such as Vicenza. It’s hard to express fully what I think about Florence without being totally misunderstood. Yes. I do like Florence, but I think it is a bit overrated. (I’m happy to be shot-down in the comments – ha!)

Anyway, let’s get going with the photos and sketches…

The typical Florence colours as viewed from my apartment. I intended to sketch this but ran out of time due to a lot of socialising!

Amazingly my schedule aligned with that of James (Jim) and Patti Richards who are also travelling through Italy at the moment. So on arrival in the city, I headed straight to the Ponte Vecchio to meet up with them. We found a restaurant with a view of the bridge and started to sketch. I was talking too much to really concentrate on my sketch, so this is as far as I got.

Patti had discovered a hotel rooftop with a great view, so we headed there next. This time I sketched in paint-only (direct watercolour) as part of the 30×30 challenge. I was finished very quickly this time as it was the perfect subject matter for this approach ie. able to be done in almost one pass.

As I mentioned earlier I love this dome (and am a bit of a Brunelleschi fan-girl) – check out this early sketch of mine which explains why I love this dome so much.

It was so much fun hanging out with Jim and Patti – and surprisingly I think it was the first time Jim and I have sketched together! Thanks for a fun afternoon!

The next morning I wanted to do another dome sketch but the classic view of the Duomo and Baptistry was in shadow. Tip for next visit: most of the landmark buildings of Florence are better sketched in the afternoon.

I found this stone bench to sit on with a view of the rear of the dome – another direct watercolour sketch. The perfect way to start a sketching day in Florence.

I then met up with Katinka from Lucca – she invited me to teach a workshop in Lucca in 2016. BTW she has the most gorgeous Airbnb in the hills above Lucca – highly recommended.And oh! to follow on from my discussion about Florence… I think Lucca is a nicer city/town.

I got to the cafe early and so sketch the Loggia and Palazzo Vecchio – in ink only as it was all in the shade. We also both sketched our coffee and cornetto. It was so lovely to catch up with Katinka – thanks for making the journey into Florence to see me!

After lunch with Katinka I had 15 minutes rest before rushing out to another meetup – this time Karen Abend. Karen is the creator of the free Sketchbook Revival online event and it was lovely to meet in person.

We met at a hipster cafe – wow, there are locals in Florence! – and then we head to Santa Croce. The whole time we talked non-stop about Sketchbook Revival, creative process and online business.

I managed to do a few quick sketches of the Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi (at Santa Croce) including this external view, starting 20 minutes before closing time.

We then crossed the Arno and headed for San Spirito (another Brunelleschi masterpiece – inside!) but sadly it was closed. Instead I sketched the exterior from a cafe table.

It was such a great afternoon and so wonderful to chat with Karen like this.

Another important Renassiance architect is Alberti, so I went on a minor detour to sketch his Palazzo Rucellai. I was a bit too tired to do it justice and in hindsight it would have been better just to draw on bay accurately.

What a huge day and I ended up walking 22K steps!

This is a little out of order, but I just want to share two spreads – one from Volume 2 and one from Volume 3. (Just for the record I am on track with my sketchbook allowance!)

On Friday, Mike Botton (Palladian Odyssey tour director) picked me up and as we drove out of Florence, we stopped at Piazzale Michelango for the classic panaromic view of the city.

Then we walked up to San Miniato al Monte – which also had a great view – and did a quick sketch in the hot sun.

And so ends my short trip to Florence! It was lots of fun and I gained a new appreciation for the place – the tourists were far worse than in 2007, but my interest in early Renassiance architecture has been increased.



  • Emily D. says:

    I would love to visit the Uffuzi if I was in Florence-and I’m a Michelangelo fan, so that would make the city special for me! (Not that he lacks a presence in Rome, of course….)

    • Liz Steel says:

      yes some Michelangelo in Rome too. I also haven’t visited the Uffuzi either but will have to wait for a rainy winters visit for that.

  • Kate Burroughs says:

    I loved the time we spent in Florence. We did all the tourist things and tried to hit some of the high points like you did. I was so happy to find some of the scarves, for sale everywhere, that were actually made in Florence (as opposed to most of the vendors who sell ones made in China). I will definitely go back to see it further someday.

  • Sheila Pallotta says:

    Ah, well… My experience in Florence has been in rented apartments and NOT in summer. Thus, I am one if those people with a soft spot for the town. However, one day in Lucca was pretty magical…

  • Stephanie Reitmjaer says:

    Hi Liz, my husband and I just returned from a trip to Italy and the Czech Republic. We visited Florence for the first time. My impression is the same as yours. Since I visited the Uffizi, and sketched the Duomo ( my tick list) I can decide if I want to return on our next trip. We did have opportunity to visit Siena, which we loved. We wanted to see Lucca but it needed to wait for another visit. Thank you for your postings and bringing me along on your travels.

  • Sherry says:

    If Florence is full of tourists, then Venice must be completely and utterly drowned by tourists! We went to Florence, Pizza and Venice 3 years ago and I can honestly say I hated Venice because of the sheer number of people there and the vast number of locals trying to screw us over — I will never go back there. Florence, was much more civilised by comparison (our trip was in late April), and Pizza was just lovely, much more relaxed. Take my comments with a pinch of salt as I’m originally from Africa, and love nothing more than a stay in the bush with only animals for company!

  • I think Florence is like any big city (Venice included) that has mega-tourists. But it is always possible to find quieter parts of the city, or quiet parts of the day to enjoy visiting. I can remember going out in Venice one morning at sunrise to take photos and aside from a few people setting up for the day near San Marco Square I had the place to myself. When I was in Florence I remember the hoards of people on the Ponte Vecchio, but I strolled along the water a bit and had peace and quiet…and a wonderful view of the bridge. Looks like you enjoyed Florence more than you expected.

  • I agree with your travel tastes Liz. I much prefer not to spend much time in the tourist mecca’s and try to visit countries that haven’t become too westernised (Cuba in November this year – CAN’T WAIT!!!) Unfortunately the more that people like us travel to those less popular places, the more popular they become. It’s a Catch 22.

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