About Judy E
Lives in Rome, Italy
Since Jul. 2014
For the past decade Italy has been a constant in my assignments as travel writer and photographer. Rome, Florence, and Venice are the cities where I spend the most time, but much of my time has been spent in small towns and the countryside, too, especially in Southern Italy. It's always a privilege to criss-cross the boot, often in a convertible or by train. The art, culture, food, nature, and wine are all incredible. Italy is so rich in these that the problem is never to find something of interest, it's in all those wonders that for lack of space never make it to the printed page or web page. Born in the U.S. and with treasured years of working in the museum world in Washington, DC, I always bring those perspectives with me, too, including to TripAdvisor. I was delighted that TripAdvisor commissioned me to write some Travel Guides for Rome, Venice, and Sicily. Happy reading and happy travels!
Art Museums, History Museums
Churches & Cathedrals, Historic Sites, Sacred & Religious Sites
Historic Sites, Gardens
Gift & Speciality Shops
History Museums, Science Museums
Points of Interest & Landmarks, Art Museums
Flea & Street Markets
Gardens, Points of Interest & Landmarks
While visitors wait in long lines outside the Accademia nearby, some of the world's most expert art restorers at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure are busy restoring paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects. Founded in 1588 by Ferdinando I de' Medici, this is a place where experts diagnose, analyze, and research all aspects of art conservation. The museum collection includes beautiful mosaics and inlaid stone, while temporary exhibitions display recently restored works of all types. Fine craftsmanship can be seen in the tables, cabinets, and plates that feature fruits, flower, animal, and landscapes designs, offering a contrast to the many religious works in Florence.
Florentine schoolchildren often seem to be the main visitors at the prestigious Archeological Museum. But adults should take notice, too — the impressive Egyptian collection in Florence is second only to that in Torino. The local Tuscan ancestors, the Etruscans, are beautifully represented here, as are the Romans. The Ancients inspired the Renaissance artists and still inspire us today.
The best way to experience the enormous architectural feat of Filippo Brunelleschi in designing the cupola for Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore (Duomo) is to climb it. Not all visitors have the time or stamina to explore the scale and space of the octagonal dome in such an intimate way, but you are rewarded with a 360-degree view of Florence, and can even go up into the lantern. Allow plenty of time to climb up and down, as well as enjoy the panorama once you are up there.
The best way to see this sight in a different way is to book a guided tour. The romantic English-style Torrigiani garden (Giardino Torrigiani) is set in 17 acres in the Oltrarno, near the Pitti Palace, and claims to be the largest privately owned garden within city limits in Europe. A sacred wood symbolizes Arcadia, while the plant and tree collection is sourced from around the world. Your tour will likely be conducted by a family member, making this exploration of history and botany a very personal experience.
The Mercato Centrale building in San Lorenzo dates back to 1874, so this central food market is not off the beaten path. What's new, however — and still hasn't been discovered by as many tourists — is the food court upstairs. I would imagine it won't remain off the beaten path for long as it's a novelty for Florentines, so I'm guessing it will soon be in all the guidebooks. In the meantime, enjoy the reasonable prices and casual atmosphere of this open floor-plan food emporium. Noisy, bustling, and fun for lunch, snacks, or a casual dinner.
Right on Piazza Signoria, step off the tourist trail to explore secret passages within Palazzo Vecchio. The tour includes a stairway built within the thick palace wall itself, dating back to the 14th century. You can see the elegant cabinet of curiosities that is the Studiolo of Francesco I de’ Medici and the Scrittoio of Cosimo I, treasures that, in those days, were off limits to everyone except the proprietors. Under the roof, walk around the huge trusses that support the paneled ceiling of the Salone del Cinquecento. Some of the tours available have actors playing historic figures.
Both the garden commissioned by Frederick Stibbert and the villa museum are off the beaten track in Florence. Giuseppe Poggi created a romantic English garden with temples, rock caves, a pond, and fountains. An Egyptian-style temple stands on the edge of a pond, while a classic temple has been adorned with a majolica tile dome. Citrus trees find their winter home in the conservatory. The museum has intriguing armor among its varied art collection.
Science and art were so intertwined during the Renaissance that Leonardo as well as Galileo would find it curious that the Galileo Museum, just around the corner from the Uffizi Gallery, is off the tourist trail. Some of Galileo's original telescopes are here, and you will find scientific instruments like sundials, meridians, telescopes, navigation tools, and globes on the ground floor. Upstairs, explore mechanics, atmosphere and light, precision instruments, and chemistry, among other realms.
Florentines were happy to keep Le Murate off the beaten path, as it once housed the prisons. After a 2011 transformation by architect Renzo Piano, Le Murate has become a literary venue with readings and book presentations, national and international. The complex also hosts theater performances, concerts, film screenings, and contemporary art exhibitions.
Few tourists make it out to the Sant'Ambrogio food market, away from the center, which has kept it more down to earth and with better prices than its San Lorenzo counterpart (and without the hawkers selling low-quality leather to dodge). The two markets opened only a year apart (1873 and 1874). Vendors set up fruit and vegetable stands both in and outdoors, as well as stands selling meat, cheese, fish, salamis, pasta, bread, and other essentials.
The gardens attached to the Bardini villa remain more off the track than Piazzale Michelangelo or the more dramatic and vast Boboli Gardens. Located in the same area, Bardini offers a great view of Florence's historic center and a quiet, green retreat. The garden design was inspired by Victorian-era enthusiasm: British woods and a variety of fruit trees are set off by a long Baroque staircase, and an abundant collection of statues and vases adorns the grounds.
The Florence Charterhouse on Monte Acuto offers a tranquil green retreat and a tour of the cloisters, led by a monk. Although the distillery on the premises never seems active, the Cistercian monks have a bar where you can warm up with a coffee or sample liqueurs made by various monasteries.