If you are a little overwhelmed by the city, the churches and museums, the crowds and the heat, don’t worry! In Florence you are never too far from some green, open space to get some air and relax.
The cascine park is a huge public space that starts from the edge of the historic centre and follows along the right bank of the Arno for three kilometres. This is certainly the place to head to if you have brought your jogging shoes or if you have children with energy to burn! There are woodland and riverside walks, wide open spaces for ball games and sun bathing, there is a public swimming pool and two horse racing courses, (one for horses with a rider and one for horses pulling two wheeled chariots).
On Tuesday mornings there is a market selling everything from food and household items to clothing and pet animals.
Rose and Iris Gardens
The rose garden was re-laid recently to include a collection of bronze sculptures gifted to the city of Florence by the artist’s widow. Sitting just under the panoramic viewpoint of Piazzale Michelangelo, the rose garden is already on the route that most visitors take to get that well known view over the city. If you are walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo by the steps from the area of San Niccolo, just look for the entrance on your left and you can enjoy the peaceful space and amazing view of the rose garden avoiding the crowds of the Piazza above. The garden is open from dawn till dusk every day and is free to enter.
The iris garden flanks the same hill but on the other side of the Piazzale Michelangelo from the rose garden. Although it is only a short walk from the centre of Florence, this garden makes you feel that you have really gone into the countryside and left the city behind. An international competition for iris growers has been hosted here every year since the 1950’s to encourage new varieties of this flower that has been the symbol of Florence for eight hundred years.
The garden is only open in May when the Irises are in bloom.
Giardino dei Semplici
The Giardino dei Semplici is just north of the Piazza San Marco and is another peaceful escape from the bustle of the city. This botanical garden was begun by Cosimo I in the 1500’s as place to study medicinal plants. By the 1700’s the garden had international importance as a place of study and botanical research and is now a department of the University of Florence. Open to the public every day except Wednesdays and national holidays, it offers the summer visitor plenty of shade beneath the specimen trees collected from all over the world.
The Boboli and Bardini Gardens
The Boboli Garden stretches up the hill behind the Pitti Palace and is a great place for open air with a bit of history and culture too. The garden was first laid out in the late 1500’s to be a magnificent showpiece for the wealthy Medici behind their smart new home, the Palazzo Pitti. Walking straight up to the highest point will give you amazing views back to the palace and the city and on a hot day there might be a rewarding breeze for your effort! At the top you will come to a terrace with a rose and peony garden and a tremendous view to the Tuscan hills. There is also a little summer house called the Casino del Cavaliere which is home to a collection of the Medici’s porcellain. The garden is filled with statues, long formal walks and fountains. If you have time to walk to the far end you will find the Piazzale dell’Isolotto, a beautiful space with a statue on an island in the middle of a water garden, surrounded by tall hedges and evergreen oaks.
The Bardini garden is almost next door to the Boboli garden and is included in the same entry ticket. When you are up at the top of the Boboli garden follow along the walls of the imposing Forte di Belvedere above you and you will find an exit leading you to the entrance of the Bardini garden. The Baroque staircase is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the garden, offering a stunning panoramic view across Florence. Other wonderful sights in the gardens are the beautiful fountains, dating to the 19th century, found in the so-called English garden together with statues and decorative plants such as roses, irises and hydrangeas.