How to make your trip to Firenze a more mindful and sustainable one
Each place has its very own character, its very own personality. No matter what happens externally, that remains in place… right? Well, the answer isn’t quite that simple. Regardless of what the character of a place may be, our ability to experience it can greatly be affected by external factors. Time and time again, I have spoken about the effects of overtourism and how mindful travel is more important than ever before – but perhaps these sentiments can best be illustrated by an example.
I had the chance to visit Florence, also known as Firenze, this summer. As soon as we got there, I was taken aback by the sheer number of tourists milling around and queueing up everywhere. The vibe in Florence is always cool, but it also felt a bit claustrophobic. Needless to say, I wanted to get away asap.
Impact of overtourism in Florence
Florence holds within its boundaries the stuff of legends. Founded by the Romans in 59 BC, it boasts mind-blowing art, stunning architecture, crevices steeped in rich history and culture, absolutely delicious food and wine, ingenious crafts, cutting-edge fashion, and so much more. It is a city with its unique character for sure.
And yet, despite all this, not all visitors today have an exemplary experience there. Why? Well, there is simply too much burden on this beautiful city. Did you know that over four million tourists visit annually, despite the fact that it has only around 400,000 residents? That’s pretty crazy if you think about it. (Even crazier: the number of visitors is growing every year!)
Because of this, the physical sites suffer, the infrastructure suffers, and of course the environment suffers.
For instance, we all dream about the moment we will lay eyes of the famed David, but getting past the insane crowds and queues is quite an ordeal… by the time we actually reach the sculpture, we’re tired and exhausted. The magic is gone.
And more than us, it’s the locals – those who call this amazing place home – who suffer the most. They have to deal with the aftermath. They have to deal with the damaged public spheres, the increase in air and noise pollution, the filth, and the price hikes. If travelers were more conscious, a lot of this could potentially be avoided.
While the effects of overtourism are indeed overwhelming, not all is lost just yet. You can still feel the magic of Florence if you think outside the box. Following the tourist routes and ‘must-see’ lists isn’t always a good idea… sometimes, it’s necessary to get off the beaten path.
When taken aback by the crazy crowds of tourists, what did we do in Florence? We made our way to the Giardino Bardini, a spectacular Italian Renaissance garden just on the other side of the river. There was relatively little distance between this garden and other tourist attractions, but it was like a different world all together. It was serene, still and not crowded at all. Additionally, we enjoyed a lovely view of the city and also chanced upon an exhibition of my hero, the photographer par excellence Steve McCurry. I was blown away and enjoyed every single second.
So, exploring the city a bit more unconventionally is one way to find the magic of Florence. How else can we make our Florence trip more ethical and sustainable? Here are a few additional tips:
- Please respect the locals and their customs! This one shouldn’t even have to be said, but it’s shocking how many tourists overlook basic etiquette. For example, don’t talk loudly in quiet places of worship, don’t smoke in non-smoking areas, don’t tamper with age-old art.
- Try to travel during less touristy months. This way, the sites and infrastructure won’t be as overburdened by you simply being there.
- Like us, make it a point to visit lesser known gems in and around Florence. You’ll be surprised by what a difference a change in tempo makes.
- Don’t litter. Just don’t do it.
If we all take note of these points and make a few tweaks in our travel style, Florence can be enjoyed as the gem that it is for years to come.