The Uffizi Gallery is the number one place to visit on most people’s list when they’re headed for Florence, but I’ll admit I didn’t go until my fourth time to the city. It is difficult not to at least see the lovely building designed by Giorgio Vasari and commissioned, of course, by the Medicis, as its colonnades lead from the Piazza del Signoria (dominated by the Palazzo Vecchio) to the river close to the Ponte Vecchio. (Vecchio means old which I suppose is why so many things seem to be called Vecchio in Florence.)
I had always felt a little intimidated by the crowds lining up outside the Uffizi and felt there was so much more I could see; I didn’t feel like I was missing out. I was right and I was wrong. The Uffizi is amazing. It contains so many of the most famous Renaissance paintings in the world – particularly breathtaking is The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli – and also gives a fantastic sense of the development of painting from the flat, gold religious paintings of the late Gothic era, through the perspective and portraiture of the Renaissance, to the darkness and fury of Caravaggio and the Italian Baroque.
Two things I recommend to survive the crowds and overload of beauty and history: book a ticket in advance which lets you skip the line and go straight into the gallery, and go early. It opens at 8.15am and I was one of the first inside. For half an hour or so, I had rooms all to myself, which was an incredible luxury. Put aside half a day or so, and for respite, head to the café on the roof terrace; the coffee is expensive but the view over Florence’s roofline is wonderful. You could even pack some sandwiches and bring them up to the roof to enjoy.