Really, it’s only 8 kilometers. It seems fairly straightforward but of course you’ll have to find your own directions because there aren’t any signs en route, except the one at the bottom of the hill with the word Firenze, crossed out in red. So at least you’ll know you’re not in Florence anymore – that’s a good sign.
Actually at this point you’ll be at the bottom of Fiesole – a small commune lying on a hill about an hour above Florence. This ‘hill’ now provides a pleasant day trip from the big city, a day trip that’s so close and accessible that it feels more like a hike just on the outskirts of Florence, one you don’t realize the distance of until you’re staring at the city center in miniature below.
Originally of Etruscan origin but conquered by the Romans in 283 B.C., Fiesole became more powerful than Florence in the Middle Ages, until it was conquered by her for the last time in the 11th century. The famous families residing in Fiesole were forced to move down into the hills beneath and into the main city.
The walk you take to get out of Florence provides you with a glimpse into these expensive villas on the hilltop, peeking out from behind tall ramparts, looking out onto the center below. It also offers a peek into the burbs of the city – three laned highways, actual sidewalks, traffic lights – sights not many tourists in Florence will ever see.
Once outside of Florence, the road loops right, and your best bet is to stick to the narrow path on the left – practical advice that will likely only become clear once you fail to take it. This is the path that will take you up and up an exceptionally steep road directly into Fiesole. This is where the glorious views will begin, but besides snapping a few photographs, wait – wait for the peak of Fiesole.
After about another half hour or so of hiking almost completely uphill, you’ll reach a curving road and the bus loop of Fiesole. The town in itself is fairly small and can be toured in one to three hours. The path takes you right up to the plateau of Piazza Mino da Fiesole, named after a sculptor of the same name who put the town on the map. This is where the town’s medieval Duomo with its tall bell tower stands to greet every visitor, and where the iconic equestrian statues of Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi stand proud and tall.
A bit down the road is the archeological zone that houses the museum, the Amphitheatre and other artifacts. If you don’t want to pay the €10 entrance fee, the road to the right just as you exit will take you around the perimeter of the zone but trees and fences will only offer limited viewing of the ancient stadium steps.
Back at the piazza, head up the only other hill visible to the left of the Duomo – it will be painfully steep, but the highest and furthest panoramic vistas of all of Florence will be your reward. If you can time this with the sunset, it will be that much greater but keep in mind you’ll have to walk back to the city center down the unlit steep hills, and it’s a long way down.