When a cruise ship docks in the port of Livorno, Italy you have a few options for shore excursion itineraries. I really wanted to visit Cinque Terra, Tuscany, Florence, and Pisa but if you only have a few hours in port, you can’t do it all. We ultimately decided that we had to prioritize Florence and Pisa on this trip, and hope that we could eventually make it back for the other two, #SoManyPlacesSoLittleTime. Viator is a great resource for finding shore excursions at any port, and they had several options for private and semi-private shore excursions from the port of Livorno. Our tour was a semi-private tour booked through Viator for the highlights of Florence and Pisa. Here’s some advice for planning a shore excursion in Livorno, and a photo journal of our afternoon in Florence with a few tips for making the most of our visit. Please note that this post has a lot of images and a gallery, so it might take a moment to fully load.
Pisa is a 30 minute drive from Livorno, Italy and Florence is a 90 minute from Livorno. If you want to see both and spend much time in either, you want to book a shore excursion. There’s a reliable train service but it will add a little time, and we didn’t want to be tied to a train schedule. If you’ve firmly decided that you want to see Florence and Pisa, there are several options.
Our tour guide met us at the just outside the ship, and we headed to our vehicle. We were given the option of a large van or a small tour bus. We opted for the large van, because in both Pisa and Florence they regulate the parking of tour buses. We knew we could get much closer to many of the attractions that we wanted to see if we took the large van. We were joined by two other couples, one from Australia and the other from Colombia. We enjoyed getting to know our fellow cruisers during our drive and during lunch.
Our first stop was Pisa. Most of the guide books advise a stop at Pisa on your return from Florence, but the morning stop worked very well for us. Making your last stop closer to port normally helps to ensure that you aren’t delayed traveling, potentially resulting in an untimely return to the ship.
We arrived at the Leaning Tower before the daily mob of tourists started filing in from buses, and I managed to snap a few nice photos. I’ll share those and more about Pisa in a later post. Since our group was small, we had a little more flexibility with our tour schedule. The first official stop in Florence was an overlook which had a few souvenir stands, a replica statue of Michangelo’s David, and iconic views of the Florence skyline. We caught our first glimpse of the many Florence landmarks that we would visit on our brief trip, including the Florence Cathedral which was first on our itinerary upon arrival. When we arrived at the Cathedral, the line for entry was wrapped all the way around to the back of the building. I heard that the line to climb the Duomo was much worse. Thankfully, we noticed that the line was moving much faster than we anticipated, so we jumped in. It took 15-20 minutes and it was well worth the wait, but that wait consumed the bulk of our time at that stop. It was even more magnificent than I could have imagined. We spent the remainder of our time there exploring the church.
Jeremy caught glimpse of a bakery on the left (if you’re facing the Cathedral) but we didn’t have time to stop in. They had cannoli rolled in pistachios that were definitely drool worthy. I knew that we couldn’t make our meet-up time if we stopped for a snack.
If you take a semi-private excursion, always be mindful of the designated meeting time and location. One couple on our excursion was always late, and it interfered with how much time we had at our other stops in the city. You don’t want to be “that” couple or person.
Florence is home to numerous museums, probably the two most notable are the Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery. We didn’t have time to properly explore either, so we browsed the exteriors. You can only see the “highlights” of Florence in such a brief visit.
While walking toward the Uffizi Gallery, I heard a song that I can only equate to the sounds of a mythological Siren. Her voice echoed between the stone exterior of the Uffizi Gallery walls, and carried throughout the square. She was one of the many street performers that we noticed in the area, but I could spend a considerable amount of time listening to her.
Our driver took us to Santa Croce Piazza (Square), and we opted to have lunch as a group. Our lunch was delicious, but service was slow (average for an Italian, slow for an American), and we spent valuable time that could have been used to explore. If you have plenty of time in Florence or you don’t mind foregoing the church tour, our meal at Boccadama was delicious. I had a house made pasta with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella .
Jeremy and I were sorely disappointed that we didn’t have enough time to go into the Basilica of Santa Croce. Michaelangelo and Galileo are just two of the many historical figures buried there. An important detail to note at the Basilica of Santa Croce is the Star of David at the top of the church. The primary architect, Niccolo Matas, was Jewish. When he died, he technically couldn’t be buried “in” the church walls, so he was buried under the “porch”.
Our driver then took us to the Mercato Nuovo to rub the nose of the Porcellino (boar) and to browse a local market. Jeremy couldn’t resist “feeding” the pig and rubbing its nose. Local lore says that rubbing the nose of the Porcellino will ensure your return to Florence.
Jeremy and I strolled the Ponte Vecchio, walked down to the Pitti Palace, and browsed the private car collection of the Medici Family.
Jeremy managed to find a bakery with cannoli before we headed for gelato. I’m grateful for all the walking, we would have gained a lot more weight from eating if we hadn’t walked so much.
We couldn’t’ leave Florence without getting gelato; that might have been the one detail that everyone agreed on. I should have photographed my gelato, but I was too busy devouring it. Jeremy and I agreed that it was the best gelato that we had ever eaten, and we ate at multiple gelato shops during our trip. La Carraia had a wide variety of flavors and the price was reasonable. The shop is small and busy. I suggest getting your cup and heading outside to enjoy the view.
Our group finished our gelato and loaded back into our van to head back toward our ship. We arrived back to our port with time to spare, which was a sweet relief. The day prior a tour group of 13 people had been left in Rome because their shore excursion didn’t make it back before our ship had to depart.
I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the photos from our half day in Florence, and that you will check back to read about the other half of our Livorno, Italy shore excursion in Pisa. Please feel free to leave comments or questions about Livorno, Italy, shore excursions or our specific tour. I’ll try to answer them as quickly as possible.