Kate Swanson is a Scottish-born Australian who has traveled to and lived in many countries across the globe.
On our last European holiday, we spent hours in the Louvre (in Paris) and the Prado (in Madrid) and could easily have spent another whole day in either of them—so naturally, one of our first stops when we arrived in Florence, Italy, was the great Uffizi Gallery.
Sadly, we were left wondering why we’d bothered to queue for nearly three hours to get into the Uffizi, because it was such a let-down compared to those other great international galleries. It's not that we’re philistines by any means—my husband is a history buff with a special interest in Italian art, and even he was disappointed.
Worse, we had only three days in Florence, and because we'd spent a whole day queuing for and touring round the Uffizi, we missed out on visiting several other museums and churches which, in hindsight, would have been more rewarding.
All the guidebooks will tell you the Uffizi Gallery is a "must see". But if you have only a few days in Florence, do your research before you decide whether the time it takes to get through the gallery's doors is really worth it.
The Uffizi Queue
When you arrive outside the Uffizi, you'll see two queues. The shorter one is for people who have booked in advance, who naturally get priority—but that means they may still queue for an hour or so.
The other queue, for those who haven't booked in advance, is long—very, very long! The wait can be as long as five or six hours, especially at peak times of year. There's an indicator at the front of the queue displaying an estimate of how long you can expect to wait, and it's usually pretty accurate.
Don't underestimate how tiring it is to stand in a queue, on concrete, for several hours, especially if you're in Florence in the middle of a hot Italian summer.
When you combine the long, tedious wait with the time it takes to tour the gallery, a visit to the Uffizi can wipe out a whole day. If your time in Florence is limited, you’ll have missed the chance to visit a wealth of other art galleries, museums and historical sites instead, many of them containing treasures just as precious as those in the Uffizi. Not to mention the fabulous shopping!
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We were in Florence in April—not a busy time of year, because the weather is still cool—and yet we had a wait of three hours. By the time we got into the gallery, all we wanted to to do was head for their cafe so we could sit down and recover! Needless to say, when we got there, there wasn't a free table in sight, so we grabbed a drink and continued our tour of the gallery.
The Uffizi Gloom
Our tiredness may have affected our enjoyment of the Uffizi, but I don't believe that was the main reason for our disappointment.
There’s no denying the paintings in the Uffizi are masterpieces. The trouble is they’re so poorly presented, you’re not seeing them at their best. I expected to be blown away at the sight of an original Botticelli, but in fact most of the paintings looked muted and flat compared to the reproductions we’re all so familiar with.
I’d hate to think the paintings are deteriorating—I think it was just that the lighting was so dim. In some rooms, it was hard to make anything out in the pervading gloom! I know low lighting helps protect paintings, but surely they didn’t have to go that far; the Louvre and the Prado have plenty of natural light, and the artworks positively glow. Those two galleries also have informative plaques beside their artworks, whereas the Uffizi provided almost nothing. Add to that the down-at-heel state of the building, and it wasn’t a place to linger.
I’d have to say that my visit to the Uffizi is easily my least favorite memory from what was otherwise an awesome visit to Florence.
Unless you can book in advance, my advice would be to give it a miss. In the time you spend queuing to see the Uffizi, you could visit at least two other galleries—and there are so many fantastic ones to choose from in Florence, you won't be disappointed!
If you want to see the real statue of Michelangelo's David, for instance, then you need to visit the Galleria del'Accademia at the other end of town, not the Uffizi. Because of our long queue at the Uffizi, we didn't make it to the Accademia in time. We did see the outdoor version in the square, of course, but apparently the real thing is far more awe-inspiring.
- Uffizi, Uffizi gallery, Florence.
The Uffizi Gallery's official website.
- Virtual Uffizi
This is the UNofficial guide to the Uffizi, but in some ways it's more helpful than the official site
- Florence Travel Information and Travel Guide - Italy - Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet is one of the most reliable and respected travel guides