When I get sad about our wedding photos, my husband tries to comfort me by telling me that maybe I was too beautiful to photograph. (He’s sweet. Really sweet. But that’s not exactly that comforting.) I didn’t really understand what he was talking about until our honeymoon in Florence. We made our way to watch a Piazzale Michelangelo sunset, one of my favorite pastimes while studying abroad in Florence.
Back in those days, my roommates and I would take our journals and our sketchbooks and sit up there for hours watching the changing colors of a Florence sunset. At the time I didn’t recognize it, but Florence really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
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When my mom and I went to Italy in 2010, I dragged her up the stairs to my favorite piazza. She appreciated the view, but we didn’t stay for sunset because we had reservations for a pizza and gelato cooking class. (What a unnecessarily tough choice! A Piazzale Michelangelo sunset or a delicious cooking class? A prime example of why to spend at least 3 days in Florence.) I was determined to show my husband the colors that inspired the Renaissance painters, so I set all of our Florence dinner reservations late from that point forward.
How to Get to the Piazza Michelangelo for Sunset
There are a few transportation options to enjoy a Piazzale Michelangelo sunset. If you’re trying to make a sunrise, the most efficient option is going to be your own two feet. You’re more likely to have the place to yourself, too.
You can expertly navigate the narrow back streets that wind up the Florentine hills. You will want to be prepared to bound up the stairs that lead to the piazza overlooking Florence. The adrenaline will (can?) carry you. My mom is still mad at me for opting for this choice.
This took us about 30 minutes from the St. Regis Florence. We were very focused and didn’t stop much along the way. You can shave 10-15 minutes off the walk to the Piazza Michelangelo if you stay at the conveniently located Gallery Hotel Art or the Hotel Lungarno.
If you are on a budget and don’t feel like giving your legs the workout of their life, take the bus! You’ll want the 12 or the 13 bus. Google Transit or Moovit are very helpful with knowing where to pick up the bus closest to you! I also find those apps reliable with regards to timing. The bus can take 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic.
By Cab or Car
If you’re pressed for time, you can take a cab (or a car) to the Piazzale Michelangelo, too. We did this when we were taking photos with Cristiano. On another trip, we did this when we were running late. The St. Regis bellman was kind enough to call us a cab and give the driver very precise and strict instructions on how to get there quickly. He even stopped traffic for us to get out!
This is generally the fastest and easiest way to get to the Piazza Michelangelo.
Photographing a Piazzale Michelangelo Sunset
It can be incredibly difficult to capture the beauty of the sky in Florence. The colors that slowly and brilliantly shoot across the sky are tricky to recreate. Yellow lamps that line the Arno river and slowly light up the city can be challenging to capture. The Renaissance colors that obliterate the late afternoon haze move rapidly at times.
Knowing my own challenges to capture these moments, I offer a few suggestions to you.
Stop Photography When You’re Getting Frustrated
I’ve been at the Piazza Michelangelo when my photos couldn’t capture the beauty of the sky. Sometimes I pushed forward and became even more grumpy. Other times, I resigned myself to Tom’s thought that maybe, just maybe, some things are just too beautiful to capture. If you find yourself getting frustrated, just stop and enjoy the view. Not everything needs photos. Sometimes memories can, should, and will suffice.
Choose the Right Spot to Photograph the Piazza Michelangelo
It wasn’t until we were on a week-long romantic vacation in Florence that I was able to slow down and realize that the traditional viewing platform of the Piazzale Michelangelo isn’t the best for serious photographers. Granted, it has the most ambiance – musicians, couples, friends enjoying wine with a view. It can be really difficult to jockey for a spot among so many people.
If you keep climbing, however, you can have the terrace of San Miniato al Monte all to yourself. This is a great angle for photographers who want space to change lenses, pop up tripods, and stay longer.
Choose the Right Lens but Experiment with Lenses, too
It can be tricky to choose the right lens when you are traveling. I’ve done a few posts on the pros and cons of various lenses for travel photography. On our honeymoon, I got the most milage out of my 50mm lens. If you want to photograph the Ponte Vecchio in any detail, you’ll want the 150mm or 200mm lenses. I struggled with the 85mm, which was more user error. Not being prepared with my lens (and being crowded) contributed to my frustration. I eventually gave up and just watched the sunset.
In 2016 and 2017, I experimented with my 35mm and 200mm lenses during golden hour in Florence. This gave my photos a completely different feel, though that can also be attributed to that particular day. (My 50mm shots came out with a similar feel.)
I recommend starting with the lens you are most comfortable with using.
Piazzale Michelangelo Sunset Camera Settings
Sometimes I think it is helpful to know the starting point for photos, especially if you’re just learning how to use your camera. Your settings will vary based on a variety of factors, including your camera, time, location, and cloud cover. I’m including the settings below, as well as lens information, so you have a starting point to play with your camera settings.
I use the Photopills app to plan my day. This is helpful in identifying sunrise and sunset times, as well as golden hours and blue hours.
For reference, I shoot with Canon 5DMII and a Canon 5DMIV. Both are great cameras. The 5DMIV offers video, which I enjoy playing with, but you don’t *have* to upgrade. I have Sony mirrorless, but I prefer my Canon cameras and lenses. This lightweight tripod from Amazon works well.
Photographing the Piazza Michelangelo with a 35mm Lens
Photographing the Piazza Michelangelo with a 50mm Lens
Photographing the Piazza Michelangelo with a 200mm Lens
Just Enjoy the Sunset at Piazza Michelangelo
Some things are too beautiful to be captured in a photograph. They just have to be experienced. Grab a panino, a bottle of wine, and just go enjoy the view. It’s perhaps the most romantic place in Florence where you can be surrounded by 100 of your closest friends and still feel like you have the world to yourself.
If you don’t schedule at least one Piazzale Michelangelo sunset when you are in Florence, I’ll be disappointed in you. And, if picnics aren’t your thing, you can always make late reservations for a delicious bistecca Fiorentina to fuel your energy for another day.