Firenze, Florence, la fiorenza d'italia.
This place has been home to me, continues to be home to me, and I keep going back for whatever crazy reason. Maybe it's the elegance of the Duomo. Maybe it's the nature of the people who live there. Maybe it's the streets steeped in history. Whatever it is, this town which was the birthplace of the renaissance, hosts a whole entire collection of bucket list items and is personally my favorite town in Italy. From the Duomo, which took over 600 years to build, to the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), which was built in 1345 and miraculously withstood the trials of World War II and a horrible flood that took the city in 1966. Here is my guide to Florence, from someone who lived there for over 9 months, is moving back, and has rented 4 different apartments in this short time. (Pray for me if I ever have to move apartments on a cobbled street again...)
Things to See
Top 10 Landmarks to See/To Do
For a more extensive bullet list on to-do's this check out my 38 things to Before You Leave Florence.
- Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Duomo)
- Ponte Vecchio
- Santa Croce
- Piazzale Michelangelo
- The Academia
- Uffizzi Art Gallery
- Piazza della Signoria & The Palazzo Vecchio
- Piazza Della Repubblica
- Palazzo Pitti & Giardini di Bobboli
Off the Beaten Path
Via del Giglio, 59
- Santo Spirito
- The Florentine Street Art
Dinner Starts at 7:30 or later, before you go to dinner, on the weekends most Italians will go to an aperitivo after work to pass the time from work to dinner. Aperitivo can also be used in lieu of dinner, or just as a few pre-dinner snacks and drinks before the real feasting begins.
Bistecca Fiorentina (or any other Florentine Steak)
Where you can get it: Pretty much any decent restaurant in Florence. For the full on experience, I would head to La Giostra, it's my favorite in town, but you will pay a pretty penny and probably have more food than you can handle- cue the grappa.
Borgo Pinti, 10-18 R
What is it? A hearty soup made of bread and veggies that will warm your inner soul on a cold day.
Where you can get it: Almost anywhere in Florence with a traditional Tuscan menu. One of my favorite places is Ristorante Pizzeria Maso', just outside of the immediate historic center.
Via Matteo Palmieri, 30/r
How you know it's gonna be good: The biggest mistake people make when it comes to buying gelato is purchasing the gelato that looks the most delicious in the window. I get it, it's very tempting to see those giant beautiful piles of gelato and drift into that particular gelateria. You will get a decent gelato, probably a bit overpriced and might never know the difference between what you COULD be having. The gelaterias with the huge displays are not typically made in house, and can stay so beautiful in the hot Italian summer, is because they are full of preservatives. Check out gelaterias where you can't see any gelato. They will usually be held in silver tin buckets, and this typically means it's made in-house for a fresher experience for you!
Where you can get it:
My favorite place to get gelato is from Marco Ottaviano - Il Gelato Gourmet. Seriously amazing people and amazing gelato. I first met this couple when I studied abroad in Florence many moons ago, and did a video piece on them (which has since been lost in the abyss, unfortunately). But to sum it up, Signor Ottaviano was working selling medical supplies, decided he didn't want to do that anymore, and wanted to make gelato. His wife sits out front selling the gelato and working on her other journalism work (my Italian has never been good enough to figure out exactly what journalism work it is), while he works in the back making the delicious gelato. They also have an adorable dog named Mila who works out front. The flavor you need to try is Caffe' Bianco (white coffee), it's literally my favorite sweet in the entire world.
Via Matteo Palmieri, 34
My favorite appetizer, but also when I'm in a pinch and feeling super unhealthy, a meal. Coccoli consists of fried balls of dough, stracchino cheese, and prosciutto. Throw it all together and you have a delicious treat. You can get this as an appetizer at almost any restaurant (even if it isn't on the menu, just ask and they'll probably have it). There is even a little place called Il Coccolo DEDICATED SOLELY TO COCCOLI. YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT, A TINY PLACE DEDICATED TO THREE MAGICAL THINGS BREAD CHEESE AND PROSCIUTTO. Welcome to Italy, folks. This little locale is just down the street from the gelateria I mentioned above, so get your grub on and head to both!
Via Matteo Palmieri, 30/r
I am by no means a wine expert but if you don't drink all of the Chianti wine when you're hanging around Tuscany, you're doing something so wrong. Peace and love, drink these wines! (Both red, both made predominantly from Sangiovese grapes.)
Soul Kitchen is great all times of day, lunch, aperitivo, or for getting your drank on...but they're aperitivo is phenomenal. They pick a different region of Italy each night, and that's what the food served is based on. It's cheaper than your average aperitivo, and so much better, it's more like a massive buffet, which is not an Italian norm, but I love it.
Via de' Benci, 34R
Just down the street from Soul, Oíbo is another great option for aperitivo in the historic center with a pretty wide variety of food options. It'll cost you around €10 for a drink and food, but the drinks are pretty and delicious, and oh so worth it.
Borgo dei Greci, 1
Here you're going to pay around €12 for a cocktail, and only get crisps and peanuts as your food, but DAMN the view is worth it. Situated on top of Hotel Cavour, you get a panoramic view of Florence with all of the best sights. So worth it, and a great place for a date!
Via del Proconsolo, 3
$- La Ghiota
Two people can have a full four-course meal here for €50 (trust me, I've done it!). Traditional food, the family who owns the restaurant I believe also has their own farm so everything is almost at cost. Not the most high end of restaurants, but if you're just looking to eat a lot of good Italian food on a budget, here is the place to go.
Via Pietra Piana, 7-red
I almost hate to recommend this place, because so often of the time it is overrun by study abroad students because it is such a prime location on Via Ghibellina, but they've got some good food at great prices in a splendid location, and a HUGE menu full of options. They also have a balsamic dressing that is to die for... Normally I would never tell someone to use balsamic for their bread in Italy, but il Gato e la Volpe is the exception to this rule.
Via Ghibellina, 151/r,
This restaurant has two locations, one up in Fiesole (you will need to take the bus [line 7 from Piazza San Marco] and walk or take a taxi), and one in town that you would also probably need to take a taxi to, but it's good eating. Make sure to make reservations.
Florence: Viale Don Giovanni Minzoni, 10/R,
Fiesole: Piazza Mino Da Fiesole, 9/R
$$$$- La Giostra
I have been here on a few occasions, all special because it's 100% out of my normal price range but I don't even have words to express my love for this place. In a location where they used to store the old carousel in Florence, the restaurant has huge arched brick ceilings covered in fairy lights. The food is actually to die for (please bring this to me as my last meal k thanks). I surprisingly have no photos here because every time I have gone I have been so immersed in food, wine, and probably (read definitely) sambuca and or grappa, that pictures slipped my mind. 100% make reservations here and expect to leave fat and happy, just the way we like it.
Interesting TidBit: 50 Sfumature di Gusto- Literally translates to 50 Shades of Flavor
50 Shades of Grey lovers rejoice, here in Florence is a restaurant who's theme is completely encompassed by the 50 Shades of Grey series. Seriously...there's a red room of pain with the mirror on the ceiling, the dishes (I believe) are even themed after different parts of the book as well. Since they knew we were spending a pretty penny, they left us with an entire bottle of limoncello and meloncello at the end of dinner.
Possibly the most beautiful food I've ever eaten in my entire life and it was absolutely delicious...I wouldn't say it is a restaurant I would frequent often, but definitely worth a visit for some good food and Italian-Style 50 Shades!
- The streets are almost entirely cobblestone. This means they WILL destroy your shoes, and unless you're a pro, I would recommend sticking to a chunky heel and leaving the stilettos at home. I have seen Italian women with a baby in one arm, a glass of wine in the other, arguing with her husband while walking down the street IN STILETTOS and looking fabulous...I hope to one day be at that level, but for now, I'll stick to my chunky ankle-savers.
- The city is 100% walkable!! Do NOT I repeat do NOT get tricked into renting a car if you are just staying in the city! If you want to drive around Tuscany, then sure, by all means, go ahead and rent it for the days you are out...but the historic center of Florence is walkable from end to end in about 45 minutes tops.
- Stray over to the other side of the river. Don't get stuck in the throngs of tourists on the historic side...head over to the oltrarno and wander, visit some of the gardens and have lunch. There are tons of amazing finds over there.
- In general when visiting Italy, if something is not a custom you will receive a curt "It is not possible." Just take it for what it is and move on.
- If you want to be mildly alarmed with your life but also kind of intrigued, head to the river and drop some food down to see the river rats (some people call them otters, but they are 100% rats) come out to play. It's nauseating and kinda cute all at once.
- See the city at night. Head out to some of the bars, and on your walk back home see the huge sights without the crowd of tourists around them. They're so much more amazing that way.