A couple years back I was lucky enough to call Florence (Firenze) home for about five weeks while good Sir Dilly Dally undertook a furniture design course at Florence Institute of Design International. We rented a small apartment in Santa Croce northeast of the city, about 5 or so minutes from the historical centre. Once you climbed staircase upon staircase upon staircase, you were greeted by a bright loft in the roof of a rustic old block with giant wooden beams and terracotta tiles and a view over the central courtyard. It was a great way to really get to know the city and immerse yourself in the local culture.
I have put together a city guide based on my experiences. Florence has so much history and culture to soak up, but personally, Florence for me was all about the food and wine…
- Book onto a Taste Florence food tour, it’s a half day tour so there is still time to do things afterwards. They also give you a food and wine hit list for the city, so you can continue the adventure.
- Start the day with breakfast standing up at the espresso bar. It is only acceptable to order cappuccino before 11am, any other time have a macchiato and a sweet pastry to go along with it. Our favourite breakfast spot was Pasticceria Sieni & Forno (Via S.Antonia, 54).
- For lunch, head to the Mercato Centrale and try the boiled beef sandwich at Da Nerbone or stock up on local cheese, artisanal breads, fresh fruit and go for a picnic and soak up the atmosphere of a piazza… Don’t forget a bottle opener, a couple of glasses and a cheese knife!
- Another great lunch spot is All’Antico Vinaio, you’ll probably have to queue for your sandwich but it is well worth the wait! Check out the self serve vino while you are there (Via de’ Neri, 65).
- Don’t dine too early… only tourists eat dinner at 7pm! Start the night with Apperitivo – find a bar that has a buffet on the bar and the food it is usually free if you order a drink – so order a Aperol Spritz or prosecco and watch the sun go down.
- Avoid restaurants near the main squares, they tend to be over priced tourist traps… you will actually see the prices drop as you head in the opposite direction from the square.
- My favourite restaurant in Florence is Coquinarius (Via delle Oche, 15) – you might need to make a booking but the pasta and wine is to die for.
- You can’t go to to Italy without eating gelato! Vestri is a delicious gelato and chocolate shop that was just around the corner from our little apartment (Borgo degli Albizi, 11 red).
- If you’re on a budget Conad supermarkets tend to have really good bakery sections with foccacias and cakes and very drinkable wine!
If food isn’t your thing, here is a list of some of my other favourite ways to spend a day in Florence:
- For breathtaking views of the city, walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo and watch either the sunrise of sunset. There are even more spectacular vistas if you follow the path further up the hill to the medieval church, Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte… inside the church is also pretty impressive.
- Don’t just go into the Duomo… Climb its giant dome for more amazing views over Florence.
- For fashion go to the Gucci Museum and if you still have time to spare, check out the Ferragamo Museum. Neither require too much time though and is a nice break from all the history.
- You can’t go past the Uffizi for art– buy tickets online prior otherwise be prepared to line up for 2+ hours in the height of summer. Also, try and book on a tour of the Vasari Corridor.
- Go on the Palazzo Vecchio’s “Secret Passages” tour.
- Treasure hunt at the flea market, Mercato delle Pulci, in Piazza dei Ciompi.
- Explore the expansive Boboli Gardens and manicured Bardini Gardens.
- Head to Piazza Santo Spirito, there is a cool bar, Volume, lots of restaurants, check out the church in the square, it is an interesting contrast to all the others in Florence…
- If you are lucky enough to be visiting Florence in June, check out the ancient gladiator football game, Calcio Storico Fiorentino.
Easy day trips from Florence include:
- Lucca & Pisa – can be done in the same day. Walk or hire bikes to go around the city walls of Lucca and stop and have a picnic on your way. We got some delicious focaccia from Forno Amedeo Giusti (Via Santa Lucia) and wine from Antica Bodega di Prospero across the road. The Cattedrale di San Martino is in Lucca is quite something too.
- Siena – get the bus as the train station is at the bottom of the hill so it’s a bit of hike into town otherwise!
- Cinque Terre – stay overnight, you need at least a full day there as it takes about 2.5 hours to hike between towns you need good walking shoes or sneakers and lots of water. Take the ferry for another interesting view of the towns. You can’t beat the atmosphere (or the food) at A Pie’ de Ma’ on the cliff at Riomaggiore, try the local pesto and vino.
Some other helpful tips:
- Trenitalia website is great for booking train travel and you get discounts the earlier you book.
- Always validate your train ticket by stamping it in the machines on the platform. They check tickets on almost every journey and if the ticket isn’t stamped its an on the stop fine of €50 cash!
- Commercial street numbers are in red and residential in blue… it makes much more sense once you know this!