I adore Italy. I’ve been enamored ever since, 8 years ago, I was burned out on calculus and chemistry classes, and I spontaneously decided to register for intensive-study Italian. 2 hours, every day, just 30 of us undergrads and the most flamboyant, fabulous Calabrian professor you can imagine.
After college, I backpacked all around Europe, and I spent about a month in Italy. Florence captured my heart – it’s a great mix of culture, Tuscan cuisine, art, and sunshine.
Here’s our guide to Florence – where to stay, wander, and eat yourself into a food coma.
Where to Stay
Many, many decades ago, while my grandpa was stationed in Germany to help clean up the aftermath of World War II, he and his recent bride (my grandma) would travel around Europe on the weekends using money she earned from selling sandwiches to their Berlin neighbors. In Florence, they stayed in a beautiful 14th-century villa run by a sweet local family. My grandma still tells stories about their experience – the home-cooked meals that would bring you to your knees; the sweeping views out over the city; the generous, kind family who maintained the pensione.
Guys – Pensione Bencista is still run by the same sweet family, and my husband and I stayed there last year with two of our best friends. Wanna see?
We also learned from the concierge that Salvatore Ferragamo lives across the street. So, there’s that. We caught a glimpse of him leaving in his Prius one day, and snapped an obligatory Ferragamo selfie.
For a budget option, I’d highly recommend Plus Florence Hostel – it’s practically a hotel, with a pool, sauna, and a bar/disco. It’s located right in town, so you won’t be forking over any euros for buses or taxis. Plus, the rooms start at 24 euros – can’t beat that price!
Where to Wander
Florence is a compact city, but it’s full of gems. Your first destination should be the iconic Duomo. It’s been granted UNESCO World Heritage status, and from this point on it’ll be your point of reference if you ever get lost. (And ambling around the winding streets of Florence, that’s a given…)
If you’re reading this before you leave for Florence, reserve a tickets for the Accademia. Unless you’re some kind of sadist who enjoys waiting in lines for hours, you’ll be beyond relieved that you did so. Hotels can make reservations (thanks, Bencista!), or you can do it yourself online. If you’re planning on exploring other museums in Florence as well, the Firenze Card may be worthwhile – Rick Steves dishes out advice on the pros and cons here.
Once inside, you’ll be rewarded with views of Michelangelo’s David (quite a babe), panel paintings and sculptures by myriad Renaissance artists, Florentine gothic paintings, and even a collection of antique instruments.
When your feet are tired of wandering around museums, cross the iconic Ponte Vecchio and grab some gelato at Gelateria La Carraia on your way to the Boboli Gardens, where there’s plenty of wide open space to unwind and take a nap. (Bonus points if you’ve snuck in a bottle of vino.)
If you’re in search of a (practically) one-of-a-kind perfume or cologne, or if you just want a little adventure off the well-beaten tourist path, head to the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a.k.a. Santa Maria’s Perfume Workshop/Pharmaceuticals. This is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, founded by Dominican friars in 1221 (!!). Today, you can buy high-end fragrances (with a special back-story) and wander through the whimsical, historic place.
Where to Eat
Full disclosure: you can’t go wrong with wandering into a divey little restaurant in most Italian cities and ordering a plate of pasta. And many of the best wines are the vino della casa – often unlabeled bottles made in very small quantities by the restauranteur himself. But if you’re the kind of girl or guy who likes to plan ahead (#tripplannerprobz), here’s a few of our favorites.
Le Volpi e l’Uva – This is a cute little wine bar near the Pitti Palace, and a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio. Try the crostoni and salumi. (Carbs for dayyyyys.)
Caffe Giacosa – This is what happens when Roberto Cavalli designs his own cafe. Quirky, charming, and reasonably priced coffee from a man whose jeans cost an entire paycheck.
Mercato Centrale – If you fell in love with the colors and boundless produce at Barcelona’s Boqueria, you’d probably equally love this market. Beware the tourist traps, and make a beeline for the cheese, fruit, and sundried tomatoes.
Rivalta Cafe – We stumbled across this bar while tracing the banks of the Arno to walk off some pasta and wine, and we were immediately enveloped in a crowd of local 20- and 30-somethings sipping on craft cocktails, chatting, and filling plates of apparently free food. It was amazing. I’m looking at their calendar now, and they have an upcoming “Bubble Night” which sounds very promising. Rivalta, we’ll be back.
Anything I missed? What are your favorite, can’t-miss spots in Florence?