Symbol of the renaissance, home to extraordinary works of art and architecturally stunning, Florence is a great place to explore and enjoy in both its historic centre and in its nooks and crannies, away from the crowds.
As you stroll through the streets of Florence, a city that most of us feel familiar with from our school history and art days, you’ll understand why this is a place that has been revered in books and travel magazines for centuries, and why exploring it in your lifetime is a must.
Here we share a few of our insights on how to enjoy Florence, both in all its tourist glory and behind the scenes, whether you’re staying a few hours or a few days.
See & Do
Of course if it’s your first time to Florence, you need to explore the historic centre of the city and see the main sights including strolling across the Ponte Vecchio and wandering to the next bridge along to see the beautiful view back of the ‘old bridge’, or sitting in and absorbing the magnificent Piazza della Signoria, possibly visiting the famous Uffizi and Accademia Galleries if you’re into art and history, and the Duomo, if you’re into churches or just want to marvel at its sheer beauty, but for us Florence is best experienced on its fringes. Here’s just a few of our favourite ways to spend our days:
- For the best view of Florence, take an early morning walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo. The view is simply stunning and while particularly beautiful at sunset, this is when the hordes visit, so our tip is to visit early. On your way back, enjoy a beautiful walk along the river, ‘bridge to bridge’;
- For a couple of hours relaxation away from it all, stroll through the Boboli Gardens and take a seat under the beautiful pergolas of green and shade or by the medieval fountains, reached via the side avenues. A couple of hours in these gardens is the perfect way to relax;
- Enjoy the Oltarno area of Florence, which is on the left bank of the river, and possibly the most authentic neighbourhood with many locals still living here. Explore the small shops and workshops, and enjoy a coffee, gelato or glass of wine away from the crowds in the historic centre;
- If you’re into fashion, the shopping in Florence is fantastic (probably amongst the best in Italy), however also well worth a visit is the Gucci Museum. Telling the story of this iconic Italian fashion brand and housing a permanent exhibition of the brand’s iconic pieces from its almost 100 year history, the museum is housed in a beautiful 14th century palazzo and its ground floor café also provides a relaxing place to chill out between bouts of sightseeing and shopping.
- For a bit of ‘food heaven’ and to see how the locals shop for food, visit the huge, old Mercato Centrale. Located in the middle of Mercato San Lorenzo (the famous leather goods market), the ground floor hosts the morning market and also has places to enjoy an easy lunch….but it can be crowded in the peak times, so it’s best to visit in the morning.
Hotel della Signoria
With views across the Piazza della Signoria (and some rooms with views over the Ponte Vecchio), this 3 star hotel in the beating heart of Florence has you quickly immersed into this beautiful city.
Relais Piazza Signoria
If you’d prefer an apartment-style hotel that is centrally located, these studios and apartments are perfectly located in the heart of it all.
Boutique B&B Torre de Conti
We love a small, boutique B&B and when its family run, decked out in traditional Florentine style, perfectly located between the train station and the Duomo, and you are welcomed with warm, open arms, it’s definitely a go-to place for us.
Eat & Drink
Enjoying great food and wine, and a casual café or aperitivo stop is our favourite way to enjoy a city, and no more so than in Florence. Blessed with every type of dining experience you could wish for, we’re sharing just a few of our favourites here for all types of occasions, as we know our guests can be in Florence for a few hours, through to a few days.
For a casual lunch or afternoon glass of wine
For a very casual lunch, afternoon glass of wine or dinner, we love hanging out at Signor Vino. How can you not when you have the view of the Ponte Vecchio that this wine shop’s terrace provides and you feel away from it all, while being right amongst it.
Gucci Museum café
Enjoy a good coffee or a casual lunch in the trendy environs of the Gucci Museum Café. It’s a surprisingly calm and quiet little ‘oasis’ only moments away from the Uffizi gallery and other major sights.
In central Florence, only a short distance from Ponte Vecchio and set in a quiet little courtyard, this is a small bar and café that serves simple panini, salads and juices, as well as a good Spritz. This is the place to go when you want to be in the easy company of local Florentines and have a break from the hordes.
For an aperitivo, special dinner or sunset cocktail
Sesto on Arno Rooftop
The rooftop bar/restaurant of the Westin Excelsior Hotel is something special. With spectacular views across the Arno River, the sensational (albeit slightly pricey) cocktails in this bar are well worth it for the views and ambience.
For a very good aperitivo or a modern taste of Florence, this bar and restaurant offers a mix of medieval and modern, in both atmosphere and cuisine. Having a drink or eating here is more of a special experience.
For a traditional Bistecca Fiorentina in a sensational dining room
Buca Mario is one of our favourite dinner experiences in Florence. Located underground or in a ‘buca’ (or hole), this historical trattoria set in a 16th century dining room offers a classical menu with quite simply, sensational food. The bistecca fiorentina is a must; it is an experience in itself. The antipasti are amazing and the cellar of wines, excellent. While a little pricey, dinner here is absolutely worth the price. You’ll need to book in advance.
For a typical, little Florentine Osteria right in the centre
Osteria da Ganino
Located centrally in a little piazza right next to Piazza Signoria, this cozy place with an outdoor terrace, is like ‘our local’ in Florence. The food is excellent, the staff are friendly and while there are tourists here, there are lots of locals which is testament to the very good and traditional Tuscan kitchen. We love the antipasti and the home made filled pastas are sensational.
For an excellent, cheap meal close to the train station
Trattoria da Giorgio
The menu is extensive and the pasta’s here are great. If you find yourself near the station and with little time to explore further pre or post tour, da Giorgio’s can be a good option. For 15 euro for lunch or dinner including a 2 course meal, water and wine, it’s worth every cent….and if you manage to hang around long enough and meet the owner, you may get to enjoy some of his homemade digestive too!