Florence

The home of Renaissance art, centuries of rich history, incredible architecture, an abundance of gelaterias and some of the best food you’ll ever eat…you must be in Florence.  With endless museums, cracking sunset views over the city and winding streets with plenty of places for an Aperol pit stop every time the heat or the walking gets to be a little too much, the capital of Tuscany makes the perfect city break.

FOOD

Mercato Centrale
Located between via dell’Ariento, via Sant’Antonino, via Panicale and Piazza del Mercato Centrale
In any good Italian city there is a covered market full of individual stalls and shops serving up drinks, pasta, pizza, seafood – you name it. Mercato Centrale is busy and full of life; locals and tourists sharing communal tables, chatting away over their lunch or a glass of wine. A great place to explore, and an absolute Godsend if it happens to rain whilst you’re in Florence.

Il Santino
Via di Santo Spirito, 60/R, 50125 Firenze
I cannot rave about this place enough. Il Santino is a little wine bar I sought out after reading several recommendations about and it subsequently lives down in history as one of the best lunches I’ve ever had. Wine, bread, meat and cheese – the ultimate combination, really. If I close my eyes real tight and concentrate hard, I can still taste the crostini I had that day in Il Santino: fresh, thickly sliced, lightly toasted bread with melted pecorino cheese and fine slices of pancetta lain on top, drizzled in light honey. Oh God. Go.

Konnubio
Via dei Conti, 8r, 50123 Firenze
Peppered beef muscle in a Chianti sauce with Tuscan beans cooked in sage, garlic and olive oil at Konnubio turned out to be one of the best meals of my trip. Highly recommend this restaurant – it’s stylishly decorated, the service was excellent and friendly, plus I got a complimentary glass of prosecco on arrival – can’t go wrong there. I’m keen to try their breakfast buffet on my next visit – €12 including beverages, freshly baked bread and pastries, cheese and meats, eggs and quiche. The ideal way to fuel you for the day before climbing all those steps around Florence.

Antico Trattoria da Tito
Via S. Gallo, 112/r, 50129 Firenze
Trattoria’s are one of my favourite things about Italy – restaurants owned by local families and utterly devoid of any pretention, at least in my experience. In Florence’s trattorias you’ll get solely traditionally Tuscan food, and Antico Trattoria da Tito was not only a stellar example, but practically right next to my B&B. A queue out the door at 8.45pm on a Tuesday shows just how popular this place is, but they’re happy for you to grab a drink whilst you wait. The wine is cheap, the food expertly done – that wild boar pappardelle yes please; the service is so friendly and animated – and always ready with the limoncello at the end of the meal.

All’Antico Vinaio
Via dei Neri, 74/R, 50100 Firenze
Massive paninis. Seriously, huge – good luck eating it all in one go – and all for around €5 each. The kind of place so busy they bark at you for your order, so get an idea of what you want before you get to the counter; there’s a helpful list of their most popular orders to aid you through the struggle. The crowds pour outside onto Via dei Neri and eat their lunch on the pavement in the sunshine, but grab a spot inside and you can pour yourself a glass of wine from their selection for €2 a pop.

Gelateria Santa Trinita
Piazza Dei Frescobaldi, 8/red, 50125 Firenze
It’s Italy, so it’s not hard to go wrong on the gelato front. Gelateria Santa Trinita was recommended to me by a local and it didn’t disappoint. They make fresh flavours every day, constantly dreaming up inventive options to sit next to the classic favourites. And let me tell you, their signature mascarpone gelato swirled with Nutella? A thousand times yes. Eat your gelato on the bridge overlooking Ponte Vecchio on one side and the sun setting over the Arno on the other, thank me later.

Trattoria Za Za
Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 26r, 50123 Firenze
Another recommendation from my excellent B&B host Bagio, but sadly one I didn’t have time to try myself on my trip. The owner of Za Za, Stefano, is born and bred on the same square where the trattoria stands and has been running the place since 1977. The inside of the trattoria has vaulted ceilings, old floors hundreds of years old and antique furniture, which just makes the whole place even more appealing after hearing about how fantastic the food is. Absolutely on my list for my next visit.

La Ménagére
Via Dè Ginori, 8/R, 50123 Firenze
A beautiful bar come restaurant, coffee shop and also boutique selling gorgeous homeware and flowers. A lovely and unique place to stop for a meal or drink, or a great place to start the day over a coffee and a couple of pastries.

APERITIVO

La Terrazza at Hotel Continentale
Vicolo dell’Oro, 6, 50123 Firenze
With views of the Arno, Ponte Vecchio and the dome of the Duomo, this is a wonderful spot for a drink as the sun goes down over Florence. Usually only accessible to guests of the Hotel, external guests can reserve a table for a maximum of 4 people with a minumum spend of 200, so not the cheapest! Might be worth a shot if there is just one or two of you to see if they will let you walk in, but if not – a great compromise is the 30 continental buffet breakfast they do on the terrace between 7-11am.

Empireo Rooftop View American Bar & Pool
Plaza Hotel Lucchesi, Lungarno della Zecca Vecchia, 38, 50122 Firenze
Rooftop pool for guest use only, but after 7.30pm non guests can visit the bar overlooking the city if they have a reservation – perfect timing for a summer Florentine sunset.

SE·STO on Arno
The Westin Excelsior, Piazza Ognissanti, 3, 50123 Firenze
Serving aperitivo between 7pm and 9pm, and open until 1.30am, SE·STO on Arno provides a 360 degree view of Florence. This is a good spot for sunset views if the weather isn’t the best or a little chilly too, given the wraparound glass windows.

La Rinascente’s Le Terrazze
Piazza della Repubblica, 50123, Firenze
At the top of Florence’s main department store there is a terrace with bar and restaurant and boasting panoramic views of the city open all day and evening (check their website for set hours throughout the year).

Three-Sixty Pool Bar, Grand Hotel Minerva
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 16, 50123 Firenze
The fantastic rooftop pool, jacuzzi and sun beds on the roof of the Grand Hotel Minerva are reserved for guests only but non guests are welcome on the other terrace where there is a rooftop bar open daily in the summer months between May and September from 11am until 12am. Aperitivo is served around 7pm.

B-Roof
Hotel Baglioni, Piazza dell’Unità Italiana, 6, 50123 Firenze
Fine dining is available at B-Roof at Hotel Baglioni, but is equally inviting with its wicker sofas and comfortable chairs for aperitivo hour with the view of the Duomo in the distance.

ACCOMMODATION

I travelled to Florence solo and wanted my own space after a week at a family wedding in Lake Como, so opted for a B&B rather than a hostel for my few nights in Florence. I found 3B Bed & Breakfast which had recently opened and absolutely loved the place. It was totally perfect for what I needed, small (maybe five rooms), a ten minute wander down from the Duomo and beautifully decorated to boot. The host Bagio couldn’t have been more helpful, annotating a map with some food recommendations after I announced that eating my way around Florence was pretty much the sole purpose for my trip, and he knows his stuff. Breakfast was offered at a little cafe across the road rather than in the B&B itself but that suited me fine. Bear in mind however that there are a lot of stairs up to 3B Bed & Breakfast so not suitable for everyone.

THINGS TO DO

Florence Cathedral (Duomo)
The most famous landmark of Florence, and among the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, the Duomo is unique in its design and the colours that is used in the architecture. Inside serves a stark, plain contrast bar the beautiful mosaic floor and painted dome. You can also climb to the top of the dome – something I didn’t do as I chose to do the Campanile to have the views of the Duomo, but I plan to rectify this on my next trip!

Giotto’s Campanile
A part of the complex of beautiful buildings that make up Florence’s Duomo, I highly recommend climbing the steps of this 87m tall bell tower for stunning close up views of the famous dome and Florence beyond. Go early in the day to avoid bigger crowds and high heat of the afternoon if travelling in summer.

Palazzo Vecchio
The medieval city hall of Florence holds some amazing art, notably in the Hall of the Five Hundred, which is absolutely huge and has art on all sides and the ceiling. The map room is fantastic, with dozens of painted leather maps depicting the world 500 years ago; and climbing to the top of the tower allows yet more wonderful views of the city sprawling beneath. Palazzo Vecchio was probably one of my favourite tourist things to do in Florence, and a rarity for Italy – is open on a Monday!

Piazza della Signoria
The square in front of Palazzo Vecchio holds the replica of David, among lots of other impressive sculptures in Loggia dei Lanzi, a covered area with open arches onto the piazza. A great place for people watching, too.

Piazzale Michelangelo
The panoramic views from Piazzale Michelangelo are fantastic at any time of day, but if you choose one spot from which to watch the sun set over Florence, let this be it. This square up on the hill is worth the climb, even in the heat – take up a bottle of wine and sit watching the sun glitter on the surface of the Arno river as it sinks down below the red tile roofs of Florence, leaving the dome of the Duomo silhouetted against the sky.

Michelangelo’s David at the Bargello Museum
At over 500 years old and 17 feet tall, David is one of the most famous sculptures in the world and is not to be missed whilst you’re in Florence. I’m not overly into Renaissance art (despite Florence being the home of it), but I was blown away by David. It is an astonishing feat by Michelangelo: an incredibly detailed and lifelike marble man carved out of one piece of stone by hand. David gets a lot of visitors so booking a time slot in advance will avoid you wasting time waiting around to see him – or worse, missing him completely.

Palazzo Pitti
Once home to the Medici family, Palazzo Pitti is now host to the city’s largest complex of museums. The famous Palatine Gallery is situated here, where work by the likes of Raphael and Caravaggio can be found; fantastic Royal Apartments and also a great collection of costume and fashion over the past few centuries which is well worth a look. 

Boboli Gardens
The gardens behind Palazzo Pitti are home to many sculptures and an ancient amphitheater. It’s also just a lovely space to have a wander, with – again, great views of the city.

Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River
This famous bridge is unique in that it is a covered bridge with open arches dating back to Medieval times, with shops all along it. Once home to butchers, the shops are now mostly jewellers, art and souvenir shops. Take a wander over the bridge and along the Arno before crossing back over on Ponte Santa Trinita and getting yourself a huge gelato from Gelateria Santa Trinita.

Gucci Garden
I didn’t have time to visit the Gucci museum on my trip to Florence which I was pretty gutted about, but it’s one of many excuses to go back. Dedicated to the Italian fashion house, the museum covers the history of the Gucci brand, complete with clothing and handbag exhibits.

Bardini Gardens
I feel a fool for missing this one. Up toward Piazzale Michelangelo, there is a baroque staircase running through the Bardini Gardens from which you can enjoy vista of the city and the Duomo poking through the red roofs. This is a lesser known attraction but well worth a visit by the sounds of things. If you go between mid April and the beginning of May you’ll also be blessed with wisteria hysteria in the gardens.

Uffizi Gallery
Not being a massive renaissance art person, I skipped the Uffizi Gallery, but for many this is an unmissable attraction in Florence, being one of the most important art museums in the country. This is the place to go to view works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello, to name a few.

 

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