Florence is the obvious travel destination for all epicureans. Whether you’re in it for the food, the wine, the art, the architecture, or the fashion, Florence has it all. Especially in the spring, when the light “beautifies” the typical terracotta buildings. A few weeks ago I was in it for all of the above – plus the bachelorette of one of my best friends who wanted to celebrate the art of living well in Italy before getting hitched!
There’s only one piece of advice one can give to anyone who visits Florence: walk around. Leave your uncomfortable shoes at home (Italy is the mothership of leather shoes so you’ll definitely find some beautiful ones to buy on site – we did at Gilardini’s!) and take the time to stroll around the city.
Florence is one of these places you have to make time for both during the day and the night. During the day, its streets can be so crowded by tourists (irrespective of the time of year) that you will likely miss out on some narrow alleys or architectural embellishments on its buildings. That’s the best time to visit one of its museums. The combination of architecture and art will make you wonder how locals are not constantly distracted by the surrounding beauty when they walk to work.
Once the city empties at night, one gets to see a completely different side of the city, romantic and quiet, almost melancholic. Walk along the Arno and enjoy the silence on Piazza della Signora; the feeling is almost mystical and I’ve often asked myself whether the sculptures come to life when the Piazza is completely empty.
As you wander around the city, don’t hesitate to cross the Arno. The river’s south bank is home to many delicious restaurants where Florentines go to, the Palazzo Pitti, Piazza Michelangenlo and its stunning view. Make the detour to Piazza Santo Spirito, where the party happens. With its affordable cocktails and improvised live concerts, Volume is the place to be. This is where I’ve recurrently had my best night of partying in Florence.
For foodies like me, walking around Florence is like a culinary treasure hunt. All bars serve apperitivo in the afternoon (Le volpi e l’uva offers an excellent selection of Tuscan wines), the local produce is bound to make your taste buds dance and the gelato will make you forget any other ice cream you’ve tasted before. In Florence, it’s all about indulging.
But Florence wouldn’t be Florence without Tuscany. If you have time to explore the beautiful countryside, head to Villa Medicea di Lilliano at only 20 minutes from the city centre. Hidden between vineyards and olive trees, the renovated former Medici farmhouse has become the magical setting for weddings and parties. We took the guided tour and wine tasting; a good opportunity to learn more about Chianti wines (we were drinking them throughout your stay after all). The setting is absolutely gorgeous; the perfect location for an improvised “photoshoot” between the bride-to-be and her friends!
- Uffizi Gallery – the magnificent building, formerly house to the administrative and judiciary offices of Tuscany under the Medici dynasty, now turned museum, hosts a mindblowing exhibition of art. From Leonardo Da Vinci to Caravaggio and Botticelli, take the time to wander around the rooms and enjoy one of the world’s most amazing collections of Renaissance art. As mesmerizing as the art can be, don’t forget to look up and out the windows, the building’s architecture is unique and its location provides a great view on Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti. Note: make sure you book online in advance, otherwise you’ll have to put your patience to the test in a never ending queue.
- Florence’s Duomo – many think that Milan is the only place with a Duomo, however Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore is equally majestic to its Milanese counterpart. The multicoloured marble makes it absolutely picture perfect and the inside is not to be missed. As for the intrepid ones, you can climb all the way to the top of the cupola for a panoramic view of Florence.
- Piazza Michelangelo – the elevated piazza on a hill on the south bank of the Arno River is worth the detour. The location provides a beautiful view of all florentine sights. The walk to/from the city centre along the Arno is also not to be missed.
- Ponte Vecchio – Florence oldest bridge is definitely one of its main attractions. However during the day it can be packed with tourists, not allowing you to really enjoy the view. To really feel the magic, come after sunset. The lights over the river make it a truly romantic sight.
- Palazzo Pitti – Similarly to the Versailles Chateau in outside Paris, the Palazzo Pitti used to be home to Florence’s royal family. Today it has hosts a museum with objects that belonged to the Medici family and an impressive art gallery. The impeccably groomed gardens are not to be missed, especially in the spring; they’re the best way to unwind from the hustle and bustle of Florence’s city centre.
- Black 5 Firenze – the stylish and affordable Bed and Breakfast is located just next to the Santa Croce church and only a short walk away from all main attractions. Its 3-4 guest rooms make it a great value for money option for groups.
- Portrait Firenze – a luxury option for those looking for a first row view on Ponte Vecchio. Just off the main shopping streets, Portrait’s location allows you to take the necessary breaks before jumping from one shop to another.
- AdAstra – the small boutique hotel, with access to a beautifully-groomed terrace is an oasis of calm on Arno’s south bank. The hotel has only nine rooms, each with a different character, so hurry up and book in advance.
- Ino – the small sandwich shop tucked away in a small alley next to Ponte Vecchio is a must. Options are hand-written in Italian on the wall and whichever one you go for you will not regret it (especially the truffle ones).
- Vecchia Bettola – one of the few restaurants in Florence where one is surrounded by locals. The slightly spicy “penne alla bettola” and their mushroom antipasto can only be described as “mouth-watering”.
- Mercato di San Lorenzo – Florence’s covered market should top your go-to list. Renovated in 2014, its multiple stalls offer an opportunity to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine as you shop local produce.
- La Giostra – one of the best places to get fiorentina, Florence’s famous T-bone steak. Don’t overdue it on the pasta and the meat though; leave some space for dessert, as their tiramisu is divine.
- Ditta Artigianali – The small coffee shop just next to Santa Croce is an excellent breakfast spot. Their coffee is strong and flavourful and they offer multiple food options. Note: the carciofi (artichoke in Italian) croque monsieur is the best cure for a spritz hangover.
- Menagere – the beautiful concept store/restaurant, located just off the Duomo, offers a modern twist to Italian cuisine. Come for a coffee and a snack at their bistrot or to grab a cocktail to relax from the Duomo’s buzz.