FLORENCE

 

It has probably been said on this blog {one too many times} how much I love the city of Florence. For a long time, it was a city that captured my heartand had me constantly dreaming of return.

I studied there in college, returned for summers to visit my college boyfriend, and eventually, all of that time spent during my young adulthood, endeared me to Florence in a way that is still difficult to articulate. I didn't know I could feel that way about another place until we moved to Oxford.

While there are some smaller, more local places that I never miss when I'm in Florence, (or in the surrounding suburb of Scandicci where I escape to spend quieter time with local friends), the places I want to share with you now are spots in downtown Florence that are guaranteed to make your first or second visit really special.

 


DO

SAN LORENZO MARKET: In between the train station (Santa Maria Novella) and the famous Duomo of Florence, this sprawling market is a must for visitors. Pick up your leather goods,your souvenir t-shirts, any type of scarf imaginable, or a slew of (completely decent) silk ties for a couple of euro a piece. It's more than okay to haggle here... in fact, it's expected when you buy multiples of anything or higher ticket items like leather bags.

THE CENTRAL MARKET: In a large piazza in the market, is a large building, the Central Market, which is a really good food market that can quickly endanger your limited suitcase space. Gorgeous olive oils, spices, pasta mixes, truffle spreads, chianti wines are all there waiting for you. There are small stalls in here that give locals & tourist alike an affordable- and delicious- option for lunch. If you go for lunch, don't miss the upstairs area that is the chicest food court you have ever seen. With each stall focusing on various parts of Italian cuisine (pasta, truffles, paninis, grilled meats, fried anythings, pastries, gelato, etc.), you'll not only be able to find something for everyone... but several things.

PIAZZALE MICHAELANGELO: Go here for sunset for the most stunning view of Florence as the sun illuminates the valley of the Arno. Either hike the walk, & take a bus (which can be a bit complicated), or splurge for the taxi up to this famous look out. Regardless of how you arrive there, when you see the amazing view before you... you'll be glad you did.

THE ACCADEMIA: Going to see Michaelangelo's masterpiece (well one of them) is well worth the time & money spent. Seeing the sculpted David come to life out of marble is nothing less than an ethereal experience, but you need to book in advance. Do it on the Accademia's site and save yourself the hassle and time waiting in long-lines in the Italian heat.

CLIMB THE DUOMO: Yes, it's a haul to climb all the 463 steps up to the "cupola" of Florence's landmark church... but when you see the city of Florence sitting in the gorgeous Tuscan valley in the glow of the late afternoon sun {yes, you should go in the late afternoon}... you'll know why this lethargic lump of a woman would ever recommend such an outing for you. {FYI: The last time I climbed, it was €8.00. More info here.}
 

 

EAT

TRATTORIA ZAZA: Read more about this popular eatery specializing in Tuscan cuisine and perfectly situated in the San Lorenzo Market here. Recommended dishes: the bruschetta, the ribollita & anything with truffle that you see on their menu. Dinner reservations recommended.  

LOCALE: This transformed palazzo is definitely *the* night out you want to go to in Florence. With an sleek retractable roof and verticle garden in the bar, it is worth arriving a bit early to spend an hour here before you're seated. Expect high prices (€30-50 for entrees!), but lots of "extras" sent from the kitchen to accompany your meal. Reservations necessary, not-child friendly, definitely worth trying.

GROM: Some people love it. Some people think it's overrated. Regardless, you can't argue that gelato is delicious. I happen to fall in the camp that loves GROM. Their monthly rotation of seasonal flavors like peach, raspberry & sicilian orange win me over. Though to be fair, it's now a rapidly growing chain that even has locations in Manhattan.

LA MENAGERE: This is a gorgeous concept restaurant that you'll want to to try for a pretty lunch or a great night out. The massive space just around the corner from San Lorenzo has two parts: a "casual" bistro and a restaurant. The bistro offers easier options- coffees, charcuterie, sandwiches while the restaurant offers sophisticated options in a larger dining room with table service. The staff is attentive, the setting looks like a Nancy Meyers set, and the food- though on the higher end- is pretty fabulous. Would be best without kids, but we brought ours and the staff was amazing. They had high chairs and even offered us off-the-menu options (spaghetti pomodoro, etc.) and brought them out early. My full review is here.

GOLDEN VIEW OPEN BAR: This place is special to me. I've spent many epic nights here... along with way too much of my money. The four cheese ravioli introduced me to the truffle long before I even knew of it's existence. I didn't know what the flavor was, but could only explain it as "an explosion of magic in my mouth." {Editor's Note: Maybe I wasn't the most articulate 19 year old.} I've been back countless times since and seen the restaurant evolve into a favorite of tourists and locals alike. Call ahead to make a reservation on the window for the best view of the Ponte Vecchio in town.

DITTA ARTIGIANALE: This is a hip coffee "chain" that is local to Florence. While all coffee in Italy is, as rumour states, "better than average"- Ditta Artiginale also ticks the box for "hip." With three central locations, I think it's best to cross the Ponte Vecchio for their largest location on Via hello Sprone 5r, located a short walk from the Pitti Palace. Find my full post here.

TRATTORIA LA SOSTANZAThis in-the-know restaurant has two seating each night- 07:30 & 09:00. While the decor is unassuming and simple, the kitchen turns out a straightforward menu of cult-favourites including the butter-friend chicken and the artichoke pie. Don't miss the simple white beans in olive oil & salt... and whatever you do, do not miss the meringue pie (layered meringue, cream, ice cream& chocolate!) with a littering of wild strawberries around it. Reservations are a must!

LA RINASCENTE CAFE: This cafe is a gem. It's discreetly tucked at the top of the busy department store, La Rinascente, located in Piazza Repubblica. Up, up, up you go in the store all the way to the home section at the top. When you get there, go up the stairs into the cafe... then up the small set of stairs onto the balcony. Pay too much for a cup of coffee and enjoy a magnificent view of the cupola of il duomo.

VIVOLI GELATO: While locating this legendary gelateria was the catalyst for a near-divorce between Tyler & I, it's hard to say that it wasn't worth the trouble. The gelato really is fantastic, and if you can put up with crowds of people, a great place to try Florence's "best gelato."

TRATTORIA GARGANIIf you're looking for exceptionally good Tuscan food and friendly service (never a. Bad combination, right?), Trattoria Gargani is a great option in Central Florence. With brightly painted walls and funky decor, the ambiance is relaxed but the food is seriously good. Expect basic dishes with simple twists- like homemade pear-stuffed ravioli drowned in a Parmesan sauce and sprinkled with walnuts. Or opt for one of the restaurants various dishes featuring artichokes. Be warned: this is a favourite recommendation of many local concierges, so the place is full of tourists... but I still think it's worth trying because of the quality and service. Reservations needed.

LUNGARNO SUITES: Owned by the famous Ferragamo family (yes, that Ferragamo) this swanky boutique hotelsits pristintely adjacent to the Ponte Vecchio. If you can't splurge on staying in their apartment style hotel, go for a pre-dinner aperitivo and pretend you are living the fabulous life. (Which, if you've found yourself in Florence, is not really pretending.) For 12 euro, you'll get a fancy cocktail followed by well-manicured antipasti such as crab cakes and bite-sized cured meats.

VILLA LA MASSA: If you’re looking to get out of the city (and have access to a car), this sister property to the famous Villa d’Este in Como, is a short drive away. In half an hour, you’ll find yourself steeped in the countryside of Tuscany at this charming villa. Go for breakfast for a luxe spread of every gorgeous breakfast food you might imagine in Italy: fresh meats, bowls of berries, homemade apple cakes and chilled juices and champagne. 

VENCHI GELATO: If you’re looking from a slick step-up from the traditional gelateria, these two locations in Florence offer a gourmet approach to the classics. They excel in chocolates and creams, where as you’re better off going to GROM for fresh seasonal options of fruit varieties.

BOTTEGHINA SANDWICH E PANINI |While most places in Florence will have a glass case stuffed with pre-made sandwiches, Botteghina is a great place to trek for a handmade panini of dreams. The list of ingredients is simple: piadina flat bread or fresh focaccia filled with your choice of some select high-quality Tuscan meats and cheeses. Order yours to-go and walk across the street to the Pitti Palace for a casual (yet luxurious) picnic sprawled out on the entrance to theMedici's old home. (To help you find it easier, this small shop is adjacent to its parent restaurant, Caffe Pitti.)

TRATTORIA ANITAIf you’re looking for a place that feels really Italian, gives giant portions of great food and is friendly to tourists, this is your place. The only thing is: you’ll need to google maps how to get here. Trattoria Anita is tucked back in an alley and has very little signage to alert you of your arrival, but once you’re there- you’ve arrived to a great place. The prices are beyond reasonable, the portions are generous and the two brothers that wait on the restaurant are kind… with a dash of sarcasm. No frills, but big thrills when you eat here. (Though be warned, their kindness to tourists comes from it being fairly well-known with in-the-know traveler. Most of the restaurant will be non-Italians.)

EDOARDO, IL GELATO BIOLOGICO: Edoardo adds to the list of “posh gelaterias” that have sprung up in recent years around Florence. With organic ingredients and different flavors (think Chianti Wine or Peaches & Amoretti Cookies), you’ll definitely find options that aren’t available at average gelateria.(Plus, it’s location next to the duomo make it a scenic place to stand in the (ever-growing) line.

 

STAY

LUNGARNO SUITES (splurge): Sitting beside the Ponte Vecchio, this hotel boasts one of the prime spots of Florence's "centro storico." Having an interior decorated with Ferragamo flair, well, that gives it another right to boast all of it's own. Gorgeous views, fabulous amenities, hard to beat if you have the cash to spend. 

HOTEL FIRENZE NUMBER 9: Located in the heart of San Lorenzo, this tiny boutique hotel is a real treasure. With amazing room rates and gorgeous details (like painted ceilings and giant windows), you'll think you've found the best kept secret in town. The breakfast buffet is great- but go early, as it gets crazy after 9am. Also, pack your gym clothes and swimsuit. As a guest, you'll get access to a truly magnificent health club and spa/sauna. I was actually really disappointed I didn't have the right clothes to enjoy the great guest perk.

VILLA LA MASSA (splurge): This gorgeous villa sits on the outside of Florence. It's reached via taxi, so it's more of a retreat than a base for heavy site-seeing. However, as it's a sister to Como's famous Villa D'Este, it doesn't lack much other than proximity to the Duomo. A gorgeous pool, luxurious rooms, and a breakfast by the pool that will haunt you for years to come. You'll feel like you're in a dream.

 AirBNB apartment rentals. {Seriously, I'm a fan.}

AVANTI ITALIA (budget): Ok, so this is an out of the normal option, but it's so affordable and helps out an awesome ministry. At only $15 per person per night, it's a pretty decent option. It's about a 20 minute bus ride out of the center of town, but it's actually really simple to get in & out of the downtown to Avanti. I've stayed there countless times when visiting Florence with a small budget.

 


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Florence is an amazing city that captures my heart every time I visit... and I know that I'm not alone.


 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy by Grant Schol