Florence – or Firenze as they say in Italy – is one of my favorite cities in the world. It has the perfect mix of culture, food, and city life without feeling as touristy as other large European cities. The city is very walkable which is a huge plus, and there are so many hidden nooks and crannies to explore, there’s always something new to see. A trademark of the city is its many squares or piazzas, which overflow with life, and bring locals and tourists together in the best way possible. Its proximity to Tuscany makes it a beautiful combination of historic city and rolling green hills, and guarantees you’ll never find a bad bottle of wine.
Recommended: 10 Things to Know Before Visiting Florence
Where To Stay
The neighborhood Oltarno – in Italian, “the other side of the Arno” – is personally my favorite place in Florence. Florence is very walkable; you can walk from one side of the city to the other in about 20 minutes. For this reason, I suggest staying across the river where accommodation prices are a better value, the food is tastier, and there are far less tourists. The piazzas in Oltarno are where the neighborhood really comes to life. I have stayed in an Airbnb on both of my trips to Florence, the first time overlooking Piazza del Carmine, the second overlooking a small piazza on Via Toscanella. In between is the heart of Oltarno, the Piazza Santo Spirito. All three of these squares have fantastic restaurants, and so much life and culture, it’s intoxicating. If you are traveling to Florence and would like specific recommendations on where to stay, feel free to contact me!
What To Do
Duomo is Florence’s main Cathedral. The best word to describe it is breathtaking. The Cathedral is free to enter, but the crypt, bell tower, and Cupola require tickets. To reach the Cupola you have to walk up ~450 stone stairs in a narrow staircase. The walk up is tough but the view is amazing. I recommend getting tickets to the Cupola at least a day or so before you want to do it because the time slots fill up quickly. The first and last time slot of the day are the least crowded, and the last time slot allows you to watch the sun set over the city. Stunning.
The Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi is one of the most famous art museums in the world. It houses pieces from famous artists such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci. It is large, so I would set aside at least 2 hours to view the whole thing. Tickets also sell out quickly so I recommend getting them in advance if you are interested in visiting.
A piazza with a 360 view of Florence. It is about a mile or so from the Oltarno neighborhood. The last 10 to 15 minutes of the walk consist of steps leading to the top of a large hill. It can be difficult depending on fitness level, but it is so worth it. On the way up you will pass through a small square of restaurants and bars. This is a good place to get aperitivo or a glass of wine on your way up or back down. I highly recommend hiking up just before sunset, and watching the sun set over the Arno. There is a little church a short distance above the piazza. It’s more secluded, and the view is just as good.
Read More: 10 Things to Know Before You Go to Florence
The art museum where the David statue is located. The David statue is the only prominent piece housed in The Accademia, which otherwise is small. While it is quite impressive, I would not consider this a “must-see” if the line for tickets is long or you are short on time. There are replica David statues throughout the city.
Piazza del Mercato Centrale
This is the central food market. The first level consists of lots of fresh produce, meats, nuts, dried fruit, and homemade pasta. There are some fast casual type restaurants on the inside perimeter of the market which are decent. Nerbone serves lampredotto, which is the third lining of the cow’s stomach on rolls. It is a delicacy in Florence and worth trying at least once. The second floor has a food court with more food options. It is quite touristy and overpriced for my taste, but can be a good spot for families to eat and regroup.
Shop for leather goods
Leather is everywhere in Florence. There is a large leather market right outside the Central Market but be warned, these are not authentic Florentine leather products. Scula del Cuoio, also known as The Leather School is a great place to look for traditional leather goods (purses, jackets, small coin purses, etc.) at affordable and fair prices. The last time I was in Florence someone recommended Ben Heart Leather Goods. All of his leather goods are made in Florence and are a little bit more “edgy” than The Leather School. I purchased a jacket (see picture) and my dad had a custom belt made. The belt only took a day to make!
If you are interested in visiting Tuscany for a day or two I can provide some recommendations for winery tours. If you do not want to do a day trip, I recommend bringing Tuscany to you in the form of an afternoon wine tasting at Enotecca Pitti Gola e Cantina (also listed under Where to Eat). They offer wine flights and you can specifically ask for the Taste of Tuscany flight. This will allow you to taste 4-5 of the famous wines Tuscany is known for.
Where To Eat
The best panini EVER. Tell them it’s your first time and they will let you sample all the meats and cheeses so you can choose the best combination. My favorite is the fennel salami paired with a soft, mild cheese and arugula, sun dried tomatoes, and marinated zucchini on olive bread. Paninis are about 6 euros. Panini Toscani is in the same piazza as Duomo which makes it an ideal lunch spot after visiting the cathedral.
Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina
My favorite wine bar in Florence. It is located right next to the Pitti Palace in Oltarno. I recommend trying one of their wine flights. Most, if not all, of the servers are Sommeliers and can answer just about any wine-related question. You can also order cases of wine here and have it shipped to the US. I recall the shipping costs being some of the lowest in Florence and Tuscany. Their food is also fantastic! Tip: Enoteca means wine bar or shop in Italian so if you are looking for wine, look for Enoteca.
Trattoria 4 Leoni
One of the best meals I have had in Florence. It is more upscale than the other recommendations, but definitely worth the price. The service was wonderful and provided us with great recommendations. The menu does change but the lasagna and steak were both delicious, and for dessert I highly recommend the berry ricotta cheesecake. One side note, 4 Leoni is located in a small plaza on the corner of Via Toscanella and Via dei Vellutini in Oltarno. This is my favorite spot in all of Florence, and during the summer months it is alive with music and laughter from morning until late at night.
Gelateria La Carraia
I have not tried all the gelato in Italy, but of what I have tried this is the best. There is almost always a line (even in the winter months) but it is worth it. We showed up at 11pm one night and the line was wrapped around the corner. Fortunately, the line moves very quickly and we only waited about 15-20 minutes. My personal favorite is the chocolate hazelnut.
A Florence institution and the most authentic Neopolitian pizza I have found outside of Naples — and trust me, I have been looking. It can get very crowded with long wait times, so I recommend getting there as soon as they open at lunchtime to avoid crowds. Don’t be turned off by the large number of study abroad college students and tourists here. It is quality pizza at a cheap price and a lot of people happen to know about it.
Also owned by the Gusta family and right around the corner from Gusta Pizza. They have great small plates and dishes for sharing as a light lunch or dinner. I recommend the artichoke bruschetta.
Osteria Santo Spirito
This is somewhat touristy and not an ideal restaurant for a whole meal given the quality to price ratio but I highly recommend stopping in for a plate of the truffle gnocchi (see picture above). This is what they are famous for, and you will see almost every table ordering it. For a family of 4 I recommend ordering a large truffle gnocchi to share along with a liter of their house wine, and then going somewhere else for lunch or dinner. I should mention, I have eaten dinner here twice and the food is good. I just think it’s overpriced for the quality. Plus, restaurant hopping might be my favorite thing to do in the world.
If you are in need of a break from Italian food, this vegetarian café is the answer. It is a quaint little place with quinoa bowls, salads, sandwiches, and smoothies.
Firenze is magical- in both the summer and winter months. The culture, food, and history is intoxicating. I highly recommend planning a trip to Florence, you will not regret it. Make sure to check out, 10 Things to Know Before Visiting Florence.
Thanks for reading!