Don’t tell the husband. Florence, Italy, and I are in a relationship.
Firenze and I have had a love affair that has lasted for over 7 years, ever since I ventured over for a summer study abroad program to take Renaissance art history and drawing classes. I lived there for a little over 8 weeks before venturing on to Rome and the Amalfi Coast with my family.
By the time I made it over for the second time, I knew the city like the back of my hand. We paid a visit to the “Birthplace of the Renaissance” as the first stop on our Eurotrip honeymoon last year and revisited all our (er… my) favorite haunts. Whether you have 2 days or 2 weeks to spend in the glorious city, there are plenty of things to stuff your face with, artistic wonders to muse over and things to do to keep you moderately busy and also never, ever want to leave.
When I lived in Florence, I stayed in an amazing 3 bedroom apartment with 5 other girls directly above a bar called the Fish Bar in Piazza del Mercato Centrale. It was a quick walk to the city center (MY city center, anyway, which I assigned as the Duomo for navigational purposes), my classes, markets, the train station, and even to the Parco delle Cascine that I used to run around during the day (hey, 1) I hadn’t seen the movie Taken yet and 2) I needed to be allowed to board a plane home, even after all the pasta and gelato I ate. So I ran when I could. Balance!)
The other top reasons that I now consider my favorite piazza were some things that sadly, I didn’t totally discover until midway through my stay. Firstly, there was a GIGANTIC building a stone’s throw from us that looked like an abandoned train station. It always looked closed – empty, albeit. Nope. It’s actually the Mercato Centrale, aka the local version of Eataly (which, side note, actually is a thing in Italy and they have a ton of them over there!) filled with vendors selling everything from fish heads to handmade pasta. There’s a food court on the top floor. Turns out they do keep early hours, so it was always closed by the time I got home from class.
My other most favorite things about this piazza were 1) the wine shop you could take your empty bottles to and get them filled for next to nothing – I can’t remember the name and it doesn’t show up on Google maps, but if you wander down Via Rosina toward Via Taddea, you will come across it near the intersection of the two – and 2) Trattoria Zá Zá. This restaurant is AMAZING and well known for its rich, creamy pastas featuring a signature walnut sauce. Personally, my favorite thing is the truffle gnocchi. Get it. You won’t be sad.
When we went for our honeymoon, we stayed at the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi, along the Arno and almost directly across from Piazzale Michalangelo. It was fabulous and I would totally stay there if we go back. Since it was our first stop, we decided to spring for a bit of a fancier room, which did not disappoint. A two-floor loft with french doors and a view of the river, plus a staircase to the bedroom area upstairs. Breakfast was included and delicious, and they also have a gorgeous rooftop bar with pool, food and most importantly, aperitivo (if you go to Florence, do not miss aperitivo. You will be very sorry.) We also saved a lot of money on buying bottled water by bringing these super cool charcoal filtering Bobble water bottles that are small enough to fit in pretty much any bag!
Places to Stuff Your Face in Firenze
If I wrote about all the amazing places to eat food, drink and indulge in gelato, you would stop reading this post because it would be about 13 pages long. So, I’ll do my best to keep it brief. Aside from the above-mentioned Trattoria Zá Zá and food court in Mercato Centrale, you definitely need to check out some of these gems:
Hidden Rooftop Cafe in Piazza Republica
I unfortunately can’t remember the name of this one, but it’s on top of the only department-looking store in that plaza. There are bags and purses and makeup on the first floor. You’ll go up to the top floor and then there is a staircase to the cafe – it’s right next to the Duomo and has arguably one of the best views of it. Plus it’s not a well-known tourist spot so it’s usually pretty quiet. Start collecting brownie points now for how bomb.com leading your trip mates up here will make you look!
La Borsa is a cute little cafe off of Via Por Santa Maria in front of United Colors of Benetton and near the leather market (I literally do all my navigating based on landmarks), this is a great spot for breakfast, lunch OR dinner. We personally had dinner here, after doing a lot of walking around Piazza della Signoria. I believe I had the truffle ravioli and again, I was SO not disappointed.
The Red Garter
Definitely not much of a local establishment, the Red Garter attracts a more Americanized crowd, but it can be an awesome spot for a night out. The main draw is karaoke – and no worries if you don’t want to get up on stage, you can belt along from one of the many hangout areas with a good beer or wine. The action tends to start later in the evening, but plan to go a bit earlier if you don’t want to overlap with the college crowds.
One of my fave gelato places. However, I won’t go into a lot of detail here because there are basically more gelato stores than places to buy water. But hey, it’s Italy. One word of advice – definitely try a new flavor you wouldn’t have ordinarily – like lavender!
This is literally one of the best things about Florence. I first learned about the concept of secret bakeries when I studied abroad here. Let me tell you something. There is absolutely nothing better than the gooey center of a Nutella-stuffed croissant that has just come out of an oven, especially as a prize for going on a scavenger hunt with your nose after a night out. Urban legend says that they operate in secret because they are not supposed to distribute directly to consumers and are illegal. Thus, you can only reap the goodness after dark. How to find these meccas of awesome? Seriously, follow your nose. And the sound of whispering and shushing. It doesn’t hurt to do a quick Google search to have a target destination in mind, either. My favorite one is called Pasticceria Vinci & Bongini, near the Piazza di Santa Croce (on Via del Canto Rivolto to be exact.) You definitely want to mind your Ps & Qs though – they won’t serve anyone and sometimes will shut down if the crowd gets too rowdy.
Some Moderately Exciting Stuff To Do
Between the 8ish weeks studying abroad and a very jam-packed 2.5 days on the honeymoon, I’ve seen a lot of amazing things in this wonderful city. Here’s a quick breakdown of a few you definitely shouldn’t miss.
If you do any sort of shopping here, PLEASE make it to the leather market. Besides smelling absolutely fantastic, you’ll find some of the best leather goods. Of course, there are leather shops all over the city, but there’s a certain fun weaving in and out of all the carts and bartering with the shop keepers. And you also definitely need to take a picture rubbing the boar’s nose. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
L’ Antica Cantina del Chianti
This place is seriously SO COOL. Tucked away behind the Duomo toward the left, this is the place you’ll want to go for balsamic vinegars, olive oils, wines, pasta, everything. It basically looks like Bell’s library in Beauty and the Beast but the Italian food version. Shelves and shelves and shelves stacked floor to ceiling with the coolest bottles you’ll ever see. Plan to bring something home for all your cooking needs!
Hands down, my most favorite place in all of Florence. Just across the river from where we stayed on our honeymoon, this destination makes a great day trip – but also a fabulous place to catch a sunset. You wont find a better view of Florence’s skyline than here. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and leave about an hour to get up to the top, the steps are cobblestone and really steep. There are a few places to grab a bite to eat up at the summit, but if you want to hang like the cool kids, bring a bottle or two of your favorite drink to enjoy on the steps as the sun goes down. If you’re lucky, there might also be some live music.
Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), Baptistery of San Giovanni, Giotto’s Bell Tower, Cupola del Brunelleschi and the Crypt
My first time here I was only able to make it into the first floor of the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), Giotto’s Bell Tower and the Baptistery – and actually, it was part of my class. We learned about Brunelleschi and Giotto in the classroom first and then got to experience everything in real life. It was one of the most amazing, unique experiences. Insider tip: if you’ve got a short time in Firenze and you don’t want to plan your day around getting to the top of the Cupola (the wait can be super long), Giotto’s Bell Tower usually has almost no line at all and the views of the city are just as gorge. However, if you can make it to the Cupola, I highly suggest you do.
The second time I came back, I made sure the Cupola was on the itinerary. We also checked out the crypt, which was super cool (in a creepy cool sort of way) but holy amazeballs, is the Cupola a sight you need to see. Brunelleschi was a dang genius. He built a dome such that the world had never seen. And my favorite part is the fresco on the inside, painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccaro. Back in the times when the Renaissance was just getting started, perspective was a relatively new concept in art. They NAILED it. From down on the floor, the dome is an 8 layered masterpiece depicting scenes from the Last Judgement. It’s AMAZING. But if you’re able to get up into the catwalks before you go all the way up to the top of the dome, you can see that the frescos are actually ginormous on the bottom layer and get smaller as they go upward. It’s one of the coolest things ever.
Other Moderately Cool Stuff to See
Other points of interest you should check out are the Uffizi (yes, if you can swing it, you should go here), Santa Croce to check out Galileo and Dante’s tombs, the gorgeous frescos and Cimabue’s Crucifix – which is well known because it was one of the first departures of the Byzantine style into a more human element which was carried on by Giotto and essentially announced the Renaissance.
There you have it! Whatever you eat and wherever you go, you can’t go wrong in Florence. It’s one of the most magical cities in the whole world. Let us know what you’re most excited about in the comments! Have you been to Florence before and have a favorite spot that wasn’t mentioned? Comment away!!