When I started planning Florence, I wasn’t 100% sold. I was a little worried that we’d be bored and there wouldn’t be enough to see. WRONG. We ended up with four days in Florence instead of three (story to come on that) and I cannot wait to go back.
(Just want to know my thoughts on certain places? Look for the BOLD words. Just want general tips/observations? Skip to the end.)
Day 1: Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, il Duomo, Basilica di San Lorenzo,Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, and so many piazzas
After another easy Vueling flight (which was $100+ cheaper and 18 hours shorter than taking the train), we were picked up by another Blacklane driver, Alessio. This guy was AWESOME. He was in the Italian military and knew everything about Florence. He taught us so much on our 20-minute drive from the airport. It was fascinating to hear about WWII from the perspective of an Italian; “You saved us!” he exclaimed.
We dropped our bags at our Airbnb, which was hosted by the wonderful Mariaclaudia. The building was amazing: painted ceilings, old irons gates, and incredibly heavy wood doors. We were starving, so we went to La Prosciutteria. We opted for a board and we weren’t disappointed. It was at least half my height and piled high with smoked meats, fresh-baked bread and delicious cheeses. The owners were so friendly; everyone was greeted with a warm “buongiorno!”
After stuffing ourselves, we set out on foot to explore. It was a little dreary with rain, but everything was still so stunningly beautiful. Florence (or Firenze) is a city of plazas (or piazzas). We started at Piazza della Signoria, which houses the Loggia della Signoria and the Uffizi Gallery. We (and several hundred people) stood in the center and just took it in.
We were very close to il Duomo, which is the dome on the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore, the main church in Florence and the fourth largest in Europe. The dome was created by Brunelleschi and the facade of the church looks pink and green from the marble used. (This is all basically an art history and architecture geek’s dream.) Fittingly, the piazza here is Piazza del Duomo. We also popped in to a really cool record shop and I took the pic below from the upstairs window.
We also passed through the Piazza San Lorenzo, which hosts a lively market of vendors selling leather goods and scarves and the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the Piazza della Repubblica with the giant arc, and the Piazza Santa Trinita at the end of the Via de’ Tornabuoni, the street of extremely high-end shops.
We crossed over to Oltrarno (literally: the other side of the Arno [River]) to find Gusta Pizza, a pizza place that many, including fellow Baltimore blogger, Colleen, raved about. Unfortunately, it was packed and we were way too hungry to wait. We crossed back over the river and went to Gusta Leo, a pizza place that my friend Nancy, who studied in Florence, recommended. We were so excited to dig into our fresh, hot real Italian pizzas.
A few people also told us about an American bar, the Lion’s Fountain. It feels like you’re transported back to America. Tips are encouraged, beer flows, and the ceiling is lined with American college t-shirts. (It’s also packed with 19-21 year olds who are studying in Florence.) Randomly, they served a delicious mojito. We didn’t have a college shirt to sign, but we did leave our mark.
Day 2: Mercato Centrale, Uffizi Gallery, Bottega d’Olio
Like other cities, Steve and I immediately zero in on the markets. We hit up Mercato Centrale, the largest market in Florence. Downstairs is a traditional market with old-school vendors; upstairs is a modern market with a large bar and cafeteria-style seating. We grabbed drinks and piadas after strolling the stalls and checking out the cooking school (and Eataly!).
We booked tickets for the Uffizi Gallery, Florence’s most famous museum that houses paintings from Botticelli, da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Caravaggio, and more statues that you can count. You could easily spend hours there, but we only stayed for about two hours. We saw A LOT, but there was so much outside of the museum that we wanted to see.
We knew that we wanted to get olive oil and soaps while we were in Florence and I’d heard about Bottega d’Olio from Girl in Florence, a blogger whose blog I’d been stalking pre-trip. (Seriously, if you’re going, follow her.) It’s tucked away in a super small piazza, Piazza del Limbo, and we missed it a few times. The owners were so friendly and we stocked up on oils and soaps. (Go there if for nothing other than the smell. Amazing.)
We asked the d’Olio owners where we should grab something to eat, and one walked us around the corner to Amble, a great little cafe that’s really tucked away, but worth the hunt. There’s no table service but plenty of places to sit and grab a glass of wine and appertivo. They prepared a huge charcuterie plate for us to share.
I couldn’t wait any longer for gelato, so we stopped at Gelateria del Neri near our house. OH. MY. GOD. This is heaven. This is what it is. It smells like olive oil and tastes like real Italian gelato. I have nothing else to say.
After the world’s best gelato, we had the world’s best dinner at Trattoria Anita, another small little spot recommended by Nancy. They were so friendly and even though they closed at 11pm, they kept telling us not to rush and enjoy our wine. We had a huge carafe of the house red (in Italy, just do the house wine! It’s amazing.) and started with bruschetta with the freshest tomatoes. Steve ordered the ravioli with gorgonzola and I had the tagliatelle with fresh chopped tomatoes, basil, and sautéed mushrooms. It was so simple and SO delicious. We ended dinner with a split tiramisu; I could’ve easily polished one off myself. Plus, the whole meal was only €37.
Day 3: Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio, Basilica di Santa Croce, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, Biboli Gardens, San Minato al Monte, Piazzale Michelangelo
Wow. I didn’t realize how much we did on the third day. We walked through the smaller market in our neighborhood, Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio, and bought a few olive oil dipping bowls for ourselves and as gifts. You can tell this is where the locals go; not many people spoke English.
We walked to the Basilica di Santa Croce, which is similar to the Santa Maria in style, but slightly smaller. In the back is an amazing leather workshop, the Scuola del Cuoio, once run by monks. We went inside to tour and see the artisans at work. Steve bought wallets and I bought a bracelet. The church itself is the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.
We grabbed lunch at Divina Pizza, a really cool place that allows you to choose the size of your slice on foccacia-like bread. It’s basically pizza tapas and the flavors were amazing. (You’d think you’d get tired of pizza in Florence, but you don’t.)
After lunch, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge over the Arno. The bridge is lined with dozens of jewelry shops. The shops were originally housed by butchers, but they would dump old meat into the river — not so pleasant. The city eventually moved jewelers in to the spaces.
Back in Oltrarno, we went to the Palazzo Pitti, home of the famed Italian family, the Medicis. It was also used as a base for Napoleon in the 18th century. We bought tickets on site and toured the Palatine Gallery, the Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Costume Gallery. It’s honestly hard to describe the palace; it’s truly just a piece of art in architecture.
When the matriarch of the Medici family moved the family to the palace and wanted gardens for her 11 kids. In the family typical style, they basically built the equivalent of Central Park in their backyard. The Biboli Gardens are immense and so beautiful. And we found cats! Between the palace and the gardens, we spent about 2-3 hours hangin’ with the Medicis.
Since we’d be walking SO much, we grabbed at taxi at a stand to San Miniato al Monte, one of the highest points in Florence. Legend has it that St. Miniato was beheaded, picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill. The chapel was built in the spot and St. Miniato is buried in a crypt inside. (Lots of other people are buried outside.) The church itself is stunning and the view of the city is incomparable.
You can easily walk down the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo, which a lot of people said is the best view in Florence. The view is amazing, but I couldn’t get over how commercialized it is. The piazza itself is a parking lot. It was sad to see cars parked in this beautiful, historic space.
On the walk back down, we cut through a rose garden to the left of the Piazzale. A gentleman at the top was locking a gate but said that we could get out at the bottom. Um, nope. The gate at the bottom was locked and we were locked in. We found someone to help but he only spoke Italian and didn’t understand how we were in there and what we needed. After some hand signals and sad attempts at Italian, two young guys who spoke both languages came by and helped us. Free!
It was time for our afternoon drinks and apertivos, so we went to Brew Dog, a craft beer bar where Steve had IPAs and was a happy man. We split the Misto board and I stopped at Gelateria Neri to load up on a little more gelato before our afternoon rest.
We stuck close to the neighborhood for dinner with a recommendation from our host. We went to Acquacotta, a little trattoria where the waitress’ husband and sister worked the kitchen. Steve had ravioli with pheasant and I had the another simple pasta with chopped tomatoes. It wasn’t quite as good as Anita, but I still liked it.
Unfortunately, we don’t know if it was the red meat from Brew Dog or the pheasant — neither of which I had — but Steve fell horribly ill with food poisoning that night. We were scheduled to leave for Paris at 4pm the next day, but there was no way he could travel.
(Unplanned) Day 4: Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella, Strozzi , and massive naps
Once we knew that we were staying, I quickly booked a local hotel and rescheduled our travel with Vueling, Blacklane, and our Airbnb host in Paris. (All were super easy!) We moved to the hotel and Steve immediately fell asleep. I struck out on my own and grabbed lunch at Oil Shoppe, an old sandwich shop that Nancy frequented in her study abroad days. It definitely still caters to students, but you can get a good sandwich for very cheap and the owner was really friendly.
I got a little lost looking for my next stop, the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella. (Say that 3x quickly.) It’s said to be the oldest still-operating pharmacy in the world. It’s basically a museum but you can actually buy stuff. The people working there are a little snobby but it’s cool to see the space and check out the medicines, like acqua de Melissa and other ancient preparations. The building itself is like a museum, as well.
Our host had recommended a show at Palazzo Strozzi, “Divine Beauty,” so I checked it out while I was Steve-less. The Strozzi itself is a beautiful old church and the exhibit included other European artists like Picasso, Chagall, etc. I was pretty exhausted after being up half the night with Steve, so I went back to the hotel to nap with him.
I grabbed a sandwich from Pane e Toscana for dinner (which is actually ranked #6 of 2000+ restaurants in Florence!) and we walked for a bit so Steve could get some fresh air. He was coming back to life!
(Unplanned) Day 4.5: CLET & more pasta
Since we didn’t have to leave our hotel until 2pm and Steve was feeling better, we wanted to make the most of our last few hours in Florence. We went back over to Oltrarno to visit Clet Abraham‘s studio. Clet is a French artist who alters road signs with funny, witty decals. We would see them pop up all over Firenze and loved seeing where he creates.
After some wandering, we settled on Caffe degli Artigiani for lunch and it was THE BEST last meal. It’s a bit hidden and looks really small on entry, but there are more tables in the back. Order the pasta of the day and a bottle of red and you’re set. I had the ridiculously fresh orrechette and Steve had lasagna; it was a very close second for my best meal in Italy.
- Skip the Academia if you don’t have a lot of time. It’s mostly the David, which I’m sure is super cool, but we didn’t want to spend that much time (and money) for one thing.
- Skip the cafes/gelato places right around the piazzas. They tend to be more touristy.
- Walk! We only took a taxi once. There is no metro; just the bus.
- Like most other places in Europe, tipping isn’t necessary. We’d occasionally round up for things but often if you’re using a PIN/chip card, there isn’t an option.
- There’s free WiFi around the center of town and it works pretty well.
- People were so friendly! Of the four cities we visited, we thought that the people in Florence were the friendliest.
Would I go back?
100%. I can’t wait to go back to see more of Florence and spend some time in Tuscany and Cinque Terre along the coast. I want to cry as I’m writing this because I loved it SO MUCH. SO MUCH.