My Guide to Florence- My Home Away from Home
You would think after living in Florence for two months, I’d be somewhat of an expert. But the reality is that during those two months I didn’t spend a whole lot of time being a tourist in Florence.
Although I had an apartment in Florence for all of April and May, between all of my weekend trips gallivanting all over Italy, I only spent a total of 35 nights in the apartment. And if I’m being honest, after four months straight of travel I was quite happy to dedicate weekdays solely to study.
Thus instead of going out to explore Florence after class, I mostly went home to study, cook in my own kitchen that was such a novelty after travel, and catch up on some blogging.
I guess with Florence, it’s one of those situations where you don’t explore the city you live in. There was so much I had planned for Florence that I didn’t get around to, but considering how much I’ve fallen in love with the city I have no doubt that I’ll be back one day to finally fulfil those plans.
But for now, here is my short guide to Florence. I did manage to squeeze in some days of exploring, and even the joy of having my own kitchen couldn’t stop me exploring the local food scene. SO of course I have food recommendations!
Florence- Where to Stay
If you are visiting as a tourist, than I’d have to recommend any area within the old town. Anything close to the Duomo is going to be a good location for exploring. For slightly cheaper deals within ten minutes walk of central Florence, I’d recommend the Santa Maria Novella area (right near the train station) or Santa Croce.
As we weren’t quite visiting as locals, we booked a place in the Statuto area, around 30 minutes walk or a 5 minute bus ride to the city centre. Florence is a small city that attracts a lot of people, so it was nice to not have to navigate the crowds everyday just to go to university.
Florence- When to Go
I wouldn’t recommend visiting Florence in the height of the summer. It’s just so crazy busy that you won’t enjoy yourself. Moreover it will be so hot and Florence doesn’t offer a coastline for you to cool off on.
In April we had perfect sunny weather whereas there was a few more rainy days in May. But I’m of the opinion visiting in these months would be a great option.
As always I’m a huge advocate of visiting anywhere in Europe in the winter, especially Italy which still remains relatively sunny. I love avoiding the crowds and its so much more comfortable to throw on a coat and explore in the cold than trying to cool down while exploring in the heat.
Florence- What to Do
Climb the Duomo
The Duomo as its affectionately known by anyone that visits Florence, refers to the city’s main cathedral. It’s seriously the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen. I love the renaissance architecture!
Other than stopping for a drink in a nearby bar in Piazza Duomo and admiring the view, the best way to see the Duomo is to climb to the top. Tickets cost €15 but that includes all of the Cathedral sights including the bell tower (if you haven’t climbed enough) and the Bapistry.
The Duomo opens at 8.30am and my biggest piece of advice is to be there for opening. The lines to climb get long, the place gets crowded and the small spaces on the way up mean it can get really claustrophic up there. The best way to avoid the crowds is to start early.
But its all worth it for the view from the top!
If you can’t avoid the crowds, an alternative is to climb the bell tower instead. I think you’d get a great shot from the top because you’d actually be able to put the Duomo in your photo (something you can’t do from the other side when you are on top of it).
Ponte Vecchio and the River Arno
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful bridges in all of Europe, you can’t leave Florence without walking across this icon of the city.
The bridge as it exists today was constructed in 1345, which means it’s almost 700 years old! It’s crazy to think its been standing there across the River Arno for all that time. Interestingly while we were there it was threatened by a huge pipe burst that cut off water to the majority of Florence and drowned a dozen cars just down the river bank from the bridge.
With Italian plumbing, I wouldn’t count on it being there forever!
This bridge becomes completely packed with people, so its another one of those sites where it is worth getting there early. If for some reason you find yourself there in the afternoon, the better and slightly quieter way to explore the bridge is to wander down the river bank.
From this position you can see it in all of its glory, whereas when you are on the actual bridge all you’ll find is expensive jewellery shops, hundreds of people and admittedly a great view of the Arno.
This square overlooking Florence has been dubbed one of the most romantic places in Europe. Since I was visiting with my mum and her boyfriend, I can’t say I was feeling the romantic vibes when I was visiting.
But it does offer some of the best views over the city of Florence. It’s the best way to admire the city in all of its Renaissance glory. It’s also a gorgeous place to see the sunset with some friends and a couple of bottles of good Chianti wine. Unfortunately this was a plan I never got to fulfil while I was there.
You can walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo by crossing the River Arno and following the path up. It’s a climb but not too difficult, especially if you have already conquered the Duomo. Otherwise there are a couple of buses that leave from Santa Maria Novella. You’ll need to catch either bus number 12 and 13. Don’t forget to buy your bus tickets from a Tabacchi to avoid paying almost double on the bus.
Piazza della Signoria and the Uffizi Gallery
This was my favourite square in all of Florence. The best way to describe it is an open air museum, as its home to some incredible statutes that you can visit and gaze at without paying a cent.
One of the huge statues, Giambologna’s ‘Rape of the Sabines’ was carved out of only one piece of stone and depicts an event where Roman men obtained their future wives from the Sabines. You’ll also find a copy of Michelangelo’s David, an incredible fountain and sometimes a splattering of modern art that is on display in the square.
Right next to the square is the Uffizi Gallery where you can admire lots of incredible Italian art. I never got to visit any of the museums in Florence, a fact I really regret. But after four months in Europe, I needed a little bit of a break from incredible European art- talk about a first world problem!
Speaking of Italian art, if you want to see the real statue of David than you’ll need to go to L’Accademia where it is now housed. It’s probably really terrible that I spent two months in Florence without going to admire David and all of his attributes. In my defence, I did admit at the beginning of this post that I took a lazy approach to Florence sightseeing! I definitely need to return as a ‘proper’ tourist.
Another one of my massive regrets from my time in Florence is that I never made it to the Boboli Gardens. All of my friends that visited absolutely loved this place, and I had plans to go on my last day in Florence but just never got there (I was too busy moping about leaving).
Wandering the old streets and stumbling upon other landmarks
There are so many more things to put on this list that you’ll see best if you explore Florence by wandering its streets. If you are a more structured person, you can always jump on a free walking tour- there is a normal one and a Medici (the most famous Florentine family) themed one.
But a few of the other places you should make sure you ‘stumble’ upon are two of Florence’s other beautiful churches- the Church of Santa Maria Novella and the Church of Santa Croce. I particularly love wandering around the old streets near the Ponte Vecchio, along the River Arno and through the streets of Santa Croce.
Florence- Where to Eat
I made good use of my kitchen in my apartment in Florence, but also managed some delicious meals. Hence I have some recommendations, although not all of them are accompanied by pretty food pictures. Often when I went out in Florence I was going out as a local and just didn’t bring my camera with me.
The Mercato Centrale- Central Market- is home to many sellers of local produce. I loved wandering around the bottom level of the market just for the experience of seeing the Italians buying their food and seeing all of the amazing produce.
But the highlight of Mercato Centrale is the newly developed second level, where you’ll find a huge food court. I know ‘food court’ might come with some bad connotations but this isn’t your average food court- the food here is incredible. You’ll find some of the best pizza in Florence at the Napoli style pizza place here.
Next to the pizza place is a delicious fresh pasta place with a changing menu- during my many times at the market I ate all kinds of different pasta dishes from salmon filled gnocchi to spaghetti carbonara. I also had delicious seafood from the seafood restaurant here. For vegeterians and vegans, there is a whole stand dedicated to delicious vegetarian and vegan burgers and soups.
There are also a few really affordable bars where you’ll find the local soccer game playing. It’s seriously the one stop shop of your Italian food and alcohol dreams.
Aperitivo at Kitsch Devx
Aperitivo literally translates to ‘happy hour’. Traditionally it’s a certain time of the day where a bar will serve snacks such as small sandwiches along with your drink. It’s basically the Italian version of tapas.
But Kitsch Devx has taken Aperitivo to a whole new level. On any night of the week until late, you’ll spend €10 on a delicious cocktail from their extensive cocktail list (I’d recommend the Mojito) and then have the privilege of access to their all-you-can-eat aperitivo buffet. They usually have at least three pasta dishes, an assortment of pizzas, plates of salad and vegetables, plates of meat, casseroles and even fruit salad for dessert. The value is incredible. And if you want a second drink, another cocktail will only cost you €5.
Needless to say, this place was a local haunt of all of us students.
Panini at All’Antico Vinaio
This place is home to the best sandwich I have ever had in my life. At lunchtime you’ll find a line out the door and down the street, and you can expect to wait at least thirty minutes. Our trick for avoiding the crowds was always to arrive at 11-11.30am when they opened and get our sandwich to eat later. And by eat later, I mean we usually lasted about five minutes with the sandwich in our bag before we gave in and stopped to eat it.
For the measly fee of €5 you’ll get to select from a wide range of fillings including tomatoes, eggplants, gorgonzola, mozzarella, porchetta, prosciutto and many other types of meat. The bread is homemade, something I know for a fact given there have been many times where I’ve had the pleasure of hot steamy bread straight out of their oven.
My favourite combination was prosciutto, rocket, gorgonzola and truffle cream. The amount of meat they pile onto your sandwich is incredible. Everytime I ate here, I felt both unlucky and lucky to be living outside of the main city. Unlucky because I would have eaten them everyday, and lucky because I’m not sure eating those sandwiches everyday would be great for my health!
If you want a fancy meal in Florence, this is the place to go. It’s not as cheap as the market but the food is delicious, and won’t break your budget if you are prepared for a little bit of a splurge.
I ate here twice during my time in Florence and both times ordered the exact same combination of dishes; bruschetta for entrée, gnocchi gorgonzola for main, and panna cotta for dessert. It’s still the best meal I ever had in Florence, in particular their panna cotta and the bruschetta was the best I had in Italy.
Gelato! Gelato! Gelato!
I did a lot of gelato eating while I was in Florence with the sole purpose of finding the best one. There is such a thing as bad gelato in Italy, so don’t just stop at any old place. In particular avoid the places in the summer touristy areas, such as any of the places on the road between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria.
My favourite places for gelato in Florence were at Gelateria dei Neri, Gelateria La Carraia and Carapina. In particular I loved the cheesecake flavour at dei Neri and the pear flavour at Carapina!
It’s an awesome city and I couldn’t have picked a better place to call home while I took a much needed break from constantly being on the road. It’s always going to be one of my favourite cities in Europe and I know that I’ll be returning!
Anything else to add?
I’m aware that this is an incomplete guide! So feel free to comment below with recommendations and I’ll add them into the post!