In college, I studied abroad in the city that started the Renaissance: the magnificent Florence, Italy. I spent my time there living the good life: wandering the cobblestone streets, visiting markets and museums, sampling gelato from every notable place in town and eating enough pizza and pasta to feed a small village… balanced amongst my intensely dedicated studying, of course.
Well, my Packed Suitcase friends, today I’m pulling back the veil and sharing my tips to insider’s Florence with you, too. Enjoy!
WHERE TO STAY:
It’s a given that Florence’s historical city center is the place to stay. This is one town that’s perfect for the weekend or extended trip, because it’s actually fairly small. Save the money and skip the car rental, because you should be able to walk everywhere worth going during your visit.
|Try to stay within these two prime locations|
Staying on the Oltrarno side is just a mere 5-10 minute walk to the Duomo and – just think! – every time you cross the river you’ll walk across the Ponte Vecchio or another gorgeous bridge. (Can you say “photo op”?)
|View from the Ponte Vecchio at Sunset|
I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you of the one area I wouldn’t recommend staying: directly around the train station (Santa Maria Novella, to the left of the top circle). While convenient if you have jaunts planned to Venice or Rome, train stations always tend to be a little shadier, and our beautiful Florence is no exception.
Also, if you go too far past Santa Croce, you’re getting a bit far from where the action is. Part of the fun is getting to walk everywhere comfortably.
*Note: For actual hotel reviews, feel free to look at VRBO.com, Lonely Planet or Expedia, etc.
Must-see art spots:
• The Accademia, to see Michaelanglo’s “David” in the flesh. (*Be sure to reserve your spot before you get there to avoid waiting in long lines.)
• The Uffizi Gallery, to view works from Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Giotto, Raphael, Cimabue, and, the Florentine Golden Child himself, Michelangelo. My favorite is Botticelli’s “Primavera.” (*Try to book tickets in advance for this museum, too.)
• Right outside the Uffizi Gallery is the Piazza della Signoria’s Loggia dei Lanzi, a free open air sculpture gallery chock full of Renaissance art, like Cellini’s “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” (1554) and Giambologna’s “The Rape of the Sabine Women” (1583). The piazza’s square is also home to the striking “Fountain of Neptune.” (1565)
|Giambologna’s “The Rape of the Sabine Women” in the Loggia dei Lanzi|
• Fun Florence Art Fact: Would you believe me if I told you that Florence has not one, not two but THREE David statues scattered around Florence? (They really do love their Michelangelo, don’t they?)
1. The Real Deal: Accademia
2. Imitation, but in good company: Piazza della Signoria
3. Imitation, but with a great view: Piazzale Michelangelo
If history’s what you crave:
|Santa Croce, and an artist’s market|
• A “Thank Goodness” Florence History Fact: The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence that was preserved (and not destroyed) by Germans during World War II.
For great views of the city:
• Or, why not grab a bottle of vino and bring it along for a nice uphill stroll to the Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy the views of the city at sunset. (Here’s my video of my journey:)
If shopping’s more your bag:
• For inexpensive souvenirs, one of the many outdoor markets is the way to go. You’re likely to stumble across them as you walk throughout the city, but my top pick is the San Lorenzo Market. There’s where I buy my weight in pashmina scarfs or ties to bring home as gifts.
• For high class fashion, look no further than the Via de’ Tornabuoni. With storefronts like Versace, Gucci and Ferragamo, think of it as Florence’s Rodeo Drive. (The nearby Via della Vigna Nuova, with Valentino, Armani and Pucci, ain’t too shabby either!)
• Not-so-fun Florence Shopping Fact: While it might be appealing to have your very own Prada purse knock off (at least you can tell your friends it’s from Italy?) stay far, far away from the peddlers selling fake designer goods. In an effort to protect the Italian designers and fashion economy, the police won’t hesitate to fine you upwards of €10,000 Euros if you’re caught buying fake Fendi’s on the street.
If you do nothing else, be sure to come to Florence with a hearty appetite, because the food truly is amazing! While you really can’t go wrong with wherever you choose to nosh on, here are some of my faves:
|Pasta bows stuffed with pear, in an asparagus and cheese sauce (Fiocchetti di pera in salsa di taleggio e asparagi)|
• Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco is another hidden gem, also on the Oltrarno. You’ll find it full of locals, and this “white boar” spot won’t disappoint.
|Pasta with a hearty ragu of long stewed boar and olives|
• For great ambiance, grab a table at one of Piazza della Signoria’s many cafes. While you’ll pay more to eat in the popular piazza, it’s worth the price to get a prime people-watching spot.
Try flavors like Stracciatella (cream with crunchy chocolate bits), Gianduia (chocolate hazelnut), Frutti di Bosco (fruits of the forest) and Amarena (cream with cherry pieces).
• Fun Florence Foodie Fact: Did you know that the traditional bread made in Florence isn’t made with salt? It’s a tradition dating back since the 1100’s and is said to be because back then there was a pricey tax on salt. So pricey, in fact, that the bakers of Florence rebelled and decided that their bread would henceforth be sans salt.
Of course, the end result is a dense, bland, generally unappealing bread barely fit to soak up your delicious sauce, but you have to respect the Florentines for sticking to their convictions, right?
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS FOR ME ABOUT FLORENCE, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT OR SHOOT ME AN EMAIL (chris [at] packedsuitcase [dot] com).