Florence: The Urban Renaissance

In Italy, Travel Guides
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View from Palazzo Vecchio Tower, Florence

Why Visit Florence?

The capital of Tuscany is often overlooked by the big names of Italy. However those who do make their way to Florence never have regret. This city is the center of History, Art, and Leather in Italy. Home to some of the largest attractions in Italy like the Worlds Third Largest Cathedral Santa Maria Del Fiore, Galleria Degli Uffizi, and Michelangelo’s Masterpiece: The Statue of David. Beyond the many tourist attractions Florence is a bustling city seems to be untouched by since the Renaissance  but a young urban feel. Due to the large population of study abroad students who inhabit the city for nine months of the year Florence has a hopping night life and their is always something to do. Not to mention food and wine that is to die for.

Where In The World Is Florence?

Located in the heart of Italy, Tuscany. Florence is situated at the northern tip of the region. With it being pretty centrally located in Italy Florence is the perfect city to come visit and make a home-base for day trips throughout northern and central Italy.

View out the apartment window that my mom rented when visiting me.

View out the apartment window that my mom rented when visiting me.

Entrance to a private courtyard in Florence.

Entrance to a private courtyard in Florence.

How to get to Florence 

Florence has an airport situated 15-20 minutes outside the center of the city. Other airports that are near to Florence are in Pisa and Bologna, each are about an hour outside of Florence and have bus’s and trains that go to Florence.

What to do in Florence..

Walking the winding cobble stoned streets of Florence offers a new adventure around every turn.  Florence is filled with world renowned museums and incredible views the list of things to do and see could go on and on. In this guide I am going to outline my favorite things to do and see in the city.

Streets of Florence

Streets of Florence

Tiny street shop in Florence

Tiny street shop in Florence

 

Flower trucks can be spotted all over the city. Flag one down if you are in need of some flowers.

Flower trucks can be spotted all over the city. Flag one down if you are in need of some flowers.

 

Museums

Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi ) has the worlds largest collection of Renaissance Art. It is home to some of the most world famous paintings like  Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna.

The Uffizi

Accademia Gallery (Galleria degli Accademia) Michelangelo’s Statue of David is the main attraction here.

Bargello Museum (Museo Del Bargello) Located in one of Florence’s oldest buildings, it has housed executions, prisoners, courthouses, and is now one of the most famous museums in Florence. Although the Bargello hosts a lot of Michelangelo’s early work, the real start of the museum is the numerous works of art done by Donatello.

Markets

Central Market (Mercato Centrale) Lower floor open only until the early afternoon is filled with meat, fruit and cheese stands. The upper floor is open until midnight and is filled with different restaurants and cafe vendors. They have everything from the typical pizza, pasta, wine bars to hamburgers and salad bars. It is a must see attraction in Florence.

Pastries from the central market

Pastries from the central market

San Lorenzo Leather Market (Mercato San Lorenzo) This open air market is filled with vendors selling leather purses, belts, wallets and other Italian goodies. Make sure to haggle with the vendors, I once got a purse for 25 Euros when they first tried to sell it to me for 70 Euros.

View from above the leather market

View from above the leather market

Flower Market (Mercato dei Fiore) This market is every Thursday morning in the arcades of Piazza Republica. Even if you do not need any flowers or plants it is great to see, great picture opportunities.

Cascine Market (Mercato Le Cascine) This Tuesday morning market is located 5 minutes out of the city by tramway.  It is a market that has everything from traditional foods to clothing and shoes to random trinkets. It is open from 6 am to about 1 pm depending on the weather. It is mostly locals that are browsing this market, be prepared to practice your Italian.

Gardens

The Boboli Gardens are big enough to spend the entire afternoon getting lost. Filled with Renaissance statues and archways of greenery. I suggest packing a lunch and finding a quiet place to have a picnic.

Greenery Archways in the Boboli Gardens

Greenery Archways in the Boboli Gardens

Bardini Gardens are smaller but less popular, in the spring they offer wonderful blooming flowers and place to find peace and quiet from the bustle of the city.

Bardini Gardens

Bardini Gardens

 

Churches

Santa Maria Del Fiore Also referred to as “The Duomo” because of the impressive Dome on the cathedral. This is defiantly one of the main attractions of Florence. I find myself in awe of the detail of this church every time I pass by it. The inside of the cathedral is a little underwhelming compared to the extensive outside.

Santa Maria Novella Build by Domenican Monks around their monastery.  The impressive courtyard is reason enough to visit.

Medici Chapel Houses the tombs of the Medici Family who once ruled over Florence. The tombs where completely designed and produced by Michelangelo himself!

Basilica di Santa Croce Giotto frescoes located inside are the highlight of this basilica, located in a beautiful and large piazza that often has pop up markets like the Christmas Markets in December.

Santa Croce Christmas Market

Santa Croce Christmas Market

Views

Piazzale Michealangelo My personal favorite place in Florence. This Piazza is located on top of a hill on the opposite side of the river from the main tourist attractions in Florence. It offers an amazing view of the city. It is a perfect spot to bring a bottle of wine to sit and sip and watch the sunset over the city.

View from the walk up to Piazzalle Michelangelo

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

Ponte Vecchio is the bridge with all the houses on it can be viewed from many places in the city. My favorite place to view it from is one of the two  neighboring bridges.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Giottos Bell Tower Located next to the Duomo the bell tower offers a panoramic view from the center of the city. It offers an up close view of the Duomo.

Giotto's Bell Tower, Offers amazing views from the top!

Giotto’s Bell Tower, Offers amazing views from the top!

The Duomo If you are up for a hike you can climb the Duomo of Santa Maria Del Fiore. It offers an amazing 360 degree view of Florence and the surrounding areas.

 

Shopping

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Lets Talk Food…

It’s no secret that Italy is known for their cuisines and Florence is no exception. The food here is some of the best food I have ever indulged in.

Gelato

Hazelnut and Pistachio Gelato in front of the Duomo

Hazelnut and Pistachio Gelato in Front of the Duomo

Let’s start with the good stuff: Gelato. For those of you who are not aware of the goodness of gelato prepare your taste buds for a life changing experience. Gelato is ice-cream on steroids. In Florence you will find a gelato shop on just about every corner. Some things to keep in mind when trying to decided which gelato shops you want to try:

  • Gelato should never be more than 2.50 Euros for the small cone, if it’s more your being ripped off
  • The best gelato is normally the ones in tubs, not the big fancy gelato
  • ask if the gelato is homemade, if not move along
  • you can typically get more than one flavor, choose wisely

Traditional Cuisine 

For the people who are trying to have an authentic Tuscan experience you can indulge in one of these dishes that have been staples in the Tuscan diet for centuries.

Lampredotto Typically served at street vendors, look for the groups of middle aged Italian men to know you are at a good vendor. This cuisine is made of cow stomach and is served sandwich style with your choice of sauce. (Also served at the Central Market)

Crostini is Chicken liver cut into little pieces and made into a spread and served on little pieces of toasted bread.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina T-Bone Steak served extremely rare. The secret behind this dish is the specific cows they use, they are completely free grazing cows only grazing on a specific hillside in Tuscany. You typically get to pick your piece of meat and ask the chief any questions you may have about the piece of meat you choose.

Recommended Restaurants 

Osteria Santo Spirto located across the river and very affordable, portion sizes are huge but you can order half sizes for most dishes

Il Latini This restaurant is a bit pricey but is great for if you are up for trying traditional cuisine. Offers a four course family style dinner. Reservations needed.

Il Latini Resturant, Family style dining with traditional food!

Il Latini Resturant, Family style dining with traditional food!

Gusto Leo Great pizza and homemade pasta

Yellow Bar Homemade pasta, my favorite dish is the gnocchi rose

All’Antico Vinaio Best panini in all of Florence

Gusta Pizza Located across the river offers some of the best pizza in the city. You can watch as they make it fresh to order in the stone fire oven. If you are lucky they will make it in the shape of a heart.

Gusta Pizza

Gusta Pizza

La Menagere a concept cafe offering a wide range of dishes, super cute decor. Great place to grab a coffee and Salad or pastry. This place is a restaurant meets cafe meets jazz lounge, meets flower shop.

Flower shop inside of Le Menagere

Flower shop inside of Le Menagere

What to drink..

Depending on what time of the day their are standard drinks, but one thing is for sure, It is always time for wine.

Coffee

Coffee and Italian Culture goes hand and hand. Starting your day with a cappucino is a staple in the lifestyle. After every meal you will see Italians having espresso or macchiato to wash down their meals.

Cappuccino from News Cafe in Florence

Cappuccino from News Cafe in Florence

Aperitifs

In the Italian Culture dinner is not served till around 9 so it is typical grab a drink with friends after work, kind of like a happy hour. However they have specific drinks that are made with herbal ingredients to get your stomach moving and ready for dinner.

Sprtiz Is my favorite apertiv and it made with an orange flavored aperol, prosecco, and a splash of white soda.

A Spritz at Le Mengare

A Spritz at La Menagere

Negroni has a stronger taste than the spritz and is made with vermuth, campari, gin and orange slices

Wine

Being the capital of Tuscany it is no surprise that Florence has some of the best wines. The wines that your taste buds will thank you for choosing will all come from the following regions: Brunello di Montalcino, Carmigano, Chianti (my personal favorite), Bolgheri, San Gimignano, and Montepulciano. For the most part the wine list should state the region they are from, pick any of these and you will be more than happy.

Where to Grab a Drink

Casual Cocktail Hot Spots: 

Drinks at Zoe

Drinks at Zoe

Wine Bars

Pubs

Night clubs 

If you are ready to dance the night away check out these nightclubs and be prepared to not sleep. Nightlife in Florence stays bumping until about 6 in the morning.

 

Enjoy Florence!

Vespa on the walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo

Vespa on the walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo

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