Image above by Erin Garrison
Today’s Florence City Guide comes to us from Kate Hash, a freelance writer, web/marketing consultant and Florence resident. An Italian-American originally from Philadelphia, Kate made the decision to return to the homeland and hasn’t looked back since. She and her intrepid husband Rob spend their days working with clients around the world and their nights exploring Florence. You can read about their adventures over at their blog, La Vita è Bella. Today she shares with us some of the many marvels of the beautiful and historical Florence, and even includes some valuable tips for locating all of these fantastic listings! Thanks Kate for this fantastic glimpse into this Renaissance city! –Stephanie
Getting the lay of the land…
The neighborhoods of central Florence can be best divided by referencing the nearest church or major monument*. This makes trip planning extra fun as you get to balance each neighborhood shopping and dining outing with some serious cultural and intellectual activity. High tourist season is typically from May-August and it gets very crowded during those times. If you can, try visiting in November or February, two quieter months when Florence’s true personality comes out a bit more.
*The neighborhoods of Florence go by slightly different names locally (and they change depending on who you ask) and divisions can be blurry. For the visitor to Florence, there is no easier way to divide up this gorgeous city than thinking of neighborhoods in relation to their major monuments.
An important disclaimer: food is very serious business here in Italy. Ask 100 people in Florence for their favorite trattoria and you’re likely to get 100 different answers. As such, while the dining options below represent my favorites, I would never claim them to be “the best.”
Check out this Google Map of all the location mentioned below!
Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo), San Lorenzo and San Marco Areas
The famous Duomo stands smack in the center of town. First time visitors will be in awe of the sheer size and artistry of this gorgeous basilica. The area surrounding the Duomo is a mix of tourist traps and authentic shops and restaurants, so recommendations from locals are key.
Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo) – Along with the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo is one of the lasting images travelers associated with Florence. The Cathdral, Baptisry and the dome iteslf are a testament to the genius of the Renassiance. Be sure to wear comfy shoes if you decide to climb to the top of the dome (acrophobics and claustrophobics should wait at ground level for their friends).
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore di Firenze, Via della Canonica 1 – If time allows, also visit the museum behind the Cathedral. It houses art, sculpture and books that have been removed from the Cathedral over the years for
safe-keeping. It’s a hidden gem that some people walk right on by.
Piazza della Repubblica – My favorite piazza in the city, Piazza della Repubblica is a fun place to sit with gelato and people watch. In adddition to being a grand piazza, it’s also steeped in history.
Accademia, Via Ricasoli 58-60 – The Accademia is famous for being the home of the famous David sculpture (and many stop in only to see it), but travelers that slow down to look around the gallery will also find an impressive selection of sculpture by some of Florence’s most imporant artists.
throughout your entire tour.
Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento 87r – A huge indoor market full of Italian meats, cheeses, spices, fruits and veggies, as well as imported ones, too. In addition to locals doing their daily grocery shopping, it’s a great place to pick up a made-to-order lunch plate.
San Lorenzo street market – In the area around San Lorenzo is a huge street market, boasting a huge selection of leather goods. Be picky, as the quality definitely varies from vendor to vendor, as do the prices. Don’t be afraid to haggle!
Desii Vintage, Via de’Conti 19 – One of the best-kept vintage stores in town, it’s actually two stores side-by-side, one for men and one for woman.
La Rinascente, Piazza della Repubblica – Normally I would encourage people to visit a foreign country and go to a department store, but the home section of La Rinascente sells a bunch of Florentine products (such a soaps, home perfumes and accessories) that it’s nice to find all in one place.
Flower Market, Piazza della Repubblica – If you’re in town on a Thursday, be sure to swing by the flower market along the portico outside of the post office in Piazza della Repubblica. The colors, smells and sites and dreamy to say the least.
Eat + Drink
Buongustai, Via de’Cerchi 15r – Tucked away on a site street, this little restaurant is the perfect place to grab a filling lunch. Everything on the menu looks, smells and tastes delicious.
Cucciolo Bar & Pasticceria, Via Corso 25r – Smack in the middle of the historic center and only a minute from the Duomo, this cute little cafe is the perfect place to get a quick drink and a bite to eat. Unlike many cafes in this part of town, the prices are fair.
Festival del Gelato, Via del Corso 75r – A welcome respite in the hot summer, the gelato selection in Festival del Gelato is serious business. They let you mix flavors, so experiment with your favorite combinations.
Osteria i Tozzo di Pane, via Guelfa 94r – Another great osteria in the city center with fantastic food and a cozy atmosphere.
Florence View B&B, Piazza di San Giovanni, 2
Hotel Savoy, Piazza della Repubblica, 7
Santa Maria Novella Area
The area around Santa Maria Novella (both the church and the train station) is alwasy bustling. You won’t find a more diverse cross-section of travelers, locals and everyone in between than you will in this section of town. Be brave and wander down tiny alleys and you may be rewarded by truly off the beaten track finds.
Museo Nazionale Alinari della Fotografia, Piazza di Santa Maria Novella 14 – For photography-lovers, this a
must-see museum dedicated to both the history of photography, as well as modern exhibits.
Santa Maria Novella – In the spring and summer, the lawn in front of the church is strewn with sun-bathers.
Inside the church, the scene is equally crowded and captivating. Featuring works by Bronzino, D’Agnolo, Pisano, Vasari and others, Santa Maria Novella is another Renaissance wonder.
Flair, Piazza Carlo Goldoni 6r – I hardly have words for this imbeccably stylish home decor and furniture store. Their window displays make me giddy every time I walk by.
Officina Profumo Farmeceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Via della Scala 16 – A good many people swear by the fragrance and cosmetic products produced at the Offcina Profumo. This is must-do itinerary item for the fragrance-lover.
Leone Cei & Sons, Via dei Fossi 47r - This store mixes new decor items with beautiful antique furniture in a way that is uniquely Italian.
Studio Dimore Collection, Via dei Fossi 41r – I’m a big fan of mid-century modern furniture, which means this home decor store has a special place in my heart. The has mid-century items from all over the world, making for a unique collection.
Eat + Drink
Osteria di Giovanni, Via del Moro 22 – A favorite among locals, students and tourists alike, this restaurant features Tuscan classics and new dishes. Go hungry and leave very, very happy.
Hotel Paris, Via dei Banchi, 2
Hotel Santa Maria Novella, Piazza Santa Maria Novella, 1
Palazzo Strozzi and Uffizi Areas
There is more important Renaissance art in these two neighborhoods than just about anywhere else in world. As you walk around this part of town, however, don’t forget to admire the breath-taking architecture. For those that love high-end fashion, this neighborhood is also where you’ll find the Florentine storefronts for some of the worlds most sought-after brands.
Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, Palazzo Spini Feroni, Via Tournaboni 2 – The name says it all. An entire museum dedicated to the fashion genius of Salvatore Ferragamo. In addition to a permanent exhibit, they often feature special collections and installations. This is a must-see for fashion-lovers.
Uffizi, Piazzale degli Uffizi 6 – Little introduction is needed for this gorgeous jewel of the Renaissance. Give yourself at least a half day to explore the artwork in the Uffizi. If you can snag it, try to hop on a tour of the Vasari Corridor. These special tours are only offered in Italian, but worth it for an insider’s look at the Medici family’s special walkway through the city.
Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo degli Strozzi 1 – When your done marveling at the sheer size and imposing nature of this palazzo, venture inside a check out the latest exhibit. A great exhibit featuring Picasso, Miro and Dali is
open through the summer.
Ponte Vecchio – The famous Ponte Vecchio is full of jewelry shops, many of which have been in the hands of the same families for generations. Although overpriced, there are some wonderful pieces to be found. If you want to get a great photo of the Ponte Vecchio, walk down to Ponte Santa Trinita and snap way.
Via de’Tournabouni – Walk down this street to window-shop (or really shop!) at Gucci, Pucci, Ferragamo and other Italian luxury brands.
Il Papiro, via Porta Rossa 76r (various location) – With a handful of stores all over Italy and the world, you could classify Il Papiro as a “chain” store, but that can’t diminish the quality of the paper products available in its stores.
Officina Vintage, Borgo degli Albizi 85r – One of the few stores my husband and I can both happily browse at the same time, Officina is a great place to find well-priced vintage items for both him and her.
Signum, Borgo degli Albizi 54r – Watch a group of hip, young aristans make paper (at affordable prices) in this great little paper shop.
Pitti Vintage, Borgo degli Abizi 72r – Full of stylish Italian women’s vintage clothing. My favorites are the dresses from the 1950′s). They have an English-language website and ship internationally, too!
Eat + Drink
Osteria del Porcellino, Via Val di Lamona 7 – Delicious high-quality food in a beautiful setting.
Perchè No, Via dei Tavolini 19r – A great little gelateria and sweet shop. Relax with an espresso and a dolce after a day exploring in the city center.
Osteria Tournabouni, Via de’Corsi 5 – A bit pricey, but this osteria features lots of organic options and is always tasty.
Trattoria Marione, Via della Spada 27R – A short, but delicious menu, that focuses on simple Tuscan classics in a cozy atmosphere.
Hotel Helvetia & Bristol, Via de’Pescioni 2
Strozzi Palace Hotel - Via dei Vecchietti 4
Piazza di Santa Croce is a popular spot for festivals throughout the year (the chocolate festival in February is my absolute favorite), so be sure to swing by and see if any are set up while you’re in town. While the piazza are gets crowded during the tourist season, the side streets nearby can be blissfully quiet and entrancing — which is ironic, considering that at night Santa Croce, which is full of bars and clubs popular with students, transforms into a lively and loud party venue.
Museo Galileo, Piazza dei Giudici 1 - Even those of us that aren’t crazy about science and astronomy can appreciate the sheer genious of Galileo. This museum is simply a fun and fascinating place to explore. It’s also won numerous international museum awards lately, too.
Sante Croce – Another must-see church in this city full of gorgeous cathedrals. It features work by Cimabue, Donatello, Giotto and Vasari. Tickets are a little expensive, but worth it in my book.
Libreria Salimbeni, Via Matteo Palmieri 16r – My husband’s favorite vintage bookstore in Florence. It’s a great place to find recently out-of-print books, as well centuries old tomes.
Eat + Drink
Trattoria Anita, Via del Parlascio 2r – Hidden away so only locals or those in-the-know can find it, this restaurant makes Tuscan specialties and changes their menu often. It’s quite crowded during the Italian
lunch hour, but you can beat the crowds if you show up early (think noonish).
Ristorante Boccadama, Piazza Santa Croce 25r – A fantastic spot for an outdoor meal when the weather is nice. The lunch menu looks limited, but every dish I’ve tried is delicious. Sometimes small is good!
Vivoli, Via Isole delle Stinche 74 - Generally considered one of the best (if the the best) spot for gelato in the city.
La Buchetta, Via de’benci 3 - The food and drinks are great here, but for me the star of the show is the interior decoration. I would live here if I could.
Acasamia, Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti 5r – A little further out is a great spot for good food, Acasamia. The prices and great and the food just as good.
Hotel Dante, Via San Cristofano 2
Plaza Hotel Lucchesi, Lugarno della Zecca Vecchia 38
Call me biased (I live on the far edge of this neighborhood in Porta Romana), but I think this is one of the best parts of town. As you move further away from the Ponte Vecchio, you can experience a more tranquil, authentic version of Florence. Antique lovers will want to stroll down Via Maggio, which features fine antique dealers in nearly every storefront.
Palazzo Pitti – The collections in Palazzo Pitti are immense and magnificant, so if you have the time, the Palazzo Pitti should really be explored over the course of two days. The ticketing structure at Palazzo Pitti makes this a cost-effective approach, too, since they group the collections into a few groups. On day one, check out The Palatine Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art. On day two, visit the Costume Gallery, Siler Museum and the Porcelain Museum.
Tethys Fine Art Photography Gallery, Via Maggio 58r – A gem of a gallery with fantastic photography and
illustration exhibits. Fantastic curation coupled with libero ingresso (free entrance) make this a can’t miss stop on your cultural tour.
Museo Stefano Bardini, Via dei Renai 37 – Often left off the itineraries of most tourists, this great museum holds over 2,000 items (the sculptures are my favorite), including works from Camaino, Donatello and Guercino.
Piazzale Michelangelo – It’s technically outside of the Palazzo Pitti area, but no visit to Florence should omit a visit to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The views of the city, particularly at dusk, are spectacular.
Riccardo Barthel Interiors, Via dei Serragli, 234r – Ever dream of owning a farmhouse in Tuscany? Decorate your imaginery home when you wander this gorgeous, insanely well-curated home interiors store.
Antonio Gatto, Piazza de’Pitti 5 – I love watching the window displays in this shop rotate. The hats inside a gorgeous and make me long for a time when everyone wore a hat outside.
Rive Gauche, – High quality men’s and women’s leather items (mostly shoes) at very reasonable prices. Ask a lot of questions, as some items are produced completely in Italy while others are imported.
Alessandro Dari, Via San Niccolo 115r – I can only dream about owning one of this craftman’s amazing pieces, but the jewelry and other items in his shop are nothing short of exquisite.
MPShop Vintage, Via Maggio 76r – I’ve picked up some great vintage pieces at this teeny vintage store (no name on the front of the shop) at the end of Via Maggio.
Antica Tappezzeria Borsellini, Viale Maggio 56R – The perfect place to find high-end, custom-made sofas and chairs or to have a current gem recovered.
Morbar, Via Maggio 70 – Are you, by chance, a bride-to-be? If so, be sure to take a peek inside the wedding
dress shop. Every time I pass it makes me want to get married all over again!
Eat + Drink
Trattoria 4 Leoni, Via de’Vellutini 1r – A great, quaint trattoria sandwiched right between the Santo Spirito and Palazzo Pitti areas. The outdoor dining is right on Piazza della Passera, a cute little piazza tucked into side streets.
Goldenview, Via de’Bardi 58 – Its location near the Ponte Vecchio means it can be full of tourists during the busy season, but you can’t beat the views and the seasonal house specialties — or the live jazz that starts after
9pm. To hand with locals, make a reservation for after 9 or 9:30.
Pitti Gola e Cantina, Piazza de’Pitti 16 – A fantastic little wine bar right across from Palazzo Pitti. If you spend the day at Palazzo Pitti, this is the place to stop for a quick taste of wine before you head back to your hotel to get ready for dinner.
Rifrullo II, Via di San Niccolo 55r – A hip cafe/bar in a neat part of town. It’s a great spot for a nightime drink and appertivo.
5 e Cinque, Piazza della Passera, 1 – Tucked away in a teeny Piazza near the Palazzo Pitti, this restaurant serves only in-season, organic food. The menu changes daily.
Home in Florence, Via Santa Maria 21
Pucci Suites, Via Romana 61
Giglio Bianco, Via Romana 28
Santo Spirito Area
The Palazzo Pitti and Santo Spirito areas are sometimes included under the umbrella of the Oltrarno, a term you hear often for this area on the “other side” of the Arno River. For me, a perfect afternoon is people watching whilst eating a panino from Gustapanino on the steps of Santo Spirito. This section of town just simply makes me happy. Although is can get crowded during the high season, it’s a great place to relax and explore any time of year.
Chiesa di Santo Spirito – Despite its somewhat plain exterior, Santo Spirito’s interior is exquisitely beautiful. Often (and inexplicably) less crowded than those in the city center, this church features works by many top Renaissance artists, although most would argue that the architecture is the star of the show.
Ceri M. Complementi Di Arredamento, Via dei Serragli 24 – One of my favorite art/frame shops in the city. Every time I pass by I fall in love with a new print and equally wonderful (and ornate) frame.
Angela Caputi, Via Santo Spirito 58r – The costume jewelry in this store will have you drooling. If you’re looking to make an investment in a piece you’ll own forever, Angela’s shop is the place to go.
Calzature Francesco da Firenze, Via Santo Spirito 62r – My husband is dying for a pair of custom, handmade shoes from this shop. Stop by this shop and stare in the window to watch a true craftsman at work.
Ceri Vintage, Via dei Serragli 26r – One of my favorite stores in Florence. Not only are the clothes (which span from the 1800′s to the 1960′s) to die for, but the presentation and atmosphere in the shop transports you to a different world.
Eat + Drink
Gustapanino, Gustapizza and Gustaosteria (clustered near the intersectino of Via Maggio and Via de’Michelozzi into Santo Spirito) - This trio of eateries is owned by the same family and all within a hop, skip and a jump from each other. If you need a quick bite, grab a made-to-order panino from Gustapanino or an indivudal pizza from Gustapizza. For dinner, consider Gustosteria.
Trattoria Mamma Gina, Borgo San Iacopo 37 – Hearty Tuscan fare at its best. This cozy restaurant is one of my favorites.
Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, Borgo San Iacopo 43 – The “White Boar” is a few doors down from Mamma Gina’s and another of my favorites. The atmosphere inside the restaurant is great and the food just as good.
Volume, Piazza Santo Spirito 5r – A mix of locals, travelers and students, Volume is always full of interesting people willing to chat over a cup of espresso. If you plan to stay for a while, it’s also a great place to get connected to local happenings.
La Cite Libreriacafe, Borgo San Frediano 20r – You won’t find a more diverse group of people or a more laid back atmosphere than you will at La Cite. When you need to escape the hustle and bustle of the immediate city center, this is the place to do.
Palazzo Guadagni, Piazza Santo Spirito 9
B&B Bonsignori, via Maggio, 19
If you are a diehard fan of art, I highly suggested checking out the Tuscany Arts Blog before you visit. From events and exhibits large and small, this blog never misses a thing. Plus, they cover all of Tuscany, which means you might find the perfect excuse for a daytrip to a smaller town in the countryside!
The most important thing to know about restaurants in Italy is that each one has but a handful of dishes (sometimes just one or two) that are considered “house specialties.” Whether you visit one of my favorites listed above or venture out on your own, be sure to ask about the “house specialty” to see the restaurant at its finest.
The city is ripe with furniture, antique and interior design shops. Two streets in Florence stand out as my favorite places to browse and window shop — Via Maggio in the Oltrarno area and Via dei Fossi on the
edge of the historic center near Santa Maria Novella. On both of these streets you’ll find stores full of furniture and accessories from every design era between the 1700’s and today. What’s more, the store windows are nothing short of art installations — prepare to be wowed.
Artists at Work
One of the most blissfully wonderful things about Florence is the number of local craftsmen with open window work studios. From shoemakers to metalsmiths to musical instrument craftsmen, the city of full of artist’s that let you spy on their daily routine. As you wander through the city, be brave and wander down a few small alleys (particularly in the Oltrarno area) to see these masters at work.
Florence is a city that values fashion history, and there is no better evidence of this fact than the number of vintage clothing stores in the city center. From last season’s trendiest blouses to wedges from the 1960’s, Florence’s vintage stores provide hours of shopping delight. As you might imagine, most of these stores specialize in Italians designers and “Made in Italy” specialties.
A short note of advice about addresses
In the center of Florence, the numbers on residences and businesses can be quite confusing. You will see both “red” and “black” numbers. Sometimes there is an “r” added after the red numbes and/or the number itself is red. So, what’s the difference between red and black? The general concensus is that private residences, some offices and hotel are typically numbered in black (or blue). Businesses, such as restaurants, stores and bigger offices, are usually numbered in red. Ready to be even more confused? The number don’t always go in numerical order — as a group or independently by color. Check out “The Numbers Game” post on my blog for more info.