Florence (Firenze in Italian): the capital of the early Renaissance, the Tuscan city famed for its Ponte Vecchio and its Duomo, the Medici family and the Uffizi museum. A city divided by the river Arno, with a small historic centre that’s an easy walk for anyone. No wonder it has attracted millions of tourists.
Not just these reasons drew me to this city. I hold my great friend Hen mainly responsible for my multiple visits to Firenze. For a number of years she has been studying art there and I’ve found her constant invitations hard to decline. It is thanks to her that I have come to know this city well, especially the area slightly removed from the ‘centro storico’, just across the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), to the south of the Arno. My recommendations of the city may therefore be a little biased towards the south since I have spent much of my time there. Additionally the centro storico has already been covered extensively by guide books and is full of overpriced restaurants and cafes, which would not appeal to the mid-budgeter.
The Pitti Palace is a must-do, but I think its gardens, known as the Boboli gardens, are even more recommendable.
This is not to say I don’t love the area around the Duomo and Uffizi, it’s hard not to. And I’ve had my fair share of adventure there. My least favourite, but perhaps most comical, was being forced to wait anxiously outside Piazza della Signoria’s Palazzo Vechio, Florence’s town hall (which doubled up as police HQ). This was because my friend Harry had been dragged inside by the Firenze polizia for ‘trying to cool down’ in the square’s famous Neptune fountain. What had started as an innocent joke: taking a touristy photo in the piazza’s centre piece fountain, seemingly absent of police, ended in Harry’s arrest. Only once I was left by myself, while Harry was questioned, did I notice the abundance of CCTV cameras around the square and the fountain. In future, beware of these and perhaps avoid getting into this fountain altogether.
Fortunately Harry was released but, despite all his English charm, he was still fined a whopping €180. An expensive photograph.
It is the area around Sante Spirito square, a 2 minute walk south of the Ponte Vecchio, which I feel most attached to in Florence. Removed from the tourist hordes this area is populated by a few foreign exchange students/artists but mostly by locals. The Pitti Palace is a must-do, but I think its gardens, known as the Boboli gardens, are even more recommendable. Sadly the guards have become strict on bag-checking before letting you enter, all too familiar with the sneaky picnic (which is most definitely not permitted). But even without a cold bottle of Rose, these magnificent, sprawling gardens with lovely views of Florence are heavenly to walk through or to rest in in the shade of the tree-lined avenues. Apart from a run-in with a couple who clearly needed to ‘get a room’, my experiences there have always been wonderful.
The Sante Spirito area is filled with fantastic places to eat and drink, all very reasonably priced, and the atmosphere is laid back but still vibrant. Young crowds drinking cheap Prosecco fill church steps in one of the many squares during the evenings, while later on up-and-coming DJs and bands play to dancing crowds in the Sante Spirito square. Late one May night I met an exchange student who had a battered bicycle and I borrowed it for a quick spin around the area. Despite being Dutch I was admittedly very wobbly at first and really had to concentrate to keep my bike from swaying too violently. Yet I can remember the area acutely; the peacefulness of the narrow cobbled streets and the beauty of some, often dilapidated, buildings as I whizzed by.
I never did fall off that bicycle, though it was a near-miss experience. But it was certainly a memorable way of getting to know a lesser-known part of the city.
Fly to Florence Airport
Transport from airport to city centre
From Florence Airport:
From Pisa Airport:
Good to know:
To see times: www.terravision.eu.
In central Florence:
Piazza del Duomo: Hotel Bavaria €
Borgo degli Albizi, 26 – 50100 – Florence, Italy
Phone / Fax: +39 055 234 0313
Prices: from €49 for a double room with ensuite in low season to 90 euros in peak season.
Cheaper rooms available with shared bathroom.
Description: A simple but charming hotel. Rooms vary in size. *** Book early, especially if booking in peek season
Location: Right in the centre of the city. a simple but charming hotel.
Hotel Locanda Orchidea €
Vi Borgo degli Albizi, 11 – 50100 – Florence, Italy
Phone: +39 055 248 0346 – E-Mail: email@example.com
Prices: Doubles ensuite from €50-€80 depending on season
Description: This hotel is great value for money.
Simple but clean rooms, with helpful mother-tongue English owners.
Light-sleepers beware, noise levels can be high in such a popular area.
San Lorence: Archi Rossi €
Via Faenza, 94r – 50123 Firenze
Tel. 055.29080 – E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prices: A double room with ensuite range from €60 to €90 per night. American-style breakfast included.
Description: This hostel (yes, it is a hostel, but has private rooms) is a cut above the rest and has double and triple rooms with ensuites.The hostel has a lovely courtyard garden and a sun-lit restaurant.
Location: 10 min walk to the duomo and Florence’s main attractions. Right by the train station.
Piazza del Duomo: Hotel San Giovanni €€
VIa Cerretani – 50123 Florence, Italy
Tel: +39 055 288 3885
Prices: Doubles with ensuite range from €60 – €90 per night depending on season.
Description: A 14th-century palazzo, which used to be the bishop’s private residence. Decor is more beautiful than the other hotels I have recommended, though on the shabby side. Still it is quite basic, but great value for money.
Location: Situated on one of the most beautiful squares in the world, overlooking the duomo and within a stone’s throw from every must-see in Florence, location could not be any better.
Johanna and Johlea Residenzas €€€
Via San Gallo, 76 – 50129 Florence
Tel: 0039 055 463 3292
Residence Johanna I
Via Bonifacio Lupi, 15 – 50129 Florence
Tel: 0039 055 481 896
Prices: Doubles from €70- €130
These two bed and breakfasts are part of the ‘Johanna and Johlea’ B&Bs. On the higher end of mid-budget but totally worth it. These beautiful ‘residenzas’ have heaps of charm, elegance and homely comfort. The easy walking distance from all the big sights and lovely rooms and ensuite bathrooms mean you will not be disappointed. Check out the ‘Johanna and Johlea’ website because it offers other options of accommodation for those who wish to splash out a bit more. Also, check out Residenze Johanna II for a slightly cheaper option, slightly further away from the centre.
In Sante Spirito
Althea Rooms €€
Via delle Caldaie, 25 – 50125 – Florence, Italy
Telephone: +39 055 233 5341. E-Mail: email@example.com
Prices: Double room ensuite 65 – 92 euros depending on season
Description: Simple, clean rooms, in an old Palazzo. The manager Antonio is lovely and helpful.
Location: Located in the Oltrarno (meaning acorss the river Arno), in the lively area of Sante Spirito. Close to Sante Spirito square, the Pitti Palace and Boboli gardens and the Ponte Vecchio. 15 min walk across the bridge to the Duomo etc. Away from the hoards of tourists
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo
Opening times: 10am-5pm Mon-Wed & Fri, 10am-4.30pm Thu, 10am-4.45pm Sat, 1.30-4.45pm Sun
Symbol of Florence, the building of this gothic Basilica was started in 1296 and only completed in 1436. One of Italy’s largest churches, it was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi.
Warning: Queues are often very long to enter the duomo. Skip it if pressed for time.
TIP (for the fit): climb the 414 steps to the top of the free-standing campanile which is part of the number of buildings which make up the Duomo. Incredible views and great photo opportunity.
Galleria degli Uffizi, the Uffizi Gallery
It is simply a must-do: 50 rooms of the world’s most beautiful collection of Renaissance art. 1500 master pieces by famous artists include Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Botticelli and Rembrandt to name but a few.
Warning: Queues, especially in peak season, are unbearably long. Buy tickets online in advance and you also get to skip the queues for 21.50 pounds: http://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Skip-the-Line-Florence-Uffizi-Gallery-Tickets/d519-2428TU
Tip: After overdosing on art, relax on the roof terrace bar and enjoy delicious snacks and views of Piazza della Signoria and more
The beautiful square is the focal point of the city. This square is surrounded by stunning architecture, such as the Palazzo Vecchio (Town hall) and is adorned with fountains and replicas of famous statues. Most popular is the copy of Michelangelo’s David, which is located at the entrance of the square.
Warning: The cafes and restaurants on this square will rip you off with extortionate prices.
Tip: Good for people watching but beware the crowds.
Ponte Vecchio, the Old Bridge
A wooden construction of it was first built in 972, only to be destroyed twice until its current structure was built in 1345 and has survived many floods and wars since. While butchers initially occupied the shops which run along the bridge, its current tenants are jewellers and art dealers.
Did you know?
To the left of the bridge, above the shops, runs a long corridor built mid 16th century under the orders of Cosimo I De’ Medici, a reigning family of Florence, which connects the Uffizi Gallery with the Pitti Palace.
The Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens
Opening Hours & Price
8.15am-6.30pm Apr-May & Sep-Oct
Palace: €12 incl Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Galleria Palatina, Appartamenti Reali
Boboli Gardens: €10
May not be the most stunning palace from the outside, which very much kept its original military bearing, but it boasts 6 museums of which the Appartamenti Reali which show the Medici’s original private quarters.
Perfect if you want to escape the tourist hordes and hectic city life. Stroll around the palace’s beautiful gardens on a sunny afternoon, and rest in the shade while admiring the stunning views of Florence. See My Florence for my experience there.
Warning: Some may think the €10 entrance fee is expensive, but I think it is worth it.
Also, dont be put off by the grumpy cashier and don’t expect to be allowed to bring a picnic in.
The Medici Tombs – veer off the tourist trail
Within the Basilica of San Lorenzo you will find the Medici Tombs, where all the members of the famous and influential Medici family are buried. Michelangelo was appointed chief architect of the Medici tombs, and he certainly did them justice by designing the ‘New Sacristy’ Chapel. His students continued his work here and completed it in 1534. The crypts and elaborate sculptures are very impressive. Restored a few years ago, it should definitely be added to your list of ‘must sees’.
Though part of San Lorenzo church, there is a separate entrance for the Tombs.
Via Maggio 46 (across the Ponte Vecchio and near the Pitti Palace)
Mon-Sat 9am – 6pm
Why eat here?
Without a doubt the best pizzas in Florence + very cheap.
Great for lunch or a casual dinner.
If you’re lucky they may even make you a heart-shaped pizza.
Gusta Panino €
Why eat here?
Delicious panini, 3 euros a piece. Perfect place to grab a lunch on the go.
Tip: Join the locals and tourists and eat your panini on the near by steps of Sante Spirito church.
I Fratellini €
Via dei Cimatori, 38r (near Piazza Signoria)
Known by most locals, this little stand situated in’the heart of Florence is worth a visit for a delicious small round sandwich. Options of ‘sandwich fillers’ are vast – from goat’s cheese and rucola to sundried tomatoes with various salami. A glass of house wine is only €1. You’ll have to stand and eat though.
Quatro Leoni €€
Via de’ Vellutiini 1, located in Piazza della Passera (or ‘Prostitute Square’)
Can reserve online: http://www.4leoni.com/index.php
For delicious and well-priced pasta and pizzas, as well as good steaks on the joint (more expensive).
Recommended: Pear pasta with asparagus (On the menu: Fiocchetti di pera in salsa di taleggio e asparagi).
Trattoria i Raddi €
Why eat here?
Absolute bargain. Menu alternative and interesting with typical Florentine food. Quiet location.
Lunch: Special lunch-time menu, 3 different courses (choice of all 3 or just 1). Each course €2.
Dinner: Good meat. 0.25 Litre housewine €2.
Tratoria Sostanza (Nickname Il Troia) €€€
Why eat here?
Do not be deceived by the outside and tiny front. The inside is also fairly nondescript. Slightly more expensive, but totally worth it. Unknown among tourists, popular with the more affluent locals. Simple Tuscan dishes, but cooked to perfection. Make sure you book in advance to avoid waiting.
Recommended: Butter chicken or Florentine steak
Gatto e la Volpe €€
Popular with the non-Italian locals in the early evening, popular with the Italian locals in the later evening – always a good sign.
Excellent value, good food, large dishes. Friendly service. Great location.
Il Santo Bevitore €€€
Via di Santo Spirito, 64-red 50125 Florence
Quite a few steps up from a local pizzeria, going out for dinner here will feel like a special occasion. With this in mind, this restaurant is excellent value for money, buzzing, excellent service, a fun atmosphere. There are even a few tables out in the street, ideal for long summer dinners. The menu is quite select, but all the dishes are original and the food is wonderfully fresh.
A two course meal with wine will set you back about €30. Book in advance.
Tip: It can get very noisy so I would recommend one of the side rooms. We practically had a room to ourselves and it was blissful.
Looks simple on the outside, but has the best icecream in town.
Address: Piazza Santo Spirito 4r, Florence
Best for: Aperitivo. Around €5 or more for a drink but with unlimited, delicious aperitivo, this is a very good deal
Best hours to go: 7 – 9pm
L’Art Bar €
Address: Via del Moro 4r
Best for: Cocktails. Piled with lots of fresh fruits, these cocktails are unforgettable. There is a good happy hour deal. This rustic, atmospheric bar, right by the river Arno, is a must-go.
La Dolce Vita €€
Hours: 8am-2am Tue-Sun
Go if you like: A cool hang out. Funky retro decor. Aperitivo.
Capocaccia Bar €€€
Address: Lungarno Corsini 12-14/r Santa Maria Novella
Hours: Mon 12:00-16:00, Tue-Sun 12:00-01:00
Check it out: http://www.worldsbestbars.com/florence/capocaccia-bar-in-florence.htm
Go if you like: Chic places. Delicious cocktails. To see and be seen. Splashing out a bit.
Best time to go is between 1900 and 21:30, as the free food comes out.
Central park – for a Heavy Night
Opening hours: Tues-Sat 11pm-6am (though restaurant is open before)
Address: Via Fosso Macinante 2 (Western edge of the city – you’ll have to take a taxi home)
Go if you like: A huge Ibiza style club, beautifully desgined in the shape of a park. Dancing till the early hours. Music varies from pop, dance, electronica to disco kitsch.
Opening hours: 9pm – 4am
Address: Via Giuseppe Verdi 57r
Go if you like: People watching. Winebar which turns into a club. Top 40 Dance Hits. Central Location.
YAB – for a Trendy Night
Price: Varies, but sometimes the cover price is 20 euros
Address: Via Sassetti, 5 / R
Opening hours: 10pm – 4am. Shut most of the summer.
Good on Mondays (Hip Hop night) and Tuesdays.
Go if you like: Ideal central location. A chic lounge, club and restaurant all in one.
Warning: Bouncers can be selective at the door. Get on their good side by dressing up. If you’re a boy, make sure you’re with plenty of girls.