Florence has been one of my favourite cities since I first visited about two decades ago and I fell in love with it hard back then. The old streets, the buildings, the romance, the art, everything. It’s achingly beautiful and has a presence that sort of wraps itself around you. I have the fondest memories of this regal city. Like seeing David for the first time in the Accademia Gallery and being in absolute awe, standing looking over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and watching snowflakes land on my coat, and eating the best gnocchi I had ever tasted and which to this day is still my the benchmark for what gnocchi is meant to be like. I had been dying to go back and hadn’t been there since I started my food solo-entrepreneur journey 10 years ago. It was like seeing an old friend again.
I stayed in an air BnB a stone’s throw away from the central market, a 5-minute walk from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and with easy access to the station. It really couldn’t have bee a better location and I highly recommend staying centrally when visiting Florence. The central market or Mercato Centrale was a fantastic place to buy a few snacky things for my apartment. I like to stay self-catering so I can make a light healthy breakfast in the morning. For the rest of the day, I am out and about eating on the go. Having a supermarket around the corner was pretty handy too for bottled water and the like.
I walked the city solidly for the 4 days I was there and visited a few places I hadn’t been to before like the Giardino di Boboli – the expansive gardens of the Palazzo Pitti. I loved the views from Piazzale Michelangelo and further up the hill at the Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte where I sought some quiet and cool refuge from the unseasonably warm weather and throngs of tourists. I stopped on the stairs that go down to the rose garden and listened to a man sing romantic Italian songs while watching the sunset over the whole city from the Ponte Vecchio, along the Arno River to the cities landmark cathedrals. It was a magical moment that will stay with me forever.
Like with all the cities I visited on this trip I researched where to get the best gelato and found Gelateria Carraia which I saw on one website was voted the best ice cream in Italy. I landed up going 3 times and until I was Gelatoed out and needed a break. Too much of a good thing is well, too much. I knew I was heading to San Gimignano so wanted to save some of the joy for that.
I went off the beaten tourist track and explored the local food market Sant’Ambrogio to catch a slice of local Florentine life. I hung around the beautiful square of Santo Spirito and can’t recommend this enough as a less touristy spot to explore.
From a food perspective, I didn’t get as far as I would have liked in terms of restaurants and landed up eating pizza on two evenings. I enjoyed a meal at the gourmet food court at the market on another evening and on my first night I found an inexpensive and very local trattoria that did a two-course set menu with wine and I dined on spinach ravioli and Tuscan roast chicken and salad. For the rest of the time, I grazed on sandwiches, pastries and gelato on the go.
A few places I can recommend visiting (Note that some of the main attractions like the Uffizi Gallery are not mentioned here as I had been to these before)
*** (these pics shown here were taken on my iPhone)
Located at the San Lorenzo Market neighbourhood this is giant food emporium comprising a ground floor with small butchers, fishmongers, fruit & vegetable vendors, speciality food producers, bakeries and first floor with a modern gourmet food court. Here you can choose from an array of food stands that represent all regional Italian cuisines imaginable and a wine bar serving delicious Chianti. Downstairs I discovered the most delicious biscotti of every flavour imaginable at a dedicated biscotti stall. Also downs stairs, don’t miss out on a roast pork sandwich from Da Nerbone, they are delectable.
So many people mentioned this speciality coffee roasting shop to me so I had to stop in despite not drinking coffee. I had a cup and it was superb. Its a fabulous place for breakfast or brunch, lunch and light evening meals or cocktails.
As mentioned above, my gelato research led me to this fabulous spot that makes artisanal (always look out for the artigianale sign ) gelato and I was no disappointed. Check out this list of the ‘Top 10 Gelato shops in Florence‘ for more recommendations. As with my gelato experience in Venice, I love GROM too so that’s always a good option and they have shops all over Italy and in other parts of Europe too.
A top tip when travelling is to search out prominent local bloggers and scour their blogs to find out their favourite places. Afterall they live in the city so are going to know the DL. I found Georgette who is an ex-pat American now living in Florence who blogs at ‘A Girl in Florence’. She spends a great deal of time hunting out the best spots in the city and her website should definitely be a resource to use when next you go to Firenze. She has an extensive list of restaurants and breaks them down by neighbourhood, so you have more than enough to choose from. I had her website permanently open on my phone browser.
One of the trattorias on her list that was in my neighbourhood was this local place. I went here on my first night when I didn’t feel like anything fancy or expense and I liked that they did a 2-course set menu for about 15 Euros with a carafe of wine. I ate ravioli to start followed by the most insanely delicious Tuscan roast chicken with potato wedges. Maybe I had become slightly pasta and pizza weary after 10 days in Italy, but this chicken with potatoes and salad was just what I needed.
If you like to get away from the heavy tourist areas like I do and hang out where the locals go, then head to Piazza Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno area south of the river. It’s also close to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.
Another place to escape tourists is to head to this local food market. You can read a little more about it here. In the building that houses the butchers, bakers and fishmongers was a lively little eatery that I wished I could have stopped at for a bite.
I spend a good few hours walking around the huge gardens of the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens. I love a good walk and this vast parkland afforded me the opportunity to get to my 10 000 steps away from the city streets and in a much-needed tranquil environment. This was late October so a relished all the colourful trees as they rained their autumnal leaves.
Piazzale Michelangelo and further up the hill at the Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte
I hadn’t been to this spot that boasts the best panoramic views of the city and it’s a must do. It’s a heavy tourist hotspot so be warned. I walked from the city all the way up but its a fair distance so you might want to look at alternative transport (check this website for more info). I stayed to watch the sunset over the city which was magical.
Another spot that everyone told me I HAD to go to was I Fratellini – the famous hole in the wall sandwich shop. It’s very centrally located and I recommend taking your panini and eating it on the marble steps next to the outside statue of David. There might be a long queue but don’t worry, it moves quickly.
These few recommendations only scratch the surface and I didn’t go to enough restaurants on this visit. I will have to do that when I return.
My favourite way to tell a story about a place is through my pictures, so here is a selection from Florence.
All shot with my Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70mm L lens. Edited in Lightroom & photoshop.
More stories and loads of images from my recent trip to Italy:
Find me on Instagram