Florence Italy Itinerary – Things to Do in Florence
A few years ago I had the privilege of studying in Florence, Italy for six life-changing weeks. Although I could’ve spent several more weeks in Firenze, it didn’t take more than a few days for this quaint, historic town to feel like home.
While tourists often invade the town all year round, the locals welcome visitors as you would imagine Italians to do – loudly and passionately. Florence redefines the phrase ‘room with a view,’ as there is enough eye-candy to hold you over for the greater part of your lifetime.
When I think back to my time in Italy, I regain that sense of excitement and eagerness I felt when I first stepped off the train tracks at the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Railway Station (the only way to get in and out of Florence without driving). I think back to my long walks on the cobblestone roads, my amusing conversations (or attempts) at conversing with Italians, and food – lots and lots of food. As a writer, I would often sit outside of a café or on the steps of a church (it’s a thing) and write about my experiences and observations. These notes helped me develop some must-visit places for others wanting to explore Florence. If you ever get the privilege of visiting this city, here are a few stops you should fit into your itinerary.
Where to Eat in Florence
Lunch in Florence
- L’Antico Noè, Volta di S. Piero, 6/8/r
The best sandwich place in Florence is this little hole in the wall hidden at the intersection of Via dell’ Oriuolo and Via Sant’Egidio. It’s is an American favorite, especially for students, so there is typically a long line, but it’s worth it. I recommend any sandwich with the rucula sauce, which tastes like spinach and artichoke dip. It’s important to note that the shop closes at 3pm, so you’ll want to be sure to give yourself time in case of a long line.
- Il Fratellini, Via dei Cimatori, 38/red
Another hole in the wall sandwich place a street over from Piazza della Repubblica, this one is always packed with Italians (so you know it’s the real deal). The sandwiches are extremely cheap, practically 2 euro per sandwich. There is no sitting room, so you might find yourself plopping down on a curb to enjoy a mouthwatering Caprese, and enjoying it all the same.
- Gusta Pizza, Via Maggio, 46/red
If you find time to make your way across the river (which you should) you must stop at Gusta Pizza. A student staple in Florence, each glass table in the restaurant is composed of notes from past visitors making their mark. Be sure to ask for fresh Parmesan on your pizza, as this added touch is unlike any Parmesan you’ve put on an American pizza.
Florence is all about apertivo, a tradition where a bar/restaurant/café provides a buffet of various finger foods during happy hour hours (which, in Italy, is between 7pm and 10pm most weeknights) and all you have to pay for is what you drink. Apertivo is essentially a classier American happy hour. You purchase a drink for around five to eight euro, depending on where you go, and that is your pass to tasting limitless amount of finger-food that is changed out every half hour. America should really take some notes.
FUN FACT: Cities such as San Sebastian in Basque Country, Spain also partake in a similar tradition not unlike Apertivo. To the Spaniards, it revolves around “Pinxos.”
There was no particular apertivo that I’d recommend, just that you participate in the tradition at least once while you’re in Florence.
Dinner in Florence
- Acqua Al 2, Via della Vigna Vecchia, 40r
This was one of my favorite meals while in Florence – so much so that I took my parents when they came to visit. Everything is fantastic, but people visit Acqua Al 2 primarily for the blueberry steak. Even if you’re not a red meat fan, you will want to try it. Other recommendations include the Greek salad and the pasta sampler, but you can’t go wrong with anything you order. Another thing of note is that you must make a reservation. Luckily for Americans, the restaurant became so loved that, in 2010, one of the owners returned to the US and opened a second location in Washington DC.
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- 4 Leoni, Via de’ Vellutini, 1r
4 Leoni is another gem from across the river. Although the portions are somewhat small, the menu items are very innovative and unique. I ordered the ravioli which contained caramelized pears inside with a creamy cheese sauce. This unlikely pairing made my taste buds sing. This is another restaurant that requires a reservation, although reservations are not typically common in Florence. Although this is one of the pricier restaurants in Florence, it is well worth the price and the trek across town.
- Yellow Bar, Via del Proconsolo, 39r
Yellow Bar does not take reservations and there’s usually a line out the door to get in, but it moves quickly and you’re usually only waiting for about 15 minutes. The pizza is worth the wait as are the pastas. The interior is very familial and is great for parties big and small. There are long tables in the middle of the restaurant that are communal, adding to the family-style atmosphere.
Where to Eat Dessert
- Grom, Via del Campanile, 2
It’s hard to visit Florence and not pick up some gelato on a street corner. Overall, you can’t go wrong no matter where you taste this luscious Italian delicacy. However, I would recommend avoiding the stands that surround the Pontevecchio as these are mainly touristy and are bit lower in quality. For the true gelato experience, look no further than Grom. Grom is only a few blocks away from Piazza della Repubblica and Yellow Bar. Grom opened its doors in 2002 with the purpose of using 100% raw ingredients. Since 2002, Grom has grown exponentially and now has franchises in 35 cities around Italy as well as in Dubai, Hong Kong, Nice, Osaka, Paris, Malibu, Hollywood and New York, among others.
- Secret Bakery
The secret bakery is everything you can imagine it to be and more. If only opens after 2am and there’s no store, windows or sign. It looks almost like a garage. The only way to know where this bakery is located is through word of mouth. Even if I wanted to give you directions, I couldn’t. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even have an address; you just know it when you see it. It took me almost three weeks to finally be taken to the secret bakery.
There’s no menu, and you have to whisper your order through the door and a man shadily slides out your purchase. Sometimes, you don’t even know what you’re eating, just that it’s delicious. I have gotten a nutella and cream cheese croissant and a nutella donut, both unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. If you are up for staying up late, you should be sure to ask around about the Secret Bakery while you’re in town. It’s an experience of its own.
Nightlife in Florence
Florence has nightlife options for all cultures and ages. There are plenty of American-friendly options as well as pure authentic Italian. A few of my favorites are the following:
- Red Garter, Via de’ Benci 33/r
This was my favorite place to go as it was more than a bar scene but much less than a club scene. It’s known for its great apertivo, although I never got to experience it. However, I routinely went for the karaoke. And yes, they have a library of American songs.
- Lion’s Fountain, Borgo degli Albizi, 34
Lion’s Fountain is a very student-focused bar that has different college shirts hanging on the ceiling with student’s signatures. Although it can get pretty crowded, it’s worth checking out to see the tokens left behind by all the Americans who have visited Florence.
- Discoteca Central Park, Via del Fosso Macinante
This was the only club that I had to take a cab to get to, but it was quite the experience. Prided on the name Central Park, it feels more like you’re walking into a club in Miami. There is an outdoor area with table service and a huge DJ set-up with a dance floor. Central Park had an interesting concept where you paid 5 euro for entry and are handed a card. This card is the only thing you can use to pay for your drinks. Every time you order a drink at the bar, the bartender will punch a hole on your card. Upon leaving the club, you have to present your card and pay your tab. If you happen to lose your card, you are automatically charged 150 euro. Although pulling out the card rather than paying for each drink individually was efficient, I would rather pay my way than risk losing my card. The club was quite an experience, where I saw more locals than any other club or bar I visited. However, because of this, it was known for pick-pocketers.
- Piazza di Santa Croce, 16
Yes, this is a church. I’m not kidding, if you want the full Florence experience sit on the steps of the Santa Croce or any other nearby cathedral and you’ll be greeted by hundreds of Italians touting paper bags filled with fun. I rarely saw Italians in the bars I went out to. Instead, it seemed like Italians would rather sit on the steps of a church, or just hang out on the streets, enjoying the night and company no matter what day of the week it was. Piazza di Santa Croce was right by my apartment, so it was one I witnessed in awe often.
Best Things to Do in Florence Italy
- Duomo di Florence, Piazza del Duomo
The most spectacular thing about the Duomo is that you can spot its magnificent Renaissance dome from almost every part of Florence. Although the cafes and shops around it are very touristy, it is a magical cathedral to visit. I never went inside the duomo (it’s free, so there’s always a long line), but it never seized to take my breath away.
- Mercato Central, Via dell’Ariento
The Florence central market is an American’s farmer’s market on steroids. There is every local spice, meat, bread, cheese, vegetable, fruit, oil, and more at your disposal for the finest and freshest ingredients and foods Florence has to offer. I purchased a lot of my souvenirs (i.e. olive oil and cheese) here. Although the dining area is not ideal, the food is worth trying for lunch if you happen to stop in.
- Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio is a Medieval stone arch bridge over the Arno River in Florence. It has touristy shops and treats along either side of it and is always filled with tourists, but rightfully so. People will sit along the edges of the river for picnics or take boats out. Walking across the Ponte Vecchio is a prime photo opportunity and the restaurants across the river, although pricey, offer breathtaking views.
- Piazzale Michelangelo
If you see nothing else while in Florence, you must visit the Piazzale Michelangelo – a 19th century piazza with a replica of Michelangelo’s David and panoramic views of the city. To reach the top is quite a hike, especially on the cobblestoned trail, but there are plenty of pit stops you can make along the way, such as a Japanese Garden, for added photo shoots or to stare gaping at the view. There is a restaurant at the top, although I never visited it. There are rows of steps where people sit with snacks and wine and enjoy the view and the company. I would often walk up by myself to take in the sights, in awe of where I was living. This must-see spot is free to the public.
- Galleria dell’Accademia
It is here that you see the great statues of Michelangelo, particularly the statue of David, in the flesh (pun intended). The main halls at the Accademia offer works from other great Italian artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Andrea del Sarto, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pontormo. There is usually a line to enter if you don’t have tickets ahead of time, and you must present a photo ID. If you purchase tickets in advance, you will have to arrive at a set time.
- Piazza de Repubblica
This city square in Florence is where you get a true sense of the authentic and animated way of life in Italy. There are artists and musicians surrounding the area with a giant carousel in the middle. Restaurants, statues, and shops encompass the circle and Florence’s take on NYC’s 5th Ave surround the preceding blocks. The annual Gelato festival, Florence’s Fashion Week, and other local events are usually hosted in the square.
Bottom Line on Visiting Florence
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed reminiscing about the sites and smells I witnessed while living in Florence. Although the city doesn’t get as much notoriety as Rome or Venice, Florence represents the genuineness that comes from a true Italian experience. This little firecracker of a town has not lost its authenticity from the influx of tourists.
The family-run hotels and restaurants haven’t changed in centuries, and adamantly refuse to embody anything less than a vivacious Italian lifestyle. Whether you want to enjoy your day wine tasting through Tuscany, explore hidden alleyways for unique treasures and historic masterpieces, or sipping a cappuccino on the patio of a café, you find yourself in a sense of true peace and astonishment at the beauty that exists within the simplicity of Firenze.