In Florence, everything is ancient and a piece of art. Today the city is going through a glamorous revival, with iconic art, edgy architecture and modern twists on regional food. Here is a summary of best hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, attractions and many more…
Planning to visit Tuscany and spend some days in beautiful Florence? You will definitely not regret it. As I’ve mentioned in the last article, this was my first time in Florence and it was better than expected.
Silia and I researched places, asked people who live there for insider tips and took the best out of our four days in Florence. The cradle of the Renaissance, Florence is one of Europe’s great art cities. There’s one overwhelming reason travelers love this Italian city (pop. 365,000) amid Tuscany’s rolling green hills: Florence has more than one million works of Renaissance art — among them Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It’s also the birthplace of global fashion brands like Gucci, Pucci, and Roberto Cavalli, and the city’s most influential fashion clan—the Ferragamos—have turned their renowned sense of style to four hip hotels across town, breathing new life into the previously staid lodging scene.
I fell in love with beautifully romantic settings, shopping aplenty and superb Tuscan food. Here are some insider tips for you:
WHERE TO STAY?
Definitely the best place to choose for a long weekend getaway. It’s only two minutes walk from the Duomo. You can find everything in few steps: gorgeous designer boutiques, restaurants, bars, museums etc. For more click here.
Hotel Lungarno was the first Ferragamo hotel to open in Florence in 1995, and was redecorated two years later. It has a simple, blue-and-cream nautical aesthetic with bellboys in pillbox hats, an excellent silver-service restaurant, a surfeit of curtain swags and decadent marble bathrooms.
Gallery Hotel Art, also a Ferragamo hotel, which opened in 1999, belongs to that phenomenon of the era, the designer hotel. There is faux wengewood panelling, a library-style lobby, a taupe color-scheme and glass bowls of green apples. Guests are likely to be wealthy, in their thirties, and appreciative of lounge bars, sushi restaurants and the exceptionally good-looking staff.
Another Ferragamo hotel, Continentale opened in 2003 and is just right by Ponte Vecchio. It appeals to those who appreciate the quieter side of the modern aesthetic, with sleek yet funky interiors with more than a hint of retro Dolce Vita and the odd touch of humor. It is very private, and the 43 rooms on seven floors. We had the opportunity to visit the rooftop Sky Lounge and had cocktails two times to enjoy the spectacular sundowners. Scroll down to see the images!
WHERE TO EAT?
CAFES, DELIS AND PASTICCERIAS
Suggested by our friend who lives in Florence, we had our first dinner here. This restaurant is popular with locals and foodies. You sit on stools and benches at marble tables, and just pay for what you drink. The menu changes daily but regular features include superb carpaccio and the marvelous Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine beefsteak)
Our second night’s dinner date was at Il Santo Bevitore. This restaurant, after 13 years and despite the recent influx, is still everyone’s favorite dinner spot, thanks to its buzzy atmosphere and simple menu, excellent steak tartare & perfectly prepared fish. I highly recommend!
Trattoria Sostanza was on our list, but unfortunately it was closed during August. Named as the best restaurant in Florence. It’s not fancy, but very simple and traditional. A tiny little place in a street you would never pass, unless you know where you are going. People say that you can have the best chicken (sautéed chicken breast) of your life there! The restaurant is always full and you have to book, well in advance if possible. Via del Porcellana, 25/r, 50123 Florence, Italy.
Another restaurant that was on our list and unfortunately closed in August. Cammillo Trattoria, is the must-see list of every serious food buff, touted as a new find with a mostly Tuscan home-style kitchen, and, wonder of wonders, moderate prices. As soon as I’ll plan my next visit to Florence, I’ll make sure to book a table at Trattoria Cammillo! Borgo San Jacopo, 57R; (39-055) 212-427. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
BEST GELATO: GELATERIA LA CARRAIA
Right off the Ponte alla Carraia (second bridge west of Ponte Vecchio, on the Oltrarno side), the gelato here is super creamy and flavorful. Everyday we had ice-cream at La Carraia & became obsessed with chocolate-orange, pistachio & nutella flavors.
BEST PIZZA: GUSTA PIZZA
Although, I eat gluten-free as much as possible and avoid all grains, Silia convinced me to try the best pizza in town at Gusta Pizza for a heart-shaped pizza and it was definitely worth it. Its wood-fired stone oven pizza that just might be as good as pizza from Naples.
WHERE TO DRINK?
For an aperitivo, try either the little bar tucked under Piazzale Michelangelo – the views are breathtaking – or at La Terrazza Lounge Bar of Hotel Continentale. We went there twice and loved the drinks and the view!
We loved having cocktails at La Terrazza Lounge Bar…
…we went two times to have cocktails at our favorite rooftop bar La Terrazza and to enjoy the view.
Girls just wanna have sun!
BEST CAFE: CAFFE GILLI
We were obessed with Caffé Gilli’s Fredo Cappuccino and went there almost two times a day. Caffé Gilli is one of the oldest continuously operating cafés in the city since 1733. Located in Piazza della Repubblica, Gilli retains an early 20th-century style with frescoed ceilings, rich wood paneling, Murano lamps, and a green marble—topped bar. Seating is also available outside on the patio, which faces the busy square.
WHERE TO SHOP?
At Alessandro Dari for wonderful jewlery. Master perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi is another insider tip, if you’re lucky to bag an appointment at his atelier, you will enter another world. Also the small Bottega delle Antiche Terme for exquisite made-to-measure shirts and Grevi for hats. At Scuola del Cuoio, you can buy beautiful leather goods and see experts working with a team of young people from all over the world.
Stop & Stare: Shoe love at Casadei boutique.
Off via de’ Guicciardini/via Por Santa Maria, Florence. There has been a bridge spanning this point of the Arno since Roman times. The current structure was built in 1345 to replace a 12th-century bridge swept away by flood in 1333. Originally favored by butchers and tanners, it is now favored by gold and gem merchants and is a tourist hotspot.
BRANCACCI CHAPEL AT SANTA MARIA DEL CARMINE
Piazza del Carmine, Florence. It is often more rewarding to see paintings in the context for which they were intended. No one should miss Masaccio’s harrowing depiction of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, which is in the Brancacci Chapel, to the left of the entrance of Santa Maria del Carmine, not far from the Palazzo Pitti.
Piazza del Duomo, Florence. The cathedral, inlaid with pink, white and green marble, soars above the surrounding buildings in the Piazza del Duomo. In the 13th-century, it was decided that the old cathedral of Santa Reparata was no longer fit to represent the city’s power, wealth and excellence. A competition was held to find an architect and the prize went to Arnolfo di Cambio, a sculptor and architect who had trained in Pisa. The cathedral was consecrated just over a century later, in 1436.
SAN MINIATO AL MONTE
Via del Monte alle Croci, Florence. San Miniato al Monte is perhaps the most atmospheric, mystical church in Florence. High on a hill on the south side of the Arno (the views alone make it worth the climb), this 11th-century Romanesque basilica has a very fine, geometrically patterned, green-and-white marble façade, beyond which lies a deceptively simple interior with frescos by, among others, Baldovinetti, the Pollaiuolo brothers and Uccello, which lay under whitewash till the 20th century. The highlights, however, are the glittering gold mosaic in the apse and the marble floor inset with images of animals and signs of the zodiac.
Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence. This is one of Brunelleschi’s most remarkable buildings, although you cannot gauge this from its nondescript 18th-century façade. Inside however, you enter a world of perfect proportions, a church surrounded by a continuous colonnade of dove grey pietra serena columns.
TORNABUONI CHAPEL AT SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Florence. The Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella is fascinating not least for the way the artist Ghirlandaio incorporated members of the Tornabuoni family – influential cloth merchants after whom Florence’s premier shopping street is named – into scenes from the lives of the Virgin and John the Baptist, showing off, as it were, the latest fashions of the day.
MUSEUMS & GARDENS
The Villa Bardini, a 17th century villa with an incredible view of the city and surrounded by a four-acre park with plenty of agrarian features (imagine olive trees, vegetable patch and pretty archways). Being closer to Ponte Vecchio, one could claim it has a better view of the city than the one you enjoy from the Piazzale Michelangelo and for this reason its popularity is increasing. The garden belonged to the Mozzi family from the 13th century (the oldest parts are closest to the palazzo below) and in the 18th century the Baroque staircase and statues were added when the estate extended up the hill to the walls of the city. The villa, garden and other palaces in the area were acquired by the antiquarian Stefano Bardini in the early 20th century who also enlarged the villa at the top, called Belvedere where he lived with his family (the Bardini Museum is in the piazza below near the Arno in a separate palazzo). The beautiful terraces and top “belvedere” offer extraordinary views of Florence, while the villa today hosts both a permanent collection of works by Pietro Annigoni and temporary exhibits year round. There is a cafe for refreshments but you can also enjoy a discreet picnic along the benches spread out over the garden while enjoying the view.
Piazza Pitti, Via Romana, Florence. The Boboli, the only park in central Florence, was laid out by a number of artists for Eleonora di Toledo and Cosimo I. Be sure to wander along the Viottolone, a long avenue lined with cypresses and in summer to have a snack and a coffee at the rococo Kaffeehaus built in 1776, while gazing out over the city. The entrance is via the main palace entrance!
LOGGIA DEI LANZI
Piazza della Signoria, Florence. The free-to-access Loggia dei Lanzi that runs along the southern edge of the piazza della Signoria contains a remarkable collection of Renaissance and Roman sculptures, among them Cellini’s thrillingly dramatic bronze Perseus, Medusa’s writhing, headless body contorted at his feet. It is just as rewarding as Uffizi, with less crowds (see below).
In the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, designed by Michelozzo, Gozzoli’s gorgeous frescos, familiar from Christmas cards, adorn the walls of the Magi Chapel. Entrance to the chapel is restricted to a maximum of eight visitors every seven minutes. Open Thursday-Tuesday.
Palazzo Pitti was built in 1457 for Luca Pitti, a rival of the Medici family, probably to a design by Brunelleschi. Proving too grandiose for the Pitti, they were forced to sell out to the Medicis. The Museums of the Palazzo Pitti house magnificent works by Tintoretto, Botticelli and numerous works by Raphael in its Galleria del Palatina.
Mercantile Florence was at its zenith in the 1400s and in the course of the century over 100 palaces were built. The largest and most magnificent is the Palazzo Strozzi. The palace now houses a number of learned institutions and stages prestigious exhibitions. Open daily 9am-8pm (until 11pm on Thursdays).
If you’re a fan of Renaissance art, be prepared to step into heaven. The name means offices, which is precisely what Vasari designed the building to be used for in 1550. The two most famous paintings are Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1485) and Primavera (1478). You will also find works by Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael. Prepare to queue, and book your tickets online before you go. Open Tue-Sun from 8.15am to 6.50pm.
Ponte Vecchio from above.
The architecture in florence includes buildings in surrounding cities, such as Fiesole. Some structures appear two or more times, since they were built in various styles.
The Ponte Vecchio “Old Bridge”, is a Medieval stone closed bridge over the Arno River, noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common. Butchers initially occupied the shops; the present tenants are jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers. The Ponte Vecchio’s two neighboring bridges are the Ponte Santa Trinita and the Ponte alle Grazie.
The Ponte alla Carraia is a five-arched bridge spanning the River Arno and linking the district of Oltrarno to the rest of the city of Florence. The piazzas on either bank are the Piazza Nazario Sauro (south) and the Piazza Carlo Goldoni (north).
Truly a city of the past, Florence, Italy is a city so rich with history and art, every street and building has its own story and significance.
HOW TO GET THERE?
Florence is a small city and relies on buses for public transport. But it is often easier to walk around on foot. Huge traffic, busy streets with tourists, parking is always a problem and not all of the city is accessible by car. Licensed taxis are painted white and yellow and have a meter.
Stunning view to the city from Belvedere garden next to Villa Bardini.
Most photogenic views to enjoy the beautiful sunset view from Piazzale Michelangelo.
One of my favorite shots taken at Piazzale Michelangelo.
WHEN TO GO?
Florence is heaving with tourists for the best part of the year, particularly from early spring to summer when the weather makes for pleasant wandering. I would recommend you to visit Florence in Spring and Autumn, it’s still warm and pleasant. We had everyday almost 40 C, which was not bad but still too warm during 11 am to 4 pm.
Another beautiful sunlight shot in front of Il Santo Bevitore.
On the Ponte Alla Carraia brigde and gazing the sunset scenery after having my favorite gelato from Gelateria alla Carraia.
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