I have now been to Florence 4 times : as a college student, with Russ several years ago, for 6 weeks last summer as a family, and once again with Russ just this week (photo above!)
Safe to say, I love Florence.
There is so much beauty, history, and delicious food in Florence that it’s no wonder it is so popular with tourists. But whether you come for a short visit or a long stay, there are plenty of things to do – many off the beaten path – that are worth seeking out to create an amazing experience in this part of Italy.
Last year, we spent 6 weeks in Florence and I had every intention of creating a travel guide for you – but never got around to it!! So I wanted to be sure to do it this time, especially as we returned to places that clearly have become our favorite spots.
If you are traveling to Florence, these are some of the best places to eat, stay and visit, plus some helpful tips. Because there is so much within a small area, I have broken it down to the specific areas of the Florence : north of the Arno river, near the Mercato Centrale, and the area south of the Arno river called Oltrarno.
NORTH OF THE ARNO RIVER
This is the main part of Florence, where most of the attractions (including the iconic Duomo) shops, hotels, and restaurants are. Walking around it is like a dream, you feel like you’re walking around in history.
- All Antico Vinaio – the best sandwich you will ever eat. I don’t even really like sandwiches and I crave this one so much! 😉 Our favorites are the Dante and Favolosa. Ask them to cut it in half and they will, so that you can share or make it easier to eat. Always a long line but come late afternoon and it’s not bad.
- Osteria Buongustaio – nice place for a quick lunch, very tiny. Great cheese plate and tiramisu.
- Perche No – my gelato order here is a half pistachio and melon. Sounds weird, but it’s perfect.
- Ristorante Hostaria Il Desco – amazing GLUTEN FREE and normal menus! Romantic casual place with candlelight at dinner.
- Trattoria Dall’Oste Chianineria – best place for a Florentine steak. I also love their spaghetti con vongole veraci. They have a few locations which we have all been to but the central one by the Duomo is my favorite. I came here one time with just the girls for lunch sitting in the back corner booth and had the best time.
- Aqua Al Due – you can get pasta tasting menus, it’s SO so good!
- Coquinarius – another place for amazing, amazing pasta dishes.
- Gucci Garden – worth going in the museum, especially if you are a fashion or Gucci fan; the history is amazing and it started in Florence. The pieces at the store on the ground level are only available at Gucci Garden. It’s right by the Palazzo Vecchio.
- Piazza Santa Trinita – Florence (and any city in Italy) has many piazzas (plazas or squares) and eventually you will end up picking your favorite for the vibes and location. This one is mine -and not just because Valentino and Celine are right there 😉
- Ponte Santa Trinita – when crossing the river, use this bridge, not Ponte Vecchio which gets SO crowded. This bridge gives you a view of Ponte Vecchio which is better for photos anyway! The statues on the corners represent the four seasons, fall and winter on one side and spring and summer on the other.
IN/NEAR MERCATO CENTRALE
We discovered spots in this area when we went on a food tour. Which, btw, I think is always a great idea when visiting a new city. You get to find out where to eat, get to know the layout of the city and the history all at once!
- Pasticceria Sieni Srl – get a sfoilia con crema pastry (THE BESTTT) with an espresso to start your morning like a true local (don’t sit down, stand at the bar.)
- Forno Bruschi Ivana Hemp – “Forno” means more of a bread and savory bakery.”Pasticceria” means more of a pastry and sweets bakery. Get their little round schiacciata (Tuscan focaccia.)
- Da Nerbone – tripe is a Florentine specialty, but if you’re less apt to trying it (like I was) you can get a brisket sandwich with salsa verde that’s still traditional and very good.
- La Norcineria – Great shop for salami and prociutto with really nice people. Finnociona is the Tuscan salami with fennel that is so, so, so good. Pair that with procisutto, melon, a bunch of arugula, cheese and honey and you have yourself the most incredible Tuscan summer antipasto.
- F. N. Pasta Fresca – This was one of Reese and Maddix’s favorite spots. A tiny pasta stall with fresh pasta and your choice of sauce served on paper plates. The ravionio with lemon and olive oil and cheese IS TO DIE FOR.
- Mercato Centrale upstairs – there’s a modernized food court on the second level of the market. Fun place for a quick lunch or coffee.
This is the part south of the Arno river. It’s quieter and less touristy and filled with gems. When we came here last summer, our house was even further south of Oltrarno, so we spent more time in this area of Florence. In any place you travel to, it’s always a good idea to get away from the main tourist spots!
- Gustaosteria – both times we have gotten a plate of gnocchi, a plate of spaghetti con vongole veraci (clams.) Next door is their very popular pizzeria, Gustapizza.
- Ristorante Alla Vecchia Bettola – Their penne is amazing. I always started off with a plate of prociutto and melon.
- Trattoria Boboli – tiny, casual place along the street south of Pitti Palace. Their sage and bacon gnocchi is amazing.
- Gelataeria La Sorbetteria – I CRAVED their lemon and sage gelato last summer. It’s just so refreshing and bright. Because I have a lemon tree and sage in our herb garden I am going to try to make this when I back home! I’m sure it won’t be as good but at least it will capture this amazing flavor combo!
- Chinghale Bianco – the nicest owner and a traditional menu. Risotto was amazing.
- La Carraia – my gelato order here is the yogurt with Nutella, but they also have some special ones like orange and dark chocolate and a pistachio with white chocolate.
- Caffe degli Artigiani – super quaint, quiet spot for a coffee break.
WHERE TO STAY AND GETTING AROUND
- When we stayed here for 6 weeks, we rented a house via AirBnb. It had a pool and was on the side of the Tuscan hills and it was absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, the owners have since put the house on the market, so I don’t have a link for it. However I would definitely look into AirBnb when traveling as a family.
- For a hotel, our favorite is the Portrait Firenze in the Lungarno Collection portfolio of properties. Service, quality, decor, rooms, food, everything is perfect. We have stayed at the one in Rome, too.
- If you have a toddler or child who doesn’t normally use a stroller at home anymore, still consider bringing one. Florence is not big, but because of that you don’t take a lot of taxis and Ubers and busses. It’s easier to get around by just walking. Which means long distances for tiny feet. You could bring it and end up not using it, or you could not bring it and regret it.
- During our 6 week stay, we rented a car from Sixt and a Vespa from Knowleggi Car Rental (ask for Francesca!) I would not recommend a car unless you’re staying there for a long time. Driving in Florence is tricky.
- The bus is do-able, so feel free to take it safely to Oltrarno or any other outside locations.
- Please don’t be one of those tourists that look like they are going out on a safari : hat, big waterbottle, maps out, backpack turned and worn on the front. I know they do this in fear of pickpocketers but honestly, looking like that probably makes you a total target for pickpocketing! Wear sunscreen, dress comfortably but nicely, maybe a crossbody that zips up. I always try to dress like a local wherever I go and keep things simple. Yes there’s walking – but it’s not a hike 😉
- If you are in the market for some designer shopping, know that it’s cheaper to buy in Italy than back home in the states. You get the prices in Euro, and then you can get a VAT tax refund. Let’s just say, yes – I shopped 😉
- GELATO! The typical Italian way is to order a cone, not a cup, and get at least two flavors in one cone. I still ordered just one flavor many times. Especially on this recent trip, when I just wanted to get my absolute favorite flavors I could only find in Florence! And it is totally normal to get one at pretty much anytime of day after breakfast, even up until midnight. Also, pistachio is pronounced with a hard “c” (pistakkio) if you want to sound a little less tourist-ey.
- It’s true – no one orders cappuccinos after noon! Just get an espresso (which they call caffe) or an americano. And you won’t really find coffees or drinks to-go.
- Don’t go to the designer outlets outside of town – we went last year and did not feel it was worth it.
- While I didn’t eat gluten free while I was there, there is a pretty good amount of awareness around food allergies. Tuscan cuisine is actually centered around meats and vegetable and cheeses (very rustic and farm-to-table.) So it lends itself to a naturally gluten free (or many other allergy or preference friendly) menus!
- The universal sign for the check at a restaurant is making eye contact with a server and pretending you are writing with a pen in the air. It always works, especially in Europe where they won’t bring you the check until you ask for it!
- I would definitely learn a few phrases of Italian before going. Most people will speak a bit of English, but I always think it’s respectful and a good idea to use a few words in the local language.
Gosh, there is so much to share about Florence and Italy. There’s no way I could cover in one post! However, if you have any questions at all as you plan your trip now or in the future, feel free to ask me in the comments below!