Stunning architecture and sculpted masterpieces, natural regional food and wine—Florence is sure to delight your perspective alongside your tastebuds. No wonder it’s such a popular destination. You really can’t help but fall in love with Florence.
- Italian Pride and Passion: Learn about Italian quality.
- Florentine Beauty Abounds: Discover the hot spots.
- A New Look Beyond Crowds: Consider the future of travel.
- Discover Tuscan Character… and Views: Create lasting memories.
- This isn’t Disneyland—it’s real: Preserve history and culture.
- Know Before You Go: Travel guide list of top spots
- See + Do Shots: Photo Gallery
Italian Pride and Passion
Italians take pride in their work. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Italy celebrates artisans and designers, thinkers and writers, creators and innovators. Appreciation for the arts, quality, and intellect adds depth to the culture. Their passion is found in the meticulous details of their craft and in the high standard for fresh ingredients used in their fare. They’re artisans in every respect.
Our palates tasted joy in everything from the simple, every day to the most divine pleasures—a perfectly crafted cappuccino, masterfully produced Montepulciano wine, handmade egg pasta so light it melts in your mouth, then proudly topped with prized, locally-hunted white truffles—at a few stand-outs.
The same family has made gelato at Vivoli with passion and high-quality ingredients for four generations. Our favorites combined berry sorbetto or pistachio gelato with creamy fior di latte or rich dark chocolate gelato—all ideal espresso accompaniments. For lunch, Osteria Belle Donne served us classic Italian specialties in a historic setting. They eagerly welcomed us into their cozy space, but since they cater mostly to locals, don’t expect them to speak much English.
At night, across the river Arno, we arrived at Trattoria Cammillo for our dinner reservation. With old-school class in an unpretentious atmosphere, the family’s third-generation chef prepares traditional Florentine specialties that change with the seasons.
In October, we weren’t about to miss seasonal white truffles on handmade taglierini, which the waiter fervently insisted I enjoy simply, without adding porcini mushrooms whose flavors would compete. I didn’t question him. And their mouth-watering bistecca alla Fiorentina from local Chianina beef was the most flavorful T-bone we’ve ever sunk our teeth into (a cut I wouldn’t normally order)—a meal we’re still talking about.
To work off all this deliciousness, we walked. A lot. And there is plenty to see.
Florentine Beauty Abounds
Tuscan charm is undeniable. Frances Mayes’s Bramasole, the house she renovated in her book Under the Tuscan Sun, spoke to the designer in me years ago and inspired my own work. The romantic quality of the landscape and city of Firenze, Florence’s Italian name, has lured artists for centuries.
Master artists seeking inspiration flocked to this artistic hub during the Renaissance, the period of Medici rule when this powerful family of bankers and merchants commissioned many of the masterpieces found in the city today. Artists and architects have since been inspired by the city’s magnificence. Justifiably so.
The cathedral and baptistry of the Duomo, the masterpieces in and around the Uffizi Gallery, and the medieval shop-lined bridge of Ponte Vecchio are world-class. However, with the most famous sights of Il Centro Storico (the historic center) attracting large tour groups midday, we found them to be best experienced during off-hours. Think early morning and evening.
Beyond these great icons, Florence offers smaller, more intimate experiences that provide lasting memories and unique experiences.
For instance, visitors can take a tour through the Vasari Corridor to discover the above-ground connector between the Palazzo Vecchio and Pitti Palace. Cosimo I de’ Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, had the corridor built in 1565 so that he could move freely above the streets between the government seat and his palace residence.
Behind Palazzo Pitti, Boboli Gardens exemplifies formal “Italian gardens” as one of the first, which then inspired the creation of royal gardens throughout Europe. The south bank is filled with treasures without invasively large tour groups. And taking a less-traveled road, not only uncovers more character but helps relieve the toll of mass tourism.
These “roads” also lead to a future in which cities like Florence work to strike a balance between tourism and livability for residents.
A New Look Beyond Crowds
As Italy gradually reopens, there is an opportunity to protect it. Greatly consideration how to adjust beyond this global pandemic into more sustainable and mutually beneficial travel.
Today the jewelry and souvenir shops lining the Ponte Vecchio—in medieval stalls once occupied by tanners, farmers, and butchers—are closed until further notice. For several weeks now, response to the Coronavirus global pandemic has shut down many businesses throughout the world deemed non-essential. Tourist destinations have been the most vulnerable to the virus, and Italy…
Florence is, understandably, a very popular tourist destination. It’s saturated in beauty and relics studied in Western art history. Increasingly over the years, and during our stay, busloads of selfie-stick-wielding crowds, with only a few hours to spend, overwhelmed streets and plazas around the main attractions at midday. Most seemed to come in a rush to check off the hot spots.
This influx of mass tourism has been driving away locals while attracting counterfeits and mediocrity. To counteract the problem, Florentines started to revive quality and authenticity. Everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to homey classic trattorias to gourmet sandwiches and street food stalls—all of which focus on fresh, local seasonality.
Sitting in a café or restaurant, talking with family and friends, and enjoying food and drinks are essential to an Italian quality of life. Then the pandemic hit, devastating lives and livelihoods. The Italian modo di vivere (way of life) was interrupted, along with the benefits visitors bring.
Now, as Italy begins to carefully reopen, officials are also taking the opportunity to do so with great introspection. According to the recent Guardian article “‘Things have to change’: tourism businesses look to a greener future” about tourist-saturated European cities moving forward, Venice’s councilor for tourism, Paola Mar, says the city wants “to attract visitors for longer stays and encourage a ‘slower’ type of tourism. Things can’t go back to how they were.”
Let’s consider ideas for more sustainable tourism, which also leads to more enriching experiences for the traveler. Travel by rail. Spend more time discovering less populated or rural areas. Take public transit, bike, and walk to explore. Stay longer in a place and get to know an area deeper.
Buy handcrafted and locally-made goods. Eat the food. Sit and relax at a sidewalk cafe. Talk to the locals. There are endless possibilities to discover.
Discover Tuscan Character… and Views.
Our Florentine exploration focused on finding lesser-known gems and quality restaurants as we slipped around corners and down cobbled side streets. In our escape from midday hoards, we found narrow passages, golden-stone archways, shuttered balconies, and covered loggias (open walkway galleries surrounded by colonnades).
After a gelato stop at Vivoli, one path led us to Piazza di Santa Croce—still vibrant, but less congested. Across the piazza stood the Basilica di Santa Croce, dressed in the tricolored marble of Florentine Renaissance churches. A musician’s violin filled the space, adding charm to the already quaint ambiance. Along the periphery, vendors sold leather goods, while artists displayed artwork.
Next to the basilica, a painter stood at her easel to capture her version of the convent courtyard glimpsed through the ironwork of a decorative doorway.
From there we crossed Ponte alle Grazie to Oltrarno (“beyond the Arno”), the south bank of the river. We trekked up the hillside road, unexpectedly passing Galileo’s 16th-century home, to Forte di Belvedere for panoramic views at sunset. (Piazzale Michelangelo is another option for great views and photo ops further upstream.)
We ended up at what felt like a cocktail party on the Belvedere terrace, surrounded by music and amazing views as darkness fell and the city began to glow.
This isn’t Disneyland. It’s real.
The quantity of grand treasures feels unreal, too good to be true. Yet this isn’t a theme park—these structures and monuments have been standing here for centuries.
Florence is a living museum that takes love and care. Founded by the Etruscans, the city flourished during the Renaissance era of the Medici-family rule, centuries ago. They preserved the medieval relics and created new ones, now relics to us.
Italian pride and passion are inspiring. Quality is the standard. As a visitor to Florence, I felt grateful to be in its presence. I also recognized its significant need to be respected and preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.Maya Angelou
Know Before You Go
With so much to explore and eat in this city, we could barely scratch its surface during our brief visit. In addition to my pre-trip research, I asked locals about their favorites to create a list of top spots, some of which we were lucky enough to experience for ourselves.
Currency: Euro €
When to go: Ideal March-May or September-early November (porcini mushrooms and truffles);
Summer – hot, humid, crowded;
Winter – frosty, cozy, discounted (Christmas markets)
Train station: Stazione Firenze SMN (Santa Maria Novella)
EAT + DRINK:
€: Vivoli Gelateria, Gelateria dei Neri, Osteria Belle Donne, Mercato Centrale, Zeb, Osteria All’antico Vinaio, Caffè Gilli, Ino (gourmet deli)
€€: Trattoria Cammillo, Antico Ristoro di Cambi, Regina Bistecca, Il Santino, Il Santo Bevitore, Trattoria Sabatino, Vini e Vecchi Sapori, Acqua Al 2, Ristorante Natalino
€€€: Gurdulù, Regina Bistecca, La Bottega del Buon Caffè, Borgo San Jacopo
SEE + DO:
Piazza del Duomo: Duomo (Cathedral), Baptistry, Gates of Paradise, Campanile di Giotto (bell tower), Loggia del Bigallo, Piazza della Repubblica
Santa Maria Novella: Piazza and Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Stazione Firenze SMN, Basilica di Santa Trinita, Ponte Santa Trinita
Piazza della Signoria: Palazzo Vecchio, Loggia dei Lanzi, “David” replica, Loggia del Bigallo
Piazza di San Firenze: Bargello National Museum, Badia Fiorentina Monastero
Piazzale degli Uffizi: Uffizi Gallery, Vasari Corridor, Ponte Vecchio, Museo Galileo
Piazza San Marco: Galleria dell’Accademia, “David” original, San Marco Museum
San Lorenzo: Basilica di San Lorenzo, Mercato Centrale Firenze
Santa Croce: Piazza di Santa Croce, Basilica di Santa Croce, Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio, Piazza dei Ciompi, Ponte alle Grazie
Oltrarno: Basilica di Santo Spirito, Cappella Brancacci, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, Forte di Belvedere, Giardino Bardini, Piazzale Michelangelo, Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte
- Piazza del Duomo
- Piazza Santa Maria Novella
- Piazza della Signoria
- Piazza di San Firenze
- Piazza della Repubblica
- Piazzale degli Uffizi
- Ponte Vecchio
- Piazza San Marco
- Piazza San Lorenzo
- Mercato Centrale
- Basilica Di Santa Trinita
- Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
- Basilica di Santa Croce
- Piazza Santo Spirito
- Palazzo Pitti
- Giardino di Boboli
- Forte di Belvedere
- Piazzale Michelangelo
- Basilica di San Miniato al Monte
- Giardino Bardini
See + Do Photos
Piazza del Duomo
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella
Piazza della Signoria and Uffizi Gallery
Piazza di San Firenze
Piazza di San Marco
Basilica di San Lorenzo
Piazza di Santa Croce
North City Views from Forte di Belvedere
South Landscape Views from Forte di Belvedere
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