I recently found myself back in Florence, perhaps my favorite city in Italy, one year after my previous visit. This time I stayed close to Firenze Santa Maria Novella, the city’s main train station, in a bustling neighborhood of hotels and eateries. While I did more running around a year prior (check out my previous article on the city for more in-depth coverage of Florence’s top attractions and on visiting popular Tuscan towns), I was able to catch many things I had missed, namely several churches and David, while revisiting my favorite locales in the city.
If you’ve never visited Florence before, you’re likely interested in viewing Michelangelo’s David. Housed inside the Galleria dell’Accademia, David is the featured figure in a museum of other sculptures and paintings. I’d recommend purchasing tickets in advance online and picking them up from the ticket office down the street. There are numerous agencies offering varying services and prices; I chose the cheapest, frills-free option and it was fine. Here’s the link to purchase tickets to see David with the service I used, the official website for state Florentine museums. You’ll be assigned an entrance time, so be sure to get to the ticket counter and museum early as lines can potentially be long.
Another museum I thoroughly enjoyed was Palazzo Strozzi, then exhibiting Da Kandinsky a Pollack (“From Kandinsky to Pollack”), a great adventure through modern art. Of the many museums I’ve visited in Italy, few were as expertly and professionally run as this one (I was told it’s because the museum is privately owned and managed).
Fans of amazing panoramic views should first check out the rooftop of La Rinascente, an Italian department store chain. The rooftop features a cafe and eatery where visitors can see much of Florence. If the day is nice, a trip to the Giardino Bardini (Bardini Garden) and the Giardini di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) is required. From these adjacent parks, one can see some of the best views of the city. Additionally, the Giardini di Boboli also includes the Museo delle Porcellane (a small museum of porcelain items) and the Galleria del Costume (a fancy clothing and dress museum). You can purchase a ticket that includes both gardens, museums included. In the Giardini di Boboli, you’ll also find a giant figure of a face by the sculptor Igor Mitoraj, whose work I was introduced to in the small Tuscan town of Pietrasanta last year.
Of course, Tuscany is about food. No trip to Florence is complete without several visits to All’Antico Vinaio, perhaps the most renowned sandwich shop in the city. Using the Tuscan schiacciata flatbread, huge sandwiches are crafted to order, costing around 5€. For a sit-down meal, check out Osteria de’ Benci, a casual restaurant with outdoor seating. I ordered the Spaghetti dell’Ubriacone, spaghetti cooked in red wine with garlic and hot pepper, and paired it with, of course, red wine. For dessert, check out Carapina, a new-ish Italian craft gelateria that’s expanding to more cities, located near Piazza della Signoria. Also lovely is Gelateria La Carraia, located along the River Arno on the opposite side of the city center at the end of Ponte alla Carraia. One of my favorite moments of my trip was getting gelato here with two friends the night before my birthday.
Closer to the train station is Florence’s popular Mercato Centrale (Central Market), a historic food market with a sleek conglomeration of artisan food vendors up top. One of my local friends deems it a place primarily for tourists, and it shows. While much quality can be found, prices are generally higher. If you visit, definitely check out the unpretentious Nerbone downstairs. Here, you can get cheap sandwiches typical of Florence, like the lampredotto (cow stomach) and the bollito (slowly boiled beef). Upstairs, La Pasta Fresca, opened by master pasta maker Raimondo Mendolia, is a relatively affordable place to try great pasta dishes. For drinks, La Birreria del Mercato Centrale offers beer and wine, though quality craft beer options are few. Finally, check out Eataly for fancy food items to take with you (they have craft beer here, but you can’t drink it in the market).
For aperitivo and nightlife, Florence offers many chic bars and lounges. On my first night in, I was invited to a party at Rivalta, a cocktail bar located along the Arno. Drinks were good and the aperitivo spread was nice, though it’s not the cheapest of options. I particularly loved Odeon Bistrò, a bar located next to the historic cinema hall, Cinema Odeon Firenze (built in 1922). I was told Lindsay Lohan comes to Odeon, though that shouldn’t detract from its excellent quality. The drinks are big and strong, and the aperitivo is a great dinner substitute. To top off the trendy category of nightlife venues, check out La Ménagère, a cafe-lounge with many faces. During the day, it’s relaxing and open, offering pastries, really great coffee and brunch items. During the night, it becomes a cocktail bar with live music in its underground level. Try the Spritz Veneziano (at any time of the day); it’s fantastic.
Beer lovers need to check out BrewDog Firenze, a craft beer bar located in the city center. It’s one of my favorite places in Florence, whether I’m alone or with friends, and I always add it to my itinerary. They feature a wide selection of great beers on tap, notably Italian craft beers you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Ask Lapo, the owner, for recommendations if you’re unsure what to get. Near the train station is another craft beer bar called Mostodolce. I had a beer and pizza here on my first night. It was a nice spot, though their tap selection was extremely limited when I visited.
Of course, I hit up the popular historic attractions, some of which I detailed in my previous post on Florence: Piazza della Signoria, the Basilica di San Lorenzo and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (two church-museums worth their admission prices), and, last but never least, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) and Ponte Vecchio, two of the most spectacular sights in Italy of which I could stare at for hours.
Leaving Florence was hard, but the walk to the train station was made easier with a cup of coffee and a friend at La Cocotte, a cozy cafe with wonderful decor. It was a lovely final moment in Florence. After all, it’s usually the simple memories that are the most meaningful.
Hover over photos/press and hold on smartphones for info…