Travel Guide: Florence, Italy

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Sunset over Florence at Piazza de Michaelangelo

I was pleasantly surprised by how much we loved Florence. We mostly visited European towns on the coast because both Dom and I love the water and beaches, but we wanted to get a few major cities in our itinerary because… when in Europe! Florence was a nice change of pace after visiting a few smaller towns, with a wide variety of things to do and places to visit including both touristy and local spots. We watched some of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen, ate a ton of pizza and gelato, and walked around much of the city stopping at tourist spots and little hole-in-wall places we stumbled upon. I already want to make another trip back there and would definitely recommend it to anyone planning a trip to Europe.

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View of Florence from Piazza de Michaelangelo

Where to Stay in Florence

  • Airbnb or Home Rental: Just like in Positano, we opted to stay in an Airbnb in Florence because we feel it’s the best way to immerse ourselves in a new city! We have a few friends that studied abroad in Florence and gave us tips on the best neighborhoods to stay in. After some searching we found this quaint and almost medieval-esque Airbnb south of the Arno River. It was in a perfect location, the host was incredibly hospitable and left us a bottle of wine, coffee and chocolate, and it had the coolest jacuzzi on the second floor that looked over the first floor. It was definitely a bit on the romantic side so might be best for a couple, but it could certainly work for two girl friends traveling Europe together, too!
  • Hotels – There are hundreds of hotels in Florence, which makes it hard to choose because they’re all beautiful! The most important thing to focus on when choosing a hotel is location. One hotel that is highly rated by travelers is Hotel Savoy, due to its location and beautiful view overlooking the entire Piazza della Repubblica. Since there are so many hotels to choose from and we went the Airbnb route, the best advice I can give is going on Trip Advisor and reading up on the many hotels to choose from based on location, ratings and of course your budget.

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What to Do in Florence

Florence has an endless amount of sights to see, museums to visit and places to eat. The hard part is narrowing it down to your top must-do activities! Depending on whether you prefer wandering around the city yourselves, touring museums with a tour guide, or simply shopping at the local vendor spots, there are plenty of things for any type of person to do in Florence. Below I’ve listed some of the top-rated things to do for travelers in Florence (most of which we did!):

  • Admire the Statue of David at the Accademia – this is where you’ll find the renowned Statue of David by Michaelangelo. While there is always an absurdly long line, it’s definitely a sight to see! There are of course other beautiful statues and artwork at the Accademia that are very impressive, as well. Pro-tip: purchase tickets online in advance to skip ahead in the line.
  • Visit the Duomo –  the Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is quite close to the Accademia, so you could knock both of these famous spots off your tourist list in the same day if you get lucky with lines! The Duomo is at the center of Florence and can be a marking spot for everywhere you go. Entrance is free to the Duomo and for about 10 euros you can climb to the top for a view of the whole city. Pro tip: if you want the spectacular view of the city without the super long line, you can climb to the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower instead which is about the same height.
  • Watch the sunset at Piazza de Michaelangelo – this was our favorite activity to do at dusk in Florence and we went each night we were there to watch the sunset. If you walk, it’s a bit of a hike as it’s straight uphill, but it’s totally worth it for the beautiful view. Pro tip: bring a bottle of wine and plastic cups to add to the sunset experience.
  • Leather Market – we just walked through the Leather Market to check it out and didn’t purchase anything, but if you love shopping or want quality leather goods, this is the place to go! You’ll find gorgeous leather bags, purses, wallets, belts, shoes, and more. The prices are pretty reasonable and most items are in really good condition. Pro tip: If you’re not super familiar with real leather vs. fake leather, do your homework before heading to the market. Like most street vendors in Europe, some are truthful and selling real leather while others are selling knockoff leather.
  • Walk through the Boboli Gardens – this requires buying a ticket which I think is about $10/person. The Boboli Gardens were previously owned by the Medici family and house various sculptures dating from the 16th to 18th centuries. The gardens stretch over a pretty large area, so there is plenty to see and a decent amount of walking to get through the entire space. Once you reach the higher points of the gardens, you can see beautiful views of the city of Florence.
  • Go to Mercato Centrale – think of this as an indoor farmer’s market; you’ll find a variety of fresh produce, meat, cheese, flowers and more in this open-air structure.  We didn’t get a chance to visit, but it’s listed as one of the top things to do!

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Where to Eat in Florence

Breakfast/Lunch

  • Gino’s Bakery – When in Florence, you gotta splurge, right?! Our Airbnb was just around the corner from Gino’s Bakery, so we popped in here for breakfast not once, but two mornings in a row. We met Gino, himself, and he bakes a collection of delicious pastries and breakfast items including donuts, cannolis, croissants and muffins, plus has a variety of sandwiches for lunch. We never tried the sandwiches, but everything we had at Gino’s (cannolis, donuts, other pastries, coffee) was beyond delicious, so I’m sure they’re just as good!
  • Gusta Pizza – Pretty much all of the pizza in Florence is beyond amazing (we tried a lot of pizza and didn’t have one bite that we didn’t like!), but Gusta Pizza is one of the most popular spots, and for good reason. They have a variety of options on their menu, but I read several reviews that the classic Margherita was the best, and I was not disappointed.
  • Mangia Pizza – This spot is tucked away on a side street in Florence. My phone GPS had a very difficult time locating it, and perhaps that is on purpose. Mangia Pizza seems to be a locals spot with very few tourists (we were the only ones there when we popped in to eat). As I previously said, all pizza in Florence is delicious, but it’s worth trying several different places because they’re all different! I loved Mangia Pizza because they had super fresh ingredients with a wider variety of options than many pizza restaurants, and their crust was extra crispy which I love. Our pizza had prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, arugula and a balsamic drizzle on top. Need I say more?
  • Pizza Napoli – We went to Pizza Napoli within an hour after leaving Mangia Pizza (don’t judge). We had planned to try a couple different spots for lunch, so this was in our plan all along! Again, this pizza was delicious and if you’re cheesy like I am (no pun intended), you’ll love ordering the heart-shaped pizza.
  • Gusta Panino – Owned by the same owner as Gusta Pizza, this place offers a variety of delicious paninis if you’re not in the mood for pizza or pasta. We never made it here, but my friend who studied abroad in Florence said she used to get lunch here almost every day.
  • Signorvino – An amazing wine shop/restaurant right on the water and on the way to Piazza de Michaelangelo. We stopped here for wine and appetizers and also took a bottle of wine to go. We were tempted to stay for dinner, but wanted to catch the sunset at Piazza de Michaelangelo (with our bottle of wine, of course)!

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Mangia Pizza 

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Pizza Napoli

Dinner

  • Golden View Open Bar – This restaurant is right along the Arno River and the food was absolutely mouth-watering. It’s a little on the pricey side, but it was the perfect place for a good sit-down meal, delicious pasta and a romantic setting. We sat right next to a window so could see the Arno River below us. I ordered the Tagliatelle with Tuscan Ragout and Dom ordered Pesto Rigatoni with Tuna. We were planning on going out after dinner, but were happily stuffed afterward and ended up just heading back to our Airbnb.
  • Zeb – A delicious hidden gem up by Piazza de Michaelangelo. Watch the sunset at Piazza de Michaelangelo and head to Zeb afterward for dinner. Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
  • Acqua al 2 – There are only two in the world – one in Florence and one in Washington, D.C. I’ve been told the Filetto al Mirtillo (Blueberry Steak) is to die for!

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Gelato

There are countless places to stop for gelato in Florence, so I would definitely try a variety. We stopped at a bunch of different places as we were walking around (didn’t catch the names of every gelateria), but each place was unique and tasted different than the last. We either stopped at places we thought looked especially good, had unique flavors, or just when we were craving it!

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While I would fully recommend every activity/restaurant/sight in this post, keep in mind these recommendations are based on what we experienced over the few days we were in Florence, as well as some suggestions we received from friends and locals. If you’ve been to Florence before and have suggestions for other places to stay/eat/visit, please let everyone know in the comments!

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