When people think of Italy, they usually think of the food, the museums and churches, the crazy drivers and, of course, the artwork. In particular, David...the giant, towering carved marble statue by Michaelangelo. This gigantic beauty is housed in the Accademia, one of the most visited museums in its home city Florence! Also known as Firenze, Florence is a bustling city that tends to be boiling hot in the summer, crowded as hell but almost always worth the wading through the tourists to enjoy the gelato, panini, and more hidden spots away from the well trod tourist paths.
It honestly took a while before I actually spent more than half a day in this crazy gorgeous and crazy crowded city. When I studied abroad in Castiglion Fiorentino, Florence as almost a weekly destination to visit museums (hello David), cathedrals, small churches and historic sites. Even when I lived an hour south after college, we'd often only go into the city to visit our favorite sandwich shop, do some shopping and sketching and then catch the train home to be back for dinner shift.
It took a few more years before I actually had a solid 24 hours in this city. The first year I ever did a retreat in Italy was actually based in Florence for a week! Showing our guests around a city I studied so much as a student really changed my perspective of this city and gave me a chance to finally discover Florence.
Similar to my Day in Rome post, I'm going to break this post down by time of day. Different from Rome though is that most of these places are easily walked to within the main center of Florence! Florence is a very easy city to explore and has great landmarks to keep you oriented without getting too lost.
If you're doing as the Italians do, your day should start with coffee! For the longest time, my default was just the closest bar in the train station of Florence as we were usually rolling in around 7:30 for our field trips. Don't doubt the train stations and their coffee though, they're a solid choice when you have no good options around!
Embarrassingly, I only just discovered this gem of a coffee shop and bakery this past summer in Florence with my family! Finisterrae is right in one of the busiest piazzas of Florence, Santa Croce. But it was definitely worth waiting in the morning rush of Italians on their way to work.
Should you find yourself in Florence and caffeinated before the hoards of tourists wake, I highly recommend you take in the main sights before everyone else does. Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo...all these big tourist destinations are so much more powerful (and if possible, more beautiful?) when you're not wading through selfie sticks just to bask in their glory. If you have time to rise with the sun, please do so.
Lunch time might be my favorite time in Florence! As a student, this was usually the time of day we got to explore solo and find some culinary gems on our own.
San Lorenzo Market
On top of it being a great spot to shop for deals, the San Lorenzo neighborhood has one of my favorite food spots hiding in the center of it. The San Lorenzo outdoor market used to be three times its current size, which was pretty daunting. Stall after stall of aggressive vendors selling loads of leather goods and tschotskes. They've since limited to vendors to 2 streets so now you can actually see the San Lorenzo Church (home of the Medici Chapel) and its piazza! After you wade a block into the vendor area, you'll come to the Mercato Centrale, a tall building on the right that now houses a glorious food court! There's bars, fresh seafood, a salad booth as well as freshly made pasta and pizza with a side of fans, restrooms and free wifi! I LOVE stopping at this spot! It can get hot and muggy but with a mug of beer and a spot in front of the fan, it's a glorious respite from the heat outside.
If you find yourself right by the biggest destination in Florence (hint, at some point during your day you need to find yourself by the Duomo, it's stunning), wander to the back right corner of the Piazza behind the church itself to have some of my favorite gelato! Edoardo's usually has a line out the door but it's worth it. Grab a number and get ready to wait but be happy by the end. They have a delicious pistacchio and every now and then a green tea matcha that's SO refreshing on a hot day!
While you're hanging in this area, try and do some climbing to work off the gelato! Most people opt for the climb to the very top of the dome! I've done it and it was great...but...if you're claustrophobic, not super physically fit, or just don't want to wait over an hour, I recommend climbing the Campanile instead! The bell tower is not only a shorter climb, it has regular intervals of landings to REST, or even stop climbing altogether and go back down! And it offers a gorgeous view on the Duomo and Florence still.
Also along the right side, you'll find Via dello Studio which leads to some of my other favorite spots! There's an amazing English book store down here to the right on Via delle Oche called Paperback Exchange. At the intersection of these two streets, there's a GORGEOUS grocery store called Pegna dal 1860. Gorgeous grocery store? Trust me, open it up and cruise through it real quick. Further down this street, you'll pass Zecchi's on the right, one of the oldest art stores in Florence! When you get to the end of Via dello Studio, turn right on Via del Corso and you'll find some more fun cafes and juice bars and eventually the Fabriano Boutique! Full of gorgeous paper products and fountain pens, it's a dream souvenir spot.
Piazza della Signoria
My friend Lenora showed me this spot when she studied in Florence and I've been hooked ever since. Due Frattelini is an unassuming hole in the wall that blends in to the bustling streets but when you see their guys passing out the tiny paper menus, grab a spot in line. They're consistently the cheapest (less than 5 euro) and tastiest (fresh baked bread) little sandwiches you can get in Florence. With simple, fresh ingredients and a small glass of wine to tuck up on the wine shelves along the doors, it's a great spot for a quick lunch without breaking the bank. Number 16 (pecorino cheese, sundried tomatoes, and basil) has been my go-to for a decade now. My habit was to order two...one to eat then and one for the train home!
The other side of the river is a great spot to explore, especially if you're in the mood for a hike. You can catch a bus to Piazza Michaelangelo but it's also a great walk if you're working off some pasta. Higher up from the Piazza Michaelangelo you'll find the small church San Miniato. My professor told us as students that any artist during the Renaissance HAD to sketch up her to prove their artistic skill so we all made a point to do some sketching alla the old masters. There's a fun studio for the famous street artist Clet over on this side too, and a fun spot to grab an aperitivo is Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolo.
Also on this side of the river but past the Ponte Vecchio in the other direction is O Munaciello. It's such a cool space inside and they serve up some excellent pizza and pastas.
Back across the river you'll find some fun dinner spots too, as well as some exciting cocktail spots. My friend Kelly found this gem on her honeymoon and it didn't disappoint. Vanilla Club is very unassuming from the street but it's a fun speak-easy type place that serves VERY unique cocktails in vintage tea cups. They have a membership program involving passwords, secret doors through armoires and private parties with a 1920's dress code.
One of my favorite dinner spots (and lunch spots too!) is Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo. Long name but very tasty food! It's also just around the corner from Santa Croce for a quick evening passaggiata to work off all that food!
Have more suggestions? Comment below! I'm always looking for more tasty spots to check out in Florence!
Written by Chelsea Ward, the host and founder of Wanderful Retreats