72 hrs in Florence
Florence, Italy is serenaded with beautiful cathedrals, stunning museums, traditional boutiques and ancient walled buildings. Only a few cities in the world can impress the contemporary arts buffs like Florence does. Although the city is easy on the eyes, the climax of the trip is reached through the pleasure of eating, as food is devoured here more for nourishment. A city so well rounded with something for everyone to enjoy, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and get lost along the way. Therefore we put together a 3-day itinerary for first timers to Florence with recommended activities for you to tackle the city.
Street markets are a good way to get a genuine feel for the local culture. Head to the outdoor section of San Lorenzo Market to shop for Tuscan leather, souvenirs, clothing and pottery. This is a great place to get a bargain deal as most vendors are open to barter if you are shopping for more than one item. Closing time means the vendors are squeezing their last deals of the day and may lower prices, so be sure to go in the late evening if you want to shop for a lot of items. San Lorenzo Market is open Tuesdays through Saturdays. Adjoining this market is the indoor two-level food market Mercato Centrale. The building was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, the same architect who designed the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II. Here you can indulge in the local cuisine and shop for qualitative food that probably never make it to your local food market. Among the other street markets in the city is the monthly Santo Spirito Organic Market. It is quite small but very popular among locals as it only takes place on the third Sunday of the month and they bring organic food from the surrounding country side. Aside from going to the local deli, Eataly Firenze on Via de' Martelli n°22R unites foodies as this two floor epitome market has a butcher, cheese section, wine tasting back room, a number of restaurants, offers cooking classes and is a haven for all things Italian food. Also not to miss, do some jewelry shopping along Ponte Vecchio, additionally a great place to watch the sunset. Stroll along the bridge to watch street performers and take in the great views.
The historical centre is classified as a World Heritage Site, in which it is clearly a walking outdoor museum. Many of the narrow streets in the city centre intertwine and take you to the Piazza della Signoria (main city square). The square is located near the Ponte Vecchio and is adjacent to the Uffizi Gallery, considered one of the most important Italian museums in the world with art from the 14th Century and the Renaissance. Also in the same square you’ll find the Palazzo Vecchio. On the front facade of the palace, a series of coat of arms can be seen that represent various families and important individuals relating to the history of Florence. For some fashionistas, you may want to check out the Gucci Museum in the same square, which was inaugurated in 2011 on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the eponymous fashion house. It is the biggest-selling Italian brand in the world, in which they meet the highest standards for Italian fashion and leather goods manufacturing.
As in any historical city centre, the picturesque winding side streets is where you can spot some of the prettiest finds and where locals tend to go about their daily lives. This is true if you want to spot the best places to eat and shop. Aquaflor Firenze on Borgo Santa Croce n°6 is pure perfume heaven, whether a fan or not of perfumes and candles, the space is so darling and must be seen. On Via de' Ginori n°8 is the concept restaurant La Menagere. There is an abundance of space, as the locale has a florist, in-house restaurant, bistrot and music project. Downstairs at night it dresses up with entertainment, as the space comes alive with live music with a primary focus for jazz lovers and music from both Italian and foreign singers. Libreria Brac is a gem that we have recently discovered on our last visit. It is an art library that serves vegetarian food and coffee. Be sure to reserve as it packs early and the vibrancy of the restaurant has clients eating until past closing time. Also, on a highly must do list, no visit to Florence is complete without a visit to the best sandwich deli All' Antico Vinaio. Located on Via dei Neri n°65, n°74 and n°76 you will find a long cue with people calling out their orders. All'Antico Vinaio is considered one of the best street-food places in the country; presented by the magazine "Saveur" as the "home of the world's best sandwiches".
For some of the best sweet treats and bread you must head to the delicious delicatessen in the Oltrarno neighbourhood S.Forno Panificio on Via Santa Monaca n°3r. The same owners opened il Santo Bevitore and il Santino, both highly recommended food houses that serve everything eco, local and tasty. These restaurants can be found near the Basilica di Santo Spirito, where the famous avant garde architect Brunelleschi's ideas were respected and carried out through. The area is home to some of the most impressive galleries, such is the case of Pananti Casa d'Aste, also an auction house where you can sink into the city's history. On one of the backstreets you can find Florence Food Studio, a culinary cooking school sharing the wealth of food secrets and history in the most generous manner. They also take you to the neighbourhood food stalls to shop the ingredients and can organise food tours on demand. The Oltrarno neighbourhood often gets over-looked at, but it is by way of the one and only Boboli gardens. This park embellished with so much greenery and marble statues is also home to the Pitti Palace, which houses several important museums. The park hosts centuries-old oak trees, sculptures, fountains and has the impressive Grotta Grande (the Buontalenti Grotto), with remarkable examples of Mannerist sculptures.
Florence is spoilt for boutique properties, therefore we have visited the city on numerous occasions to experience only the best stays. Le Tre Stanze has 3 bedrooms to choose from and is in a 16th-century palazzo that has gone almost untouched. Swiss-owner Patrick John Steiner is a sculptor and photographer running the B&B, who has the utmost respect for vintage furnishings and antique treasures. We recommend the Mansarda room as it has the most natural light and feels like an apartment. Canto degli Scali is another gently restored Florentine palace turned special stay, with well-preserved Italian frescoes, antique terracotta floors and splendid furnishings produced by local craftsmen. Brothers Marco and Alessio Ducceschi will go out of their ways to make sure you have the best possible stay whilst in the city. Residence Hilda is your home away from home in the San Lorenzo neighbourhood, within eye reach of the stunning Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (Duomo) and the David by Michelangelo. For a romantic lunch in a hotel, we recommend heading to Le Bistrot in Villa Cora. The bistrot feels like an airy garden pavilion, with the outdoor pool area beautifully decorated with statues. This property will leave you in awe and the hospitality will make you feel super special on your trip. Irene Firenze adjoins Hotel Savoy, and it is our favourite place for brunch. For starters do try their tasty fried calamari with vegetables and sweet and sour sauce. Last but not least, JK Place Firenze serves the best cotelette Milanese, serenaded with cherry tomatoes and freshly served arugula! The hotel has a homely feel, and you can not leave without trying their tiramisu.
Our favourite activity in Florence is walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo (better at sunset) and admiring the breathtaking views of the city below. While up there you may find San Miniato al Monte a short walk away, where you can again absorb some of the best views and enter one of the prettiest basilicas in Florence.
For an Italian growing up, food means family gatherings, and it is a comforting experience. A lot of love gets cooked up in every Florentine kitchen. We love the trattoria culture, but what tops the culinary experience is the level of greed for gelato! La Carraia has interesting flavours like red almond, pistachio, chocolate chip vanilla and pink grape fruit (these were all tasted on our frequent midnight visits - all in the name of research of course). Blend in with the locals and have an artisan gelato on the Carraia bridge while watching the sunset. Another one of our favourite places for gelato is Gelateria de' Neri. This is where you can find all of the unique flavours to tickle your taste buds. Think of chocolate with hot chili and pistachio, prosecco or even gorgonzola cheese creamy gelato!
Take your time in this splendid city and learn a little bit of Italian - you never know how soon you will be back. As the Renaissance city is in the heart of Tuscany, it is well connected with a fully developed rail network with connections to Pisa by way of Lucca, Bologna and Rome.