I will be completely honest with you, seven years ago when my husband Rick and I first visited Florence on a day trip, we did not have a great day. It was hot, we were tired, (and most likely grumpy), and the city just underwhelmed us. But when we were planning an Italian holiday with my parents in 2013, they said that Florence was on their must-see list. So, Rick and I agreed to give the city a second look, and boy, are we ever glad we did!
Instead of the less than favorable impression we were left with from our first visit, this time we found a vibrant, exciting city. And when we left, we agreed that it was a city that we hoped to return to over and over again.
I'm not going to touch on the fabulous museums that the city is home to, there are some awesome guide books which do that quite well. This is more a compilation of some of my favorite stops that I return, or plan to return to, on each visit.
In the center of Piazza dei Ciompi is a haphazard grouping of little antique shops/booths. While there are some shops with products clearly visible and easily accessible with bargains to be had, most of the shops are ones that you need to dig around and search to find your treasure. The square is host to shops that are open daily, as well as a larger market on specific weekends of the month. Click here to read more info about this quaint little market.
There is one specific store in the cluster of antique shops in the Piazza dei Ciompi that I like: Gabellini Marzia – Piazza dei Ciompi St. 11. It is the booth inside the antique stalls in Piazza dei Ciompi where I have bought many of my linens. The vendor also has a wall of buttons, old envelopes and antique books and paper ephemera. Below is a photo that my mom and I took with the shop owner in 2013 so that you can see what she looks like. Unfortunately the shops do not have names posted above their doors, so it will be easiest to find her by her photo, or from looking in the store – she is the only one where the one side wall is almost all linens, and the other side wall is halfway filled with boxes of buttons. She doesn’t speak English very well at all, but she will try her best. Another tip - she has a trove of linens stored in her cabinets, so be sure to ask to look in them. She also has more product stored off site. The first year that I met her, after I told her the things I was interested in, she asked me to come back the next day as she had more of that specific product at home and could bring them to the store the next day for me to consider.
A MUST-HAVE APP:
Eat Florence, by food writer Elizabeth Minchilli has become a tool I wouldn't travel to Florence without again. Minchilli describes her app this way:
"EAT FLORENCE is the result of my years of eating and living in Italy, all boiled down into handy, nifty apps. Don’t go expecting exhaustive. If you want ALL the restaurants in Florence there are tons of guide books out there – in English and Italian. EAT FLORENCE is simply what I think is the best. In other words, these are all places that I go to, love and would send friends to. I’ve edited them all down to a list you can trust."
I used this app for the first time during my travels to Florence in 2014. I ate at several of the places she recommended, from little sandwich shops to restaurants, and I had great meals at each place. It is well worth the $2.99 price tag.
Cucina Torcicoda – Via Torta 5 rosso - phone: 055.265.4329 • Click here for their website
The first night that I arrived in Florence in 2014 I asked the host at our apartment for a recommendation for a good pizza (I was jet lagged and wanted something fast and inexpensive, but good). He sent me here. This restaurant has 3 different portions to their business, a restaurant, an Osteria and a Pizzeria. Each serves different food at different price points. I walked into the restaurant portion of the business by mistake, but they just walked me through to where the pizzeria was. Even though I didn’t have a reservation, they were able to add a table into the pizzeria area of the restaurant and serve me. I ordered the Margaretta pizza with a stuffed ricotta crust. It was SO good. Upon leaving, I inquired as to whether I would need a reservation if I arrived with a party of 4 the next night. They told me that they encourage reservations, but if we arrived right when they opened at 7PM, then we could probably get a table without a problem. Given that I didn’t know if my firends who were joining me the next would be up for a late dinner as they had been up for 30 hours traveling, I decided that we’d just try showing up at 7 if they were hungry. They were, so we all showed up at 7 and got a table with no issue. Everyone’s food was really great. The pizzas cost between about 7-12 Euros (mine was 8.50 I think). With water, the bill per person person ran between 10.75-12.00 euros. I would highly recommend them - Yummy pizza in a great atmosphere for sure!
La Milkeria – Borgo degli Albizi 87R, 50122 Florence, Italy • Click here to visit their facebook page.
This is a cute little cafe, gelato and creperia cafe. It is really adorable, decorated in shabby chic style inside. They have a mixed bag of reviews on tripadvisor, but I had the BEST hot chocolate of my entire life there. It was thick, and tasted like the chocolate that inside of a chocolate lava cake. In other words, for a chocoholic like me, heaven! The hot chocolate that I bought is in the photo above and was the hot chocolate "con PANNA" (with whipped cream). Just typing about it is making me salivate! When I was there, my friends and I, a group of 4, all ordered crepes as well. They were nice. Not the best I've ever had, but very nice. This would be a lovely place for either breakfast, lunch, or a snack. Reservations not needed.
(image from tripadvisor.com)
Del Fagioli • Corso dei Tintori, 47/r - phone: 055 244 285
My friends and I ate here upon the recommendation of Elizabeth Minchilli and her “Eat Florence” app. She said that the Florentine Steak they serve is amongst the best in town. We had one HUGE steak – it was about 3 kilos, or 6.6 pounds. We split the steak 4 ways. (Be sure to keep in mind that Florentine steak is almost always served rare as it is so thick to cook.) In addition to the steak, we shared one order of Bruscheta, and Panzenella for our appetizers, then had asparagus and potatoes with the steak. We finished off the meal with 2 pieces of cake for dessert. To drink we had 1 bottle of water and my friend Tiffany had their house Chianti. She said that it was the deal of the week as she had 3 glasses (she wants me to let you know that they were small) and it was only 1EURO for what she drank. (They bring a bottle of Chianti to the table and then only charge you for what you drink.) The menu is only in Italian, but don’t worry, the wait staff spoke English very well and were willing to help us figure out what to order. They do have smaller steak portions available as well - steaks that serve 2, or filets, more suitable for 1. Our total bill, for everything listed here was 120 euros. So, it wasn’t cheap, but VERY good, and we all agreed it was worth the price. RESERVATIONS NEEDED. We tried to phone at 6PM for a reservation on the same night, and they were fully booked. So instead we booked a reservation for a different night.
Eataly - VIA DE' MARTELLI, 22 R 50129 Firenze
This is a really cool specialty food store in Italy (they also have a branch in New York and I believe that they are either opening, or have already opened a branch in California as well). They have some REALLY cool food stuff. They also have restaurants inside their stores. But at the front of this store, they sell soft serve gelato. My friends said that their Chocolate was the best they ate in Florence. YUMMY!! Tip: you will pay for the gelato at the cash register to the left of the gelato area (by where the coffee is), then you will take your receipt to the gelato area and give it to the person working at that area and tell him/her what you want.
I am also a huge fan of the gelato at GROM, which is a chain whose shops you will find all over Italy.
Gelato tip: The gelato that is all mounded up looks beautiful and tasty, but pass it by as most likely it is not the premium/best quality made with pure, natural ingredients. In order to get it to mound, they have to add stabilizers and whip a ton of air into it.
The easiest way to tell if the gelato is real, pure and not made from powders is to look at the color. You want to find natural looking colors. The mint should be white, banana creamish (like the inside of a real banana). Those are 2 of the easiest colors to tell at a glance how pure the gelato is. So, as tempting as it is, don't settle for the first gelato you see...shop around, there are a ton of artisanal shops all over Italy who make the good stuff.
My hubby is a big foodie and LOVES culinary tours, so when we were in Florence a food tour was a must-do for us. There are a few different companies who offer food tours, after reading reviews online and corresponding with two of them, we chose to book with Florence for Foodies.
My parents signed up for the Nude and Food Tour (where they take you to see the David, then you proceed onto the food tour), and Rick and I signed up for just the food tour. It was an interesting tour and the food they served was all very tasty. The food market they take you to is awesome and overall it was a great introduction to the city!
Their website: www.florenceforfoodies.com
Rick Steves' Florence & Tuscany - Rick Steves' guidebooks have been at my side for my European Adventures over the past decade. He has never led us astray with his advice on how to avoid long lines, what the "must-see" things are in a specific city, and his restaurant recommendations are pretty dependable. I never take a trip to Europe without purchasing his book for my destination.
If you're looking for an apartment in Florence, I highly recommend Condotta 14. You can read my review here. You can book them through Air BnB, and if you aren't registered with Air BnB yet, I would invite you to sign up using my referral link HERE. (thank you!)
I hope you enjoyed a little round up of some of my recommendations for the city. If you have any questions, just let me know.