The city of the Renaissance feels like an open air museum with countless impressive buildings, majestic churches and atmospheric squares. Ad onto this top-notch musea, high quality Tuscan cuisine and lively food markets, and you will get the perfect mix for a weekend away. This city guide of Florence will give you food and travel tips about:
- where to drink the best coffee
- where to find fresh food markets
What to see and do in Florence
It is hard not to be impressed by the scale and beauty of the he Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore). This is the third largest cathedral in the world, and its dome is even the largest of its kind. As of the 15th century this masterpiece shines the centre of the city.
Tip: visit the Duomo at least two times, once by day and once during the evening or night (because it is wonderfully lit after sunset). And if you're extra lucky, go there after a rain shower, to 'play' with the puddles.
The interior is relatively simple compared to the exterior, but its marble floors, its grandeur and the sight of the dome from the inside, were worth the one hour wait.
Do you get exited by hearing names like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Botticelli and Rembrandt? Then you should definitely visit the Uffizi Gallery where you can admire world famous artworks by these master painters and sculptors. Plan at least half a day (but rather longer) to immerse yourself in this extensive museum.
Tip: only one entry is allowed per ticket, so if you are there around lunchtime, you can have lunch at the Caffetteria. The outside terrace has a nice panoramic view, from where you can see the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio.
I will only share a very small selection of the artworks that have caught my eye. This 'Head of Zeus' in marble was made in the 2nd century AD.
Standing face to face with this famous mythical goddess at 'The Brith of Venus' by Botticelli (1485).
The evil woman with hair like poisonous snakes, and a look that could turn a person into stone, comes from the Greek mythology. Caravaggio painted the 'Head of Medusa' in 1598, and gave the painting a remarkable twist by depicting his own face, instead of Medusa's.
Between 1581 and 1583 'The Tribune' was built to display the most precious artworks of the Medici collection. The room itself can't be entered because of the delicate floors, but you can take a quick look from the door frame. Thousands of mother of pearl shells are used to decorate the ceiling.
Rustic and heavy building stones were used to construct many of Florence's huge buildings. This gives the city a very unique and sturdy character, something you won't easily find anywhere else on this scale. Nice to know: these buildings often have 'ferri da cavallo' attached to the façades, which are heavy iron rings used to tie up horses in the middle ages. In other words, the predecessors of our current parking garages.
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is a major tourist attraction, as it is one of the most famous bridges in the world. It is therefore recommended to visit the bridge in the early morning or late evening. When you walk over it, it's hard to believe you're crossing a bridge, because a long line of jewellers are located on both sides. Since the 13th century there have been several types of shops on the bridge, ranging from butchers to fish sellers and tanners. For a hygiene point of view it was decided in 1593 to replace these shops with goldsmiths and jewellers.
Florence's main square, Piazza della Signoria, contains several important antique statutes and the medieval town hall, Palazzo Vecchio. The famous statue of the Greek mythological god Perseo who's is holding Medusa's head (made by Cellini in 1554) stands here as well.
Palazzo Vecchio and its tall tower are a landmark in the city, with the oldest parts of the city hall dating back to the 13th century. The tower has a height of 95 metres (312 ft) and can (together with the monumental rooms) be visited. In front of it stands a copy of Michelangelo's statue of David.
The central market Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo opened its doors in 1874 in 'the district of di Medici'. Its 5.000 square metres are filled with local quality products ranging from fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and meat, cheese and bread, homemade pasta, wines and olive oil (and everything in between). Even if you don't need groceries, the building itself and the market stalls are a treat for the eye. Further in this blog post you will find more information about fresh food markets in Florence for getting groceries.
☞ Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell'Ariento
The ancient marble column, where Lady Justice stands on, originally comes from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. It was a tough undertaking to get the heavy column at this spot in 1563, as the journey took more than one year.
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is one of the many churches (there are more than 100) you will come across during your trip to Florence. So I deliberately highlight only this one, as this church is architecturally one of the most important Gothic churches in Tuscany. It is especially famous for the frescoes in its chapels.
☞ P.za di Santa Maria Novella, 18
The Boboli Gardens were designed for the Medici family in the 16th century, and as of 1766 it is open to the public. The park with its 45 hectares (111 acres) is situated right behind the Palazzo Pitti. Here you can enjoy fountains, sculptures, an avenue flanked by cypresses, ornamental gardens and a beautiful view over the city and the Tuscan landscape.
The view point at Piazzale Michelangelo is known as one of the most romantic spots of Florence. During the time we were there around sunset, we even witnessed two marriage proposals.
Best coffee in Florence
Here I share only a few of my favourite coffee shops in Florence, but real coffee lovers should
check out my blogpost 'Best coffee in Florence'.
The atmospheric Caffè Paszkowski dates back to 1903 and is a good choice if you like some grandeur. It started as a Polish brewery in the Jewish ghetto, and is still going strong over more than a century. The best place of the house is (in my opinion) the counter. So do as the Florentines do (or almost any Italian) and drink your espresso while standing at the counter. But there are of course also many seating options to enjoy your pastry, sandwich or even cocktail in a relaxed way.
As of 1939 the elegant Caffè Scudieri is a popular and sophisticated meeting place for Florentine inhabitants. Here you can enjoy an espresso with high quality artisan pastries at the marble counter. But their terrace is a huge favourite as well, as it overlooks the impressive Duomo and the San Giovanni's Baptistery. For us this was the perfect place to kick off the early morning in the heart of the city.
SimBIOsi Organic Cafè (nearby Galleria dell'Accademia) is a snug place to sink into a retro chair with a slow brewed (V60) cup of coffee. Espressos are pulled with a lever machine by hand, using coffee beans from several types of roasters (including the famous Florentine ones, Ditta Artigianale and D612). The small menu contains an açai bowl, yoghurt granola, avocado toast and porridge.
From the sidewalk terrace of Melaleuca Bakery and Bistrot you will have a beautiful view over the city on the other side of the river Arno. The freshly baked (international) pastries and homemade breakfast and lunch are just perfect. Here you will drink your cup of coffee (from D612) in a very joyful and welcoming environment.
Gelato in Florence
Since 1990 you can enjoy homemade high quality ice-cream at Gelateria La Carraia. The owners regularly create new tastes, but also ensure to maintain the antique flavours of traditional Florentine gelato. Choose from delicious flavours like torta di mele (apple pie), caramello al burro salato (salted butter caramel), cantuccino al limone (almond biscuits with lemon), tiramisu or...
Lunch/dinner in Florence
Just a stone throw away from the majestic Duomo you will find BEN Caffè tucked away in a narrow street. For lunch we ate tagliatelle with salty anchovy paste and breadcrumbs, which is great on a hot day. It is also a good place for coffee or any other drink, because their extensive (coffee) menu contains V60, Chemex, aeropress, cold brew, lattes, teas, smoothies, cocktails, beers and wines.
Since 1989 F.N. Pasta Fresca makes the most delicious fresh pasta at Mercato Centrale. Get in line, place your order, receive a number, wait for your freshly made pasta to be prepared, and enjoy it standing at a wall table. When we were there the truffle season had just started, so we didn't have to think long about our order... Pure bliss!
☞ Mercato Centrale, Piazza del Mercato Centrale
I absolutely love Italian food, but every once in a while I like to enjoy the tastes of the exuberant Indian cuisine. At Ristorante Gandhi we ate an extensive Northern style vegetarian Thali.
Fresh food markets in Florence
If you have the opportunity to cook your own dinner, it's a nice experience to buy fresh local produce at one of the food markets. Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo is Florence's main food market. Here you can find an abundance of beautifully piled up high quality fresh produce. From starter to dessert, you will find it all here. (Closed on Sundays.)
☞ Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell'Ariento
Daily from 07:00 to 14:00 (closed on Sundays) the oldest market of Florence, Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio will be the perfect place to find the best Florentine delicacies. As of 1873 this place has been buzzing with market vendors and Burgundians looking for the best ingredients.
Dinner in Scandicci (just outside of Florence)
As we stayed in Scandicci (about 6 km southwest of Florence) we ate twice in the area of our Airbnb. I wouldn't recommend to come here when you stay in the city centre of Florence. But if you stay in Scandicci, these two restaurants are recommended. Because the food was good, and both restaurants where packed with locals.
The homemade ravioli with sage and butter at Ristorante l'Aragosta was fantastic. The restaurant is also known for its seafood (aragosta means lobster) and pizza's. We were there just after opening time, but the terrace was soon completely filled to the last seat.
☞ Via Gaetano Donizetti, 38, Scandicci
Of course we didn't go to Italy to eat Chinese food, but when we walked by this restaurant it caught our eye because it was so busy on a weekday. The menu of Città D'Oro contains Chinese, Thai and Japanese dishes. We've tried several vegetable and tofu plates.
How to get to Florence
Florence is located in Central-Northern Italy, and it's the capital of the region of Tuscany.
The international airport is located about four kilometres from the centre of Florence.
A train will take you to Florence within:
40 minutes from Bologna (fast train)
1 hour and 15 minutes from Pisa or Arezzo
1 hour and 20 minutes from Lucca
1,5 hour from Siena
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