Ah, Florence. One of Europe’s greatest cities, “Firenze” captures the hearts of her visitors with curvy cobblestone streets, mouthwatering Italian eats, and the silhouette of the famed Duomo, an architectural gem in a city already bursting with them. But with so much to do in this Renaissance city, how do you know what’s worth it? Try hitting up the spots in this guide for a truly culturally immersive experience — these shops, restaurants, and cultural landmarks are where the locals and in-the-know tourists go.
San Lorenzo Market: Florence is known for its incredibly skilled leather craftsman. So you don’t want to leave the city without picking up a hand-crafted leather memento. The best place to shop for hand-made leather goods? The San Lorenzo Market, where vendor stalls are clustered around the old San Lorenzo Church. You can find everything from belts, bags, boots, and jackets here, although if you don’t want to drop a ton of dough you can simply pick up a thin leather bracelet. Yes, 100 percent genuine leather products in Florence can be pricy, but vendors at this market are open to haggling. Make sure you come to the market with cash in small bills to make the bargaining process easier.
Studio Montebello: Off of the bustling via dei servi, a shop-lined street that connects the Piazza del Duomo to the smaller but still breathtaking Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, you’ll find a quiet artists’ studio with unique Florentine finds. The studio is home to artists Maurizio Bomberini and Daniela Meza Sigala, who craft spirited scenes of Florence’s famous churches and the rolling Tuscan countryside on slabs of recycled wood. Sure, you could grab a kitschy mass-produced postcard from a street vendor to commemorate your time in Florence — but why not pick up something extra special from artists who pay loving homage to their city in their work? Even if you don’t have room in your suitcase for a large piece, the artists at Montebello often have pretty prints for sale that would make the perfect souvenir for friends back home — or for yourself!
La Pentola dell’Oro: At this restaurant, you’ll eat like the Florentines do … or how they did in the 1500s! The restaurant specializes in serving up dishes that were popular during the Renaissance and medieval eras, albeit updated slightly to modern tastes. Think thick, fine cuts of steak, herb-roasted potatoes, hand-rolled gnocchi, and other hearty fare served in a homey atmosphere.
Vivoli: You can’t come to Florence without indulging in a little gelato; after all, Florence is actually the birthplace of this rich and creamy Italian treat! And Italians swear by the sweet stuff served up at Vivoli, a charming gelateria that first opened in 1929. Yes, you might have to wait in line for a little while, but the experience is totally worth it. Vivoli offers traditional flavors like stracciatella (milky gelato with chocolate chips) as well as more out-of-the-box flavors like rice and “fantasia,” a chocolate-based gelato stuffed with dried fruit and cherries. Delizioso!
The Boboli Gardens: The art in Italy gets a lot of love (and for good reason, being the birthplace of the Renaissance and all). But if you want to escape the crowds and get a bit of fresh air outside of a museum, then head to the Boboli Gardens. Strewn with sculptures and impressively sculpted greenery, the gardens will delight and awe you at every turn. Don’t miss the Buontalenti Grotto, a series of three chambers filled to the gills with stalactites and sumptuous sculptures carved in the mannerist style. See, you can still get your fill of art in this impressive garden!
Fiesole: Even if you’re on vacation, you may need a quick break from the hustle and bustle of a big city like Florence. That’s when a quick trip to the hilltop town of Fiesole is in order. This charming town is easily reachable by bus from Florence and boasts a lovely monastery, old Etruscan walls, and absolutely breathtaking views of Florence and the surrounding valley below. If you want to incorporate a workout into your trip, you can actually make the hike to Fiesole on foot from Florence; the walk from the center of the city will take about two hours.
What hidden gems have you found on your visit to Florence? Share with us in the comments below!