Updated: Jan 29, 2019
If you’re heading off to Italy this year, one of the places you don’t want to miss is Florence. It’s a beautiful city with plenty to offer tourists, especially those who are looking for something more than just a place to take some incredible photos. From dining to shopping, we’ve come up with some of our best tips and advice for travellers wishing to experience the authentic Florence.
Here are some of our tips and favourite places to go if you want to experience Florence like a local.
Food and dining
It’s time to set it aside any diets you’ve committed to as part of your New Year’s resolution and start eating like an Italian. Florence is an exciting place to eat, with plenty of options to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. You can sample traditional Italian food, but there are also other European and even American style eateries like the Le Vespa Cafe. Dining like a local means knowing what you’re going to get before you get there. Some local hot spots include Ristorante Del Fagioli and Club Culinario Da Osvaldo. If you want to enjoy a fine dining experience, La Bottega del Buon Caffe gets rave reviews, while the more affordable Panini Toscani is great if you want to grab a quick bite.
As for dishes, Cinghiale (wild boar) is a popular delicacy in Tuscany and is recommended by locals and tourists alike. If you’re not super keen on meat, try the ribollita (soup) made with black cabbage, cannellini beans, tomatoes and other vegetables, accompanied by “stale” reboiled bread. For salads, a lighter option is the Panzanella which is simply diced tomato, onion, basil and slightly stale bread cubes (similar to croutons) with a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar.
Many locals will tell you that if you want authentic Italian cuisine there’s only one place you need to visit. Ristorante del Fagioli is definitely a local favourite, which means it can get quite busy at times. This family-run business has a traditional atmosphere and a very mouth-watering menu. Try the Bistecca di Florentina (rare is best) if you can’t go past a good steak, or the torte with pear and apples to satisfy your sweet tooth. Local tip? Make a reservation or you won’t stand a chance.
Where to explore
If you want to feel like a Florentine come to Santo Spirito. It comes alive at night, when the restaurants and bars open their doors to the public. You can spend the evening enjoying the atmosphere and taking in the relaxed Italian vibes with a beer (or wine) in hand. The piazza is also fun to explore during the day, when you can really appreciate the artistic integrity of the architecture (some of it built in the 13th century). Explore and take photos of the Chiesa di Santo Spirito (church), the monument to Cosimo Ridolfi and the impressive Basilica di Santo Spirito.
You can also take a stroll through the little neighbourhood of San Frediano. Stop by the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, considered by many to be a true masterpiece. If you’re here in June, make sure you come for the Notte Bianca Festival. The streets are lined with food stands selling everything from burgers, hot dogs and tripe sandwiches–a local favourite. Throughout the year, there are many artisan workshops here creating both modern and classic-style wood pieces and picture frames. The frames are made from wood and recreated in the Renaissance style.
If you want to check out the best museums don’t miss Opera del Duomo or Palazzo del Bargello. If you’re looking for a great photo opportunity, you can’t go past the enchanting little town of San Miniato. Here you can admire the spectacular panoramic views between Pisa and Florence. Its quiet, cobbled streets feature many monuments that have been remodelled, renovated and even rebuilt making for the perfect aesthetic setting to test your photography skills.
Remember, if you prefer a quicker pace you can also explore Florence by bike. It is a very practical way to get around, with many of the streets closed off to traffic.
Where to shop
Sant’Ambrogio market is a place where locals outnumber tourists, and it offers everything from fresh meat and seafood to cheese and pastas. It’s open from Monday to Saturday, between 7am–2pm. They also stay open all day on Wednesday and Friday, until 7pm. Inside you’ll also find the famous Trattoria da Rocco that serves authentic Tuscan food for lunch at cheap prices.
Another market you can browse is the San Lorenzo Market. It features an indoor market and an outdoor market. Outside you’ll find vendors selling pottery, clothing, souvenirs and leather goods. You can definitely find something here to take back home to your friends and relatives. You can also score amazing food here, like cured meats, gourmet food, wine and delicious baked goods.
Are you thinking of travelling to Florence in 2018?
Hopefully, these tips can inspire you to get to the real heart of Florence to appreciate it like a local.