Earlier this week, I returned home from a trip to Florence and Rome. This was my second time traveling to Italy – Italy was the first country I ever visited in Europe. 7 years ago, I traveled through Venice, Florence, Rome, Pisa, and Santo Stefano. This winter, I revisited Florence and Rome with my parents, as my sister toured the cities with her school’s choir. I’ll detail everything we did in Rome in a later blog post, and today I’ll talk about the highlights of our Florence trip.
Before I dive into the details about food and attractions, I want go over a few general things about traveling in Florence during the holiday season. I have previously visited Florence during the summer tourist season, and it was very busy. I was expecting the winter crowds to be much smaller than the summer crowds, but there were still tons of people in the touristy areas of the city. Ponte Vecchio, the major piazzas, and attractions like the Uffizi and the Duomo were very crowded.
There are a couple options to avoid the crowds when touring Florence’s famous museums and churches. The first time I visited Florence, my family scheduled tours of the museums, which is great because you have a guide to tell you about the history and culture of the city and its famous artists, and you can “skip the line,” using the entrances for guests with reserved tickets. You also have the option of reserving tickets online for many of the major attractions, but you have to choose a time slot when doing this, so you need to plan your trip carefully. When planning our most recent trip, I stumbled upon the Firenze Card online. This is a card that is essentially a ticket for almost every attraction in Florence that you have 72 hours to use. This card eliminates the need for reservations at every attraction except the Cupola of the Duomo (which you select a time for at no additional cost at the office). At first, I wrote this off as a gimmicky tourist trick, as the card is fairly expensive. However, after researching the options and stressing about when to make reservations for each museum, I decided the value of having a ticket valid for any time at every major attraction and avoiding the lines make the price of the card totally worth it.
If you are visiting Florence during a busy season, I highly recommend checking out the Firenze Card.
There are a few “must do” things people think of when planning a trip to Florence. Museums like the Uffizi (featuring numerous works -mostly paintings- from the famous Renaissance artist) and the Accademia, where the David famously lives, are two everyone should visit at least once. The Duomo, Santa Croce, and Santa Maria Novella are the three famous churches with beautiful marble facades. I recommend going to the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower or the Cupola of the Duomo for fantastic views of Florence. We went to the top of the dome at sunset one night and it was beautiful, but very crowded.
We covered a lot of ground by taking a segway tour one day to get a comprehensive look at the city. There is so much to do in Florence, so cater your trip to your interests! I personally love beauty products, so a visit to the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella was so interesting for me, as I shopped for beauty products and perfumes that have been made with the same formulas since the Medicis were in power! On the other hand, my dad really enjoys the Renaissance sculptors, so visiting the museums and churches was more fun for him. My mom loved visiting the Scuola de Cuoio- a leather school where people still make high quality leather goods by hand! If you have time, the two major palaces – the Pitti Palace (and its joining gardens) and the Palazzo Vecchio are definitely worth a visit! Of course, we took plenty of cappuccino and gelato breaks throughout the day to keep our energy up to see as much as possible!
There is so much great food in Florence! Truffles, rich olive oils, crema gelato, and Florentine steaks are just a few of the amazing foods from the Tuscan region. One of my favorite places to get food was the Central Market. The entire upper level is like a massive Italian food court. The Pasta Fresca stand has some of the most delicious pasta that is incredibly fresh. You can also find other Florentine favorites like Lampredotto here.
My dad really wanted to try Florentine steak while visiting Italy, so we went to Bistecca Toscana Firenze. You can find Florentine steak (a massive T-bone traditionally served very rare) at many restaurants throughout Florence, but I loved that steak was the only option at this restaurant. You can watch your steak being cooked on a live stream in the restaurant, and they bring you copious appetizers to enjoy while you wait. Everything except the wine is included (go full-Florentine with a Chianti!) for about 35 euro per person, making this meal a steal in my opinion. This was my father’s favorite meal on our trip and the whole experience was really fun.
If you’re looking for drinks with the best views in the city, I recommend visiting the Westin rooftop bar. The drinks are fairly pricey, but if you go during the apertivo time, you can have a plate of delicious appetizers included in the price of the drink (about 20 euros). The views from the top are beautiful, and this is a great place to sit and take in the city for an hour or two.
There are many gelato shops around the city: Perche No, Edoardo, and Gelateria Santa Trinita were all great!