My first experience of Florence was as a near-broke college student studying abroad. I knew zero Italian and was equipped only with a Eurorail pass and Rick Steves Western Europe. Though I recall few specifics about that trip, Florence left an imprint on my heart. I promised myself I would return one day. Fast forward 12 years later, and here we are!
THE BEST OF FLORENCE—PLAN YOUR TRIP!
Ben and I just returned from 10 magical days in Italy. We visited Cinque Terre, Tuscany, and the captivating city of Florence.
Florence was every bit as beautiful as I remembered. While my taste in food and overall approach to trip planning has improved since I was 20, many essentials remain the same: sunsets with panoramic views and wine (this was my favorite memory of both my first trip to Florence and our second), double scoops of gelato twice (and a few times, thrice) a day, and Rick Steves (his Italy guidebook is indispensable).
Let’s get to it!
FLORENCE ITINERARY—4 Days
The Best Florence Restaurants, Activities, and, of course, GELATO!
FLORENCE—WHERE TO STAY
We opted for an Airbnb, which is my favorite way to stay in Europe most of the time. Look for anywhere close to the Duomo. If you are going soon, let me know and I’ll send you our Airbnb. It was absolutely perfect!
FLORENCE—WHERE TO EAT
This might be the most important part of this post.
Il Pizzaiuolo. Hands down the best pizza of our entire Italy trip. Packed with locals and so tasty, we went twice. Make reservations for dinner.
Berbere. Made from all meticulously sourced ingredients, this is a spot where locals eat and is our Airbnb host’s favorite pizza in Florence. The crust is slightly crisper and a bit thicker than Neapolitan pizza but absolutely delicious. Worth a visit.
Gustapizza. Cheap, tasty, and packed with students studying abroad. This is fun both for the atmosphere and the pizza itself.
FLORENCE RESTAURANTS & BARS
A few important notes about this Florence restaurant list:
- I stressed over it. Nothing irks me more than a bad meal on vacation, especially an ITALIAN vacation. It was worth the effort. We loved everywhere we ate!
- Florentine food is typically heavier and more meat-driven. While I do love meat, I don’t typically go for steak, so I selected restaurants that stayed true to Florentine flavors and ingredients but did them in a (somewhat) lighter way.
- All restaurants on this list have killer pasta. ESSENTIAL.
- I avoided restaurants that were clearly geared towards tourists, which is why most locations on this list are located a 15- to 20-minute walk from the town’s center.
- Make reservations. I can’t say this enough. These restaurants are popular (for good reason). I recommend using Skype, which has an app you can place on your phone. Calls are cheap and easy. The calls for our entire trip cost me about $2.
- I don’t have a lot of pictures of the food. I was busy eating it and truly wanted to enjoy the moment. I hope you can forgive and trust that these places are special enough to where you’ll want to put your camera away too.
OK, now on to the best places to eat in Florence!
Il Santo Bevitore. Our Airbnb host’s favorite restaurant in Florence and ours too. The ambiance is lovely, the staff is passionate about pairing food with local wine, and every bite we tried was outstanding. The portions are smaller, so if you are extra hungry (or, like us, just really love to eat), I recommend stopping somewhere (like Signorvino below) for a few appetizers first.
Fuori Porta. Split one or two of their ample crostini options and a selection of pasta. This is a great stop after watching the sunset on the Piazzale Michelangelo. Try to reserve a table outside if the weather is nice.
Signorvino. How a place can be this affordable and offer such stellar views of the Arno River + Ponte Vecchio, I do not know. We split bottles of wine and rounds of fine cheese and salumi two nights in a row (one was not enough). They don’t take reservations for the patio unless you are having a full dinner, but if you arrive early (around 5 p.m.) and they have space, they’ll let you sit until 6 or 7 p.m. Our two pre-dinner stops here were highlights of the trip.
Il Latini. We did not end up eating here, but according to multiple sources, it is THE spot if you want a quintessential Florentine meal, complete with steak and the works. Reservations essential.
Florence Restaurant Misses
Just one. We tried Golden View Open Bar based on a recommendation and were severely underwhelmed. It’s expensive and the food was just…not good. We ended up going next door to Signorvino, where we had a much better spread and the same gorgeous Ponte Vecchio view for a quarter of the price.
Florence boasts what is often called the best gelato in Italy. Gelato shops are EVERYWHERE. Not all of them are good.
Avoid gelato shops with crazy bright colored gelato (this often indicates that the gelato is made from a mix and contains color additives). All of the Florence gelato shops I listed below are great picks.
When buying gelato, always choose more than one flavor (you’ll be sad if you don’t). I also liked to pick one flavor, then ask the person behind the counter for a suggested pairing. The combination of bacio (hazelnut chocolate) and pistachio is my absolute favorite. I also became obsessed with fig everything while we were there.
RivaReno Gelato. Our favorite. It’s steps from the Duomo, and it’s the creamiest gelato I’ve ever tasted. We went twice AND I ordered two consecutive rounds of double scoops on our last night. It is THAT good. Don’t miss their specialty flavors, and definitely say yes to the drizzle of chocolate sauce on top.
La Carraia. This place has a cult following, and I loved some of the more unusual flavors. We went twice because we “happened” to walk by it again, and who’s to argue with fate?
Edoardo Gelato. A favorite with locals and right on the Duomo square. All organic ingredients.
Gelateria Della Passera. Smaller servings but rich, intense flavors and incredibly fresh sorbets. I loved the raspberry sorbet and fig gelato.
WHAT TO DO IN FLORENCE—Top Florence Activities
With all of these sights, I recommend having some kind of guidebook (or at least looking up info on the go) to help you appreciate them. Having tidbits of history and what made each site unique and important to the city brought each place to life for us. I borrowed this handy Florence Pocket Guide from our Airbnb (thank you mysterious person who left it!). Now that I know it exists, I recommend buying it if you’ll be spending a few days in Florence.
The Duomo. SOAK IT IN! I couldn’t stop staring at this gorgeous facade. The line to get in was ridiculously long (and the interior has a reputation for being seriously underwhelming), so we skipped it.
Piazza della Signoria. City hall and excellent people watching.
Santa Croce Church. Don’t miss the leather school in the back!
The Uffizi. Known for having the world’s best collection of Renaissance art and the home of one of the most important Renaissance paintings, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Even if it’s not your jam (I’m more of a Monet/Van Gogh girl myself), this is an important museum. Buy your tickets online in advance as soon as you know what date you’ll be in Florence, and you’ll avoid hours in line. We arrived bright and early at 8:15 a.m., and I’m glad we did. This is another place where a guidebook pointing out museum highlights is really helpful (the pocketbook guide does). Note that the Uffizi is closed Mondays.
The Accademia. Home of Michelangelo’s David, arguably the most important Renaissance sculpture. Tickets are expensive. And totally, COMPLETELY worth it. David is beyond impressive.
Mercato Centrale. A multifloor gastronomic paradise. Wander the first floor food and ingredient stalls, sampling cheese and prosciutto as you go. For a fuller meal, grab something simple from one of the pasta counters or head to one of the many restaurants upstairs.
Leather, Leather, Leather. Florence is known for its leather, and it is EVERYWHERE. A good place to pick something up is the rows and rows of leather good vendors right outside of the Mercato Central. Prices are soft, so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Have your best price in mind, be reasonable, and know when to walk away. Also, many booths sell identical items, so it’s a good idea to shop around and compare prices.
Ponte Vecchio. Florence’s iconic covered bridge. Walk down it and wonder how this many jewelry shops located so near each other can all be in business at the same time. The real view is from the outside. It’s charming.
Sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo. Not to be missed. Arrive early if you want a seat, but I think the views standing along the railing are even better.
Warning: this is a LONG walk. Allow a half hour from the city center and stop for a bottle of wine along the way. Many wine shops also have plastic cups and will open the bottle for you if you didn’t bring your own corkscrew. Sip thoughtfully and enjoy the view. (Tip: Follow up with dinner at Fuori Porta, which is nearby.)
Overall Trip Vibe
We took our time with Florence, and I’m happy we did. While there are more sights you can fit in (and we could have if we were feeling more ambitious), we opted for the lazy lunches and long happy hour approach.
THE QUICK AND DIRTY RECAP—FLORENCE NOT TO MISS EXPERIENCES
- Uffizi and Accademia
- Duomo and Piazza della Signoria
- Wine and apps at Signorvino
- Dinner at Il Santo Bevitore
- Sunset at the Piazzale Michelangelo
- Pizza at Il Pizzaiuolo
- Gelato at RivaReno
WHAT TO PACK FOR ITALY
If you’re planning to head to Italy or anywhere in Europe, don’t miss my list of What to Pack for Europe. It has some of my favorite travel items for both U.S. travel and travel abroad. I’m a travel junkie and have definitely tried and tested items over time.
MORE ITALY TRAVEL POSTS
- Cinque Terre
- Wine Tour in Tuscany (with a bonus end note for Siena)—coming soon!
Thanks for reliving my Florence adventure with me!
Have you been to Florence? Any favorites I missed? Let me know by leaving a comment on this post below! I’m once again plotting my return.