I arrived in Florence by train from Naples (using the handy ItaliaRail website). Upon arrival, I hopped in the taxi line (walking out from the platform, take a left – it will be right by the exit to the street) and hopped a cab to my Airbnb. It was kindof walkable, but felt like euros well spent vs schlepping my luggage all over.
Where to Stay:
I stayed in this epic Airbnb in the Santa Croce neighborhood – it was centrally located, just far enough away from the main tourist center, but still just about a 10 minute walk from the Duomo.
I pride myself on finding the hidden jewels of Airbnb, but this one seriously takes the cake. It was everything a hip loft should be – with high ceilings, exposed brick, and a loft area to perch above the apartment and read a book (which I may have done for a few hours on arrival!) It’s hard to tell in the photos, but there’s also a huge bedroom & lovely bathroom (rain shower FTW!) down a long hallway. Perfect romantic spot for a couple, and also a great escape for a solo traveler 🙂
Things to do:
Florence is a small, charming and very walkable city – so much of the joy of visiting is discovering its hidden streets & piazzas.
Panoramic views from Piazzale Michelangelo
Just across the river from the Santa Croce neighborhood you’ll find the road to Piazzale Michelangelo where you can take in beautiful panoramic views of the city, and earn your pasta on the walk up. Down a quick set of stairs by the plaza you’ll find a cafe with tables overlooking the view. Now you’re not coming here for the food, but if you can snag a good table it’s a perfect place to take in the view while enjoying a refreshing spritz (it’s 5:00 somehwere, right?)
The Florentine Art Scene
Florence is world renown for its Renaissance art – The Uffizi, the Academia (home of the David) & the Duomo are must-dos, and you should make sure to book in advance. (I thought about climbing the dome, but wasn’t able to because the reservations were sold out – bummer!)
Since I had seen several of the sights on a previous trip to Florence, I decided to immerse myself into a different side of the art scene with a street art walk through Airbnb Experiences.
Turns out, Florence has an active but subtle street art scene, with artists being thoughtful about placement of their pieces. Once you start looking, you’ll notice street art everywhere you look! My favorites were pieces from an artist named Blub, which depicted various Renaissance pieces as if they were under water, complete with swim masks and snorkels.
Another benefit of this art walk was that it took me through the Oltrarno neighboorhood, which is a bit off the beaten path of the tourist scene and home of lots of hip shops, bars and restaurants. Whether or not you decide to do the street art tour, I encourage you to walk across Ponte Vecchio and explore the neighborhood!
Shopping for leather goods
Florence is famous for its leather goods, and with my luggage bursting at the seams I was on a mission to find a new leather duffel bag. But I popped into shop after shop and seemed to see the same stiff leather duffels from the same brands time and time again.
In one of the shops, the owner asked me what I was looking for and I told him a soft, less structured leather duffel. He told me candidly “the duffel bags you’ll find here are all produced by the same few manufacturers, and you’re not going to find the quality that I think you’re looking for. But there’s a shop called Noi leather that’s been with the same family for generations, and the grandfather is still handcrafting the goods.” Ten minutes later I found myself at Noi, surrounded by beautiful and soft leather jackets, bags and wallets.
I found my perfect, soft duffel bag and was blown away by the service provided. I also learned a pro tip: if you pay with a credit card, you’ll be eligible to have your VAT (sales tax) returned when you arrive to the customs area at the airport. But if you pay with cash, you’ll avoid paying VAT all together! So carry cash if you plan to make any big purchases.
Where to Eat, Drink & Spritz
Truffles, pasta, wine and spritzes… this city has a lot to offer in the food and drink department.
Drink: Rinascente Roofdeck
Okay, so the last place I thought I’d end up for a Florence sunset was a local department store – but as I wandered through the Piazza the advertisement of a roofdeck bar caught my eye, so I wandered in.
The gamble didn’t disappoint. You’ll walk into the Rinacente department store, through the women spraying perfume, and go up all the escalators to the top floor. Then you’ll find another set of stairs that will bring you up to the roof – well worth the trudge through the department store!
I was able to snag a corner table, which meant that I had a prime view of the sunset over the city. And what better way to take in the panoramic views of the Duomo and the nearby squares than with spritz in hand 🙂
Spritz: Piazza Santo Spirito
Piazza Santo Spirito is a bustling square in the Oltrarno neighborhood, and you’ll have your pick of restaurants with outdoor seating. You’ll likely be treated to live music, and the scene is a mix of tourists and locals soaking up the day.
Eat: Pizza at Gustapizza
You’ll find Gustapizza at the corner of the Piazza Santo Spirito closest to the church. Arrive early, because there will be a line – the pizza really is that good. Take your pizza to the steps of Santo Spirito and enjoy it alongside the locals!
My first evening in Florence I visited Zeb, a wine bar recommended by my best foodie friend Robyn – and it didn’t disappoint! I was lucky to wander in and find a seat, but I definitely got lucky – plan ahead and make a reservation to ensure you’ll have a spot.
The menu at Zeb is written on a chalk board in Italian, and the owner will read the menu items to you one-by-one in English. It takes a minute, but it’s also pretty charming. (Side note: the owner is a bit brusque and may not warm up to you right away – it took me most of the meal to finally get him to crack a smile! It’s not you, it’s him.)
You’ll be offered three varieties of wine: light, medium or full-bodied; I tried the medium and full varieties and was not disappointed! For my meal, I ordered a pasta stuffed with ricotta and truffle, which was just as decadent and amazing as it sounds.
Did you try any of these recommendations? Anything I missed? Leave a comment below!