Thursday, April 06, 2017

2 Days in Florence: What to Do, See and Eat

Oh, Florence. What a beautiful, charming city. I had heard so many amazing things about Florence and was so excited to make a stop there on my Europe trip - and it definitely lived up to the hype!

From the moment I stepped off the train from Pisa and started walking on those charming cobblestone streets, I immediately fell in love. Walking through the streets and being surrounded by so much art and beauty, you could almost imagine what life was like during the Renaissance.

I spent 2 days there, and definitely wish I had more time to spend here - but I definitely made the most out of the time I had. Here's a guide to what to do, see, and eat in this amazing city.

You can fly into Florence, but I found it easier (and cheaper) to fly into Pisa and take a train - it only takes an hour (plus, it's a good excuse for a day trip to Pisa). It is easily accessible via train from other Italian cities.

I stayed at the Grand Hotel Minerva which is a family-owned boutique hotel, right near the train station. It was very centrally located and within walking distance to all the places on my list. They have just renovated the property, and it is gorgeous. The rooms were stylish and comfortable. There is also a rooftop bar - it wasn't open while I was there, but I did go up and check out the view and it was pretty amazing. The staff was also very helpful with directions and with arranging dinner and museum reservations. Highly recommend!


The Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore)
The most iconic landmark in the city. This grand Brunelleschi-designed building, with its terra-cotta dome and pastel marble-tiled facade will leave you in awe. I passed by this on the way elsewhere at least 5 times, and each time, I had to stop and marvel and take it all in.

To avoid the crowds, I would stop by early in the morning - I passed through on the way to the Galleria Academia on my last day, and it was amazing to be able to take it all in without a swarm of people in front of me (and the street vendors trying to hound me into buying a selfie stick).

Your combined admission ticket will get you into the crypt, bell tower, and up the Cupola. The climb up the 463 steps to the top of the Cupola is a must-do - the views of the city are pretty phenomenal (you will need to reserve a time slot for this). Did not get to to do the bell tower, but I hear it's well worth going up as well - because then you get to see a unique vantage point of the Cupola.

Piazza della Signoria
This lively piazza was also historically the center of the Florentine Republic, and is also the gateway to the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) and the Uffizi Gallery. It also houses a number of statues, and a replica of the David (the original was moved to the Galleria Academia).

Uffizi Gallery
The second largest museum in Italy, the Uffizi houses a large and prominent collection of Italian Renaissance art, including works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, and Raffaello. (Tip: make a reservation to skip the lines! It costs a few extra Euros, but well worth it.)

Galleria Academia
You are basically going here to see one piece: The David. What a work of art. I liked to walk around the perimeter, admiring how the light hit it from different angles. Truly amazing. (Pro tip: The Academia opens at 8:30. Go as early as you can - there will be hardly anyone there).

Ponte Vecchio
AKA: The bridge with the houses. The actual bridge is filled with jewelry shops, but it is said that some people still live in the apartment above the shops. Still a cool bridge, and I took a million photos of it. (Pro tip: the best view of this is actually from the second floor of the Uffizi Gallery).

Piazza Michelangelo
It is a bit of a climb up, but you will be rewarded with that classic view of the Florence skyline. Just breath-taking. I happened to go up there around sunset time, and it was such an amazing place to take in the sunset over the Tuscan hills.

- Osteria Santo Spirito: This is a popular dinner spot, with delicious yet affordable dishes and wine list. They do half portions of pasta for ~6 Euro and that was basically a full portion! I had a simple tomato & basil pasta and it was phenomenal.

- Trattoria Za Za: Another popular restaurant specializing in Florentine classics, but it has an extensive menu with lots of other Italian specialties. The concierge at our hotel said this was his wife's favorite restaurant, and it did not disappoint. I had the walnut pasta here - it is a Tuscan specialty, very creamy and delicious.

- Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina: This is a popular, well-reviewed wine bar, with an amazing selection of Tuscan wines. The bartender was super helpful and suggested some amazing (yet affordable), hard-to-find Tuscan wines.

- Trattoria Mario: You go here for meat - but I got pasta (because I wanted to EAT ALL THE PASTA). Which was equally amazing. This is a tiny, popular place - be prepared to be cramped and packed like sardines in communal tables. But the food is delicious, and well worth it.

- Gelateria dei Neri: Being that it is in Italy, Florence is filled with an abundance of gelato shops - I sampled several of them, and this was hands-down the best.

- I Due Fratinelli: This is a tiny, literally hole-in-the-wall wine bar. It is a walk-up counter, with amazing wines by the glass - and delicious panino!

- Trattoria Sostanza: Arguably Florence's most famous, popular restaurant. Admittedly, this was at the top of my list, but I did not get to go - because I didn't realize that they are only open Monday-Friday! This came highly recommended by a variety of sources. They have been open for 150 years, and their specialty is the Florentine steak. Please go an have some for me! :)

Have you been to Florence? What are your favorite spots there?