Visiting Florence, Italy: Insider Tips on Where to Go, Eat, and Sleep

Italy is a country I could return to time and time again. The food, the architecture, the language… I just love it all. I’m always excited to chat with people about this beautiful country, so today I’m sharing my conversation with Alex Lavorato of The Lavorato Lens.

Alex became enamored by Florence, Italy when she studied abroad there about ten years ago. By day, she’s a content marketing manager, meaning she writes and edits SEO-targeted content for about eight different clients at a digital marketing agency. By night, she is a travel and photography blogger. Here’s what she had to say about her beloved Florence.

Florence, Italy sunset

Sunset over Florence (photo credit)

What do you love about Florence? What makes it special to you?

I fell in love with travel (and photography) when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy about 10 years ago for my junior year in college. Florence also gained a special place in my heart; as much as I loved visiting all my friends who were living across Europe at the time, I love Florence so much. I always found it such a hard decision each weekend whether to stay or go out and explore another city. Since my study abroad, I have been back twice – once with my parents and once with my husband.

Florence became my home for the better part of a year! I was always the child that got so homesick when I was younger; I didn’t even like going on sleepovers at friends houses, so I was really nervous to do a semester abroad. But, I was determined to make a home in Florence and make it work for myself. It’s true that so many people in Florence are study abroad students, but my friends and I prided ourselves on finding the local spots, forcing ourselves to learn Italian, and really interacting with the locals, and I’m sure we had a great experience because of that. Because of this, we were able to see another side of Florence that many don’t (like the after-party clubs, and the after-after-party clubs – maybe something I could have done without!)

Sounds amazing! What’s your all-time favorite sight, attraction, or spot in Florence?

This city is all about its food. And… I’m okay with that! So, my favorite spot in Florence would have to be Ristorante Natalino. I have taken everyone I’ve ever loved here, and have sent anyone I’ve known going to Florence here. Go! Seriously! Go for lunch and get a panino at their lunch spot and then come back for dinner right across the street and get their pear and Gorgonzola pasta. I would fly to Italy right now to eat that!

That’s tempting! If a traveler only had 24 hours in the city, what are some places you’d tell them they absolutely can’t miss?

Florence is so full of wonderful museums, all packed with great art from the Renaissance – I think my favorites of those are the Uffizi, although you definitely have to pick and choose what you see, much like Le Louvre, and the Bargello. The Bargello is much smaller, and you can probably see everything in 2 or 3 hours. It focuses mainly on sculptures, and it has a whole room dedicated to Donatello, which is my favorite part. If you have more than 24 hours, take a look at this itinerary!

The Uffizi (photo credit)

What should travelers know about the local culture or people of Florence?

People are very friendly! Most everyone speaks English and is very happy to speak English with you, but they are so appreciative when you make an effort to try to speak a little Italian. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally to you! Even a Grazie! or Buon Giorno! is great, and they will even help you out with your accent if you ask!

Molto bene! Any cool historical tidbits or important history that visitors should be aware of?

Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, and one of the leading families was the Medici family. You can see their influence everywhere in Florence if you know to look for it! The Medici Coat of Arms is always some variation (depending on the branch of the family) of five balls and usually a Fleur-de-Lis (which is the symbol of Florence). You can see this on many building corners around the city, and even on the city walls. This could mean that they commissioned the building or structure to be built, or that at one point in time, they actually lived in it. If you are interested in the Medici family, you can visit Palazzo Medici, right near Piazza Signoria, which is where the most famous generation of Medici lived.

What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path thing to do that wouldn’t be found in a typical guidebook?

Most guidebooks will tell you to go to Piazzale Michelangelo, which is on the other side of the Arno from the Historic Center. It has a great view of the city, but I have a better one, and it gets you away from the crowds that you’ll find at Piazzale Michelangelo! Once you’ve gotten to the Piazzale, you can cross the street and keep walking up more stairs to get to the little church that sits all the way on top of that hill, called San Miniato al Monte. This is one of my absolute favorite spots in Florence. You can get a great view of the sunset over the city, perfect pictures of the Duomo, and my absolute favorite part is it’s a Gregorian Monastery, so the monks do their chants every evening around 5:30 pm or 6:30 pm, depending on the time of year.

Views of the Duomo (photo credit)

What’s a cool neighborhood you’d recommend to visitors looking for something a little different?

Florence is super small, but if you’re looking for a less touristy neighborhood, I would venture over to Oltrarno. “Oltrarno” just means the other side of the Arno. It’s less busy with tourists, mainly because there aren’t any museums (other than the Pitti Palace), but there are some great restaurants, and really fun and quirky nightlife. The restaurants and bars around Santo Spirito are all very lively and fun, and best of all, mostly locals!

Tell me about your favorite restaurant (or a few of them!) in Florence.

I’ve already said Natalino, but you have to go to Natalino – that’s my favorite. The other places I highly recommend are GustaPizza, Trattoria Anita, All’acqua Due, and La Giostra. I always like to ask what they recommend; each place has it’s unique dish that they pride themselves on and they will be happy to share it with you!

Sounds great! Is there any food, dish, or cuisine that you MUST try when you’re there? Where’s the best place to try it?

Florence is very well know for Bistecca Fiorentina. Be warned: this is a MASSIVE piece of meat and should probably be shared between two (or more?) people. The best place to get it, in my opinion, is La Giostra.

Where would you recommend tourists stay when visiting? 

I love the Santa Croce area – It’s a little quieter than staying close to the Duomo, but you are still within walking distance of everything. I also think the Santa Croce area has the most local restaurants, other than going over to the other side of the Arno, so it’s great for finding a place to stop in and have a great meal. A few people I know have stayed at the Residenza Borgo Albizi, and it is quite nice, without breaking the bank.

Santa Croce (photo credit)

What are the most photo-worthy or Instagrammable spots? Any fantastic lookouts or otherwise photogenic spots?

Of course the Duomo is great, but it’s impossible to get it all in one picture if you’re standing next to it. I suggest going up to San Miniato al Monte for a full view of the Duomo from above, or touring the Museo Dell’Opera for a great view, but a bit closer. This museum is right next to the Duomo, and the final part is on the second story, overlooking the Duomo. I also suggest walking across Ponte Santa Trinita for a beautiful view of the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge is typically less crowded than the one on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio, so you will be able to get better pictures.

Are there any must-see museums or monuments?

There are so many, it’s hard to choose. My favorites are the Uffizi, the Bargello, the Palazzo Medici and the Accademia. It’s important to note that most of Florence closes down on Mondays, so plan your trip accordingly. The museums don’t always follow these rules, some will close on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, while others will close only the first Monday of the month. Make sure you look ahead and plan your schedule before you go!

Good thinking! What tips do you have for travelers looking to avoid the crowds?

The fall is definitely the best time to go to Florence! The summer tourists have gone and it is nice and cool in the city. If you go much past October though, it gets very rainy. I also very much recommend getting the FirenzeCard – this pays for your admission to almost all of the museums in Florence upfront, and it allows you to skip the line, therefor maximizing your time.

What should visitors know about transportation around Florence?

There are buses and a tram line, but the city is so walkable, you really don’t need it!

Florence, Italy rain

Florence in the rain (photo credit)

Thank you, Alex, for all your fantastic tips! I think I’m well overdue for a trip back to Italy. Be sure to check out Alex’s blog, The Lavorato Lens, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.

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