On our extended trip through Europe my girlfriend and I decide to stay for a week in the Tuscany region of Italy. After bouncing around for a few days we settled for the remainder of our trip in Florence. We absolutely loved everything about this city. The food and wines are simply amazing. Whether your a big spender, or on a bit if a tighter budget, it is almost impossible not to find a great meal in Florence. The locally made wines are a must while dining out, or in for that matter. We tried a lot of wines from some of the smaller wine makers, and weren’t disappointed a single time. In addition to the culinary highlights, Florence also offers visitors; scenic parks, museums, great little coffee shops, and beautiful architecture every which way you happen to turn your head. And after you’ve spent the day strolling the shop lined streets, enjoying a lovely meal, and checking out a museum or two, you’re still going to have time to check out Florence’s fantastic nightlife. We had a very full week in Florence, and tried to hit all of the spots our local friends mentioned we should try to get to. Unfortunately there are only so many hours in a day, and we had to leave some of the attractions for another day. If you’re planning to be in the Tuscany area, I suggest spending at least a few days Florence. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.
Below were some of our favorite places to visit while in Florence. All came recommended by the locals living there. Guide books can be great while traveling, but nothing beats the advice of someone living in the city. Sure you can get a great dinner at a restaurant you found in your guide book, and pay $100 for it. I’d be willing to bet though with a little detective work you could get a local to point a spot out where the food is just as good, for a fraction of the price. Don’t have any friends in Florence? Make some. Before I go to any country, or city for that matter, the first thing I do is join all the groups I can from that city on both Couchsurfing.org, and Facebook.com. I introduce myself to the groups, tell them a little about our plans, and ask the members where their favorite spots are. We’ve actually met quite a few nice people this way. One couple invited us to their favorite breakfast spot the second morning we were there, and spent the rest of the morning walking us around, and giving us a great tour; all the while pointing out hidden restaurants, bars that are a little off the beaten path, and small art galleries that we would have never found in our guide book. So, before you plan your trip, get online, and make some friends. They’ll be more than willing to help you out. Most people love their cities, and love showing them off.
So, here we go. Below are some of the activities we enjoyed while in Florence. As you can see, we did quite a bit. We’re not people to sit in our rooms and order up service. The only time I want to be in my room is for a quick shower, and about 4 hours of sleep. There’s just too much to see and do in this world, and I don’t want to miss any of it.
Later that morning, while parting ways with our new friends, they mentioned that they were getting together with a large group that evening, and going out on the town. They invited us to join them, and we were more than happy to. The plan was to meet at Il Rifrullo in the San Niccolò neighborhood. It took us a little while to find it, but it was worth the wait. The place was great, and the food and drinks were perfect. From there we walked down to the Via de’Renai and into a bar called Negroni. This was another great spot, and we met a lot of very nice people who loved practicing their English with us. After another few cocktails someone suggested we go listen to some live jazz at The Golden View Bar. This bar was a little too touristy for me, and I would have much rather had stayed at one of the previous bars. The jazz was good though, and took my mind off of all of the tourists. It started nearing 11pm, and none of has had a proper meal yet. One of the guys suggests a street cart he knows about several blocks away that he swears sells the best paninis in the city. I could tell even before we stepped up that he was right. The queue was over a block long. Not to worry though, the night was beautiful, and we were all content chatting about this great city. Eventually we reached the front of the line, and I got
what had to be the best panini I have ever eaten; prosciutto, with roasted red peppers, buffalo mozzarella, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever had, anywhere. The gang was still interested in going out that night, but we had a big day ahead of us, and we need to have all of our energy for strolling around the city.
Day three in Florence got us up and walking toward the Mercato Nuovo. This is a nice little covered market that sells quite a bit of trinkets and souvenirs. It was a cool place to shop for a little bit, but we had other sights to see. Moving on we arrived at Palazzo Pitti which was a palace built in the 15th century. It has since been transformed into a museum, and a beautiful one at that. We spent a couple of hours here just soaking up the rich history. All of the art was beautiful and sophisticated, and I will gladly return on my next visit. From there we decided, the day being perfectly sunny, and not too hot, that we would spend it at the Boboli Gardens. The gardens here are quite intricate; with perfectly trimmed hedges, many, many beautiful, life-sized statues, stone fences, and fountains. We spent a couple of hours just strolling around and enjoying the perfect day. As we were walking we ran into one of the girls from the group we went out with last night. She mentioned that she was going out with another group that night, and would love to have us join them. Of course we were more than happy to. They told us to meet them at Sant’Ambrogio at eight in the evening, and that’s where we would start.
The Sant’Ambrogio is a very cool area surrounded by bars, restaurants, live music, and people just hanging out and getting to know each other. Our new friend introduced us around, and the local group was more than excited to take us in for the night and show us a good time. They started us off at Caffe Letterario Le Murate for a few cocktails before heading over to Las Palmas, for yet a few more cocktails, and a chance to see some great live music performed outside. Both places were very nice, but a little pricy. We knew going into the night that we were at their disposal, so we just decided to go with the flow.
After a while we found ourselves heading out to Le Pavoniere in Cascine Park. I wish I would have been prepared. Apparently this is a public swimming pool by day, and a trendy nightclub by night. Even better, for the small price of one drink, anyone was allowed to use the pool. What a great concept, because this place was packed with beautiful people sipping wine and enjoying the cool water. I only wish I would have come prepared. Nearing 10:30pm now I had asked if there was anywhere we could get something to eat, since all we had that day was breakfast, and all those cocktails were starting to creep up on me. I was told that one of their favorite places doesn’t usually open until 11pm, and that we would be on our way there shortly.
He wasn’t kidding, about ten minutes later my friend points down the road and I can see someone setting up a little kitchen on the sidewalk. Street food again, score!! I absolutely love street food, and they’re my favorite places to eat in any city. This guy was skewering and roasting pieces of meat, and selling them atop of arugula and white bean salads, again drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. So simple, yet so delicious.
We finished the night at a discotheque that I never did get the name of. If was quite loud, quite busy, and bigger than any club I had ever been in. It was pretty intimidating, but once we figured out the flow of the place everything was good. We all sat, talked, and took turns dancing until 4am. Completely exhausted we got a cab back to our hotel for a power nap. I was not going to miss out on the sites just because we decided to stay out late.
After sleeping a little longer than we had anticipated, we rolled out of bed, and made our way to the Basilica di San Lorenzo. This is one of the oldest churches in Florence, and it has to be the biggest. I’m quite certain I’ve never seen a church anywhere near that size. The exterior is imposing, but not very beautiful. The inside of the building though more than makes up for it. If you’re looking for a classic Renaissance church, with all of its rich trappings, this one is definitely it. Silks, marble, and gold look like they were just thrown up where ever there was room. It gave the place a bit of a gaudy look, but it was still beautiful. From there we decided to make our way to Palazzo Vecchio. Once a grand palace that overlooks the Piazza della Signoria. Built initially to house the Medici family, it was eventually abandoned, and turned into a museum. And a large one at that. We spent many hours checking out the; paintings, frecoes, sculptures, painted ceilings, tapestries, and carvings. There was just so much to see that I’m pretty sure I missed out on a bit of it.
After the museum we called it a day. We had a light dinner, followed by some of Florence’s famous gelato, and a couple cups of espresso. We weren’t quite tired enough to go to the hotel, so we just strolled around one of the parks for a little while taking in the beauty around us. Tuscany, and especially Florence, is a jewel of an area that everyone should try to get to at one point. I know for sure that we’ll be back one day. Next time I’m going to give it at least a month to take it all in though.