What’s not to love about Florence? It’s a charming city and probably my favorite of Italian cities.
I could spend weeks, even months at a time in Florence. If you have a couple of days, here are some fun things to include during your stay in Florence.
1) Start the day with pastries and coffee. The Florentines make pan de ramerino, a soft breakfast role with raisins, olive oil and a hint of rosemary. It was originally an Easter tradition, but now many bakeries make the rolls throughout the year. (This was Natalie’s and my favorite pastry).
Our apartment was close to the Accademia, so we enjoyed delicious pastries from Robigilo (on via del Servi). I think they have the best pastries in Florence.
There is something about European coffee. I rarely drink coffee at home, but when traveling in Europe, I drink it every morning. When ordering coffee in Italy, I order a Cafe Latte. If you order a “latte”, you end up with a glass of hot milk.
2) If you’re up early, head over to the Mercato Centrale (near San Lorenzo). This 2-story open air market was once the main shopping center of Florence before supermarkets sprang up. Now, it’s a food market for locals, restaurants and tourists. It’s a great place to stock up on fresh fruit and cheese or buy gifts for friends and family back home (e.g., olive oil, balsamic vinegar, spice mixes, etc.)
It’s also a great place to see all kinds of meat and fish — many that you’ve probably never seen before. Our kids were “grossed out” by the tripe (stomach lining).
3) Climb to the top of the Duomo — the view is worth it! You climb 463 steps. At times, it can get a bit claustrophobic. But, you get to view the interior ceiling frescoes up close and the view from outside is breathtaking!
The only times I would pass on the climb are during summer (long lines and heat) or if you have knee problems. Needless to say, I didn’t climb to the top this time (for all three reasons).
4) People watch at Piazza della Signoria. This always seems to be a “happening” spot. There are street performers, artists and interesting people among the open-air sculptures and works of art. The Fountain of Neptune, a copy of Michelangelo’s David, the Ratto delle Sabine are among the most famous sculptures.
5) Stop for Gelato (at least once a day)! Our two favorite Gelato shops in Florence are close to the Accademia Gallery (The David). The best time to see “David” is in the afternoon — when the lines are shorter. So, you can get gelato before or after you visit the Accademia (or both).
The best gelato is made from fresh ingredients — so flavors available will be those in season. The two gelato shops below were our favorites of our entire trip!
Le Parigine – the best gelato, stored in covered silver bins (between the duomo & Accademia on via dei servi 41R)
Gelateria Carabe – great granitas that taste exactly like the fruit and gelato (1 block from the Accademia on via Ricasoli 60/r)
6) Watch the sunset from Michelangelo Piazza. If you’re up for the walk (and want to burn off the gelato calories), it’s a nice hike up to the piazza. You can also take the local city bus to the piazza. The view of Florence and the Arno river is amazing – any time of day.
7) Enjoy a delicious Florentine dinner. There are so many incredible choices in Florence, but we always manage to get at least one dinner in at Tira Baralla. It’s off the beaten path (on via della scalla 28) between the train station and Santa Maria Novella church. In fact, it’s next door to the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella. It’s just a small restaurant with great pizza, pasta and gnocchi. And, it’s very reasonable.
8) Squeeze in time for shopping! Surprisingly, I didn’t do much shopping this trip. Usually, there are some key things I shop for while in Florence (or the Tuscany region).
- Florentine papers — beautiful wrapping papers (sold by the sheet), note cards, gift tags
- SHOES — some of my most favorite shoes ever have been purchased in Florence
- Aged balsamic vinegar — found at the wineries in Chianti and the Tuscany region
- Ceramics — in some of the small towns around Florence
- Cooking herbs and spices — bruschetta mix, capresse mix, herbed salt, beef or fish herb mixes
There is a wonderful Florentine mosaic workshop that we stumbled upon called Le Pietre nell’Arte. The work is beautiful. We couldn’t afford anything in the store, but it was worth the stop to see the detailed mosaics using traditional Renaissance techniques. We visited the store on Via Ricasoli. There is a second store on the piazza Duomo.