Ten Days in Florence
Florence is one of the friendliest cities I've ever visited; it greets you with an incredible landscape, wonderful food, and some of the world's greatest works of art. It's also a wonderfully walkable place, so you'll probably only need to use a car or train when taking a trip out of the city. The constantly rotating population of study abroad students brings a unique flavor to Florence - there's a lot of English spoken here, and an impressive variety of foods. During our summer abroad we spent ten days based in Florence, getting to know the city and exploring some nearby destinations.
things to do
I might say this in every travel guide, but walking really is the best way to explore any city. In Florence, wake up early for a stroll to take in the morning light over the clay rooftops and the calm Arno River. Cross the bridge Ponte Vecchio at least once, and wander whenever you can - just look for the Duomo as your guiding landmark. Before sunset, find some gelato and make your way eastward along the south side of the Arno.
From there, follow the winding Giardino delle Rose path up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for the most breathtaking views of the city. It's incredible (and busy) day or night, but sunset is the most magical time here. Bonus points if you bring along a bottle of wine and some pizza for dinner. If you want a quieter spot, climb even higher to San Miniato al Monte.
Also on the south side of the river, the Pitti Palace stands in front of the famous Boboli Gardens. You can spend hours finding all the ornate fountains and sculptures tucked throughout the garden, and pack a picnic to spread out with in the afternoon. Nearby is the beautiful Bardini Garden with a quieter, more manicured atmosphere and lovely views. It's not a very well known spot, but was one of my favorite places in Florence - spend an hour or so exploring the tiered gardens, then linger over coffee or wine on the terrace overlooking the city.
Nearly everyone passing through Florence will visit the Uffizi and Accademia galleries. They're home to such incredible works of Renaissance art, you won't want to miss them either - but to avoid the long lines, go early in the day and reserve your ticket in advance if you can. At the Duomo, spare yourself some time (and claustrophobia) by climbing the bell tower instead of the dome itself.
Even if you're not looking for souvenirs, shopping in Florence deserves at least a half-day of your time. The indoor Mercato Centrale is a perfect place for a quick meal or to buy groceries for cooking your own dinner. Right outside, you'll find San Lorenzo market, where you could easily spend hours sifting through the art, leather goods, and flea market finds. I'm particularly infatuated with Florentine gilded wood trays - not the high-gloss ones you'll see on many corners, but the vintage kind that you have to really hunt for. There's more wonderful vintage hunting - this time for clothes - at the shop Street Doing. To wind down with a local-feeling afternoon, buy your lunch at the Sant’Ambrogio market, and enjoy it in the nearby park Piazza d’Azeglio. For a more American style of relaxation, book a pedicure at Maniboo.
where to eat
The Italian custom of aperitivo - enjoying a drink and a bite to eat at the end of the workday - is a longstanding tradition, and Florence is no exception. Some restaurants will offer a generous buffet of appetizers that's included in the price of your drink, like Gallery, Kitsch, and Soul Kitchen. It's a wonderful bargain, and sometimes referred to as a "students' dinner"; a casual aperitivo dinner or two should save you enough to indulge in one of the fancier rooftop spots on another night.
Enjoying an aperitivo above the city, you'll find higher prices and smaller offerings for complimentary snacks - potato chips and olives, perhaps - surrounded by beautiful views that you just won't find at a street-level restaurant. Golden View Open Bar is top of the list in both ambience and price tag, and completely worthy of the buzz it receives. The rooftop at Grand Hotel Minerva has a picturesque swimming pool for guests and a pretty terrace where we enjoyed a bottle of rosé. The public library Biblioteca delle Oblate is something of a hidden gem, with a rooftop that offers a spectacular view over the Duomo and a cafeteria with well priced aperitivi.
At some point, visit La Ménagère, a charming cafe, shop, and restaurant all under one roof. For a truly delicious bowl of ramen, head to Koto Ramen. Try La Milkeria for coffee and crepes, or Ditta Artigianale for a delicious breakfast and an almond milk latte. Arà: è Sicilia serves wonderful Sicilian street food and gelato, while its sister Arà: è Sud is a good spot for a nice dinner out.
Settled in the heart of Tuscany, it's almost a requirement to venture out of Florence and see the hillside vineyards and medieval towns that are so close by. My advice? Head to the countryside, and out to the Cinque Terre.
the tuscan countryside
It's no secret that the scenery in Tuscany is some of the best in the world, and you'll probably want to spend a couple days exploring the countryside and its cities. Take a day tour on a Fiat or Vespa, on a bicycle, or rent a car to travel on your own. A Tuscan cooking class - like this one in Chianti or this one near Siena - was one of our favorite days during our time in Florence. You can find my full guide to the Tuscan countryside here.
the cinque terre
The Cinque Terre is not technically part of Tuscany, but after visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa this string of colourful fishing towns is just an hour away by train. Take a couple days if you can to explore Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso al Mare. If you really can't manage more than a day trip, scroll to the bottom of my Cinque Terre guide for my best advice on a whirlwind visit - hopefully (unlike me) you'll avoid getting stuck in Pisa until 2am after a cancelled train. Don't worry, I had friends and prosecco!
'star' the map below to access it from the google maps app on your phone.