The best kind of breaks are city breaks.
There’s nothing more exciting to me than wandering down meandering lanes to find boutique cafés, surrounding yourself with ancient architecture and immersing yourself in a different way of life, even if just for a long weekend. Florence is the destination of choice to experience all of the above, as well as enough pizza to ruin any chance of a summer body. But no ragrets here.
Although not the cheapest option for a European city break, Florence is probably one of the top cities to visit. With the historic draw of Rome and the charming feel of a rustic Tuscan town, it’s a beautiful spot to spend a couple of nights with plenty of culture to keep you entertained.
Read on to discover our Florentine adventure and top places to check out.
WHERE WE STAYED
With very little knowledge of Florence prior to the trip, we didn’t have a clear idea of where we wanted to stay. This worked in our favour though, as we ended up in a smart, modern but comfortable flat in the Oltrarno district – the hipster district, if you will. Given the high prices of many of the hotels, we opted for an Airbnb, a wise choice for more reasons than one.
Staying in a quiet yet trendy part of the city made us feel like locals. Grabbing a coffee and pastry at a quiet café instead of a continental or buffet breakfast. It pushed us to really seek out restaurants and bars, rather than stepping out into a busy square and walking straight into the tourist traps.
Only a five minute walk from the Giardino di Boboli, it was an ideal location, just enough off the beaten track to give us some privacy, but easy enough to walk anywhere. Our host, Caterina, was also incredible. Greeted with enthusiasm and a bottle of wine before phoning one of her favourite local restaurants to book us in for lunch, our adventure started the moment we arrived with not a second wasted.
Walking distance from some of the best bars and restaurants in the city along Via di Santo Spirito, it’s easier to find more affordable drinks on this side of the Arno. There’s definitely a younger feel to this area as well, with student bars, live bands and plenty of artisan cocktails.
Check out Caterina’s flat if you’re looking for somewhere a little more local to stay in Florence.
Rooftop view from our Airbnb.
Nothing quite beats waking up to a fresh cup of coffee à la Moka Express.
WHERE WE ATE
Any gastronome would feel at ease in Florence. We didn’t have one bad meal, although our diet did mostly consist of pizza for the three and a bit days we were there. One of the fun parts of traveling to a city like Florence is getting lost down narrow lanes and stumbling upon tiny restaurants where you suddenly find yourself eating the best meal of your life.
Admittedly, we did a little research before many of our meals as we were desperate to try a few places out. For pizza, there’s an endless amount of choice, though our favourite was undoubtedly at the Mercato Centrale Firenze. The upstairs has been transformed and you’ll find stalls serving a variety of dishes, but the pizza isn’t to be missed. Other contenders for the title of greatest pizza ever are ‘O Munaciello, Briscola and Malborghetto.
The finest pizza I ever did taste @ Mercato Centrale Firenze.
Of course, pizza isn’t the only dish on offer, it’s just our favourite and great if you’re looking for a cheaper meal. For those wanting to try a Florentine steak, it could set you back a little more. We were determined to find somewhere that wouldn’t break the bank, and came across Trattoria Za Za. This place is just the best, though make sure you get a seat inside. Decked out with photos of celebrities from the 90s along with random memorabilia, there’s something inherently charming and unintentionally kitsch about this place, and the food was wonderful too. We ordered a T-Bone steak between us with a portion of fries each (not what I would have imagined an Italian dish to be, mind you) which was plenty.
Top tip: house wine is your friend, get to know him. In the majority of restaurants we visited it was usually 3-4€ for a glass and almost always cheaper than a soft drink. When in Rome…
And what trip to Italy would be complete without at least a dozen cups of coffee? We headed to Ditta Artigianale for a birthday breakfast. They have a couple of locations across the city, but the one on Via Sprone was our favourite, and only a five minute walk from the flat.
Similarly to the pizzerias, you’ll find gelato stores on every street you walk down. It can be overwhelming, and you don’t want to get suckered into the overpriced ones, but there are some seriously great places. Our two top spots were Gelateria dei Neri on Via dei Neri and another whose name I can’t find (great blogger aren’t I?) – it’s on the corner of Via dei Calzaiuoli and Piazza della Signoria.
WHERE WE DRANK
James and I will likely both agree that the best part of this trip was wandering into a bar that I’d heard served decent cocktails for a quick drink, only to stay for the evening enjoying some of the best live music we’ve ever heard. Suffice to say, La Ménagère has become one of my favourite places ever.
This bar-meets-café-meets-restaurant-meets-brasserie is stylish but quirky – it even has its own florist.
We headed downstairs to the basement, pulled up a chair and ordered some drinks (water for James unfortunately). There’s a decent selection of cocktails that were unusual; I don’t like going to an interesting bar for a cocktail I’ve had a thousand times before. It’s as pricey as anywhere, but with a great band and cool atmosphere, you get your money’s worth here.
We decided on the Continentale Hotel rooftop bar for my birthday, looking for something slightly more upmarket. The rooftop area is quite small and it was more or less full, so we had to make do with seats at the bar. It’s not on my list of must-see places, simply because it was 19€ for an OK cocktail, but it’s a pretty good spot for a view across the Arno.
For a very casual cheap drink, Volume is a good bet. You’ll find your usual cocktails here at a reasonable price, with a friendly atmosphere and young crowd. Definitely check this one out if you’re staying in the Oltrarno.
Drinks and greenery @ La Ménagère.
WHAT WE DID
Walked. A lot. My thinking is, if you’re coming from a seaside town in England where it’s rainy and cold up until June, you should make the most of walking around when you visit a place like Florence. It’s the best way to take in everything the city has to offer.
For a quick trip like ours, you can’t go wrong with the top tourist sites: the Piazza del Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Galleria dell’Accademia etc. Yes, there’s plenty of other amazing sites to see, but how can you pass up a chance to see famous works of art?
Unbeknownst to us before arriving, the first Sunday of every month is free museum day. You can’t book tickets in advance, simply show up (preferably early) and you’ll walk straight in with no entrance fee. Worth noting if you’re travelling to Florence on a budget.
I should point out this applies to the state museums only, but that will get you in to all the main spots. We also took a trip to the Museo Galileo, as well as the Boboli Gardens which are perfect for a stroll around on a sunny morning.
You’ll no doubt pass over the Ponte Vecchio at some point. It’s usually pretty busy, but if you’re up nice and early you’ll be able to enjoy the view along the river in peace. The Ponte Santa Trinita will set you up for a shot of the Ponte Vecchio – just mind you don’t get cycled over.
One of the best views of the city is reserved for those willing to climb a small mountain for it. Or those with enough money for a taxi. The Piazzale Michelangelo has panoramic views of Florence, perfect for watching the sunset. It gets busy, of course, but there was a great atmosphere and it really is a breathtaking view.
Watching the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo.
It was one of those trips where more or less everything seems to fall seamlessly into place. I don’t think it’s hard to enjoy yourself in a place as beautiful as Florence though. We’d head back in a heartbeat, especially as there’s so much more we could have done and seen.
I recommend everyone to visit Florence at least once in their lives.
There are definitely ways to do it on a budget, and it’s just too beautiful to miss.