I first experienced Italy, and indeed Florence, when I was 14. A family holiday took us to Tuscany and a day trip to the wonderful city of Florence. Little did I know that I’d be returning in my 30’s with Nikolai. For just 48 hours we explored the sights, ate in some of the best restaurants and stayed slap bang in the centre of Florence for a very reasonable price. I thought I’d share with you my five secrets of Florence. These are the “must do” activities which I uncovered during our visit.
1. Forget Michelangelo
Ok, so don’t forget the Piazzale Michelangelo entirely. It’s worth the visit for the opportunity to take some photos and buy an ice cream or a coffee, but it’s a tourist hotspot. For a better view of the city, and to get away from the crowd of selfie sticks and insta-posers, keep on walking up to the Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte. It is one of the highest points in the city, perfect to take in the city sights below. The colours of the natural green, red and white marble of this stunning monastery, and its intricately carved and detailed design, will make you fall in love. We sat for ages, peacefully watching the city below. It was well worth the climb.
2. Enter the secret garden
On your way back down, past the Michelangelo statues, there is an alternative route. Rather than take the stairs, as most people do, take a slight detour which leads you into a secret garden; Giardino delle rose, or The Rose Garden. This terraced garden, open to the public, boasts beautiful roses, lilies and statues. The garden holds an annual Arts & Flower Festival in May and it is well worth the additional steps to your step counter to pay it a visit.
3. Book La Bottegadel Buon Caffe
La Bottegadel Buon Caffe is one of the best gourmet restaurants in Florence. It was just a short walk from our apartment in the centre, across the river and within walking distance of the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
This Michelin starred restaurant was one of the best food experiences of my life. I loved the decor, the service was impeccable and the food was both surprising and a delight to the senses. The restaurant is headed up by Antonello Sardi, an esteemed chef in Italy, offering diners a choice of a la carte menu, six course or eight course tasting menus. We opted for the six course tasting menu at £250 per couple. Each course was divine but I think our favourite was the surprise tomatoes.
Eating out in Florence
Other great places to eat are Signorvino, a wine shop & restaurant located to the left of the Ponte Vecchio bridge. We shared a meat platter to accompany our wine. Although the restaurant is on the expensive side, it has a private balcony overlooking the bridge, making it ideal for taking photos. However, my advice is to get there early to avoid the other tables being in shot.
I’d also recommend Trattoria Za’ Za’, which serves a beautiful T-bone, a dish which Florence is famous for.
Enjoy a dainty patisserie in Caffee Gilli, one of the oldest Italian cafe’s in the city. This has the added advantage of being surrounded by designer shops!
And finally, for the largest ice cream in Florence, head to the Ponte Vecchio Bar, just by the bridge.
4. Location, location, location
When booking a city break you wan to be in the heart of it all, immersing yourself in the city’s culture and vibrancy. We booked an apartment via Air BnB which was only a few minutes’ walk from the key sites like the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio bridge.
The apartment had fantastic facilities including a balcony from which to enjoy your morning coffee. If I had one criticism it is that the bed was far too hard for us. We ended up sleeping on the more forgiving sofa bed in the living room. As this apartment is no longer on Air BnB to book I’ve recommended an alternative below should you wish to book the trip.
5. Call yourself a fashionista?
New York and Milan are usually considered fashion capitals of the world, but most of the famous Italian brands actually make their home in Florence. Brands like Prada, Gucci, and Salvatore Ferragamo all have factories and headquarters in the Florence area and Florence boasts great shopping as well as hosting many annual fashion events. Tuscany is known for its high-quality leather, which is one reason these fashion moguls are based here. Florence even has a fancy street similar to Rodeo Drive which is full of all the high fashion brands. If fashion entices you, you have to visit Florence. It’s where I found my handbag of dreams!
To put it plainly, Florence is a magical place. I’ve never ventured to Venice but I have visited Rome and for me, Florence wins out as the place to be. If you’ve never considered Florence, or if you’ve wondered whether to make it a stop on your trip, you will definitely not be disappointed when you do. Florence has a lively yet relaxed atmosphere, the air is buzzing with creativity and there is beauty everywhere you look.
Book the trip:
Flights, from Leeds Bradford to Florence:
We found our flights through Skyscanner starting at £240pp to fly with KLM from Leeds Bradford to Schiphol Airport then on to Florence. Although this was a bit of a faff it worked out cheaper for us.
Accommodation in Florence:
Sadly, the apartment we stayed in is no longer available. We did use Air BnB to find it and there is a wide choice of alternative, reputable accommodation available to book, including this one ‘Under the Dome‘. You can’t get better than resting your head on this quirky bed, or drinking a bottle or two on that roof top.
Getting around Florence:
Public transport is widely used by both locals and tourists in Florence. You can purchase an ATAF bus ticket at any shop or cafe which displays the logo. A 90-minute ticket will allow you to use any bus for the duration of 90 minutes. There are three doors on the bus, the front and back doors are for getting on. The middle door is for getting off. Make sure you validate your ticket once you board the bus otherwise you can be fined.
Weather in Florence:
Tuscany’s best travel months (also its busiest and most expensive) are May, June, September, and October. These months are peak season since the weather is at its most pleasant at these times.
Coolest months in Florence, Italy: January/December
Driest month in Florence, Italy: July
Warmest month in Florence, Italy: July
Wettest months in Florence, Italy: April/November