The wonderful thing about visiting Florence is that although one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, it has the feel of a small town. It is wonderfully walkable: going from the Galleria dell’Accademia (home of Michelangelo’s “David”) in the north, past the the Galleria degli Uffizi along the Arno, and then to the Giardino di Boboli in the Oltrarno district only takes about 20 to 30 minutes on foot. Wandering around the medieval streets, exploring the local neighborhoods, stumbling in your peregrinations upon the Piazza del Duomo, with the immense and majestic cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore rising up above the medieval rooftops—these are all part of what it means to visit Florence.
As a culinary tour operator, Tuscany has always been and remains our most popular destination, and Florence is a town we know well. So here is a brief sample of some of our favorite things to do in Florence!
1. Boboli Gardens
This huge garden on the southern end of the city is a must-see when the weather is nice. While many tourists never cross the river (unless it’s to say they’ve walked over the Ponte Vecchio), the “Oltrano” (“other side of the Arno river”) has a ton to offer, the Boboli Gardens being a case in point. You can spend hours among the gardens and sculptures, or climb the Forte di Belvedere for the most panoramic view of Florence.
2. Pitti Palace
On your way to or from the Boboli Gardens, visit the Pitti Palace museum. Lesser known than the Galleria degli Uffizi across the river, the Pitti Palace has one of the most exquisite art collections in the world, predominantly (but not exclusively) from the Renaissance.
3. San Niccolò neighborhood
While you’re still on the other side of the river, why not explore the San Niccolò neighborhood, home to art galleries and craftsmen’s shops. Stroll the narrow streets, pick up some unique items, and stop for lunch at an authentic trattoria where there will be hardly a tourist in sight.
4. Sant’Ambrogio market
Back over the river, check out the Sant’Ambrogio market in the Santa Croce neighborhood. Not only can you pick up some amazing Tuscan delicacies to take home with you, you can also eat at the tiny Trattoria da Rocco located inside the market.
5. Le Carceri
Hava a pizza at “Le Carceri” pizzeria and wine bar, where the walls are littered with graffiti, and the pizza is fired (as it should be) in a wood-burning oven. Located in an old prison (“carcere” means prison in Italian), the restaurant is trendy among the locals, and offers great food and wine, artisanal beers, and plenty of atmosphere.
It might seem strange that one of our favorite things in Florence is not in Florence at all. Take the bus from the train station up the hill to Fiesole, a picturesque village about 5 miles north of Florence (or you can do as famous author Hermann Hesse recounted and walk there!). There are sights to see: Etruscan and Roman ruins, a medieval town hall, a cathedral, Medici villa, and a monastery. But best of all is just wandering the quiet and pristine town and enjoying the amazing view of Florence.
Of course, you can visit any of these places during either our Florence for the Food Lover cooking vacation or A Classic Tuscan Table at Villa Casagrande, which also features 2 nights in Florence. See our website or contact us for details!
If you have a longer time in Florence, it’s also a great starting point for day trips to other towns. One easy option: a day trip to Pisa!
By Peg Kern
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