My husband and I have been visiting Florence roughly once every three years for the last 15. Our first trip was on our honeymoon in September 2004 and we’ve since returned with family, friends and for 40th birthday celebrations. We’ve tried it at all times of year (our favourite is October) and stayed all over town, sampling traditional and contemporary wine bars and restaurants alike along the way. It’s fair to say we love it and it’s one of the only places I’ve ever been on holiday where I could imagine living.
WHERE TO STAY
Just a two-hour flight from London, Florence is an ideal weekend break destination. It is one of those perfect-sized cities where everything you need is within about a half- hour walk, so no need for anything but your feet and some comfortable shoes once you get there. I personally wouldn’t stay much further north than the train station, but don’t be put off by staying south of the river Arno either (it’s one of our favourite districts which is far less touristy). It’s by the river that the beauty of the city really comes into its own, as it’s where you’ll find the Ponte Vecchio – the bridge famous for being lined with jewellery shops.
We’ve never had to spend a lot of money on accommodation. For our earlier trips we stayed in some room-only apartments which have sadly since closed, but now at least Air BnB will always come up trumps with some lovely options and there are loads of reasonably priced hotels too. If you’re staying somewhere self-catering, we highly recommend shopping at Eataly for a large dose of pasta and tinned fish porn!
WHAT TO DO
The very centre of town holds all the main attractions including the incredible Duomo and the world-famous Uffizi art gallery, which houses Botticelli’s ‘The Birth Of Venus’ amongst other great works of art. In high season the queues can be a little off-putting though, so if you want a culture kick for free, head to the Piazza della Signoria which has an amazing display of statues on offer, including a replica of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ (the real one, which used to be in Piazza della Signoria, moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia in the 1800s where you can still see it to this day). You can see another David replica, and get a cracking view of the city while you’re at it, by walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo, again on the south side of the river. It’s basically a car park, but the view of the terracotta rooftops and the Duomo is far better than the view you get from the top of the Duomo itself, in my opinion.
WHERE TO EAT
Food-wise, it’s pretty hard to go wrong in Florence. We’ve eaten at Osteria de’ Benci on every visit, which specialises in the bistecca alla Fiorentina – a huge slab of beef which you can have for one or two or to share as a group. I don’t eat meat but my husband says it’s the best he’s ever had, and when we took some friends there one of them said he thought he was going to cry ‘beef tears’ because it tasted so good! Veggies and fish lovers are also well catered for – I loved the fish carpaccio. Don’t be put off by the less than charming interior – the staff definitely make up for it.
Another local speciality, and my personal favourite is pasta stuffed with pear and cheese. You’ll find it at the lovely Trattoria 4 Leoni and Coquinarius. The latter just so happens to be a few doors down from our favourite wine bar and shop, Enoteca Alessi, who will ship wine home to you, even if you live outside of Europe. For a more hip vibe, head further north near the art colleges and you’ll find well-stocked thrifts shops as well as more contemporary eateries like the organic cafe, pizzeria and pasta house, Simbiosi, and our favourite, La Ménagère, which as well as serving healthy breakfasts by morning and delicious cocktails by night (including the best Moscow Mule I’ve ever had), houses a flower shop and interior design to die for (we once visited here three times in one day!). South of the river we love Bulli & Balene as well as Il Santino for small plates and a more local atmosphere.
WHEN TO VISIT
I would personally avoid going in high season (June, July and August) as it gets very busy and VERY hot! We loved it even more in September, October and February and of course it’s cheaper to travel then, too. You can fly direct, but for those on a tighter budget, it’s worth knowing that you can fly to Pisa or Bologna for a fair amount less and hop on a train for a little over an hour to get there, too (we have tried both of these options and they were really straightforward). It’s close to the UK and a manageable size when you get there, which makes it ideal if you don’t want to have the faff of hiring a car or figuring out a metro system once you arrive. With its amazing culture, architecture and art, as well as some of the best food and drink we’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming, I can’t recommend Florence highly enough.
Loved reading this and thank you for the wine and food recommendations. The great news for Florence is the opening of the tram so when exiting the airport instead of turning right to the taxi rank turn left and the tram is right there! Single ride from airport to Santa Maria Novella Staion is €2.50
Alexandra Stedman says
Oh this IS good news! xxx
Tina Carroll says
Thank you thank you thank you! this is great! we visited Pisa and Lucca last year – we intend to return for Florence and this will be so useful.
Catherine Mottram says
Though this guide is useful I am disappointed it encourages short flights for short breaks. Both Hannah and Alex are well informed on the climate crisis and have been great in terms of influencing their followers to buy fewer clothes and re-use, so why encourage the least sustainable behaviour of all? I am not saying we should not fly at all, but I think we should seek to decrease the amount of flying and thus short flights for short trips should be questioned – they are arguably the least sustainable form of travel behaviour.
Alexandra Stedman says
Hi Catherine, I totally hear what you are saying! This is actually why I approached Hannah to do this city guide for me, to help cut down my carbon footprint. I am also not telling people not to fly altogether, so instead I have commissioned someone already going to Florence. The same way I still wear clothes, talk about them, but hopefully in a more positive way. This city guide came out of a trip already booked rather than a trip explicitly planned for content, if the makes sense? Hannah was going anyway so we got together and planned this on top. And hopefully will help others who already have a trip planned. It’s a hard space to navigate and I am trying my best not to endorse travel bragging and flying unnecessarily but know that my stance is always in ‘useful’ content, and not telling people what not to do/how to live.
Agh – don’t tell people about 4 Leoni!! It’s already hard enough to get a table! One of my favourite Florentine restaurants – I dream about their pear and cheese gnocchi…