Where to stay, eat and drink in Florence, Italy?
Florence is brilliant! After living there for over three months, I think it’s the best city in all of Italy. Authentic, walkable, historic, aesthetic, clean and so approachable. Everyone is asking for recommendations (literally, three friends in the past week), so I know it’s time I put all of my answers in one place.
Where to stay?
While there are going to be tourists everywhere there are less tourists in certain pockets. Unless you’re staying directly next to the river (like the hotel I listed below), I’d recommend staying on the south side of the river in the Santa Spirito quadrant. This neighborhood has a far calmer, local element and possesses the romantic attributes we dream of when visiting Italy — historical streets, gorgeous buildings, lively piazzas and local espresso bars. You’ll have fewer moments of literally fighting through the crowds or experiencing second-hand embarrassment watching other tourists snapping pictures of themselves in front of the Duomo while scarfing down their third gelato of the day. If that’s the future you, no judgment. I’ve been there, but more on gelato later…
If you're planning an extended stay, the Santa Croce and Sant’Ambrogio neighborhoods to the east of the city center are both easy to live in and where most of the “real people” of Florence live. I stayed here for more than a month and fell in love with the convenience of living right outside of the madness while still being able to walk to the city center in fifteen minutes.
If you want a hotel instead of an Airbnb, I highly recommend this one. On the river, hospitable, right outside the heart of the city center and provides an included, luxurious breakfast spread (who does’t love complimentary breakfast?). https://goo.gl/maps/aL8Jw6p1V9fqfDSZ7
2. Where to eat?
Dinner — here are my 3 favorite Italian restaurants, all authentic and amazing
Le Barrique: good, beautiful vibes. In the summer, the service is on the outdoor patio. It’s really quiet, romantic and down-right gorgeous. The food is elevated in flavor, yet no more expensive than your average pasta spot and they honesty have one of my favorite versions of focaccia. I lived right next door for half the time I was in Florence and would sometimes stop in for just focaccia, which they’d kindly give me for free in hopes that I would return often to dine. It worked. I go back every time I’m in town. https://goo.gl/maps/FU34Q9NxBDY7hJi68
Osteria Santo Spirito: incredible old school, family run business. If you want a table before 10 p.m., you have to make a reservation the old-school way — by phone. Once you're in, you need to order their three cheese-truffle oil gnocchi. Don’t go for the customer service, but do go for the food and the fun, busy energy in the Piazza Santo Spirito. https://goo.gl/maps/S3ErKzkyD5MKUoMk6
Pandemonio di Casa Brogi: If you’re wanting a Florentine steak, this is the place. Mamma Pandemonio died during the pandemic but the staff and atmosphere are still fabulous. Before you know it, the waiters may be pouring you endless shots of limoncello (or grappa if you’re living courageously). https://goo.gl/maps/ttTX5jVSpK7cGdpD9
Lunch — here are my 4 favorite lunch spots, all cheap, delicious and worthwhile
Antica Pizzeria: GREAT pizza! My first night alone in Florence, I ate here. I returned my very last night as well. It felt like a perfect, tangible full circle moment. https://goo.gl/maps/sStdqD8yUmvLrEPU6
Santarosa Bistro: Beautiful food. Beautiful coffee. Beautiful garden. Beautiful dining room. This spot is the best of two worlds — French and Italian cuisines combined. It’s hidden in a gorgeous garden, and the food is delicious and gorgeous. It’s also really cheap compared to the tourist spots but be sure to go at lunch as they stop serving at a certain point in the afternoon. https://goo.gl/maps/FFd478rRhFhyBeYU6
Trattoria Sabatino: Old. Freaking. School. Cheap, simple, rustic Tuscan food. Go early and get ready for the most authentic and economical experience you’ll receive in Florence. Be sure to order carafes of the house wine with lunch. It’s the Italian way. https://goo.gl/maps/65uPktrZdrkkQChq8
Raw: This is the opposite of old school. Come here if you’re needing a cleanse from all the pasta and wine — delicious and refreshing smoothies, juices and salads for a warm Tuscan day. https://goo.gl/maps/azoFEgFk4TALJEAc8
Gelato — here are my 2 favorite gelaterias, the best real gelato you will ever eat
Gelateria Della Passera: They always provide a seasonal selection of flavors. The line can be long, but you will not be disappointed. Patience is a virtue! https://goo.gl/maps/ju8UWhVKpFQz6rVR7
Gelateria De’Medici: This feels out of the way if you are not staying in the Santa Croce or Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood, but I can’t not include this place. It’s simply divine. Beyond divine for that matter. https://goo.gl/maps/vdQVqJebbQ33WvPf8
3. Where to take your espresso?
Ditta Artigianale: While many coffee “bars” are designed for a quick stop standing at the bar and drinking your espresso or cappuccino on the fly, this place is a good shop to go to if you’re in need of a restful reprieve and large latte. I’ve had many coffee dates here. https://goo.gl/maps/aTp9ReNVKZSzkfjD9
4. Where to get an aperitivo?
Enjoying an aperitivo with your friends, coworkers or family in the late afternoon/early evening is THE THING TO DO in Italy. It’s pretty much heretical to go straight to dinner. Plus, most places will give you complimentary snacks with your drinks if you arrive before 7 pm.
Empire Rooftop View American Hotel: While the drinks are expensive at any rooftop bar, the views are 100% worth it. https://goo.gl/maps/CCHkRzU6vjiCjgRL9
Westin Sesto on Arno Rooftop Bar: This one is also great but be sure to call ahead for reservations. https://goo.gl/maps/aY5N9bH3tvhwh5GQ6
Nove7: Great, cheap aperitivo with free snacks. Feels so very Italian with everyone sitting in the street and slowly watching life pass by. https://goo.gl/maps/sznDXQYWySGjeMMD9
Le Ménagère: Gorgeous environment and beautifully aesthetic space. Couldn’t ask for more for an appetitive or post dinner night cap. https://goo.gl/maps/vgUxxueSeUDh8ynS9
5. Where to take a cooking class?
Mamo Experience: My Dad took a pasta making class here this winter and raved about it. https://www.mamoexperience.com/en/cooking-classes/35-pasta-making-open-class/
6. Where to drink wine?
If you’re thinking of touring wineries or wine cellars, go ahead and do yourself a favor and hire a driver or rent a car. Most of the places to go are in small towns and while you can take a train, it will slow you down as routes aren’t often direct from Florence. It’s doable, just be down for an adventure and don’t get upset if you run behind schedule — you’ll fit right into the culture. I’d recommend any of these four cities — San Gimignano, Orvieto, Sienna and Montepulciano.
7. How to get around?
You can quite literally get from one side of the city to the other side in forty-five minutes by foot. You’ll quickly learn relying on your feet is superior to the public transportation system. There are great electric bikes on the streets which are by far the most reliable, cheapest way of getting around if you’re in a rush and don’t want to walk (download the app). That said what feels like a long walk for us sedentary Americans will quickly become a normal part of life. Taxis are very expensive. Please don’t let them rip you off. This ride share Free Now app sets the rate so that the driver can’t change it after picking you up. It’s great.
With that, I’m wishing you many safe travels! Reach out with any questions you might have of your own at email@example.com. Ciao ciao.
xoxo & bon appétit