When people talk about the three big cities in Italy (Florence, Venice and Rome), it seems like everyone agrees that Rome is fab but then the debate between Florence and Venice is very polarizing. People either love Venice and don’t care for Florence or vice versa. I have to admit that I wasn’t crazy about Florence (despite the food being amazing). Compared to the charm and uniqueness of Venice, Florence just fell a little short. I’m still v. glad I went and saw it but I don’t think I’d need to go back. Having said that, I LOVED the Tuscany region outside of Florence. That was my absolute favorite part of the trip. Some people will tell you that Florence is a good “home base” for visiting Tuscany but I disagree. I think you need to get right up in the heart of Tuscany to truly experience it, not just take quick day trips from Florence.
Florence is the city where Steve and I met up with my family. Yes, my parents, sister and her boyfriend met us in Italy and traveled with us the last 10 days of our trip. We were celebrating my Dad’s 60th birthday and despite my Dad’s family being from Italy, no one in our family had been (with the exception of my Dad when he was in his 20’s with his buds). Needless to say, it felt very special. And my Mom and sister had never been to Europe before so that was an extra treat.
But with any family group traveling, there’s bound to be some mishaps. Like our travel schedules getting messed up and my fam arriving to Florence a day later than we’d planned. So Steve and I had a night in a Florence airbnb to ourselves, which after 10 days of travel, was much needed (i.e. doing laundry and hanging underwear to dry all over the apartment LOL).
From what I read about Florence restaurants, this is one city in Italy where you’ll want to make reservations in advance. Especially for the ones popular among locals and tourists, aka the ones you’d want to go to! Making restaurant reservations in Italy is a HOOT. Because it’s super rare for a restaurant to offer online booking and so the only option is to call. And when you call whoever is answering usually speaks very little English and I speak
very little no Italian, so you can imagine how those phone conversations went. Steve and I got hung up on multiple times. But our persistence paid off! We also asked our airbnb host in Florence to help us out making one reservation and he was happy to. Also, fun fact, Italians do not understand my name in Italy and so when they’d ask for the name on the reservation I learned I had to pronounce my name like KADA in order for them to comprehend.
I’m not counting our first day in Florence as an actual day because we arrived at 6pm, ate dinner, did laundry and went to bed. But to give you a little more background, we took the train from Cinque Terre to Florence, which was about a 2.5 hour trip. Our airbnb was walking distance from the train station (about 10 minute walk), which was super convenient. Plus, it was only about a 15 minute walk to the center of Florence where the main sights like the Duomo and Uffizi Gallery were.
The restaurant we went to night one, Trattoria Sostanza, was literally down the block from our airbnb, like a 2 minute walk, if that. I had been DROOLING over this restaurant since first googling it after reading about it in Rick Steves’ book. Everyone who wrote a review said this was one of their favorite meals of the trip and everyone was talking about this butter chicken dish and this cake with fresh strawberries. It definitely lived up to the hype. This place only does two seatings and it’s super tiny (and warm! dress accordingly) so definitely make reservations in advance.
I ordered the butter chicken (obvs) and Steve got the porterhouse steak. This chicken came out SIZZLING. Like couldn’t even see the chicken sizzling.
How mighty fine does that chicken look? Smothered in brown butter and lemon, it was so delicious and crispy.
And then we split the meringue cake everyone talked about but in September raspberries were in season so we missed out on the strawbs but it was still delicious. I’m actually salivating just thinking about it.
The two biggest sights that everyone says to see in Florence are the Uffizi Gallery, which holds the greatest collection of Italian paintings anywhere in the world. I.e. all the painters you learned about in art history class that you confused with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, like Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo.
I recommend making reservations and buying tickets for the Uffizi Gallery in advance so you don’t have to kill hours of the day just waiting in line. You can make them online at www.firenzemusei.it (click on B-ticket). The gallery was beautiful and we used Rick Steves’ free audioguide tour to guide us through the massive gallery. You can easily spend two hours in the gallery and factor in at least another hour if you’re going to stop for a bite to eat or cappuccino or appertivo at the gallery cafe.
View of the Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) from a window in the Uffizi Gallery. This was built in 1345 and is famous for its views of the city and hills, and its shops that are still operating today.
From the Uffizi Gallery, we headed toward our next stop, the Accademia. But on our way we passed the Duomo, Florence’s gothic cathedral, which began being built in 1296. We attempted to take a tour inside the following day but it was 80 something degrees and the line looked like it was 2 hours long. We couldn’t find a way around this to make reservations in advance – the only thing you could do in advance was make a reservation to climb the dome. So if you have your heart set on seeing the inside of the Duomo, try to get there right when it opens or just before it closes to avoid the lines.
The Accademia is the museum that houses the famous Michelangelo’s David statue. David represents a biblical shepherd boy ready to slay a giant. I’m not sure I’d be as familiar with this statue if I didn’t grow up minutes from its replica in bronze casting in Buffalo, NY. The original in marble was pretty breathtaking though and worth the trip. And the picture here doesn’t do it justice. It’s massive. And it’s just crazy to think that one man sculpted this out of marble with a hammer and chisel.
After the Accademia, we went back to the airbnb to change and rest before dinner. Our first dinner with the fam was at a super intimate, super local spot called Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori, known for their homemade pastas. Also this restaurant and the one we went to the night before were also on Eater’s Top 38 Essential Florence Restaurants list.
This place was awesome. No beer. No espresso. No steak. No pizza. No ice. (it says this on the menu outside lol). Just wine and water. And pasta. Lots of pasta. A few of us (including myself) ordered the homemade pappardelle with duck ragu. It was heaven on earth. The pasta was so fresh and the ragu wasn’t too heavy. And the freshly grated parmesan on top added another layer of umami deliciousness. I seriously want to go back right now only to eat this dish again. We talked about this pasta dish the rest of our trip.
We ordered a few desserts as well as a couple starters but I never snapped pics of them. Probably because this pasta dish was the highlight and nothing else in the meal really mattered in comparison.
The next day we had the afternoon to do some more exploring before we caught our 5pm train to Siena. My Dad wanted to go into every church we walked by and in Italy that’s like every 60 seconds. But I’m glad we stepped into this one. I couldn’t get over this beam of sunshine pouring through the window. It felt very divine.
I was told (and read) that Florence had the best gelato in Italy so I obviously needed to test out this theory for myself. This beaut was from Carabe Firenze. Scoop o’ hazelnut and scoop o’ chocolate. So creamy. And the hazelnut flavor was perfection.
After gelato, we made our way over to the Ponte Vecchio to see the views and cross the river to get to the Boboli Gardens. Just beautiful.
Legit looks like a painting in the background here! I swear that’s real! Also, that’s my lil sis 🙂
We walked around the Boboli Gardens for a bit but didn’t have much time to explore before we had to head back to grab our bags and catch the train. The gardens were pretty but I would only put this on your list if you have the time – not a must see, IMO.
Next up, a recap of our two days in Siena! One of my favorite spots in Italy!