Italy

A College Student’s Guide to Florence

January 26, 2018

Florence is a phenomenal city, especially for the history and art-lovers out there, as it played a key role in the Renaissance. Having just returned from a trip to Florence with my college, I thought I’d write a college student’s guide to Florence, but not just any college student, an art history major, so that you’d get the low-down on the most attractive part of the city.

The Sights

The Duomo

Obviously any guide to Florence wouldn’t be complete without the Duomo. Officially called Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, this is where the iconic red domes of Florence can be found. The green and pink marble details on the outside are far more intricate in person. I would highly recommend climbing up the dome of the Duomo itself and climbing the bell tower, as both offer unique views of the city. You can get an all-access pass for 15 euros that lets you climb the dome and bell tower and see the museum and baptistry, and I would highly recommend buying it!

Palazzo Vecchio

This is the town hall of Florence and offers a fantastic view over the Piazza della Signora, which has a replica of the David in it as well as numerous other art pieces. I would recommend climbing up the tower of this building, even though I myself didn’t get to.

Piazzale Michelangelo

Arguably the best view over Florence, the Piazzale Michelangelo offers not only a view but is also dedicated to Michelangelo, one of Florence’s best artists, if not the best, and holds a number of bronze replicas of his most famous sculptures. Highly recommend  going during the sunset and bringing wine for great vibes.

Boboli Gardens / Bardini Gardens

This is a lovely park within Florence that is full of statues and artwork. Owned by the Medici family (as almost everything was), this is where the mid 16th century garden style was developed.

Galleria dell’Accademia  

Even if you’re not an art lover, you absolutely must come to this museum to see Michelangelo’s crowning achievement, his statue the David. It is absolutely striking at 18 feet tall, and so lifelike that its a wonder that he doesn’t just jump off the podium. As well as the David, the Accademia also houses some of Michelangelo’s other works, as well as a number of incomplete statues so you can see his sculpting process. There are also paintings from a number of other artists as well, mostly from the period 1300-1600.

Ponte Vecchio 

One of the other most recognizable sights of the city, the Ponte Vecchio is famous because the shops lining the bridge actually hang off the side of the bridge over the Arno River below. As well as being very photogenic, the bridge is a great shopping spot (although rather pricey because of how touristy it is).

Uffizi Gallery

Despite the David being in the Accademia, this museum is the most popular in Florence as it holds a number of priceless works from the Italian Renaissance, notably, the Birth of Venus. Located right next to the Arno River, this Gallery also is quite the architectural work itself and has a phenomenal view of the Ponte Vecchio.

Basilica di Santa Croce

Sadly, I didn’t get to visit this gorgeous Basilica, but I sure would have liked to! The Basilica di Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence and the architecture is stunning!

Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Interestingly, this museum used to be a prison and is the oldest public building in Florence. Now it is an art museum which also houses some of Michelangelo’s works as well as a few other prominent ones such as Donatello’s David and Jacopo Sansovino’s Bacchus.

Medici Chapel

Also red domed like the Duomo, but not quite as outwardly intricate is the Medici Chapel. Designed by Michelangelo for the Medici Family, the most influential and powerful family in Florence at the time, it is an architectural marvel on the inside although nondescript on the outside.

Basilica di San Lorenzo

This church is attached to the Medici Chapel so while you’re there you may as well visit this too! The front of this church frankly looks like it’s unfinished, but the inside is stunning and was designed by Donatello. It is also the burial site of all of the principal Medici family members.

Basilica de Santa Maria Novella

This Basilica is named after the train station that it is situated across from. It is the city’s principal Dominican church. The architecture on the inside and outside are magnificent and it’s quite worth the visit for that alone, but the church also houses a number of art treasures and frescos

Honorable Mentions

Gucci Garden: A museum dedicated to iconic Italian fashion.

Museo Galileo: One of the foremost international institutions, combining a noted museum of scientific instruments and an institute dedicated to the research, documentation, and dissemination of the history of science in the broadest sense.

Museo degli Innocenti: The Innocenti Museum highlights the importance of the first institute dedicated to taking care of orphaned children in all of Europe.  Established in 1419, the Innocenti became the first lay institution in the world to be dedicated entirely to infancy and childhood. It welcomed children who had been abandoned by their families for various reasons, generally because of extreme poverty.

Honestly, pop into any restaurant in Florence and the food will probably be amazing (the perks of being in Italy), but here are a few favorites, with the best dishes highlighted.

Breakfast/Brunch

Il Bottegone

Le Vespe Café: Juices, smoothies, all types of eggs, iced coffees, wraps & healthy options

Ditta Artiginale: Hummus salad, eggs, croquet monsieurs (toast with avocado, eggs, and cheese), amazing tea, and cute cupcakes

Il Bottegone: Super fancy cafe right next to the Duomo so a bit pricey but the hot chocolate is amazing.

La Menagerie:  Beautiful café & flower market, pancakes, eggs, yogurt and fruit, coffee, but mostly an amazing Florentine atmosphere

Shake Café: Smoothies, juices, eggs, avocado toast, salads and pastries

Lion Café: Lovely sandwiches and tea, right next to the Medici Chapel.

Love Life: Freshly squeeze juice and smoothie bar, make your own salad bar and acai bowls

Oil Shoppe: Tiny place with AMAZING salads, smoothies, omelets, soup and sandwiches to go

Miso di Riso: All organic & biologic foods, greek yogurt, eggs any style, vegan burgers and healthy quinoa dishes

Libreria Brac: Extremely Italian gorgeous café with coffees and teas and an amazing atmosphere to sit at for hours

La Milkeria: Bagels with lox and cream cheese, crepes, pancakes, waffles with Nutella and fruit, smoothies, coffee, gelato and frozen yogurt

Lunch

Mercato Centrale

Antico Noe: Panini’s

Antico Vinaio: Panini’s

Panini Toscani: Panini’s

Pinos: Panini’s

Freddy’s: Salads and appertivo

Mangia: Thin flat pizza

Gusta: Thick doughy pizza (try the pesto)

Mercato Centrale: This market has a ton of different stalls selling everything from grilled chicken and vegetables, pizza, pasta, panini’s, this place is quick easy and amazing. We came here three times in total.

O’Vestuvio: The Jersey Shore Pizza place, has ricotta filled crust and a giant burrata ball on top

Oil Shoppe: Salad

Dinner

Gnocchi from Il Bargello

Il Gatto E La Volpe: Amazing pizza

La Giostra: Burrata appetizer, pear ravioli, carbonarra, balsamic steak, gnocchi sorrentino, bronzino with balsamic, any pasta honestly

Tre Panches: Truffle everything: Truffle grilled cheese, truffle chips, truffle ravioli, truffle spaghetti, lemon chicken, spicy macaroni, tuna tartare, meatballs, cheesecake

Gobbi 13: Rigatoni pasta, egg plant parm, good grilled chicken, chocolate cake

4 Leoni: Pear ravioli, steak

Il Profeta: The olive oil here is one of the best in Florence, John Travolta Pasta, truffle cheese spaghetti, chicken parmesan, this place is an amazing experience because the man who owns it comes out and makes it very fun

Buca Mario: expensive

Golden View: Right on the Ponte Vecchio overlooking the water, seared tuna, great salads, pasta, seabass

Trattoria Zaza: Inexpensive and amazing, ALL pastas, truffle steak, tuna tartare,

Il Bargello: Delicious pasta

Aqua al Due: Pasta sampler, steak sampler, make sure to try the blueberry steak

Santa Spirito: Inexpensive, Truffle 4 cheese gnocchi, pasta with tomato and basil, meatballs, chocolate cake

Il Gato a La Volpe: Really good for large group dinners, they do for 20 euros an all you can drink family style meal, appetizer sampler with meats and cheeses, 4 types of pastas, great steak and chicken in vodka sauce

Ristorante Accademia: Fantastic pasta and panna cotta.

Dante’s: Believe it or not this place has all you can drink wine for FREE for American students, great eggplant parm, grilled chicken and pastas

Peking: If you’re really craving some Asian food, this place does the best Chinese and Japanese food in Florence!

APPERTIVO: Florence has thing thing called apperitvo where from about 6-9pm every restaurant gives you a fixed price of about 10 euros and you get a drink and unlimited mini courses. It’s not meant to be a full meal, but a savvy traveller can absolutely make it one!

  • Colle Bereto
  • Westin Rooftop
  • Kitsch
  • Freddys
  • Signorvino
  • Odeon Bistro: Our personal favorite!

Desserts

Venchi

Eduardo’s: gelato flavors change everyday, home-made cones make this gelato place stand out

Gelato de Neri: So many flavors

Don Nino’s: Most photographed gelato in Florence, comes with whipped cream, cracker and chocolate

Venchi: Gelato and chocolatier with taps of melted chocolate!

Magnum: Make your own ice cream bar

Amalo: gelato, frozen yogurt, crepes

 

Secret Bakery

In Florence there are these hidden bakeries that only open around 2 am and they start making all the fresh pastries for the day- you MUST go. We would leave the clubs and try to find the secret bakeries- steaming hot cinnamon sugar nutella donuts, croissants with nutella, and croissants with cream, regular donuts

El Chico: Burrito

Mesopotamia: Greek Kebab

Mr. Pizza: The pizza is EH, it is American style pizza but it is open all night so you will go, get the Nutella calzone though.

Bars

The Café’s in Florence turn into bars at night so they are small and cute. You will essentially try to have pregames in your apartment until you get a noise complaint

(All bars are really similar, cheap drinks, pretty Americanized, not that big)

Shot Café: Has shots that light on fire, giant drinks with giant straws

Naima: Great sangria, college t shirts hanging all over the walls

Green Bar: Become friends with the owner he will give you free shots and let you literally DJ the bar

Dolce: Ratchet

Moyo: Upscale NYC type of atmosphere

Kikuya: Has Dragoon Blackout Beer

Red Garter: Has karokee

Uncle Jimmy’s: Bras and thongs hanging from ceiling, a lot like a college bar

Lion’s Fountain: Signatures and college t shirts on walls

Clubs

Yab: There’s a 10 euro charge to get in and another 3 euros to check your coat but the ticket comes with a free drink.

Bamboo: Tuesday night

Space: Students get in free Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays

Full up: Thursday

21: Friday

Blanco: Outdoor club that opens in the spring/summer when it gets nicer out

 

Leather Markets

Just walking along the streets of Florence, you will encounter many cute boutique shops that you can just pop into but here are a few recommendations.

Leather Market: Right by the Central Market, these leather markets have every leather good you could ever want. Bargain, say your price, if they so no walk away and come back and they will give it to you

Subdued: Italian style brandy Melville, really cute

Odeca: Italian style TOBI (for the girls)

Gerard Loft: expensive, but cool Italian designer clothes for men and women

FLO: expensive, but cool Italian clothing

Anna’s: On the Ponte Vecchio, go here to get the 7 clover Cruciani bracelets

Mommoni: expensive, cute Italian designer clothes

Echo: Handmade Italian clothing boutique

Via Luisa Roma: So expensive but the coolest store you will ever walk into

American stores too like Brandy Melville, H&M, Zara, Prada, Gucci, Chanel, ETC

Siena

Italy is a huge tourist destination, so there is no shortage of trips you can take with Florence as your base. Here are a few of the most popular, as well as tips for how to get there and how long to stay.

Rome: The capital of Italy, it is a must see on any trip to Italy. From Florence it is a 2-day trip as the train takes 1.5 hours and there is a lot to see.

Cinque Terre: This Instagram-famous group of towns is only three hours away by train. You hike to 5 different towns so it is possible to do in a day, but would be a better 2-day trip.

Venice: The famous water-city is also rather close to Florence! The train there is 1.5 hours so I recommend going as a day trip; take a water taxi to San Marco and then to the Island of Burano and do a Gondola ride there.

Milan: The train is 1.5 hours so this also works as a day trip. Milan is the fashion capital of Italy so if you’re really into fashion this is a must see! I would also make sure to have room in your bag as you probably will do some shopping.

Lucca: Train to here is 45 mins so you can do a half-day trip here. Highly recommend renting a bike to bike around the whole city.

Pisa: The train here takes about 45 minutes to an hour so you can do it in half a day. You can see the iconic leaning tower of Pisa.

Siena: This medieval historic city is absolutely gorgeous and a bus there takes 2 hours one way so it makes for a great day trip.

Want to know what to do in Siena? Read this: One Day in Siena

Tuscan Wineries: Seeing as Tuscany is Italy’s wine region and Florence is smack in the middle, I highly recommend doing a wine tour in the surrounding areas to taste some of the local wine.

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Have you ever been to Florence? What are your recommendations? Let me know in the comments below!

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