#1 Its beauty
Florence is an all around beautiful and charming city. The classic, old world architecture, colorful buildings and cobblestone streets are just as you’d imagine. The piazzas are enchanting places to gather, enjoy gelato and people watch. The river flows right through the city and is lined by tall, multicolored buildings. While on the subject of the river, the Ponte Vecchio is necessary to mention as a unique structure that permits picturesque views on both sides.
Even the city’s sightseeing is one of a kind and will surely inspire your inner artist and encourage an appreciation for its history. However, even during off season, the crowds will flock to these sights at all hours. Be ready!
#2 It’s totally walkable
No need for a bus or metro. I stayed about five blocks from the train station at Hotel Sempione – I would definitely recommend it! A vast majority of what I wanted to do was on this side of the river, requiring 10 minutes of walking at most. Anywhere else worth visiting, such as the Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michelangelo or Cascine Market took no more than 35 minutes. I had no complaints about this, however, as it allowed me to soak in Florence’s exquisite scenery and get the lay of the land.
#3 The people
Florence was an excellent first experience in Italy for me. While it’s still a city, one gets the small town vibe from everyone I met. The folks at the market happily answered every question I had and happily permitted me to take photographs. The staff at Hotel Sempione insisted on providing me with a map and noted all of the markets and places of interest (I giggle as I write this, because without my request, the man working at the front desk – who reminded me of my grandfather – marked all of the discotheques with an “X”). And of course, the service everywhere was great. Especially at Brew Dog, a craft beer bar with the craziest of flavors, food and games. I ended both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day here and the staff was the friendliest, offering great conversation and many, many beer samples! Whether you’re traveling on your own or with a group of friends, warm vibes are noticeably uplifting – and isn’t that why we travel, after all?
#4 The Markets
Having arrived on Christmas eve, I was only able to find two open markets, which were fantastic! I recommend San Lorenzo Centrale Market. Here, you’ll find your usual suspects selling magnificent artisan cheeses, meat, seafood, produce and spices. Additionally, San Lorenzo houses shops filled with balsamic vinegars, olive oils, pastas, wines, truffle products and other condiments. I even found a shop overflowing with beautiful biscotti!
On top of all that (literally) is a second floor of food vendors and small pop ups with appetizing menus. From patisseries to coffee bars to porchetta to gyoza to cheeses and candy – San Lorenzo had it all.
Mercato delle Cascine is another market that was open when I arrived to Florence. This was not only a food market – you would undoubtedly find ANYTHING else you were looking for at Cascine. I’m talking clothing, jewelry, shoes, kitchen appliances, household items – even pets! How I wished I had come to Italy with room in my suitcase to justify buying more awesome coats and scarves at incredibly low prices. It’s located about 3 kilometers from Ponte Vecchio and runs right along the river and Parco delle Cascine.
#5 It’s a foodie’s paradise
Oh, lord. Where do I even begin? Florence holds plenty of Italian classics in abundance – Porchetta, chianti and gelato. But I encountered quite a few alternatives to traditional cuisine that ranked among the best of their own kind in my book. Not to mention – the craft beer. The previously mentioned Brew Dog had everything you would want in craft beer abroad . Great tap choices as well as bottles and cans from English, Scottish and Italian brewers. Perfect for the December weather, I tried Natale Di Merda, an imperial stout by Jungle Juice Brewing and Spresso, an imperial espresso stout by Beavertown and Caravan.
Furthermore, you can find budget friendly options. I got two huge and delicious porchetta sandwiches for about 4 euros each. One from a vendor at Mercato delle Cascine and one from Antica Panineria (with grilled eggplant).
I also MUST mention Il Vinile, a vinyl record-themed cafe. The wall paintings and furniture executed their theme perfectly and created an inviting, laid-back aesthetic. Most importantly, their food was great and an excellent value! Il Vinile’s menu of paninis named after American rock bands didn’t disappoint. I got The Rolling Stones, made with prosciutto and pecorino cheese, along with a bottle of water and espresso for 6 euros!
Even with that being said, always be wary of tourist traps! I made the classic mistake of ordering without a price listed (near Ponte Vecchio) and wound up paying 10 euros for gelato.
#6 It’s historically rich
When we think of Italian history, our minds probably jump to the coliseum in Rome. However, Florence has it’s own story worth knowing before you go. Florence was given in the title as the capital of Tuscany by the 3rd century AD. Fighting for control over Italy ensued in the following centuries, especially over the strategically settled city of Florence. Upon peace being re-established in the 6th century, the city was flourishing. The economic and political influence of the Medici family remains memorial in the city. Possibly the most reputable aspect of history Florence is known for is it’s role in the Renaissance. Florence possesses many attractions, which are relatively affordable and will surely fulfill any historian’s interest in the time period.
#7 The outdoor spaces
I was in Florence for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. So while it was the coldest time of year, it was an ethereal experience and I wouldn’t have changed one bit of it. The sky was gray and felt on the verge of snow at any moment, yet Piazza della Repubblica was full of life. The streets and buildings were covered in lit up Christmas decorations. The gardens and parks, while quiet, still felt magical. Maybe it’s because I was blasting contrasting liquid drum and bass while I roamed, boosting my endorphins or maybe the chianti just warmed me up perfectly. Regardless, I can assure you that the march up to Piazzale Michelangelo is like opening a present on Christmas morning. The stunning view overlooking the city (and the walk uphill) will take your breath away. The only thing that I wasn’t able to do due to Christmas hours, was view the Boboli Gardens.
#7 It’s close to other cities
If your visit is long enough and you want to check out another city for a day, or maybe want to include Florence in a string of visits, it’s easy. My train between Milan and Florence took about 1 hour and 50 minutes. My train from Florence to Rome took 1 hour and 20 minutes. A train from Florence to Naples typically takes about 3 hours.
#8 It’s an art aficionado’s dream
Known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is known for fostering the works of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio. The Uffizi Gallery, located near the Ponte Vecchio, houses revered works by these artists and the like from the Rennaissance. Additional works and copies are scattered about the city.
Even if you don’t enter the museum, Florence will bring out the artist in you. Whether in the form of gardens, architecture or music, Florence has plenty to offer. I am not typically one to fawn over statues and paintings, but the grand masterpiece that is the Cathedral of Florence was a stupefying sight to behold on Christmas morning. As you can see, it was difficult to fit the entire structure into a single photograph.
So we’ve covered the food markets, but let’s talk for a second about the leather markets. They’re popped up in several parts of the city including San Lorenzo. Just outside of the previously mentioned San Lorenzo Centrale Market, there are vendors selling leather goods of all kinds as well as scarves, hats, etc. Additionally, the Mercato del Porcellino holds similar items within a beautiful outdoor structure. However, they say to be wary of vendors possibly selling leather that is not true Italian leather.
Next up, there’s the finest of shopping from gold and diamonds on the Ponte Vecchio to Chanel and Balenciaga. It’s a wonderland. And for anyone like me who enjoys digging through vinyl shops, Data Records 93 had a tremendous selection and super friendly staff!
There you have it! Did you stop reading at any point to buy a plane or train ticket to fabulous Firenze? What are your top reasons for visiting Florence? Comment below! I wish I could have spent more time there to really get to know every inch of the city, but it makes me smile to know it’ll always be there waiting.