With grand palaces, vast plazas and a particularly spectacular cathedral, Florence might not seem like the place to grab a bargain.
But the grandeur is surrounded by street stalls selling panini, ice cream shops, busy markets and small cafes. The Tuscan capital was endowed by the Medici family of bankers, which sponsored Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Galileo and Machiavelli, and their influence is everywhere.
It can get crowded. But with clever timing and our guide, you’ll get to see all you wish.
The Tuscan capital was endowed by the Medici family of bankers, which sponsored Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Galileo and Machiavelli, and their influence is everywhere
Where to stay
Residenza Johanna I — Antiche Dimore Fiorentine
Near the quiet San Marco gallery and 15-minutes’ walk from the Ponte Vecchio, this B&B is in an elegant apartment building. The charming staff will give you a map with recommendations, and rooms, ranging from singles to large suites, are filled with antiques. The continental breakfast is simple but there’s free cake and tea all day. B&B doubles from £54, antichedimorefiorentine.it.
This hotel on Via dei Servi has a spectacular view of the Duomo’s basilica and is near Michelangelo’s David, which lives in the Accademia Gallery. The 12 apartments, sleeping two to four, are elegantly designed and some have balconies. There isn’t a restaurant, but each room has a kitchenette and there are many dining options nearby. Doubles from £93 residencehilda.com.
Central Florence is a 30-minute walk away but the quieter location makes a welcome change of pace. Riva Lofts was designed by Claudio Nardi who created stores for Dolce & Gabbana and this used to be his studio. There are ten rooms of varying sizes, an outdoor pool in the garden and a continental buffet breakfast every morning. B&B doubles from £96, rivalofts.com.
Metres from the Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery and with splendid views of the Arno River, this is a great base for exploring the city’s most spectacular sights. There are eight small but homely rooms, and a shared kitchen if you need a break from eating out. Doubles from £60, pontevecchiorelais.com. (Prices can fluctuate)
What to see and do
Towering above Florence, the cathedral is unmissable and rises magnificently out of the narrow streets. Construction started in 1296 and finished in 1436, with the pink, green and white marble façade making it a unique sight. It may well be the most queued for attraction in Florence and if you can’t get in, take a lap to get a sense of the scale. Tickets, £16, grande museodelduomo.waf.it.
Get an ice cream
No holiday is complete without an ice cream. But locals and tourists alike queue in this city’s many gelaterias. Just out of the way from central Florence, across the Ponte Sante Trinita, Gelateria La Carraia is one of the best. There will be a (fast-moving) queue but try the Marmo di Carraia (cream with chocolate wafer) and you won’t be disappointed, lacarraiagroup.eu.
Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli and Titian are just some headline attractions at the Uffizi Gallery
Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli and Titian are just some headline attractions here. The collection is vast, but don’t miss the final Hall 90 devoted to Caravaggio, and make sure you see Gentileschi’s Judith beheading Holofernes. To avoid queues, go at the end of the day when group tours have finished. In the courtyard you can see statues of Dante Alighieri, Niccolo Machiavelli, Donatello and other renaissance giants. Tickets, £17, uffizi.it.
Forte Di Belvedere
It’s a sharp ten-minute walk up the Boboli hill to the 16th century Forte Di Belvedere, making it quieter than most of Florence — and it has the best city views. Tickets, £2.50, museicivicifiorentini.comune.fi.it/en
There can be a long queue for this Palace built by a Florentine banker in the 15th century. However, the sheer weight of things to see — four museums, the royal apartments and gardens — make it worth the wait. A walk in Boboli Gardens, designed by the Medici family, is the highlight. The fountains, box hedges, grottos and lawns were the blueprint for many gardens of the great European courts. Tickets, £14, uffizi.it.
Where to eat
Trippaio Del Porcellino
Despite all the elegance of Florence, the local lunchtime speciality is a roll filled with Lampredotto (the cow’s fourth stomach). Join queues of Florentine workers for a salty, herby and texturally challenging meal served with small glasses of Chianti for £4. It’s important to find a stall which only serves trippa (tripe) and Lampredotto. This is one of the best and conveniently located off the Piazza della Signoria. Via di Capaccio, 50123.
Neapolitan pizza is not a Florentine speciality and, judging by the number of American customers, this pizzeria is one for the tourists. However, this small restaurant near the Mercato Centrale does serve excellent food. And a margherita, which will arrive piping hot out of the wood-fired oven, will only set you back £5. Via Nazionale, 77 R, 50123.
A meat and cheese platter with wine and bread at Mercato Centrale
This lively two-floored market can get busy and it’s important to note Mediterranean meal times when visiting — so make sure you get in early. Downstairs is full of stalls selling local produce including excellent cheeses, Chianti, Tuscan dessert wine Vin Santo and pasta. Upstairs is a more modern affair with sushi bars and pizzerias, offal pedlars and dumpling stalls. mercatocentrale.com/florence.
Ristorante Mama Gina
This trattoria in a 14th century former palace serves Tuscan classics paired with wines from its own cellar. Each dish, made from generations of old regional recipes, is served with charming Italian pride. Florentine tripe and rich beef fillets with porcini mushrooms feature, but so do fresh pasta dishes, antipasti and seafood. Dishes from £8 to £14 Mammaginafirenze.it.
The panino (sandwich) is a feature of everyday life in Florence, with the classic fillings of prosciutto, mortadella and pecorino dominating. But Semel near the Sant’Ambrogio market is a little different. On the rotating menu you can expect to find porchetta, cheese and pear, wild boar with blackcurrants or anchovy, fennel and orange. It’s only open from 11.30am to 2.30pm and there will be a queue. Sandwiches from £3. Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 44, 50122.
BA (ba.com) flies from London to Florence from £123 return. The tram from Florence airport to the city centre costs £1.50 and takes 30 minutes.