When my friend planned a week long group trip to the Amalfi Coast, I immediately knew I wanted to take on a couple of extra days to visit another city solo. After a bit of internal back and forth, Firenze was the winner! Aaahhh, yes, this small romantic town, home of the Renaissance, would be all mine to explore.
This would be my first trip to Europe, so I was elated, but with just a couple of days to explore Florence (3 to be exact), I really wanted to get in as much as I could. So, the research and blog reading began. I wanted a mix of the must see popular tourist sights, along with places frequented by locals. I knew some sights could not be missed, but I was okay with not visiting every single tourist attraction. When I landed and began my adventure, I soon realized traveling alone has one great advantage that takes the cake; you have the opportunity to meet so many different types of people you may not have if you traveled with others. I met locals while I dined alone, or while walking through the cobble stoned streets, that kindly suggested places to visit or eat that I would have never known of. Exactly what I was looking for; to be thrown in with the people who make up the historical, beautiful city. I later adjusted my list and was on a mission to see and try everything I could in those 3 days. Out of everything that I was able to do, I had my favorites that I would suggest to anyone visiting for the first time:
1. Martindago Bed & Breakfast
I wanted to keep this trip as cost effective as possible, so I contemplated staying at a hostel. However, even on a budget, I wanted to be able to have as much me time as possible. Bed & Breakfasts are a great, less expensive option than a fancy hotel, but with more privacy, comfort and charm than a hostel. This spacious 5 bedroom apartment with high ceilings was located on the 3rd floor of an apartment building on the Corso Dei Tintori. Gabriele, the host, lives on one side of the apartment but is was available at all time. The rooms were decorated and named by color, the more expensive rooms have a private bathroom but the other rooms share a main bathroom down the hall. I had the yellow room without a bathroom and it was just fine. The host gave great suggestions, made dinner reservations at a delicious restaurant across the street, and circled important spots on a city map that I needed to know before sending me on my way. A light breakfast was served daily at 8:30 and 10:30 AM in a large dining room with fresh croissants, fruit and hot tea or coffee. Located a block from the Arno River, and just minutes walking distance to everything else, this charming, historic B&B was a great deal and perfect for what I was looking for. This B&B is ideal for anyone on a budget looking for charm and privacy.
2. Al Antico Viniao- Lunch
This Panini spot was already on my list, but after a few locals recommended it I made sure I tried this place out. It’s easy to find, there is always a long line and tons of people sitting on the curb outside enjoying their sandwiches (Best advice: figure out what you want before getting to the front of the line). The men there were fast and they liked it that way in order to keep the line moving. Fresh baked bread was brought over every few minutes from the restaurant side across the street. The Panini shop was tiny, just big enough for the line. The meats were fresh and full of flavor, the cheeses and spreads were to die for and the bread, well, the bread was just divine. The hardest part was figuring out what I wanted on my sandwich ( be sure to ask for suggestions and decide quickly). To top it off, the sandwiches were ginormous (I had some left over to eat later) and it was just 7 Euro. Perfect for a heavy lunch that will kept me nice and happy till dinner.
3. Gelateria Santa Trinita- The best Gelato
I have a newfound love for Gelato after trying this place out. It’s across the Arno River, and I will say it was the best Gelato I had my entire trip. A local on my first night in Florence told me I must go here, specifically for the black sesame gelato. I decided to stop in after having the worst meal of my entire trip a few blocks away. I was pretty sad about my meal, I mean how do you end an amazing time in Florence with a disappointing dinner? While the black sesame didn’t sound appealing, I quickly changed my mind when it was time to place my order and saw there were just a few scoops left. How could I pass that up? So I jumped on it, and wheew, luckily there was just enough left for me. I ordered two scoops; cookies and cream and black sesame on a sugar cone. This gelato turned my frown upside down, literally. It made me smile, I was very happy, and I had completely forgotten about the awful dinner. It was creamier than the others I had tried and the black sesame was to die for. The combination, although strange, was perfect. If you are ever in Florence, find your way here.
4. The Bargello – Museum
Spending an entire day in the Uffizi Gallery was not very appealing to me, therefore I ventured into this gem instead. Of course the Uffizi is high on the list for most people when they visit Florence, but the Bargello was a favorite of mine and I suggest not passing this one by. I wanted to get away from the overwhelming crowds, huge museums and long lines, and the Bargello was the perfect place to go. This under appreciated museum was full of amazing paintings and sculptures of Michelangelo and Donatello, and Medici treasures. This was a small and uncrowned museum with a cheaper entrance fee that did not tirelessly take up my entire day.
5. Piazzale Michelangelo
To see breathtaking views of the entire city with the river in the forefront go here. I took an early morning walk across the Arno River and enjoyed the views and sunrays. While I was there, I ventured a bit further to Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte, a beautiful church where I watched and listened to the massive organ. The sounds and sights were glorious and a calming place to visit.
6. Il Buongustai- Lunch or Dinner
After many twist and turns to desperately find this place I read about on a blog I finally found it and boy was I glad. It’s a small, rustic, mid size restaurant with an open kitchen. You can watch the 2 women handle the orders like it was nothing, pasta in the boiling water, chopping, roasting, toasting; those two knew what they were doing and they did it well. I ordered the white bean bruschetta with truffle oil for an appetizer and fettuccini with spinach for my entre. The white bean bruschetta is a common dish found on most menus in Florence, but this one hands down was my favorite. It melted in my mouth with all the elements of warmth, crunch and butteriness. The pasta was fresh, creamy, and flavorful. Get here just before or after lunch times as it gets crowded with the locals.
7. Piazzale Degli Uffizi- Chat with an Artist
After a long day of walking I found myself in this huge piazza lined with painters and sketch artists at work. After admiring the work of one artist for a while, I wound up sitting and talking with him as I watched him paint. I was something most people may not think of doing, but, the opportunity to sit with someone as warm and friendly as Carlo was worth it. It was refreshing to watch him at work, while he told stories about the beautiful city he’s has always called home.
8. Accademia- Museum
Who doesn’t go to Florence to see the magnificent David statue? This was a must for me and should be for you. I was pleasantly surprised by how taken and amazed I was by the statue. It was such an experience to turn the corner and see this piece of work. Basically, my mouth dropped and stayed that way for several minutes in awe. It was quick tour, as I was not quite as fascinated by much else after the David statue. However this small museum had a ton to see. Don’t pass this one up.
9. Marcato Centrale- Local Market
This indoor market was filled with stalls of fruits, seafood, cooked food, candies, olive oils and anything else you can name. It was a great place to get away from the intensity of the rest of the city. I tried some samples and snagged some great gifts to take back home.
10. Ristorante la Grotta Guelfa- Dinner
As you can see food was an important part of my travels. When going to any country or city, you want to experience what that city is known for. The Florentine steak is what you have while in Florence. A huge T-bone steak sourced from a certain type of cattle breed, was fire grilled with a dash of salt and olive oil, traditionally served rare and cut tableside. I was not brave enough to order it rare, and chose my usual medium temperature, but was not something I could tackle alone. This steak could feed a small family. Other dishes included ravioli, spaghetti and vegetables. Each dish was cooked simply and tastefully, which I enjoyed outside in the warm Florentine air as I sipped amazing house wine and took it all in.