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The best of Florence
People from all around the world flock here to tackle the best things to do in Florence every year. Everyone wants to see the Duomo and gaze at the statue of David before heading to the Uffizi galleries and the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge and, sure, they are attractions certainly worth visiting (even if a bit crowded) but there is so much more to Florence: from under-the-radar museums to shopping destinations that double as historical sites, markets and one of the oldest gelato shops in town, this Italian city will entice all sorts of visitors. A bit of a history lesson before you start paddling on the Arno or eating all the pasta served at the food court smack-dab in the middle of the city centre: a recent study by Italian economists revealed that the richest families in Florence today are the same as they were in 1427. That’s just one of the ways that this incredible city hasn’t changed in hundreds of years: the skyline is still dominated by the gobsmacking fifteenth-century dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, the best hotels are former villas, the museums are packed with world-famous Renaissance art produced virtually around the corner, and the tourists who’ve been coming here since the eighteenth century outnumber Florentines every summer—though, these days, they tend to be more ‘Coach Trip’ than Grand Tour. But Florence isn’t a Renaissance theme park: it’s a living city, with plenty to seduce you even if you think of Michelangelo primarily as a Ninja Turtle. Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.
There’s not an art fan in the world who hasn’t heard of Florence. The city’s streets are like large-scale open air museums in their own right, and that’s before you even get to the contents of the galleries. For the eye candy-seeking traveller, the city’s numerous luxury hotels in former Renaissance palaces should more than fit the bill, especially when many are within a stone’s throw of the major tourist spots and the city’s endless supply of things to do, including the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio. But if you’re looking for somewhere quieter to stay, hop across to the other side of the River Arno and get a break from the sightseers with a stay in one of the quirkier, smaller hotels located here. For our guide to Florentine hotels, we explored both sides of the river to bring you a guide that’s got something for everyone.
What’s the deal with Oltrarno? Florence may be one of the world’s most popular destinations year-round but even here, it’s possible to experience local life just steps from the main attractions. Leave the crowds behind at the Duomo and wander over to Oltrarno, a vibrant neighbourhood where Florentines have been hiding out for years. Filled with artisanal boutiques, art galleries and trendy eateries – not to mention, ample parks and gardens – it will please culture hunters and nature enthusiasts alike. This expansive part of the city runs from Santo Spirito to San Frediano and is best explored on foot: don’t be afraid to get lost in the picturesque alleyways and enjoy the neighbourhood’s unique mix of historic venues and Renaissance architecture punctuated by contemporary art galleries and plenty of whimsical street art. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the 50 coolest neighbourhoods in the world If you only do one thing… Piazzale Michelangelo. Photograph: Shutterstock Piazzale Michelangelo draws a crowd for its panoramic terrace but if you’re willing to put in an extra effort, make your way further up to San Miniato al Monte. Built between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, this Romanesque church lies on one of the highest points in the city and offers the most impressive view of Florence. Get cultured Step into the opulent Palazzo Pitti for a glimpse of the noble Medici family's impressive wealth. Home to Renaissance paintings by artists such as Raphael, Titian and Perugino, it’s one of the city’s must-see museums. With its distinctive blue walls and stylized ceilings, the Stefano Bardini museum is also worth a visit. It’s a quirky little spot, with unique pieces Stefano Bardini, an Italian connoisseur and art dealer, collected over his lifetime. Nearby, the sixteenth century Forte di Belvedere hosts some of the city's best contemporary art exhibitions, from sculptural installations to photography expos. Soak up the sun With its famous wisteria walkway, you can’t miss a visit to the elegant Villa Bardini in the springtime, though its enchanting at any time of the year. Behind Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens are an expansive park featuring fountains, sculptures and manicured lawns. The small Rose Garden has 400 varieties of roses you can visit for free and Piazzale Michelangelo remains one of the liveliest viewpoints in the city. Eat here Il Santino. Photograph: il Santino With exposed brick walls, white tablecloths and a refined menu, Osteria dell'Enoteca pays homage to tradition while adding a contemporary spin to the classics. For more of an old-school vibe, Trattoria La Casalinga is a no-frills, family-owned restaurant that serves an excellent Florentine steak and hearty pastas. A new wave of vegan and vegetarian restaurants have taken over Florence so head over to Carduccio and L'OV for seasonal, healthy fare that will please omnivores and carnivores alike. For a trendy night out, Il Santo Bevitore serves elegant dishes and boasts an excellent wine list: the dim lighting and candles make it a nice spot for a romantic evening. And if you feel like finding out more about the art of cooking on your trip, you can pop next door to its even more intimate sister venue Il Santino to get a taste for the local produce. Drink here Florence is renowned for its atmospheric wine bars and some of the best watering holes lie in the Oltrarno neighbourhood. Located steps from the Ponte Vecchio in a small piazza, Le Volpi e l'Uva is a favorite local spot for a glass of wine al fresco accompanied by a tagliere with fresh cheeses and cold-cuts. With a view of Palazzo Pitti, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina has prime real estate and is open from noon through dinner so it’s a great place for a drink and bite at any hour of the day. The wine tasting flights are a great way to learn more about Tuscan’s enological heritage. For everything from coffee to cocktails, Ditta Artigianale is a favorite, while night owls should flock to Rasputin for a late-night speakeasy experience. How to get to Oltrarno Head south from the Santa Maria Novella train station and cross any of the bridges to reach Oltrarno (or hop in a cab for €15). The neighborhood is only a 10-minute walk from the Florence Cathedral. What else is nearby? The centro storico, or historical center of Florence, lies only a bridge away from Oltrarno so it's easiest to explore both areas on foot.
When thinking of the best Florence restaurants (and food culture all across Italy, for that matter), most people nurse thoughts of pasta and pizza. But when getting to know the individual cities that make up the boot of Europe, folks realize there is much more to the local cuisine than previously thought. Typical and traditional Florentine cuisine is heavy on the “peasant” recipes that have been around for centuries, which means less truffle and more simple sauces. There’s the traditional peposo stew, the main meal consumed by the workers that built the Duomo (one of the best things to do in town) because of the cheap cuts of meat and the ability to boil the stew in red wine even up on the scaffolding. Legend has it that it was a personal favourite of Brunelleschi himself, the architect responsible for the dome. Visitors will also find Tuscan bread on just about any table around town. Fun fact: it’s made without salt. Some believe that’s the case because of the war over salt taxes with Pisa centuries ago while others claim that the sodium would marr the flavor of the fresh ingredients used to cook here. Although deeply devoted to cuisines and techniques that have defined the city’s past (make sure to check out the oldest gelato shop in town for more on that), Florence’s gastronomical scene has made some room for modernity, mostly influenced by the heavy rounds of tourists that take over the city to eat and shop each season. Today, the town’s foodies can be split into two categories: on the one hand, you’ll find those that keep the local trattorias and osterias alive by abiding to strict traditions (Mario’s will refuse to cook your steak anything other than rare while other eateries will scoff if you ask for cheese to be peppered on your fish or pasta). On the other hand, visitors might indulge in more modern takes on the classic Italian dishes, complemented by “clean” and modern atmospheres that seek to cater to the international crowd. Although we do advise exploring the city’s restaurant scene in its entirety, we remain partial to the kind of eateries that will remind your taste buds of all the reasons why Italian cuisine is rated by many as the most delectable in the world.
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The best shopping in Florence goes hand-in-hand with the presence of high-end design houses like Gucci, Ferragamo and Pucci, who all call the city home. Can you blame Florentines for always being properly decked out from head to toe? In medieval times, textiles were a key part of the city’s economy and, during the Renaissance, fashion was used to showcase new wealth: the upper classes donned luxurious fabrics while dining at top-notch restaurants and galvanizing around town. The city, just like the rest of Italy, boasts an illustrious history tightly tangled with its couture and crafts-related heritage. Before the catwalk shows took over Milan, the Tuscan capital was considered the country’s fashion capital, playing host to events within the splendour of Sala Bianca in Palazzo Pitti and rendering all style-related activities the very best and most sought-after things to do in town. The city’s museums take particular note of inhabitants’ intrinsic connection with fashion, mounting and hosting yearly exhibits focusing on its many facts. Today, you’ll still find boutique workshops with designers creating fashion-forward clothing, shoes and accessories by hand. Take in the essence of the city, the fashion that makes it an Italian destination par excellence, by visiting these acclaimed shopping districts. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Florence
The best gelato in Florence comes with a side of history. Rumour has it that the gelato was invented here, likely in the 16th century courtesy of Catherine de’ Medici, whose illustrious family ruled the city for centuries. The first flavoured ice cream might or might not have been the product of a culinary contest but, either way, Bernardo Buontalenti, a popular architect and alchemist, has been anointed one of the forefathers of the treat given the creamy concoction he came up with to please Tuscany’s Grand Duke. Today, you can find gelato shops all over town while tackling the best things to do and visiting top-notch museums. But word to the wise: don’t be fooled by garish, colourful mounds of mass-produced sugar cream you’ll see in the main historical centre squares and shopping streets. Instead, walk a little further afield to discover destinations truly dedicated to the mastering of the art of gelato using only fresh, raw ingredients. Here, you’ll be able to ask questions and be part of passionate discussions about one of the country’s most renowned food offerings. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best Florence restaurants
When it comes to art in this Italian cultural capital, there are a few must-sees: Michalangelo’s David and the Uffizi, of course, but what most visitors don’t realize is how many of the best museums in Florence, and the best local art offerings, lie beyond popular choices. Many collections are tucked into Florentine corners that most people walk past without really noticing. Did you know that there is samurai armour on show around town? Or that you can gaze at personal artifacts from orphans that have shaped the city’s past? Or that some of the city’s top shopping destinations actually double as art displays? Grab a gelato, our list of best things to do in town and our rundown of the most awesome local museums and get ready to see Florence like never before. Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Florence