Florence, Italy: What to Do and Where to Stay in the Heart of Tuscany
Florence is known to hold sturdy Renaissance stature while its heart beats with the romance of Tuscany. The city offers a bustling metropolis known to flawlessly juggle its medieval culture with modern influences, while the region surrounding Florence is sprinkled with Tuscan villas, rolling hills and picturesque wineries. Tuscany’s heritage shines on every cobblestone-paved street as this Italian staple clings tight to its culture. The Medici Family once ruled the city and their influence is still felt throughout Florence today.
The majestic essence of Florence is unlike any destination, with its Arno River offering backdrops perfect for the ideal snapshot. Restaurants, cafes and bars line the waterway, and every quaint street throughout the city’s districts, all the way from the river to the famed Duomo. With a variety of attractions, Florence speaks to the art connoisseur, history buff and food and wine critic, alike.
Widely considered one of the most stunning cathedrals in Europe, the Duomo Florence, formally the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is the brightly-lit face of the city. The marvel marks the center of the city, towering over of Florence, with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The interior is just as impressive as its marble facade exterior with stained color plastered across 44 windows. Arnolfo di Cambio broke ground on this iconic presence in 1296 but the construction took 150 years to complete.
Another stop, or stops, on most everyone’s list is the Statue of David. The infamous sculpture resides in three locations within Florence. The original, believed to be sculpted from marble between 1501 and 1504, stands mighty at the Galleria dell’Accademia while a replica is placed at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio. In 1873, a bronze duplicate of Michelangelo’s David was place atop the terrace, Piazzale Michelangelo. The viewpoint from Piazzale Michelangelo offers panoramic views of the metropolitan area. For the overall experience, walk the hill to discover a journey only seen by few. Take in all three monuments, as each offers a unique experience, feeling and understanding of the Italian masterpiece.
Beyond visting the Duomo and the Statue of David, the Uffizi Palace and Gallery is an experience that must be had when in Florence. Home to a selection of medieval classics, the Uffizi boasts the greatest assemblage of Italian Renaissance art, including the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, and works by Giotto, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raffaello and Tiziano. To walk through this famous gallery is to walk through an art and history lesson on Italian heritage and the Renaissance.
Tuscan leather is a big deal. The Florentine trade dates back centuries, so as expected you will find shops filled with leather goods (bags, jackets, shoes, and more) throughout the city. Benheart is a hip spot for young buyers, while Cellerini is famous for showcasing their elegant leather makings. If you’re craving more options and cheaper goods, Porcellino is an outdoor market just steps from the Cathedral that draws crowds daily.
And, of course, the wine. Florence is the center of Italy’s most majestic region, and the Tuscany landscape is a flipbook of stunning scenery and wine country excellence. Within an hour by car, you can visit many towns of the Chianti region, which is branded for its superior production of vino. The Taste of Chianti Tour offers 10 hours, seven glasses of wine, food tastings and lunch. If you prefer to move at your own pace, hop in a retro Fiat 500 to tour romantic Tuscany villas, rolling hillsides and countryside cellars.
Where to eat and drink in Florence:
In the Santo Spirito district Gurdulù takes up space like no other Florence restaurant. The cocktail bar boasts a refined retro feel while the menu is ingeniously crafted by Tuscan Chef, Gabriel Andreoni. The menu serves as a revolving door, keeping guests excited with anticipation for the fresh and inventive makings to come. Wine and cocktails play an equally important part in the offerings of this establishment, so order freely and with high hopes. You won’t be disappointed.
Essenziale is the real deal. In an industrial space on the Piazza del Cestello, expect the music to boom, the space to be lit and the food to be brilliant. Keeping it fresh, Chef Simon Cipriani keeps a seasonal, regional, and local menu yet maintains a global influence. Guests have a choice between a six and eight-course meal to infuse their culinary journey. Cipriani has a loyal following among Florentine foodies, so expectations are high and consistently met.
Fresh authenticity is the signature of the Michelin-starred La Bottega Del Buon Caffè. Headed by Chef Antonello Sardi, the farm-to-table tasting menus are sourced from the owners’ garden at their countryside hotel, Borgo Santo Pietro. The five-star dinery, brings freshness to your table while upholding Italian expectations. Their tasting menus are paired with fine wines to complement the succulent ingredients perfectly displayed on your plate.
Outfitted in green velvet and dotted with pink patterned plates, the decor is consistent with the upscale feel of its brand. Part of the Gucci Garden Museum and retail outlet, Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura is world-class in its fashion and cuisine. Headed by Mexican Chef Karine Lopez, the dishes are reimagined Emilian and world classics, fused with influences from Lopez’s background. The results are decadent yet simple. However, don’t expect prices to match their designer bags, the dishes are affordable while not compromising quality. The Fancy Burger and Tortellini in Parmesan Sauce are all within €20.
Locale is a must-try while in the city. Situated in a Renaissance-era palace previously owned by the Medici Family, the restaurant is as satisfying in its visual appeal as well as it’s much-talked-about food fare. But patrons are not solely motivated by their menu, the cocktails are arguably the best in Florence.
la Ménagère is a trendy and energetic destination with multiple menus ranging from early morning to late night, keeping the location bustling at all hours. Craft cocktails and coffee creations are appreciated as much as the eats at la Ménagère. Pick an hour that suits your hunger and enjoy the offerings.
Found in the San Lorenzo neighborhood, Mercato Centrale has been made over to dazzle in this double-decker space. The first floor houses a daily farmers market of meat, fish and fresh produce while the upper level is home to Mercato Centrale, a food hall converted in 2014 to showcase the best of Italian regional food. Mercato Centrale’s ceiling allows endless natural light to spill in through the impressive windows climbing up the walls to add to the experience.
Where to stay in Florence:
Set in the Piazza della Repubblica, Hotel Savoy is 5-star property where sophistication and antiquity meet to provide excellence. The Italian palace holds 80 deluxe rooms and suites that offer the serenity desired by guests while also gifting them with the convenience of the city streets. Propped in the heart of the city, the hotel is just moments away from the Duomo and adjacent to a variety of restaurants and bars. But guests may not have a reason to leave. Irene provides Tuscan fare, often organic and always fresh, while the cocktails at Irene Bar sparkle with elegant flavor. Enjoy your drink in the reputable outdoor terrace with views of the lively Piazza della Repubblica.
J.K. Place Firenze is a boutique 5-star hotel that dances with contemporary décor while keeping the rhythm with traditional architecture. The mysterious blend of perfection all rests behind unassuming doors in the palazzo Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The 20 rooms and suites hold stellar sights of the plaza below and crisp touches to every nook and cranny. Breakfast is served with a variety of organic fruits and veggies while the in-room mini bar is complimentary to guests.
Villa Cora is a 19th-century converted 5-star estate just a short distance from the city center. The villa boasts an era-based theme with each level. Enjoy a style devoted to Empress Eugénie or climb a floor to feel like you’re walking through 1950’s Italy. Stacked on top of remarkable greenery, the Boboli Gardens welcomes guests with fresh color and mesmerizing foliage. Guests can enjoy their leisurely time on the Bellevue rooftop terrace, soaking in the heated pool enclosed with shrubberies, or revitalize at the Benè Spa. Highlighting the seasons through cuisine, two restaurants are offered based on the seasonal freshness. Restaurant Le Bistrot (summer) and Restaurant Pasha (winter) are both headed by Chef Alessandro Liberatore. With a dramatic backdrop inspired by a 1800s theme, Le Long Bar is centered around a glass table ruling the revelry vibe.
Hotel Brunelleschi is a 4-star historic beauty. Luxury and location are noteworthy characteristics of this boutique hotel and both are done to perfection. Enjoy the elegance of your stay in one of their 96 rooms and suites. The Pool Suite offers rooftop swimming and views of the Duomo so obvious in proximity you might try to reach out and touch it. The Deluxe Panoramic room gives a whole ring of views, complete with a round bed. Santa Elisabetta is Brunelleschi’s Italian fine dining experience that also prioritizes vegan and vegetarian restrictions through their separate menu. Their second restaurant, Osteria Pagliazza offers daily unique tasting options for lunch and dinner with fish or meat selections along with a fantastic build-your-own gin and tonic menu. Following your meal, espresso and sweets of the chef are served, so save room to indulge. An extensive breakfast, and arguably the most impressive complimentary spread in all of Florence, is included with most stays.
Palazzo Castri 1874 is a lovely excuse to stay in the San Lorenzo neighborhood. A superior and affordable luxury boutique hotel, Palazzo Castri 1874 balances the excitement of modern Italian design with the nostalgia of traditional Renaissance flavors. Dip into their indoor-outdoor pool that vaunts the perfect temperature year round. And after a day of exploring Florence rejuvenate inside and out at their spa that includes a sauna, fitness center and pampering packages. A complimentary breakfast is included in your stay.
Perched above the city, Villa Le Fontanelle began its life as a peasant farm but has since been transformed into a family-owned and operated villa away from it all, with a vantage point perfect for city and hillside gazing. Fresh yet traditional decor and crisp linens blanket each of the six rooms and suites, giving a unique twist to each space, where elegance meets French countryside-themed magnificence. The star suites of the property are the Orangerie and Limonaia. Brick-stacked arches, ragged stone walls, and wall-to-wall windows offer panoramic views of Florence and the Duomo below. The bedroom and living rooms are outfitted with oversized french doors that lead to private terraces for lounging. The suites can be reserved separately or together for couples and families as they share adjoining doors. Another standout, the Torre suite is centerpieced by a spiral wood staircase leading to 360-degree views of the surrounding hillsides. The Villa offers an extensive complimentary breakfast in the mornings with made-to-order hot items and a choice of coffees, and while the breakfast is served in the great room it can be sent to your room if you prefer a more intimate meal. In the evening dinner and drinks are also served in the great room and room service is available. The property is laced with olive trees and even produces its own olive oil for tasting and purchase. For those summer nights, the pool stays occupied while the colder nights summon patrons inside to cozy up around the great room’s massive indoor fireplace.