Florence, Italy: What to Do and Where to Stay in the Heart of Tuscany
Florence holds sturdy Renaissance stature while its heart beats with the romance of Tuscany. The city offers a bustling metropolis that flawlessly mixes its medieval culture with modern influences, while the region surrounding Florence is brimming with Tuscan villas, rolling hills and picturesque vineyards and wineries. Tuscany’s heritage is found throughout its cobblestone-paved streets, as this Italian city holds tight to its culture. The Medici Family once ruled the city and their influence is still felt throughout Firenze today.
The essence of Florence is unlike any destination, and its famed Arno River offers an ideal backdrop for the quintessential Tuscan snapshot. Restaurants, cafes and bars line the waterway, and most every street throughout the city’s central districts, all the way from the river to the famed Duomo. With a variety of attractions, Florence speaks to the art connoisseur, the history buff and the food and wine lover, 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. This architectural marvel marks the center of Florence, and towers over it with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The interior is just as impressive as its marble facade exterior, with its stained-glass art plastered across 44 windows. Arnolfo di Cambio broke ground on the Duomo 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 also placed atop the terrace Piazzale Michelangelo, which 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 Michelangelo’s 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 indulge in a unique art experience 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 throughout the city filled with leather goods (bags, jackets, shoes, and more). Benheart is a hip spot for buyers, while Cellerini is famous for showcasing their elegant leather craftsmanship. 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 at the center of Italy’s most famed and majestic wine region, and the Tuscan landscapes are brimming with breathtaking scenery and wine-making 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 Tuscan 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 food 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 offerings to come. Wine and cocktails play an equally important part at Gurdulù, 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 serves up a seasonal, regional, and local menu that maintains a global influence. Guests have a choice between a six and eight-course meal to elevate their culinary journey. Cipriani has a loyal following among Florentine foodies, so expectations are high and consistently met.
Authenticity is the signature of Michelin-starred La Bottega Del Buon Caffè. Headed by chef Antonello Sardi, several ingredients of the farm-to-table tasting menus are sourced from the gardens at their countryside hotel, Borgo Santo Pietro. This five-star restaurant brings fresh infusions to your table while upholding Italian expectations, and their tasting menus can be paired with fine wines to complement their perfectly prepared and presented plates.
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 its much-talked-about food fare. But patrons are not solely motivated by their menu, the cocktails are arguably some of the best in Florence. Another great option, 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 their many 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 five-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 five-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 estate that has been converted into a five-star hotel, and is 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. The Boboli Gardens welcomes guests to take a leisurely stroll among the foliage. Guests can also enjoy their time on the Bellevue rooftop terrace, soaking in the heated pool and lounging at its bar, or revitalizing themselves at the Benè Spa. Highlighting the seasons through farm-to-table cuisine, their two restaurants, Restaurant Le Bistrot (Summer) and Restaurant Pasha (Winter), feature plate options based on local and seasonal offerings, and are both headed by Chef Alessandro Liberatore. Inspired by a mid-1800s theme, the villa’s Le Long Bar is centered around a glass table ruling the revelry vibe.
Hotel Brunelleschi is a four-star historic beauty known for its prime location. Luxury and location are noteworthy characteristics of this boutique hotel. Enjoy your stay in one of their 96 rooms and suites. The Pool Suite offers rooftop swimming and views of the Duomo, so close in proximity you can almost reach out and touch it. The Deluxe Panoramic room offers stunning views as well, complete with a round bed. An extensive breakfast, and arguably the most impressive complimentary spread in all of Florence, is included with most stays. Santa Elisabetta, Brunelleschi’s Italian fine dining experience, is an exceptional dinner option and prioritizes vegan and vegetarian restrictions through a separate menu. Their second restaurant, Osteria Pagliazza offers lovely tasting options for lunch and dinner, 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.
Palazzo Castri 1874 is a lovely option in the San Lorenzo neighborhood. An affordable and luxurious boutique hotel, Palazzo Castri 1874 balances modern Italian design with traditional Renaissance style. After a day of exploring Florence, dip into their indoor-outdoor pool that offers a perfect temperature year round and rejuvenate inside and out at their spa that includes a sauna, fitness center and pampering packages. A complimentary breakfast is included each morning with your stay, and the hotel’s restaurant and bar also serves lunch and dinner.
If you want a bird’s-eye view of the magical city, perched in the hills above Florence is Villa Le Fontanelle, which began its life as a peasant farm, and was once one of the properties belonging to the Medici family in the 15th century, but has since been transformed into a family-owned and operated Villa and B&B, with an elevated vantage point perfect for city and hillside gazing. French countryside decor brings an elegance to each of its seven unique rooms and suites. Two of our personal favorites are the Orangerie and Limonaia suites. With vaulted terra-cotta brick ceilings, stone walls, and arched windows and glass doorways that offer panoramic views of Firenze and the Duomo below, these two adjoining suites are nothing short of magical. The bedroom and living rooms both feature oversized french doors that lead to private, view-soaked garden terraces for lounging. Another standout, the beautifully detailed Torre suite, features a living area and bathroom on the first of two levels, with a spiral wooden staircase that leads up to a bedroom that boasts lovely views of Florence. The Villa offers an extensive complimentary breakfast spread in the mornings that also includes made-to-order hot items and your choice of coffees, teas and juices, and while the breakfast is served in the great room it can be delivered to your suite if you prefer a more intimate meal. In the evening, a dinner menu is offered in the great room and room service is available. Beyond the spectacular views, the property is surrounded by its own olive trees and Villa Le Fontanelle produces their own fresh and absolutely delicious olive oil for tasting and purchase. For those summer days and nights, their pool stays occupied by guests, while the colder seasons summon guests inside to cozy up around the great room’s spectacularly massive, mantled fireplace.