Birthplace of the Italian renaissance, centre of medieval Europe, fixture on every list of the world's most beautiful cities: Florence has quite a reputation to live up to. For me, it exceeded expectations. As in much of Europe, things get a little crazy in the summer months, so visit either side of August and try to avoid the main drags if you can. Below, some tips for eating, drinking, sightseeing and shopping.
Breakfast is cheap in Firenze! You'll find coffee bars selling pastries and espresso for 1 Euro apiece on most blocks, and the kiosks scattered along the river Arno are a great place to start the day. The coffee can be hit and miss, but the location is hard to beat.
Tucked away on a quiet alley close to the busy Uffizi area, Brac serve incredible vegan and vegetarian food. 12 Euro will buy you a tasting platter ("piatto unico") so delicious you'll want to return daily. Right around the corner, Amble are a great little sandwich bar. Fresh, tasty food, a relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff make it a welcome respite from the bustle more typical of this part of town. There's also a small selection of vintage wares for sale, and if that doesn't satisfy your itch hop across the alleyway to Boutique Nadine, which is well stocked with vintage clothing and accessories.
Aperitivos (aka pre-dinner cocktails) are common throughout Italy, but Caffé Letterario offered my favourite aperitivo experience by far. Part of the Le Murate complex, an old prison that's been converted into a café and community space, the courtyard is a sunny, spacious spot to kick back with a coffee during the day. Come nighttime, arrive anywhere between 6.30 and 9.30pm and, for an extra Euro with your drink, you can help yourself to the platters of incredible food they roll out one after the other. Located right on the Arno, Easy Living is also great for a late afternoon Spritz (a prosecco-based aperitif) and snack.
Il Santo Bevitore is one of the top restaurants in Florence, but you wouldn't know it by the reasonable prices and down-to-earth (but still buzzy) atmosphere and service. Before the meal, treat yourself to an aperitivo at their wine bar, Il Santino, next door. I tried a Gavi (dry white wine) and smoked ricotta pairing for 6 Euro that was truly spectacular.
As everyone knows, Florence is chock-full of priceless works of art – including, most famously, Michelangelo's David, which you'll find at the Accademia Gallery along with a number of the master's other pieces. The main Uffizi Gallery is also a must-visit. You might already be familiar with works like Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, but the experience of seeing them in the flesh is unsurpassed. Go early and you'll get at least 15 minutes of relative quiet before the crowds descend.
Overlooking the city, Michelangelo's Piazza offers a stunning view, especially at night - also a great time to visit other attractions like the Duomo. A summer's day will see these areas overrun with tourists and hawkers; at nighttime the streets are far quieter and everything's lit beautifully.
For locally designed and produced footwear, visit Stefano at Rive Gauche. He has a great range of beautiful, handmade sandals, boots and brogues - all of which are mysteriously made with brown leather.
Head to Volume in Piazza Santo Spirito for a drink and crepe with the local hospo crowd. French ex-pat Laurent is the resident crepe master, and he's dished enough out over the years to have proven his reputation. The Piazza is a magical spot to enjoy a midnight snack on a warm summer night.
- A week is a comfortable amount of time to both visit the city's attractions and get a taste of the relaxed lifestyle locals typically enjoy.
- Florence is home to the Negroni, so be sure to sample one of these appealingly bitter cocktails while in town.
- A lot of stores and eateries close for several hours in the afternoon, so check opening times before venturing out. Many kitchens close in the late afternoon and reopen around 6 or 7pm for aperitivos and dinner.