The Attic City Guides, Vol. 3: Florence
As the Attic community stretches across the globe, we often find ourselves in different cities visiting each other or simply traveling – abroad or even at home, sharing recommendations for favorite restaurants and old gems, neighborhoods to get lost in, and coffee shops to harbor us from the rain (or let’s face it, from exhaustion after walking around for miles). Here, we share those recommendations with you, looking not to establish any sort of classical guide to the world, but to share the places close to our hearts (and our stomachs).
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but that also means that it is one of the most tourist-packed. The streets of the city are paved with history, as illustrious personalities like Michelangelo Buonarroti and Dante Algheiri, not to mention dozens of other artists, writers, and directors, who have lived and worked here over the city’s almost two thousand years of history. Most people come to Florence with their must-see list already made up: the Galleria degli Uffizi, a U-shaped museum on the banks of the Arno River containing many pieces of famous Renaissance art; the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David; and climbing the dome of Brunelleschi’s Cattedrale del Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo. While all of these places are great to see on a first visit, there are many more places in the city – either museums, cafes, or just relaxing piazzas – worthy of attention. So, if you think you’ve seen most of the city already or just want to travel off the tourist-beaten path, here are some of my favorite places to visit in my stunning and brilliant city.
No trip to Florence is complete without sampling the many gelato shops in town, and deciding which one is the best. Everyone has their own preference, but here are some of my favorites:
Via dei Tavolini, 19r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
The name of this gelateria, literally translating to “Why Not?”, has some of the best, creamiest gelato in town. My favorite of their flavors are lavender and green tea, which they only have a few times a week. Their chocolate mousse gelato is light as a feather and their yogurt gelato is slightly and perfectly tart. Located right around the corner from the Piazza Signoria, Perchè No is a must-visit.
GELATERIA DEI NERI
Via dei Neri, 9, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Located on the trendy Via dei Neri, this eponymous gelateria is one of the most popular in the city. They have excellent salted caramel gelato, and their fruit flavors are also delicious. There’s sometimes a line out the door, but their gelato is always definitely worth the wait.
Via del Campanile, 2, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Although Grom is a chain gelateria with locations across Italy and even in major cities in the US, I had to include it on this list because I love it so much. Located on a side street across from the Duomo’s Campanile (bell tower), I love Grom because everything they sell in their shop is gluten-free, even their cones and cake or cookie flavored gelato — something I appreciate as someone who can’t eat gluten! Beyond the fact that I can eat there without worry, though, their flavors are simple but consistently excellent.
Once you’re done eating copious amounts of gelato, you’re going to need some real food, too.
OSTERIA IL GATTO E LA VOLPE
Via Ghibellina, 151/r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
This restaurant is my absolute favorite in the city. The name translates to “The Cat and the Fox,” based on part of the Pinocchio fairy tale. Their pasta with cherry tomatoes, bacon, and topped with burrata cheese is absolutely delicious. Located right next to the Bargello Museum, this restaurant is very easy to get to but is not usually frequented by tourists.
Via dei Neri, 30/32 R, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Via dello Sprone, 5/R, 50121 Firenze FI, Italy
With one location on the same street as Gelateria dei Neri, Ditta Artigianale is very similar to a trendy US coffee shop. They serve iced coffee drinks and chai lattes (which is hard to find as stated above) as well as great American-style breakfast food, with drinks and dinner in the evenings. Their original location on the Oltrarno, near the Palazzo Pitti, is much bigger, two stories, and somewhat calmer than the Dei Neri spot.
Via dei Neri, 13/r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
As a little bonus for the gluten-free folks out there, Starbene is a completely gluten-free café located directly next to Gelateria dei Neri. Get your gluten-free sandwiches, mini pizzas, croissants, and pastries here without worry or guilt!
Piazza di Santa Croce, 12, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
This café in the Piazza Santa Croce may seem touristy, but their cappuccinos are my favorite in the city. Italian coffee culture is generally against the Starbucks type of coffee shop that involves sitting for hours with one drink; the Italian style of coffee consumption is more partial to shooting back an espresso shot and leaving within 60 seconds. However, Finisterrae has great cappuccinos for a very reasonable price (1.30) if you drink it at the bar; and at the same time, you can ogle their beautiful pastries, or even try one for yourself.
Borgo S. Frediano, 20, 50124 Firenze FI, Italy
This adorable café on the Oltrarno, the neighborhood on the other side of the Arno River across from the historic center of the city, is a great respite from tourists. An exception to the rule I previously mentioned, La Cité is a comfortable and friendly place to sit with a drink and read or work for extended periods of time, although their drinks are a bit up-charged as a result. Their caffe lattes, however, are excellent and just the thing when you’re working on an important paper or reading a good book.
Borgo degli Albizi, 87, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Located around the corner from the Duomo, the Milkeria is one of the few places in Florence where you can find iced lattes – especially important for sweaty summer days where the thought of drinking a hot cappuccino makes you feel sick. They also serve American-style breakfast food, including waffles, pancakes, and bagels with cream cheese.
BIBLIOTECA DELLE OBLATE
Via dell' Oriuolo, 24, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
A library… outdoors… with a bar inside? Need I say more? The Oblate was originally a convent located a block from the Duomo, before being turned into a public library. The top outdoor terrace of the library features a stunning and unobstructed view of the top of the Duomo, while their bar offers both coffee and alcoholic drinks, and is open until midnight most nights. If you have to write a thesis, why not write it while overlooking the Duomo and drinking an Aperol Spritz?
As stated above, most tourists to Florence already have their list of three must-sees sorted, but these spots are just as worthwhile but much less likely to be overrun with tourists.
MUSEO NAZIONALE DI SAN MARCO
Piazza San Marco, 3, 50121 Firenze FI, Italy
This gorgeous former Dominican convent is most famous for its 44 friars’ cells frescoed by Fra Angelico in the mid-15thcentury, all depicting scenes from the life of Christ. The space is incredibly peaceful, and it is fascinating to see what life was like for a friar during the Renaissance. San Marco is just down the street from the crowds in line for the Galleria dell’Accademia, but it seems to be a world away when you’re inside the cloister, walking amongst the meditative and peaceful paintings of Fra Angelico, who has since been beatified by the Catholic church specifically for the beauty of his art.
MUSEO NAZIONALE DI BARGELLO
Via del Proconsolo, 4, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
The Bargello is one of the most unique and fascinating spaces in Florence. Originally the Florentine prison and barracks, it now serves as the city’s sculpture museum. Some very important sculptures find their home here, from artists like Michelangelo to Ammannati to Ghiberti, as well as Donatello’s bronze David, which served as the 15thcentury inspiration for Michelangelo’s incredibly famous sculpture of the same subject in 1505. There’s always something interesting to be found at the Bargello; give it a visit and I’m sure you will be quite pleasantly surprised.
Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
This space, attached to the Basilica of San Lorenzo, is also incredibly important, as it is a burial chapel created for four early, illustrious members of the Medici family which ruled Florence unofficially, and later officially once they were given the title of dukes, from the 15th– 18thcenturies. Beyond this, though, the space within the Medici Chapel itself is important as it is the only place in the world to see seven sculptures by Michelangelo at once in a contained architectural environment. Michelangelo’s sculptures are incredibly masterful and evocative of abstract concepts like death, life, fame, and the cyclical nature of humanity. Pay your respects to the Medici, or the genius of Michelangelo himself, in this gorgeous space.
PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA
Piazza della Signoria, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
The original civic piazza of Florence is still important today. It is home to the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, or “Old Palace,” (named such after the Medici moved to the Palazzo Pitti, on the Oltrarno; also well worth visiting) as well as acting as an outdoor sculpture park with either originals or masterful copies of famous Renaissance sculptures. The Loggia dei Lanzi, a covered but open-air area adjacent to Palazzo Vecchio, contains the original sculptures of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women(1583) and Cellini’s Perseus(1554); the front of the Palazzo Vecchio features a copy of Michelangelo’s David(replacing the original, now at the Accademia,) as well as Ammannati’s Neptune Fountain(1575) and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus(1533). The Piazza della Signoria is a great place to admire some of the most excellent biblical- or classically-inspired stories integral to the history of Florence. After your visit, grab a gelato from Perchè No, close by!
These final few places on this list are gorgeous piazzas or spaces to visit in the city, but not necessarily to buy or eat anything in.
PIAZZA SANTA CROCE
This piazza is home to the Franciscan basilica of Florence, and one of the churches that I think to be the most beautiful in the city. The inside of the basilica is well worth visiting, but the piazza itself is a fun place to hang out—you can browse the offerings of vendors selling souvenirs and leather goods, as well as admire the beautiful façade of the church.
PIAZZA SANTO SPIRITO
On the other side of the Arno River and close to the café La Cité, Santo Spirito is the Augustinian basilica of Florence. Once again, the inside of the church is well worth visiting (and it’s free!), but the piazza itself is full of interesting restaurants and cafes, and is frequently host to markets on weekends.
Close to San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel, Mercato Centrale (the Central Market) is a multi-purpose space. The bottom level of the building is a fresh food market full of produce, meat, and fresh pasta and bread; the top level is a food hall where you can buy freshly prepared meals or alcoholic beverages. Surrounding the market on all sides are vendors selling leather goods, scarves, and other souvenirs. The Mercato Centrale is definitely worth visiting, especially as it’s a one-stop shop for a number of things people come to Florence specifically to shop for!
Last but not least on my list is Piazzale Michelangelo, a beautiful lookout over the city. It’s a manageable hike to the top of the hill, but you can also easily take a taxi or city bus to get there. The view over the city, especially at sunrise or sunset, is breathtaking. It’s a great way to finish your visit to Florence, and to wish this gorgeous city farewell until you return again!
Kiely Schuck is pursuing a master’s degree in Italian Renaissance art and holds a bachelor’s degree in art history. She is a voracious reader, an art museum enthusiast, and constantly on the lookout for gluten-free pastries. She currently lives in Florence, Italy.