italy travel guide: what to see, eat & buy in florence

I have now been to Italy three times, and I can say definitively that Florence is my favorite Italian city.

Why?

For one thing, its proximity to other places is ideal. You can take quick jaunts to Tuscany, Pisa, or Cinque Terre without having to mess with a million different dwellings.

Also, it’s the quaintest of the “big” cities (at least the ones I’ve been to). Super pedestrian-friendly, you can walk nearly everywhere on foot. You could probably walk from one side of the city to another in about an hour, maybe less if you’re ambitious. We easily walked about 10 miles a day when we were staying in Florence.

I’m a firm believer that wandering around a city by foot is the best way to experience it. You don’t need to have a specific destination in mind, you can just set out and go where the wind takes you, down winding alleys and side streets that are full of restaurants, sidewalk vendors, and shops.

the architecture

Italy Travel Tip | One of the best things about Florence is its architecture and abundance of balconies overflowing with flowers.
Reason #1 I love Florence: Its architecture and abundance of balconies overflowing with flowers.

The architecture in Florence is among my favorite: the Florence Cathedral and Santa Croche with their symmetrical, geometric patterns in pastel colors; the yellow and orange buildings with brightly-colored shutters and waterfalls of flowers; and let’s not forget the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, and the only one that wasn’t bombed by the Nazis during World War II because Hitler thought it was too beautiful to demolish (true story).

Italy Travel Tip | Take a stroll along the Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

At night, the cobblestone streets are alive, filled with friends eating and drinking together late into the night, couples walking hand-in-hand down streets and in squares that are cordoned off from motor vehicles.

When my husband and I stayed in Florence in 2015, we stayed in an Airbnb that was right in Piazza Santa Croche, and we fell asleep every night to the white noise of the crowds hanging out in the square below our window. Plus, we had a phenomenal rooftop balcony that had a view of the Duomo. (Don’t mind if I do!) Was it difficult for the hubs to schlepp our suitcases up four flights of stairs and then another pretty precarious flight that was closer to a ladder? Yes. Was it worth it? Totally. (Though he might disagree since he was the one doing the aforementioned schlepping.)

the food

When you are in Florence, there is one restaurant that you absolutely must go to—Acqua al 2. The hubs and I stumbled upon this restaurant one night when another, recommended restaurant was closed. Right away, I loved the atmosphere: It’s dimly lit, with kelly-green with a million plates on the walls, some decorated with caricatures, others with the signatures of famous people who at eaten there.

Italy Travel Tip | Where to eat in Florence: Acqua al 2
The green walls in Acqua al 2 are peppered with unique plates, some decorated by celebrities who have eaten there.

My husband and I tried a sampler platter of their unique steaks—one had a blueberry sauce and the other had a rich balsamic glaze. The steak was butter-soft and incredibly flavorful. Paired with two different pasta dishes, we were in heaven!

The ladies and I went back to Acqua al 2 this past May (at my insistence). I’d been dreaming about that steak since we had booked our trip months before. We went at a more normal dinner time, and they were hoppin’! Even though we didn’t have a reservation, they still managed to fit us in, which was lovely of them.

Italy Travel Tip | Eat at Acqua al 2 in Florence

Just a heads-up, though: The menu is in Italian; there is no translation. The first time we went, it was later and quieter, so the waiter was able to spend a little more time going through the different options with us. We weren’t as lucky this time, but luckily for me, I knew what I wanted, and it totally held up from the steak of my dreams!

Italy Travel Tip | The balsamic steak at Acqua al 2 is to die for

Although I was in a food coma afterward, this was our last night in Florence, and so I knew that we had to go to Grom gelateria for dessert. As luck would have it, my husband and I stumbled upon Grom on our last night in Florence in 2015, and I knew it was not to be missed! If you go—try the Crema di Grom. It’s their signature flavor and it is all kinds of amazing. If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter—you will die and go to heaven if you try to the Crema di Grom, I promise you.

(I later found out that Grom has opened many more locations since 2015, so I was actually able to get Grom in almost every subsequent city we visited in Italy. My only regret? Not realizing it sooner, so that I could have had Crema di Grom every day! Yes, I love it that much! Also, an FYI for those of you living in New York and LA—they also have locations there!)

Italy Travel Tip | What to See, Eat, and Buy in Florence

Of course, you can’t go wrong with any restaurant or gelateria in Florence (or in Italy, for that matter)—even the super touristy places will still serve you yummy food. But if you’re looking for a more unique experience, definitely check out Acqua al 2 and Grom. You will not be disappointed!

the goods

Now, before I leave you, a comment on the goods that Florence is famous for—leather and perfume. Supposedly, perfume is one of Florence’s must-have souvenirs (I’m not much for perfume, though, so I didn’t buy any). Quite a few blogs I checked out before I left mentioned the pomegranate perfume made in Santa Maria Novella—so if a perfume is your thing, check it out!

Italy Travel Tip | Buy leather goods in Florence

There is no shortage of leather goods in Florence, as you’ll notice pretty much immediately. On every street, there are multiple merchants selling similar products in similar styles. If you’re looking to buy a purse or wallet, I’d recommend staying away from shops that are in the more touristy areas. Do some of that wandering around I was talking about earlier; you’ll be sure to stumble upon a place that will have better-quality products, and probably for cheaper, too. And don’t be afraid to haggle—their prices are often open for debate. If you pay cash, they’ll usually give you an additional discount, too. Happy shopping!

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Italy Travel Guide | What to See, Eat & Buy in Florence

 

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