Florence is famous amongst tourists and scholars for the glorious artwork, cultural heritage, and the major role the city played in the Renaissance and Humanist movements. All these facets combine to make this one of the most glorious cities in the world. Florence may be a small city, but it's extremely beautiful and a favorite meeting place for visitors and ex-pats of all ages and nationalities. The city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
San Giovanni (Duomo)
San Giovanni takes its name from San Giovanni Battista (St John the Baptist), patron saint of Florence, in whose honor the
Santa Maria Novella
Named after the
Santa Croce is named after
Santo Spirito (Oltrarno)
The entire stretch of the side of the river opposite the majority of the city's tourist attractions, the Oltrarno is home to many locals, small eateries and amazing tourist sights such as
Campo di Marte & Fiesole
The Campo di Marte is located outside of what used to the be the medieval city wall and is home to many historical buildings dating back to the early 20th Century, as well as to many modern stone and cement apartment blocks which were built after World War II. There are also numerous sports venues, athletic facilities and the
Gavinana & Galluzzo
Gavinana and Galluzzo are south of the Arno and lead to the well-known Chianti wine region. On the southwestern side lies Galluzzo, famous for its Carthusian monastery.
Isolotto & Legnaia
Combining areas of the city that were developed during the 1960s and 1970s (and are still expanding!), Isolotto and Legnaia are home to commuters and enormous American hotel chains. The Isolotto district was once the scene of various clashes and social unrest during the 1960s.
Rifredi is in the northwestern part of the city where, by the 15th Century, the Medici had already constructed some of their many country villas, including
Although Florence is quite a small city, it is inundated with visitors, ex-pats and students; this is great news if want to have an evening of raucous fun, or if you prefer to follow more cultural pursuits. Visitors and Florentines alike are impressed by the wealth of entertainment that they find on offer here.
Going to the cinema has become an increasingly popular pastime since the mid-1990s, and the number of cinemas has increased to meet the needs of the people in Florence; many of the city's multiplexes have been renovated and reopened. This change in the amount of cinemas that exist has created a climate of “non-stop cinematography" and fewer cinemas close down during the summer months. Florentine cinemas are very varied; there are modern one-screen halls, massive multiplexes and small independent cinemas. The Cecchi Gori Group owns the most cinemas in the city and the majority show general releases and (dubbed) American blockbusters, although the Atelier group makes sure that Art house theatre is kept alive. Atelier have six cinemas that show good quality independent films and directors and actors will often attend previews and answer audience questions. On Wednesdays, prices are reduced and many Florentines go to the movies. However, one of the best times to go to the cinema is during the summer; between the months of June and September: you can watch a new release or one of the previous winter's "smashes" in the open air, as you sit beneath the stars. Some of the "normal" cinemas will remain open; many of these have air-conditioning, which is a great way to avoid the humidity of a Florentine summer, not to mention all the mosquitoes! One cinema in the historic center, the Odeon, caters to the international community showing films primarily in English, and sometimes the occasional French or Spanish-language cinematic phenomenon on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Although there are many more cinemas, compared with the amount of theatres, it is unfair to say that Florence favors the "Big Screen" to the stage. The Florentine theatrical tradition has always been noteworthy, for example, the famous Maggio Musicale Fiorentino attracts many well-known people. The range of productions is very varied too, there are upbeat comedies by Neil Simon at Teatro della Pergola, or more provocative, thought provoking dramas such as A Streetcar Named Desire at the Teatro Manzoni. If Shakespeare is more your thing, then the Metastasio Theatre will meet your highbrow needs!
Cafés, Bars & Pubs
In Florence (and everywhere else) most people want to go out and stay out until late at the weekend; this city has a large number of bars and discos, which people can enjoy any day of the week. For a quiet evening, drinking and chatting late into the night, why not try Caffè Pitti in Piazza Pitti, or Hemingway close to Santa Maria del Carmine. At il Genius you can relax with friends and play board/card games. Zoe, Dolce Vita and Porfirio Rubirosa are a little more crowded and lively, while Cafè Caracol has a Latina vibe. If you are more of a wine lover, then try Pitti Gola or Cantina. Maybe you fancy a pint? Both The William and Chequers are British in style, (perhaps to meet the needs of the many ex-pats who make their home here!) They sell an infinite number of beers, and snacks accompanied by good music and are populated by Florentine beer lovers and foreigners alike. Clubs
Lots of tourists like to check out the clubs and discos when they are on holiday. Florence offers a great variety of nightspots, it is possible to choose from mainstream discos such as Meccanò, where you might meet a VIP or two), and the fabulously cheesy Andromeda, or more specialist rock bars such as Tenax (popular with many young Italians) and the Auditorium Flog. There are many nightclubs (especially during the summer) with theme nights, where people can dance, listen to music and chat. These include Pongo, which is close to Teatro Verdi and il Lidò on the banks of the Arno, which attracts at least half of the city.
As you can see, Florence has much to attract the cultivated wine drinker, the cinephile or the perpetual party boy/girl. Divertitevi!
Italians say that it will certainly take you more than a day to drink in the beauty of Florence, you will need to stay for at least a long or extended weekend. It is also true to say that it can be a problem to find a room in Florence, especially if you decide to visit on the spur of the moment. To save yourself unwanted trauma, it is always best to book in advance. Florence is always popular with tourists and often the more cost-effective hotels are full in November. You will also find that hotel prices are high even during low season.
If you decide to drive to Florence, take note that the municipal police will not allow you to enter the city unless you have a hotel booking or unless you need to unload your luggage. If you must use a car, it is important to stay at a hotel that has parking.
Santa Maria Novella
Many of the city's hotels are located in this centrally-located district; close to the train station and all the tourist attractions. If you want to stay near the splendor of the Santa Maria Novella, then try Hotel Aprile. Five star hotels are sprinkled throughout the city and some of the best of these hotels include: the Grand Hotel and the Westin Excelsior, (both are in piazza d'Ognissanti) these are the places where the VIPs and politicians stay when they come to visit the city. The Villa Medici has an enticing swimming pool, and is close to the Piazza della Repubblica, as is the Helvetia & Bristol. The Croce di Malta faces the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The Astoria Palazzo Gaddi is inside a beautiful palazzo which has glorious ceilings decorated with frescoes. If you arrive in Florence by train, you will find many hotels around the Stazione Santa Maria Novella that are either two or three star. Via Panzani (leading to Piazza del Duomo) and Via Nazionale, have a wide choice of reasonably priced hotels, many of these are family run establishments, housed in historic palazzi. The Annabella and the Nizza are only a few of the long list of hotels that will welcome you and treat you well, as you enjoy your trip to this beautiful city.
San Giovanni (Duomo) & San Marco
For comfort and elegance near San Marco, try the Hotel Regency in Piazza Massimo D'Azeglio, a pleasant, peaceful piazza. Many fantastic four star hotels are also scattered throughout the district, the pick of the bunch are: the Grand Hotel Baglioni, which is conveniently located between the Piazza della Stazione and the Duomo, this hotel has a stupendous terrace view. Il Brunelleschi, housed in the splendid, Byzantine Pagliazza tower, was a female prison during the Middle Ages. Il Calzaiuoli is also situated in a prime spot, between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. The Hotel Loggiato dei Serviti and Le Due Fontane are to be found in the setting of the Piazza Santissima Annunziata.
Santo Spirito (Oltrarno)
Perhaps you would like a view of the Arno? Lungarno has been recently renovated and faces the river.
Campo di Marte & Fiesole
You can also find a wide choice of three-star establishments along the banks of the Lungarni in this district, these are a little further out of town, but you can easily reach the centro on foot within a matter of minutes: such as the Hotel Columbus.
If you are coming to Florence for business rather than pleasure, you may find it easier to stay near to the airport or the main motorways. In the north of the city, you'll find the Hotel Alexander and the Hotel Fleming.
Gavinana & Galluzzo
If you want to lose yourself in the midst of the city and be immersed in the green of Viale dei Colli, then the Grand Hotel Villa Cora is ideal, you can take a dip in the pleasant pool, or you can try the four star hotel, Relais Certosa in Certosa del Galluzzo, with its own splendid tennis courts (should you fancy a little exercise). On the outskirts of the south the Holiday Inn Garden Court and the Sheraton beckon. If looking for a view of the Arno, then the Park Palace is for you.
Tuscan cuisine, and Florentine food in particular is essentially based on simple, natural ingredients. It hails from the traditions of peasant food and is wholesome and tasty.
Extra-virgin olive oil is held in pride of place in Florence, and it is never missing from the Florentine table. Olive oil from Tuscany is cold-pressed, green and pungent or pizzichino (sometimes with a slightly bitter after-taste) and is eaten within a year and a half of harvesting the olives. Olive oil is used as a dip for foods such as celery, artichokes and pinzimonio (a selection of fresh vegetables). It is also used in cooking, and as a condiment for salads and delicious bruschette. Amongst the bruschette there is one that is king, and must be tasted to be believed! It is made with red cabbage and beans and then seasoned with ground pepper and Frantoio oil.
If you want to indulge in Florentine bread you should remember that in general, bread in Tuscany does not use salt. Try schiacciata if you want a more flavorful bread—this is a crusty focaccia salted and drizzled with olive oil. A typical Florentine antipasto dish is a recipe called crostini di fegato, pieces of Florentine bread which have been baked and dunked in soup, and then garnished with chicken liver pâté, capers and anchovies.
Another traditional Florentine specialty is the famous bistecca alla fiorentina. The steak comes from Chianina, a region near Tuscany which produces the Chianina breed, regarded as possibly the oldest breed of cattle in the world. It is thick cut, weighs not less than 800g, cooked on the grill, served rare and, on occasion, with a wedge of lemon on the side. A Fiorentina can satisfy two people, but there are those brave enough who will attempt to eat one all by themselves!
The soups and minestre are well worth trying and they are derived from peasant traditions. The most delicious, famous Florentine soup is ribollita, made with a mixture of stale bread, beans, cavolo nero (a black cabbage grown in Tuscany, similar to kale or Swiss Chard) and other typical Tuscan vegetables. Ribollita derives its curious name from the fact that the peasant women would usually cook the soup in large quantities that would be boiled repeatedly (ribollita), and then eaten for several days. As with many leftovers, ribollita always tastes better the day after! Other delicious soups are pappa con il pomodoro (a tomato-based soup that's thickened with bread) and minestra di farro (spelt or barley soup with beans, tomatoes, celery and carrot). While some of these soups might not sound terribly appealing to your palate, they are absolutely delicious, simple and hearty.
Do you have a sweet tooth? Schiacciata alla Fiorentina is a special Florentine treat: an orange-flavored sponge cake, covered with confectioner's sugar (often with a cocoa giglio, or lily - the symbol of Florence—sprinkled onto the center) and filled with pastry or whipped cream. Although typically served around Carnevale, it can be found at Florence's pastry shops year round. Cantuccini di Prato are dry almond biscuits that are dipped in Vin Santo, a sweet, aromatic dessert wine.
Tuscan Specialties These specialties can be found in the majority of Florence's restaurants. Some of the more famous, traditional restaurants include: Il Latini, Trattoria Mario, Coco Lezzone and La Casalinga, there are also many others, so don't feel dismayed if you don't get into the places above.
Haute Cuisine If you fancy something more "refined", or if you want to celebrate a really special occasion, then it is worth spending that little bit extra and going to Enoteca Pinchiorri, or Il Cibreo, you could also try Cammillo, although you will definitely need to book in advance.
Wine Bars There are also many enoteche or wine bars in Florence: here you can drop in, relax and have a glass or two of good Chianti with a sandwich. In the most elegant places e.g. Enoteca de' Giraldi and Enoteca "La Sosta del Rossellino", you can try delicious wines accompanied by tasty bruschette and delicate appetizers. La Barrique wine bar is also very popular and has an extensive wine list.
Pizza Italy is famous for its pizza and pizzerias can be found in almost every nook and cranny of Florence, although getting a typical Neapolitan-style pizza might be a bit of a challenge: Florentine crusts tend to be thin and crispy, cooked in a wood-fueled oven. If you prefer the "traditional" Neapolitan pizza, it is almost always possible to ask for a pizza with doppia pasta (double crust), which means you'll get a softer, thicker crust. Try Ciro & Sons for a slice of Naples in Florence.
International Cuisine Recent years have seen a big growth in the amount of ethnic restaurants, ranging from the Chinese restaurants to Mexican (Cafè Caracol), from Indian (Ashoka or Ristorante India), to Japanese (Momoyama) and there are also many other restaurants in various areas of the city.
Vegetarian Vegetarian cuisine has also made an impression on Florence! Ruth's is next to the Synagogue and sells Kosher, vegetarian fare. Il Vegetariano serves wonderful meat-free and organic dishes and is a huge success in the city.