Everyone has their special magical place. For some, it’s Disneyland. For others, it’s a secluded beach in the tropics. For me, it’s the city of Florence. Over the past three years, I have had the pleasure of visiting Florence over half a dozen times—all work, but with lots of play in between. A thrilling mix of the ancient and fiercely contemporary, it’s a destination deeply rooted in the fine arts (Michelangelo, Bernini, Botticelli), high culture, and, of course, fashion (hometown of Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Emilio Pucci).
I have made friends dear to my heart there, so special I consider them my Italian familia. Warmhearted, generous, friendly, and well-cultured: The Florentines are a special breed. It’s not uncommon for me to stroll down one of the many slender, winding streets by the city center and spot a familiar face, or hear a shop-owner call out my name. No surprise, I’ve come to regard Florence as my beloved second home. I’ve also learned there are two distinct ways to experience the city: as a tourist and as a local. Here, my favorites of Florence, straight from a wide-eyed tourist turned honorary local.
Best Brunch View
The Lungarno is among the old guard of hotels in Florence. When I stay there, I love eating breakfast on the outside patio, which overlooks the Arno.
Borgo San Jacopo, 14
J.K. Place is one of my favorite hotels in Florence. It also boasts the city’s most delicious martinis with olives—so good, they will make you cry. I dream of those olives! Have drinks on the patio to enjoy the Santa Maria Novella Square; it’s not unusual to catch some of fashion’s biggest names playing a game of bocce.
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 7.
Best View of the City at Night
The Piazza Michelangelo is home to the “mini” David statue, and it is said that touching his manhood brings extremely good luck. I haven’t dared to climb up there, though.
If you plan on going to multiple museums, it’s worth it to buy a three-day Firenze Card. That way you can bypass long lines and won’t be required to make reservations. Tip: Buy the pass from the least-popular museum, or ask your concierge to do it for you. I got mine at Museo Casa di Dante (nobody was there!) and skipped right over to Academia, to see David without waiting or a reservation.
Firenze Card Three-Day Museum Pass
Cost: 50 euros ($72) per person
• Free access to 30 major museums, villas, and historical gardens in Florence
• Admission to museums is granted by showing the card at the entrance, with no reservation requirements
• Free travel on public transports: ATAF and Linea buses and trams
The Duomo is a must-see, but the lines are horrendous. With free admission, you might end up waiting for hours. It’s totally worth it to shell out 15 euros for the tour of the cathedral (you don’t have to take it) and bypass the line for a quick visit.
Palazzo Pitti is the Versailles of Florence. Feel free to get a little lost in the gardens, but you must go to the back and climb the spiral stairs, to see the porcelain. Beyond the manicured garden, you’ll be treated to a small taste of what Tuscany is all about: beautiful rolling hills and countryside lined with olive trees. With your ticket, you can also enter the Giardini Gardens!
Giardini Bardini is in the center—and it’s also known as our dream house! At the top of the hill, have a coffee. There is also a museum off to the side where they permanently house Roberto Capucci Couture, and also hold exhibitions.
Moba is a very modern restaurant neighboring the museum. I can’t speak about the food, since I have yet to eat there, but I definitely recommend having an aperitivo in the summer while overlooking the beautiful garden and the Arno. Right next to it is the Fortezza Belvedere!
La Chiesa San Miniato: This is where you will catch a full view of the city of Florence. The church is unique and spectacular in its own quaint way.
L’Accademia: Yes, seeing David in all his grandeur is an unofficial requirement, but do not forget the room of plasters, either.
Il Bargello: Go here just to see the beautiful architecture.
The mere entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio shows it all: the sprawling splendor of Tuscany.
Vasari Corridor: Book in advance if you want to see this. The secret passage of the Medicis, from the Uffizi to Palazzo Pitti.
The Uffizi is overrated, in my opinion, but since you have the pass and do not need reservations, why not run in for 15 minutes to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus firsthand?
Best Poolside Scene
Villa Cora was once the summer home of Napoleon. Decorated in the style of old-world French splendor, it has since been restored to its former glory and transformed into a most beautiful boutique hotel minutes outside the city center.
Viale Machiavelli, 18.
Aria Art Gallery is one of the main contemporary art spots of the city. It’s owned by my dear friend Federica Cirri, who I turn to for all things local. This unique location can be found inside the ancient Rosselli del Turco garden (built in the sixteenth century). It’s a space of rare beauty, with a network and collaborations that extend far into the sectors of fashion, design, and cultural events. Find the unmissable exhibition of great American photographer Roxanne Lowit, Be Fabulous, on display until September 7.
Borgo Santi Apostoli, 40.
Luisa Via Roma is one of the most well-stocked boutiques in the world! Andrea Panconesi’s grandmother, Luisa, opened the boutique as a millinery almost a century ago. Four generations later, it’s host to the Firenze4Ever biannual events and stocks the latest from the likes of Balmain and Florentine native Roberto Cavalli, as well as up-and-coming European designers.
Via Roma, 19/21r.
No matter the season, every trip to Florence has to include a jaunt to The Mall. Home to the most awesome Prada outlet, as well as those of Balenciaga, Marni, McQueen, Stella, Saint Laurent, Dior, Fendi, the list goes on. Finding runway goods at 80 percent off is not unusual. Take the train there; it’s only 3.5 euros for the faster route and takes just 35 minutes to get there. Besides, it’s the most scenic Tuscan train ride you’ll ever take! Taxis are readily available and waiting to take you on the five-minute drive to The Mall, for five euros a person. When you return, make sure you validate your train ticket at the machine first—the train stop is a small countryside platform, with no staff to assist you! I almost missed the last train back once because I didn’t know!
Via Europa, 8.
Best Family-Owned Bistro
Buca dell’Orafo: This is where locals go for a good meal. Amazing pastas and fresh produce! It’s owned by two brothers who have since retired and passed the venue down to their sons. Buca means “lower-priced bistro,” so if you’re looking for a place that won’t cost an arm and leg, look for “Buca” in front of the name.
Via dei Girolami, 28.
Cammillo Trattoria: You cannot leave Florence without tasting the famous Florentine steak! The historical restaurant on the beautiful Borgo S. Jacopo is one of the best restaurants in town. Here, every dish is special, even the simplest one, their famous Bistecca alla fiorentina.
Borgo S. Jacopo, 57/r.
Meat- and Wine-Tasting
Antica Macelleria Falorni: This famous butcher-bistro specializes in Tuscan street food. Don’t miss the eight amazing, “must-eat” variants of veal tartars! Choose among an assortment of salami, pecorino, Chianti, and ready-made meals to purchase (eat in or take away).
Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, 71.
If you have time to make the trip, take the opportunity to visit the Enoteca Falorni, the biggest and most important enoteca of Tuscany, in Greve in Chianti. You can taste more than 150 wines by the Enomatic system aperitives.
Piazza delle Cantine, 2.
Il Cestello: I don’t do much seafood in Florence, but if you get the craving, head to Il Cestello.
Piazza del Cestello, 8.
Florence Food Studio: The Florence Food Studio is a boutique cooking school offering skills in traditional Tuscan culinary arts with a modern twist. The project is driven by the world-renowned Florentine D.O.C. Chef Benedetta Vitali, and dedicates special attention to health, nutrition, and well-being—all innate elements of the traditional Italian diet. Placed in a stunning location in the heart of the Oltrarno district, it represents a unique culinary experience for both experts and beginners alike.
Via dell Ardiglione, 39R.
Gelateria La Carraia: Have a little patience if you see a line outside. It’s definitely worth waiting for this amazing ice cream! Sit at the corner by La Carraia Bridge, so you can take in the beautiful sight of Ponte Vecchio from a distance while enjoying your sugary treat.
Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25.
Pizza Da Gherardo: In the heart of the San Frediano neighborhood, you will find the best pizza, made with the freshest ingredients. With only five tables available per night, Gherardo will personally welcome you and prepare the tastiest pizza in downtown Florence. Try the Regina!
Borgo San Frediano, 57r.
Amblé: Just a few steps from Ponte Vecchio, don’t miss Amblé in the cute Piazzetta dei del Bene. There you can eat excellent sandwiches prepared with high-quality products. At the same time, shop for furniture, cups, lamps, glasses, tables, and sofas in the postindustrial 1950s style.
Piazzetta Dei del Bene, 7a.
Il Santino: A tiny little wine bar with all the Tuscan charm you crave. Sample the best wines and cheeses (or do a proper tasting), while surrounded by people from the neighborhood, on one of the chicest streets of Florence’s rive gauche.
Via Santo Spirito, 28.
Flair: A very exclusive location inside Palazzo Gianfigliazzi Bonaparte, this is one of the most elegant interiors shops in Florence—and Italy, for that matter. In pure contrast to the culture of traditional antiques and decoration in Florence, the furnishings at Flair are reflections of acute personal tastes from various eras. Think classic and timeless! It encompasses an evolution of canonic aesthetics from their elemental base: 40s-era French parchment furnishings, marbles from 70s sculptors, a mix of brass and silver lamps and sconces. They will ship anything home for you.
Lungarno corsini, 24r.
Officina S.M. Novella: Established in the thirteenth century, this is one of the oldest pharmacies still in business. This is not just a store; it is a perfume experience that begins as soon as you enter the magnificent shop. Raw materials of the highest quality are still used, and the apothecary fathers’ artisanal procedures are still followed. Yet the company avails itself with modern technology and state-of-the-art equipment. Try the Melograno oil or perfume; you will love it so that you would want to drink it!
Via della scala, 16.
Visionari: Looking for a different point of view? Head to this happily independent eyewear store and try one of Visionari’s special selections of glasses from all around the world.
Piazza Nazario Sauro, 14/R.
Photos: Courtesy of Tina Craig