Florence, Italy - So Much Charm!
I first visited Italy in April 2017 with my wife, cousins and sister-in-law. We visited 6 regions of Italy – Milan, Florence, Rome, Bologna, Sorrento/Positano/Amalfi Coast and Capri. It was the Italy trip that I always dreamed of. Truth be told I had been holding out on visiting Italy for years because I knew it would be my favorite country in Europe and one that I would need to spend a lot of time exploring, not just a quick pop in and pop out. We spent around 2-4 days in each region and took the train between them, from the big cities, to the smaller towns, through the country side, down to the southern coast line with amazing views and beaches. It was just as lit as it sounds. I will eventually write about that magnificent tour of Italy! (I’ve been holding off on that too.)
Just recently, I flew with Norwegian Airlines to return to Italy for a much shorter trip. This time I was on a mission to visit one of my favorite parts of Italy that I felt shortchanged from passing through the last time - Florence. The thing about Florence is that it’s not super easy to get to from the U.S. – at least from NYC. There aren’t direct flights so you typically have to fly into either Milan or Rome from NYC. I flew Norwegian Premium Class to Rome from Newark International Airport, for which they have direct flights daily. I absolutely love flying with Norwegian. They have a friendly staff, comfortable seating, great food options and it’s always a peaceful, safe journey to my destination. Not to mention their rates are lower than most for European flights. This time was no different.
From Rome we took the local Eurorail into Florence. When you do this, be mindful that there are three main train stations in Rome – Rome Termini, Rome Tiburtina and Rome Fiomenco Airport. For ease of transfer, we booked the train straight from Rome Airport station to Florence. It’s a gorgeous train ride through the countryside and rolling hills of Italy, including some epic views of Tuscany.
Arriving in Florence Santa Maria Novella train station was such a welcoming memory. This time we had the knowledge of our last visit to Florence plus some new tips and a little more time to play with. Here is a play by play to have an epic visit to Florence.
Where and What To Eat
Florence is absolutely a foodie paradise. The one thing I learned about traveling through Italy the first time is that different regions are known for specific foods. For example, you may think “I’m going to Italy so I am going to have all the pizza in the world” – when actually only a few regions of Italy are known for their pizza – Rome (Roman style pizza,) Naples (Napoletan style pizza) and Sicily (Sicilian, duh! haha) Bologna is the home of Bolognese, which in that town they only call ragu. We regular folks everywhere else are the ones that call it Bolognese.
Florence is known for great pastas and steaks. “Florentine” may sound familiar. Here are my favorite restaurants in the city and what I recommend eating there. I recommend making reservations at all these locations as they are popular and on the smaller side.
Trattoria 13 Gobi – usually one of our first meals, this is a great intro to Florence. Always bustling with young Italians, down a narrow alleyway, you’ll find this seemingly hole in the wall. Try the house red wine, start with the rigatoni (it’s al dente so let it sit for a bit if you like your pasta softer) and then order one of the best steaks you’ll eat in all of Florence.
Osteria Santo Spirito – literally the best gnocchi I’ve ever had, loaded with cheeses and truffle oil. It’s like nothing you’ve ever had. Most of their menu is great also. NOTE: on Sundays there is a pop-up street market in the square that this restaurant is located in – with so many things to purchase from jewelry, to clothing, to pastries to fresh fruits and veggies.
4 Leoni (“Cuatro Leoni”) – favorite restaurant in all of Europe to date. The menu is all in Italian, so let me help you. You MUST have the pear pasta and stew beef in a red wine reduction. It’s a party on your palette. We discussed why it’s so good on Soul Society 101 The Podcast S1 E7.
Il Profeta – We had an amazing waiter here whose personality was larger than life. There’s lots of handmade pasta. Try the John Travolta special, as early possible since it typically runs out. Submerge yourself in the secret sauce.
Trattoria Gargani – the lemon cream pasta and balsamic vinegarette eggplant were both worth venturing over for.
Gelato – there are gelaterias all around town. Try them all. Seriously.
Appertivo - Italian Happy Hour. Most appervitos come with unlimited foods or snacks with the purchase of drinks. Sounds like a win win -- it really is! The best appervito we found was at the rooftop bar at the Westin Excelsior. They had actual food - wings, meatballs, sandwiches, gnocchi, steak and more, free with the purchase of a drink, which at this location averaged around 15 euro.
Where To Stay
Especially for a first visit to Florence, staying in the right location is super important. Florence is a relatively small city, so it’s very much walkable. If you stay in the right location, you may only have to worry about transportation coming to and from the regional train station. Be sure to stay along the river, not too far from the Ponte Vecchio. The absolute best location we stayed in was in 2016 when we stayed at The Westin Excelsior. My recommendation would be to use that as your North Star and stay as close to there as possible. From there it’s under a 15 minute walk to most restaurants, sites, shopping, etc.
Sites To See
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
Gucci Museum (now called Gucci Garden) – check out some artistic Gucci inspiration + purchase some exclusive Gucci items that are not available anywhere else in the world. Prices starting as low as 50 Euro.
More museums - of course all the museums are not fashion based. If you're an art buff, this is truly a city to dive into the arts and history.
The Mall - it's really called "The Mall." It sits outside of Florence proper, you'll get to see the beautiful views of Tuscany while you head to get outlet shopping in!
Things to Know
Taxis - I can't recall if this is all of Italy, but when you call a taxi in Florence, they start running the meter from the time they leave their current location. Meaning, if they were five minutes away, they may arrive already starting at 6.80 Euro. Yet reason to stay in a good location even if it costs a bit more, you won't have to worry about shady taxi drivers.
There’s tons… literally everywhere! From top European designer names like Gucci, Chanel, Pucci, Prada to the buzzed about leather market, you can get anything you want, high or low. If you're into upscale bathwash, perfumes and soaps, be sure to check out Santa Maria Novella Perfumeria and give yourself an hour or two. It's an experience.