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Florence

Transportation and Accommodations

Getting There

The Florence airport is not very large and does not have any direct flights from the US. However, you can connect in one of the major European cities fairly easily and then fly directly into Florence, or fly to Pisa (about 1 hour away by bus). Pisa serves many of the budget airlines providing cheaper flying options. You can also fly into Rome or Milan and take a train from the larger cities to Florence.

Traveling direct to Florence

It is about a 20 euro flat fare to airport from city center and vice versa (slight fluctuation with very early hours or very late hours and luggage). There is also a bus that travels between the Santa Maria Novella train station and the Florence airport.

Overall, the Florence airport is small and does not offer that many flights. The setup of the runways in the valley also can often lead to delays based on wind patterns. Regardless, it is still worth checking the flight availability when traveling in and out of Florence.

Traveling via Pisa (train or bus)

You can easily get to the Pisa airport by taking a bus from the Santa Maria Novella train station. There are two main companies with bus services, Terravision being one of them. Buses tend to run every 30 minutes to 1 hour and schedules can be accessed online for exact times. It takes about an hour by bus to reach the Pisa airport; it costs 5 euros each way if you buy ahead of time and only slightly more if you buy at the bus stop. There is also a train option, but the bus is cheap, easy and efficient.

Pisa provides additional flight options and also offers more budget flights as budget airlines like Ryanair fly in and out of Pisa rather than the Florence airport. Note that when flying Ryanair, allow time to get your Visa or documents checked (if you do not have an EU passport).

Traveling via Rome

Rome has two airpots and offers many more flight options than Florence. If choosing to fly out of Rome, make sure to account for travel time from Florence to Rome by train. When booking travel, be careful to check which airport you are traveling from in Rome so you catch the correct transportation from the train station to the airport.

Rome (CIA) – smaller airport:
  1. Take a fast train from Florence to Rome
  2. Catch the Terravision bus to the Rome airport. To find the Terravision bus, get off the train and walk out of the area with the trains. Go towards the food and then turn right and go outside. Once you’re outside, make another right and walk down the street. Go past the pharmacy and then you’ll see the Teracafe. If you have pre-purchased a ticket and have it printed, you can jump the line and get your “boarding pass.” If you haven’t purchased a ticket, get in line and purchase a ticket and then receive your boarding pass.
  3. Travel by bus to the airport (40 minutes)
Traveling via Milan

Similar to Rome, Milan also has more flight options and can be accessed from Florence by train. The fastest train between Florence and Milan is about 2 hours.

Traveling via Bologna

There is a train to Bologna from Florence taking about 30 – 40 minutes, offering another airport option.

Train

Traveling within Italy can be very easy by train. TrenItalia is a commonly used company and provides routes all throughout the country including routes to Venice, Milan, Rome, Viareggio, Pisa, Bologna, Naples and more. For the longer journeys, consider booking tickets in advance as a seat will be assigned to you. To gage prices, the round trip to Venice cost about 69 euros.

Car

Think twice before renting a car in Italy. The roads are misleading and often very narrow with parking being an additional challenge. Many of the cities have zones where only residents or businesses with operations within the city limits are permitted to drive. These areas can seem poorly marked and you may only learn after the fact that you drove through one once you receive a ticket to pay.

Getting Around

Florence is a smaller city that can be largely accessed on foot. Taxis are around if you have a longer distance to travel or you can use the public bus system. However, after living in Florence for 4 months, I never needed to use the buses. Note that the streets in Florence are all cobblestone and sidewalks are narrow. Since the roads are mainly one-way, biking here can be a challenge.

Accommodations

Stay within 10 minute walk of the Piazza del Duomo or Santa Croce. Since most attractions within Florence are within walking distance, staying near either of these central locations will put you in the heart of Florence and make it easy to explore the city.

Borghese Palace Art Hotel
Cute boutique hotel on Via Ghibellina, located a 5 minute walk from both the Piazza del Duomo and Santa Croce.

Things to do and see

Piazza del Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore)

The main square in Florence with a magnificent church. This is the most famous square in Florence and visitors can climb to the top of the Duomo for a view and / or to the top of the tower. Consider making the climb early in the morning to avoid a long wait. It was a 3 hour ordeal for us between waiting in line, visiting the cathedral, and climbing to the top of the Duomo. As you reach the top of the Duomo, the walls come inward and the space gets tight. At the top you can walk around outside for a panoramic view over the city. Alternatively, if you choose to climb the tower, you will get a view of the top of the Duomo itself.

The cathedral is very strict on dress code so women must wear a dress that reaches the top of their knees and have their shoulders covered (bring a sweater/cardigan to put on because even in a short sleeve dress, some people may be forced to purchase a shawl to enter which are being sold on the streets). Note: be careful of street vendors because some are selling to you illegally and YOU can be fined for purchasing from them if caught by the police).

Santa Croce

My favorite church in Florence with a beautiful white exterior. Santa Croce is minutes from the river and also not far from Piazza del Duomo. The inside of the church is very nice, with the front of the church being decorated with beautiful colors.

Wine Tour

Florence is located in the Tuscany region, known greatly for its wine. Be sure to venture outside the city limits and explore the Tuscany countryside. There are a lot of Chianti vineyards located close to Florence making for an easy day trip. Alternatively, spend a night in a smaller Tuscan town such as Siena, San Gimignano, or Montalcino (famous for Brunello) and visit vineyards in the area.

Wine in a Piazza

Take a stroll through the city and bring a bottle of wine to just sit in a Piazza and enjoy the city around you. There are no open container laws in Italy so you can sit outside in public areas and enjoy your drinks.

Piazzale Michelangelo

The most spectacular view of Florence located on the opposite side of the Arno from most of Florence’s attractions. Piazza Michelangelo is located up on a hill, but only takes about 10-15 minutes to climb. It is well worth the view and many people come up to watch the sunset with a snack and a bottle of wine.

Uffizi Gallery

The most visited museum in Florence with tons of artwork.

Galleria dell’Accademia

Another famous museum in Florence where the David is by Michelangelo! This museum is much smaller, but a must see. Try purchasing tickets in advance to guarantee your spot.

Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace

Gardens and palace located on the other side of the Arno river from most of Florence’s attractions. Try to visit during warmer weather seasons when the flowers are alive to enjoy the gardens. The ticket we bought was 10 euros and provided admission to the part of the palace where there was a costume gallery and then the opportunity to walk through the gardens. There was a nice view of the back country at the top of the gardens.

Fiorentina Soccer Game

Attend a soccer game while in Florence. Like many stadiums, it is located on the outskirts of the city but makes for a fun night.

Apertivos

Common tradition in Italy where restaurants guests can help themselves to an appetizer bar with a drink purchase

Cooking Class

These can be simple and short to very long and complex. As Italy is known for its food, look into taking some form of cooking class to learn from the best.

Palazzo Vecchio

This museum is very nice with many rooms and amazing art on the walls and ceilings. Visitors can also climb the tour, which I found to be the highlight as there is a very nice view from the tower of the Duomo.

Santa Maria Novella

Beautiful church located near the train station

Santo Spirito

Another church in Florence, located more on the outskirts and away from the main tourist areas. It was created during the Renaissance time period contrasting with Santa Maria Novella, the Duomo, and Santa Croce which are all Gothic style churches.

Gelato Festival

When I lived in Florence, there was a Gelato festival that went all around Italy and ended in Florence. It was held in the Piazza Michelangelo and it was essentially just a truck with 20 different, very unique flavors. You had the opportunity to try any flavor you want and got 5 servings of gelato. Then you voted for the best flavor and got one final gelato. It allows you to try some unique flavors!

Gucci Museum and Cafe

It costs 7 euros to go in the Gucci Museum (interesting but not necessary). The museum is connected to a cafe with a very unique hot chocolate, almost resembling liquid chocolate.

Medici Ricardi Palace

Renaissance Palace and museum

Bargello Museum

This is Florence’s 3rd most visited museum. It has a lot of sculptures as well as other art

Basilica di San Lorenzo and Medici Chapels

Church and chapels making up the complex of San Lorenzo

San Miniato al Monte

Another church in Florence found up my Piazzale Michelangelo

Orsanmichele

Church in Florence

Leather School

Located behind Santa Croce; it can be hard to find, but is where you can see the leather workshop and check out the store for some prime leather goods.

Mercato Centrale

Very big indoor market with many food options

Sant’Ambrogio Market

More of a locals market open everyday but Sunday from around 8 to 1 or 2 in the afternoon

Massimo’s Leather

Leather goods can be found all around Florence. Check out Massimo’s Leather located close to el Mercado Centrale. Massimo is friendly, has high quality products and speaks fluent English. He sells nice bags, wallets, jackets, belts and more. Avoid buying leather products from the shops on the street when you first arrive as you will notice some of these shops are not high quality and may be overpriced.

Florence Day Trips
Pisa

Purchase one-way or roundtrip train tickets at the train station in Florence to visit Pisa for a day. Trains to and from Pisa run multiple times an hour at different speeds. Try to catch one that is only an hour or slightly longer to take the most efficient trip. You can purchase your return ticket at the station in Pisa or in Florence and tickets cost about 10 euro each way.

You do not need much time in the city. The Leaning Tower, Cathedral, and Baptistery are all in one area and takes about 20 minutes to walk to the area form the train station. You can climb the Tower or go in the other buildings (costs about 18 euros).

Fiesole

It is a cute little town with a beautiful view of Florence from the other side. There are also some hiking trails up here.

Getting there:

Take the #7 bus heading to Fiesole from Piazza di San Marco or you can opt to splurge on a cab. (**Note: purchase two single ride 90 min bus tickets, should be 1,20€ each, from any Tabaccheria. Then, when you get on bus, validate one of the tickets using the machine and use the other one for the return trip). Get off the bus at the final stop in the central square of Fiesole.

Once in the central square of Fiesole, turn left and head straight. Keeping the view of Florence on your right and the roundabout of the center on your left. You have to go up a somewhat inclined road, and then should be on Via Giuseppe Verdi. Follow this until there is a fork in the road and an incredible view of Florence on your right. Then veer left onto Via di Monte Ceceri. Continue on this road until you see a brown sign that says “Parco di Montececeri”. Follow the arrow and then look for a pebble path on your right and head down it. You have now entered the park, and there will eventually be a trail map and brown signs directing you to different sights

Milan

This is a bit more aggressive of a day trip. Milan has a beautiful Duomo where you can climb to the top and pretty much walk on the roof. Right next to the Duomo is  Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a famous shopping mall. “The Last Supper” painting is also in Milan, but requires a reservation to view and the reservation must be booked pretty far in advance.

Getting there:

The fast train from Florence to Milan lasts about 2 hours. It is very easy, just make sure to book about a week in advance. We waited until just a few days and got stuck buying the business class seats since all cheaper tickets were already sold out. Typically it’ll cost about 70 euros round trip.

Venice

Another more aggressive day-trip, but possible from Florence. Venice has lots to do from taking a Gondola ride, wandering the streets, and visiting the different islands making up the city.

Getting there:

Take Trenitalia from the Santa Maria Novella station (fast train takes 2 hours). It costs about 69 euro roundtrip, but be sure to buy tickets in advance as trips sell out. I would recommend taking the earliest train out (we took an 8:30) and the last train back (we took the 17:25). This gave us ample time to see what we wanted to see without being too rushed. Depending on your desires in Venice, you can visit for just a day-trip or stay overnight to see more.

Perugia

Perugia is part of the Umbria region in Italy. To visit, you will need a car or be traveling with an organized group. Perugia is a bit bigger and not as quaint as some other small towns around Florence. Nevertheless, the Bacci chocolate factory is nearby and provides tours to visitors.

Assisi

Like Perugia, Assisi is in the Umbria region. It is a small, but cute town providing a nice change from busy Florence. If accessible, consider visiting for a few hours but keep in mind that there is not a lot to do aside from walking around, grabbing a bite to eat and seeing Francis Church.

Food and Drink Recommendations

Dinner

La Giostra

Delicious restaurant, but expensive with a nice atmosphere and great service. They give you Prosecco, some appetizers, and Limoncello on the house. The Pear Ravioli is a unique specialty dish. The menu is only in Italian but the waiters help decipher it when asked. Lots of famous people including Brad Pitt, Bono, Jennifer Aniston, and many more have enjoyed meals here. Make reservations in advance.

Pandemonio

Located on the other side of the Arno and a bit of a walk, but definitely worth it. It is not in a touristy area at all. Mamma comes and takes your order and she is a wonderful host, on top of all the food being delicious and a wonderful atmosphere. They also gave Limonchello on the house.

Osteria Santo Spirito

Delicious restaurant on the other side of the river. The food was amazing, with huge portions. With this in mind, either order ½ orders or just get appetizers and primi OR secondi. By the time I ate most of my primi, I was wishing I had not ordered a secondi dish. The piazza where this is located has a more local feel (Piazza Santo Spirito), and is much less touristy than some other areas.

Trattoria Borgo Antico

Another great Italian meal located in Piazza Santo Spirito with a more local feel.

4 Leoni

Awesome restaurant across the river. The menu is in Italian but the staff is helpful in translating it. You need a reservation to go here and note it is fancier and more expensive than other options.

Ristorante di Fagioli

Restaurant with a more casual feel, and the menu is only in Italian, but the food is great. Our waiter spent at least 5 minutes going through the entire menu with us, which was very helpful. I split the Florentine Steak here (made for 2 people) which is a very rare piece of steak.

Acqua al Due

Great steaks here! Make sure to try the Blueberry Steak, it is very unique and tasty. You can order an assortment of any of the courses (appetizers, salads, primi, secondi, dessert) and they bring a few different tastings of dishes (they’re commonly well liked dishes).

Pizzeria Il Teatro

20 euros never-ending wine and 3 course meal (3 pastas, appetizers and dessert). GO HUNGRY. We thought they were lying to us and asked during the meal to make sure we were really only paying 20 euros because it seemed impossible. The other two times we went, we had family style but that was about 20 euros as well and they keep bringing you food. You get 2 appetizers (bruschetta and fried dough basically) and bread of course. Your table then gets a bunch of pastas to share (3 of the chef’s picks) and you can ask them to bring more out if you finish everything. Then some dessert is also included and you have endless wine.

Yellow Bar

This is between Santa Croce Piazza and the Duomo. They serve good Italian food and is a more casual dinner spot.

Trattoria 13 Gobbi

Local Italian restaurant famous for their chocolate cake

Il Latini

This restaurant is very good, but go HUNGRY. Their best deal is the 40 euros all you can eat family style meal (includes appetizers, wine, primi—so pasta, secondi—so meat, and dessert).

Trattoria Pizzeria Dante

This restaurant is located across the river. It is a great deal, 5 FREE bottles of wine for students in Florence

Trattoria ZaZa

Touristy but good, especially if you can sit outside. It has a huge menu and is located near El Mercado Centrale

Simon Boccanegra

Italian restaurant located on Ghibellina near Santa Croce

Osteria de Benci

Nice meal and affordable located near Santa Croce. This restaurant is known for having some of the best Florentine steak in Florence.

The Diner

American style food; good if you’re craving some American food

Il Gatto e la Volpe

Located on Ghibellina near Santa Croce and is great for big groups. You can do family style so they bring out appetizers and entrees to share and there is endless wine all for just 20 euros

Gustapizza

Famous pizza spot that is a must visit for pizza lovers

Lunch

Pino’s

The real name is Salumeria Verdi. This spot is delicious and is right off of Via Ghibelina on Via Giuseppe Verdi offering great paninis (warm, cheap and tasty!)

Natalino’s

Another place for good paninis located near Lion’s Fountain on Borgo degli Albizi

Oil Shoppe

If you need something that is not straight carbs, this please has great salads! Of course, you can still find carbs here though as they have a lot of paninis.

All’Antico Vinaio

Famous panini place located on Via de Neri. Go earlier when there is no line if possible (11:30 am was a great time to go to avoid excessively long lines)

La Prosciutteria

Another spot for paninis on Via de Neri

Gelato

Gelateria de Neri

Amazing ice cream place. This was my favorite with go-to flavors being nutella and cookies! It is located on Via de Neri, about 5 minutes from Santa Croce.

La Carraia

Delicious – I liked their peanut butter flavor and the Bacci flavor. The dark chocolate (fondente) is very good too. This was easily my second favorite gelato spot.

Edoardo

This place is known for their waffle cones and making them in front of you so that they are warm. Cannot go wrong here and they have an amazing cinnamon flavor. The nocciola (hazelnut) was also wonderful. (They have vegan ice cream here for those in need of it)

Vivoli

Supposedly the best ice cream in Florence. The gelato is very good, but found some other places to be better

Venchi

Chocolate shop with good gelato

Grom

Another good gelato spot located near the Duomo.

Festival del Gelato

This is on a side street (Via del Corso) near the Duomo with a tasty Snickers flavor‘

Perche no!

Another gelato spot not far from the Duomo

Cafes and Brunch

Gucci Café

Very cute café; you can just go for tea/coffee or can enjoy brunch or lunch

Le Vespe

A lot of people like getting American breakfast here and great place to grab a tea or coffee. It is located on Via Ghibellina

La Milkeria

Cute shop and delicious food with great breakfast food (waffles, crepes, panckes, etc.)

Sugar and Spice

If you’re craving some American dessert (cakes, cupcakes, brownies), stop by this cute little bakery

Drinks

Club 21

Before you go here, prepare yourself to get nice and sweaty and note the crowd tends to be university students. It is a downstairs club with a bar and dance floor but it gets hot.

Space

A lot more fun than Club 21, but it is far away and seems pretty sketchy outside so travel in a group. Wednesday night they play more American music and in general, if you get there before 12:30, cover charge is 1 euro instead of 10 euro.

Bamboo

Another club in Florence with a different vibe

Red Garter

Bar with beer pong on Tuesday nights. Definitely lots of Americans here, but a fun pregame or weekday spot if you are studying abroad

Lion’s Fountain

Monday nights are dollars for euro nights so they accept dollars for euros (ie 5 euro drink can be paid with 5 dollars). There are college t-shirts hanging all around the bar.

Naima

Fun bar and people would often go here to pregame.

Kikuya

Giant fishbowl drinks here and fun place to go hang out at for a more casual night

The William

Pub with a laid back atmosphere; good place to go and just grab a beer and hang with friends.

The Scottish Pub

Good place to go and just grab a beer

Other Notes

Timing

Florence is a small city, and can be easily seen in a few days. It gets very hot in the summer and can be filled with tourists, so consider visiting in shoulder season (April/May or September/October).

Bugs

The mosquitoes get bad and can be rough in the hot summer months as the windows do not have screens.

Other

Addresses are very weird. Red numbers are typically business and restaurants. These are completely separate from the blue/black numbers which are for residential locations

Street Vendors

People constantly try to sell things to you whether it is ponchos, paintings, purses, sunglasses or something else on the street. Ignore the vendors if you would like them to leave you alone. Be especially careful with the vendors using temporary selling points or the fake designer bags where all products are laid out on a blanket. Vendors are likely making illegal sales and will quickly pick-up their items and scurry away when police make their rounds. Note that you can actually get fined for purchasing the fraudulent products. People will also consistently come up to you at dinner trying to sell you flowers. If you acknowledge them, they will stick around longer

Shopping

Groceries are easy and definitely cheaper. You have to weigh all your fruits and vegetables and print a sticker with the price on the bag.

Tiger is a great place to get basic items like schools supplies, home goods, and other random products. Use 99 cent stores for items like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning detergent and materials, Tupperware containers, some school supplies, etc.

There is also an IKEA about 30 minutes outside of the city with a shuttle provided near the Santa Maria Novella train station.

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Transportation and Accommodations

Things to do and see

Food and Drinks