We recently returned from a 9 day trip to Italy, and I am so excited to tell you all about it! It was my first time in Italy, so we decided to hit two major cities on this trip: Florence and Rome with a two day stop in Siena in between. We look forward to going back to Italy one day (hopefully in the near future!) and exploring other parts of this beautiful country because there is so much to see!
Because I have so much information to share, I’ve decided to split our trip into three posts: (1) Florence (2) Tuscany and (3) Rome. Today, I am sharing all about our time in Florence.
How we got to Florence:
We flew in and out of Rome on both ends of our trip. When we arrived in Rome, we took the train from Rome’s Fiumicino airport to Florence’s Santa Maria Novella Station. If you’re able to get a direct train between the airport and Florence, book it, as these trains are limited. We had to transfer at the Rome Termini station and had a bit of a fright that we were going to miss our train to Florence (we made it with just two minutes to spare after a lot of sprinting through the train station with our luggage).
Once we were on the train between Rome Termini and Florence, everything was easy. We had comfortable seats, plenty of room to spread out, and free wifi. When we arrived to Florence Santa Maria Novella, we found the taxi stand and drove 10 minutes to our hotel.
Tip: make sure to get a taxi from an official stand rather than any random person claiming to be a taxi with a “great rate”. Also, you do not need to tip taxi drivers in Italy, if anything just round up.
Where we stayed in Florence:
We stayed at Hotel Orto de Medici, which was located in walking distance from everything we wanted to do and see in Florence. The hotel was perfect – we had zero complaints. As hotel rooms in Europe tend to be small, we opted for a larger room for our time in Florence, and booked a Junior Suite. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the room was HUGE (by both American and European standards). There was a large closet with two clothing racks, two dressers, and additional space for our suitcases, plus an expansive bathroom with double sinks, a soaking tub, rain shower, and separate toilet room.
When we checked into our room, we were pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of sparkling wine waiting for us, which we very much appreciated after 18 hours of travel. Tip: if you book directly with the hotel as we did, the mini bar is also complimentary.
Breakfast is included in the room rate for all guests, and the selection was absolutely fantastic! It’s served buffet style, with options such as eggs, cheese, bacon, breads, cereal, pastries, fresh fruit, juice, coffee and tea. We were thrilled to see dairy-free milk alternatives and multiple gluten-free bread and cereal options!
We highly recommend Hotel Orto de Medici in Florence and would absolutely stay here again.
What to Do in Florence:
There is SO much to do in Florence, and we did not have time to cover everything on our list. Below are just some suggestions, but I urge you to research all that Florence has to offer.
We did this 3-hour walking tour on our first day in Florence and really, really enjoyed it. Our guide, Angelo, was extremely knowledgable about the history of Florence and provided some interesting anecdotes as well as tips on Italian culture and how to avoid tourist traps! This was a fantastic tour to get us acquainted with the city.
The famous duomo (cathedral) is a must-see in Florence. A cumulative ticket (€20) provides you with access to multiple sites: the Cathedral Museum, Brunelleschi’s Dome (Cupola), Giotto’s Bell Tower, Baptistery of San Giovanni and Archaeological site of Santa Reparata. If available, this ticket also allows you to select a time to “Skip the Line” to climb Brunelleschi’s Dome. The dome climb is extremely popular, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it without a skip-the-line ticket. Per the suggestion of a friend, we ended up climbing Giotto’s Bell Tower instead (included in the ticket price). It’s located right across from the dome, has the same number of steps and view of the city, but never seems to have a line.
Florence is a fantastic place to shop, especially if you’re in the market for something leather, as Florence has been famous for its leather production for centuries.
Stores we loved included: Madova (a leather glove shop that has been producing leather gloves for high-end stores like Bloomingdale’s, Harrod’s, and Burberry since 1919. I purchased cashmere-lined leather gloves for about $50 and they would have cost me at least $200 in the U.S.), Dan John, Quintessence Firenze, Corneliani, and Rinascente Firenze.
Where to Eat in Florence:
La Giostra: This was our favorite meal of our entire trip. We went for lunch and shared an order of their famous pear ravioli, a salad, and minestrone soup. Our waiter greeted us with complimentary prosecco, which was well-appreciated on a very hot day.
Mercato Centrale: a food hall with a variety of vendors (pizza, pasta, vegan, etc.). We ordered a margherita pizza from the pizza stand and a healthy salad from the vegan/vegetarian stand. The pizza was the best we had throughout our entire trip!
Floret: A healthy restaurant with salads, juices, and plenty of light and fresh options. The cuisine felt very Californian to us – in a good way – as it was a nice break from pasta. Floret is located in the high-end department store, LUISAVIAROMA, which is fun to poke around before or after your meal.
Trattoria Za Za: Great location for people watching and pasta.
Manifattura: a fun cocktail bar that felt popular among locals. The menu is only in Italian, so we just asked the lead mixologist for recommendations based on our mood and flavor preferences. Another cool aspect is that Manifattura only uses Italian liquors, so you wont see Grey Goose and Tito’s here.
Other restaurants we didn’t have a chance to try:
Another note on food: Florentine steak (bistecca alla fiorentina) is one of the most popular dishes in Tuscan cuisine. We went to a restaurant that specialized in cooking Florentine steaks, and after ordering it, we quickly determined it wasn’t for us. You have to order the full steak, which is at least 1 kilo (about 2.2 lbs.) with the bone, and the steak is cooked medium-rare – no other way. To our surprise, the steak arrived to the table cooked to what we considered rare. If you prefer steak cooked medium or medium-well, you will not like Florentine steak. If you’re okay with eating steak on the (very) rare side, then make sure you come hungry or have enough people to help you finish your order, because it is a lot of steak.
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I hope you enjoyed reading my Florence Travel Guide. Next up is Part 2: Our time in Tuscany. Stay tuned!