It’s that time of year – after settling down in Perugia or wherever you happen to be studying abroad, it’s time to start moving around Italy and exploring the new (well, not new – they’re actually very old) cities that pepper the Italian landscape. For this blog, we consulted Art History professor, Renaissance art specialist, and longtime Florence resident Adrian Hoch, as well as several Umbra staff members whom have lived in Florence for varying lengths of time.
We’ve tried to put together several recommendations for museums, restaurants, and sights, avoiding the tradition tourist fare (of both the visual and culinary variety) in favor of some lesser-known, more out-of-the way spots.
MUSEUMS, CHURCHES, AND SIGHTS
Because we worked with an Art History professor, she’s obviously biased towards the great museums, so we’ll share those with you here, along with some tips and tricks to make your experience better. The “majors,” so to speak – the Accademia, the Uffizi, and Palazzo Pitti with the attached Boboli gardens – are all run by Firenze Musei, which does a great job of keeping an updated website with special exhibits and pricing.
For Firenze Musei reservations, you can also call (055) 294-883. They offer phone support in English, Spanish, and Italian. Reservations, while not always necessary, are a €4/head insurance policy against spending up to an hour of your precious day in Florence waiting in line. Is it worth it? Depends on the day you go, really – but if you’ll be visiting in mid-March or early April, definitely reserve. That is when lines are the longest.
- The Accademia – €11/person, plus €4/person for reservations.
Via Ricasoli, 58-60 – Open: Tue-Sun, 8:15a-6.50p
Phone: 055 238 8609 – Map
The big sight here is Michelangelo’s David. A trick that they frequently pull at the Accademia – although they do the same thing at the Uffizi – is to create a special, limited-time exhibit, and then to extend it. So, if you’re trying to see something and the end date is in the near future, don’t hurry too much; it’ll likely still be there when you’re really trying to go. Also, watch out for the famous Accademia “shriekers” – the guards will happily yell at you if you try to take a picture of the David. Discretion helps, but they’re very observant.
- The Uffizi – €11/person, plus €4/person for reservations.
Loggiato degli Uffizi, 6 – Open: Tue-Sun, 8:15a-6.50p
Phone: 055 238 8683 – Map
One of the most famous museums in the world – but they’re known for loaning out some of their most famous works very suddenly. If you’re fixed on seeing one particular work, call ahead and make sure that it’s still there. Also, please remember: no liquids! They do have a x-ray machine and will make you dump it out.
- Palatine Gallery / Palazzo Pitti – €6/person
Piazza Pitti, 1 – Open: Sun-Fri 8.30a -6.50p (inc. holidays); Saturdays 8.30a-10.00p
Phone: 055 238 8614 – Map
Palazzo Pitti, a converted private collection, is well worth seeing. Also notable are the attached Boboli gardens, which are a destination in themselves. Think about doing the €11 complete ticket, which permits you to see both the palace and the gardens – the price for that drops to €9 after 4.30.
With the major museums out of the way, here are several free or very inexpensive museums that are absolutely worth a visit – they’re not as well known and will definitely be less crowded:
- Santo Spirito – Free
Piazza Santo Spirito – Open: 8.30a-12p and 3.45p-6p. Holidays it closes at 5p.
Phone: 055 210 030 – Map
The Santo Spirito church (or basilica, really) is a hidden gem in Florence – it’s in the Oltrarno district, which is on the other side of the Arno from the rest of the centro storico, or historic center. The zone is just over the overcrowded Ponte Vecchio and is still surprisingly free of tourists. To be noted here is the magnificent Michelangelo crucifix that it contains. Near the Palatine Gallery and the Boboli gardens, you shouldn’t miss it.
- Capponi Chapel / Santa Felicità – Free
Piazza Santa Felicità, 3 – Open: 9.30a-12.30p and 3.30p-5.30p. Closed Sundays and holidays.
Phone: 055 213 018
The Capponi Chapel, which is just over the Ponte Vecchio, is the oldest religious complex in Florence (along with the Church of San Lorenzo). It is particularly notable, other than its beauty, for housing Pontormo’s “Deposition.”
- Sacred Trinity / Chiesa di Santa Trinità – Free
Piazza Santa Trinità – Open: 7a-12p, 4p-7p – Map
This church, which is near the eponymous Ponte Santa Trinita and in a very elegant district of Florence, houses two very famous frescos: Monaco’s Vita della Vergine and Ghirlindaio’s Adorazione dei Pastori.
- Piazzale Michelangelo – Free
Piazzale Michelangelo, Always Open – Map
Ask anyone who’s lived in Florence and they will openly tell you that Piazzale Michelangelo, about ten minutes up a hill from downtown, has by FAR the best view of Florence. Time it up so you’re here around sunset and watch as the city is bathed in red-gold rays – truly incredible. Definitely take some pictures. It is essentially a large parking lot, yes – but one with an amazing panoramic.
- San Miniato al Monte – Free
Via delle Porte Sante, 34 – Open: Weekdays from 8a-12.30p and 2p-7p. 8a-7p on holidays. – Map
You can find San Miniato just above Piazzale Michelangelo. Just follow the road up and you’ll see it after 200 yards or so on the left – there’s an enormous staircase leading up to the doors, so you can’t miss it. Beyond the view, there’s the church – construction began in 1013. It’s a little bit of a walk, but both the façade and the interior are well worth the visit.
Okay, you’ve done your duty and seen the museums. Now onto the good stuff. We’ve tried to avoid the general tourist traps and pick only things that we’ve found to be truly exceptional — and we’ve discovered them through a lot of trial and error.
- La Maremma – TripAdvisor – Map
This is downtown but just far enough out of the way to be hidden. A true locals’ place, with an excellent wine list, a good ambience, and a menu that changes appropriately with the seasons. You’d probably spend around €20/person here if you choose wisely.
- Ristorante del Fagioli – TripAdvisor – Map
Want a bistecca fiorentina? I fagioli has perhaps the best steak in all of Florence. Loved by tourists and Florentines alike, it is very important to reserve if you don’t want to wait. Very Tuscan, but not very cheap, look to spend around €25 a person here, depending on what you order.
- Trattoria ZaZa – Tripadvisor – Map
While it can be occasionally hit-or-miss, ZaZa is right next to the central market and has very, very reasonably-priced food with good ingredients. They have enormous menu, which means something for everyone, and they have great outdoor seating in the summer months. Come here more for the atmosphere than the exceptional cuisine, but it has been around for 30-40 years and is worth a visit.
- Trattoria Pizzeria Santa Lucia – Tripadvisor – Map
Santa Lucia, while out of the way, is as delicious and authentic as you can get. Run by Neopolitans, it’s generally agreed that they make the best pizza in Florence. They are open six nights/week and is entirely populated by locals. You can choose thick or thin crust, but try the polpo (octopus) for an antipasto if you’re up for it. Their fish is the freshest and they know what they’re doing.
- Il Pizzaiuolo – Tripadvisor – Map
Classic, thick neopolitan pizza that is the best pizza in downtown Florence. This was Julie’s pick – when asked for a restaurant recommendation, this one came up immediately.
- Pentola d’Oro – TripAdvisor – Map
An excellent and reasonably-priced restaurant that has become a staple for a lot of Florentines. The chef here was actually picked to fly up to Switzerland and cook for President Obama’s Nobel Prize dinner.
- Trattoria Nella – TripAdvisor – Map
This is Ian’s personal favorite in Florence — it’s central, but hidden enough that it’s not a tourist trap. Very much Florentine in the feel, with dark wood tables and thick paper placemats, Trattoria Nella is one of the few remaining authentic eateries in the absolute center. Try their gnocchi alla gorgonzola and thank us later.
Done with lunch? Time for dessert:
- Gelateria Vivoli — TripAdvisor – Map
Via dell’Isola delle Stinche 7
This family-owned gelateria has been perfecting their recipes since 1930. They have some truly interesting — and delicious — flavors. It’s also open all day, so make sure to drop by at some point.
- Gelateria dei Neri — TripAdvisor – Map
Via dei Neri, 22
Open every day from 9am to midnight.
Another hotspot for amazing gelato, and this one has some truly peculiar flavors on the menu.
Have you spent time in Florence or other cities in Italy? What are your picks? Is there another city that you’d like the Umbra staff to review? Let us know!