Day 1 - Tuesday 3rd April
We arrived in Florence at 11am after having taken the 9:30am train from Milan Garibaldi. What a great experience! The train was very fast, just long enough to have a nap and a good breakfast. We walked to our hotel (walking is the easiest way to get around Florence, due to all the traffic and general chaos). We were staying right next to the Mercato Centrale, and decided to eat there for lunch. Unfortunately we visited during the busiest hour and finding a table was quite difficult. What's great about the Mercato Centrale second floor street food space is that there are so many types of food to choose from. You were provided with an excellently designed map at the entrance, detailing all the different food stalls and seating areas. I had a platter of vegetables and mozzarella, which was delicious until they poured diluted-olive oil onto it, and a huge ragù Arancini from the Sicilian stall. After lunch we decided to walk around the city and take it all in, taking advantage of the beautiful day. Before beginning our tour we stopped for coffee at the historical Pasticceria Sieni, where we ate our first Cantucci. We walked from the Mercato to the Basilica di San Lorenzo where we visited first the Cappelle Medicee and then the Basilica itself and the cloister. From there we walked through the Piazza del Duomo, all the way down to the Ponte Vecchio (which was hell to cross) and ended up at Palazzo Pitti. We wanted to visit it but unfortunately there was an endless queue.
Our first dinner was at the highly recommended ristorante Perseus, where we were treated like royalty. Waiting for us at the table when we arrived was a huge bowl with fresh, raw vegetables dipped in olive oil, a pinzimonio. Whilst we were deciding what to order a delicious smelling, freshly made 'schiaccia' was brought to us, which we devoured in the space of 2 minutes. I ended up ordering stuffed zucchini flowers as an appetiser and then we all shared a 1.5kg Fiorentina steak (1st picture) which quite frankly is the best steak I've ever eaten. It was tender, full of flavour and salted to perfection. We paired the food with an excellent bottle of red Tuscan wine. What really impressed us from the experience, and made it special was the 'extra' things which were brought to us as soon as we arrived, making us feel very well cared for.
Day 2 - Wednesday 4th April
The weather forecast had predicted rain and indeed, it was raining. We went to visit a few churches and museums, and stopped for lunch at Trattoria San Lorenzo, which 4 different people had recommended. The restaurant is situated next to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, a beautiful location. We were seated upstairs, in a bright and quiet room, from which we were overlooking the Piazza and church. I ordered casarecce with artichokes and Tuscan Pecorino, which were so delicious and full of flavour. Everyone else ordered Pappa al pomodoro (third picture) and spaghetti with garlic, tomato sauce and breadcrumbs. It was a rainy afternoon so we headed over to the Museo Degli Innocenti, an immensely interesting and interactive museum, which used to be an orphanage. I highly recommend visiting it as you learn about Florence from a different perspective. The museum also has a beautiful terrace with a cafe from which one can admire Brunelleschi's dome and the wider city. Around 8pm we headed to the Palazzo Vecchio to visit it. I suggest visiting the Palazzo vecchio, especially the Salone dei Cinquecento. The Palace is open every day till 9pm, a great time to go to avoid all the insane queues! After a great visit we crossed the river and walked for thirty minutes to the Antico Ristoro di Cambi, which a few people had recommended. We were feeling slightly skeptical as we walked towards it because we were leaving the centre, but as it turned out we found ourselves in a quiet, non touristic area of Florence which we otherwise would not have seen. The restaurant was lovely. Authentic, rustic and full of locals, it was bustling with people and delicious wafts of bistecche, cheeses and pasta sauces. We ordered many different antipasti: tomatoes with olive oil, prosciutto crudo cut by hand and lardo. Then we had artichokes filled with meat and grilled lamb chops. Everything was so delicious, and the location and staff so nice. We had a great meal which we ended with cantucci and vin santo, obviously.
Day 3 - Thursday 5th April
We had a VERY early start in order to be first in line for the Uffizzi Galleries. And thank god we did. At 8:30am there were already 50 people waiting in line. We visited the great gallery, with the luxury of having few people around us. After two hours we were done and quite frankly exhausted. Taking advantage of the beautiful day we walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo to admire the view. Just before the Piazza we found a rose garden from which one could admire an even better view than from above. You could see Florence's centre adorned by gorgeous roses and hills. We crossed the centre and headed towards the Trattoria Mario, which I had read about on Lonely Planet. It is a highly frequented trattoria, being featured on Lonely Planet, but nonetheless very authentic. We waited for 15 minutes to be seated, and ended up sharing a table with a lovely American couple. The trattoria was chaotic but in the best way possible. Posters of the Fiorentina football team were hanging everywhere, alongside photographs of members of the team with the restaurant staff. We ordered a cheese and cured meat platter with prosciutto, two types of salame, olives, Caciotta cheese and another Tuscan cheese. I then had some scrumptious tortelli filled with potatoes in homemade ragù sauce. The American couple left soon after we arrived, and they were replaced by two American girls who talked about how 'authentic' the place felt. They then proceeded to say that 'it just looks like the place where authentic Italians would come and eat'. Thanks. I guess?
After lunch our group split up, and we went to visit the Museo Gucci. The museum is situated within a beautiful old building, but the interiors are completely modern. We got in for free, being two students and one senior. Although the museum was very interesting, it showcased all the different Gucci collections across the years, there were very few explanations, which was disappointing. On the ground floor was a huge store selling everything Gucci from coats to shoes to shopping bags (for the modest price of €100). After our visit we made our way to the Ferragamo Palace where there was a temporary exhibition in the basement about the brand's history.
For dinner we went to the well-known I Tuscani 4 (the fourth of a chain of restaurants in Florence, mainly serving the Florentine steak). We wanted to have another delicious steak on our last night in the city. We soon learnt that the restaurants have a very eco-friendly mindset (even though they only sell meat) and for that reason all the tableware was made of recycled materials such as wheat bran. Although their intentions need to be applauded, I think steak is the wrong food to eat on plates which are not exactly sturdy. We ordered a beef Fiorentina steak with a delicious mix of grilled vegetables. The restaurant also sell extra bones (the yummiest part of a steak), stating that if you're sharing a steak with someone, there is only one bone, which is unfair. So they sell you another one. Slightly pointless and expensive but still cute. Out of all the restaurants we went to during our trip this was my least favourite one, although the food was still excellent.
Day 4 - Friday 6th April
Another early start! This time to be first in line to visit the Duomo's bell tower, designed by the famous Giotto, and the Baptistry facing the Duomo. We climbed the 422 steps leading up to the top and the view was breathtaking. Worth getting up early to avoid the crowds and the heat. The Baptistry was equally beautiful, and quick to visit. Not quick to visit, however, was the Duomo. It was still closed so we queued for one hour in the cold, and what a disappointment it was once we were inside. No one had told us that to see the entire church you actually needed two separate tickets and two separate queues. The ticket we had only let us see the back of the church (aka the entrance) which had not decorations or affreschi, and the small museum below the church which showed the ruins of the previous church. We were extremely disappointed by our visit to the Duomo, especially because to see the chapel one needed to book a time slot weeks in advance, meaning we could not even see it from below. Feeling cold and disheartened we headed to the Mercato Centrale to buy some edible souvenirs (mainly Cantucci and cheese) and have a quick lunch on the street food level. This time I braved the queue for the fresh pasta stand and got myself an AMAZING plate of spaghetti with pesto, potatoes and string beans (2nd picture). My mum got herself a fresh plate of raw gamberi rossi, which I highly recommend.
After lunch we visited the Botanical Garden which turned out to be the perfect destination on such a hot day. We looked at all the various plants and stumbled upon a table made from a tree stump with benches around it in the middle of a weeping willow. We sat down and didn't move for about 3 hours, enjoying the quiet and shaded spot. Feeling peckish we decided to cross the city again and go to All'Antico Vinaio, the acclaimed sandwich shop. Not being peak lunch hour we only had to queue for 5 minutes before we were served by two very friendly sandwich makers. My sister asked for a focaccia bread panino filled with prosciutto, Pecorino, rocket salad and tomatoes. I was not going to eat anything until I saw the soft, creamy cheese someone had put in their panino. I ended up ordering a smaller one in regular bread with prosciutto, the cheese I had just seen, diced courgettes and sun dried tomatoes. Words cannot describe the heavenly taste of the panini, I just wish we had eaten them earlier during our trip (so to have time to eat two).
Perseus (great dinner location)
Trattoria San Lorenzo (great location and food)
Antico Ristoro di Cambi (outside the centre, delicious food and location)
Mercato Centrale (busy but great food and vibe)
Trattoria Mario (great place and food, super cheap)
All'Antico Vinaio (best panini ever, few places to sit)
Pasticceria Sieni (historical cafe with delicious Cantucci)
Scudieri (historical cafe in Piazza Duomo)
My Sugar (award winning Gelato near the Botanical Garden)
Museo degli Innocenti terrace cafe (great view of Florence and the Duomo)
from long weekends away to month long travels and trips.