Florence has so much to discover, from classic art to contemporary exhibitions, plus an illustrious heritage for fashion and food. It’s a city to ignite your passions on every level.
Today it’s a magnificent example of Renaissance architecture built on the wealth of the city’s 15th- and 16th- century burgeoning new banking scene, as the newly rich built grand palaces to out-do their neighbors and commissioned fine artworks by the city’s most talented creatives to adorn their palace walls. The city’s heart lies within the old Renaissance parameters, intersected by the river Arno, crossed by the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge, and containing the major landmarks: the Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Boboli Gardens, Galleria dell’Accademia, Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo.
For a small city, Florence is a vibrant capital that today retains much of its traditions especially with its artisan heritage. Equally, there is a fresh array of contemporary spaces to enjoy a balance of traditionally made creative crafts with a modern design twist, whether it’s leather-made goods or jewelry in artisan studios, or restaurants using locally sourced produce of the finest quality.
Start your day at Caffé Gilli
Serving since 1733 and famed as Florence’s oldest cafe, Gilli is an institution within the bustling Piazza della Repubblica. Gilli offers old world charisma with frothy cappuccini and stiff espresso served for standing patrons at a long marble-topped bar by dapper baristas in waistcoats and ties. For those wishing to linger, banquette seating within the elegant dining room has a Room with a View charm. Begun as a Swiss pastry shop, Gilli’s sweet treats are some of the finest in the city. Also a chocolatier, shelves are bursting with cocoa treats and colourful artisanal jellies. Lunch offers sandwiches and light bites and the best seats are by the open windows in the main cafe building overlooking the piazza.
Next up: take in a contemporary art exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi
From 1538 until 1937, Palazzo Strozzi remained in private ownership, home to the prominent family of the same name, and one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Florence. Today it is a hot spot for contemporary exhibitions in a city traditionally focused on classical art. Its centerpiece is its grand courtyard, which you can walk through and admire without ticket admission. Here there’s music events on Thursdays (during its weekly late-night opening), plus a chic bistro-cafe for caffeinated or cocktail treats. Strozzi’s shows are always innovative. A recent exhibition was The Florence Experiment, a collaboration between artist Carsten Höller and scientist Stefano Mancuso. They installed two 20-meter slides for visitors to cascade down the courtyard facade within the palazzo. Other shows have ranged from Chinese activist artist, Ai Weiwei, to works by Van Gogh. La Strozzina, its mini basement gallery, often hosts exhibition offshoot shows while Bottega Strozzi, the bookstore run by Marsilio Editori, is filled with a colorful collection of contemporary publications.
Afternoon: refresh yourself with an afternoon aperitivo at Procacci
This truffle haven has been in situ on elegant Via de’ Tornabuoni since 1885 and continues to retain its 19th-century salon feel. Founded by Leopoldo Procacci, a passionate truffle connoisseur, the space was recently refurbished yet retains the original layout with L-shaped bar and wood-paneled walls filled with shelves of truffle products – infused in butter, salt, olive oil, and jams. Wait staff move gracefully, ready to pour your glass of choice (try the sparking Rosé) from one of Florence’s most noble wine families, Antinori. Choose from finger sandwiches layered in truffle cream, anchovies, and truffle butter or truffle with foie gras. Procacci also has a gourmet shop, should you be so enamored by the truffle items that you wish to take them home. Afterward, wander along the elegant Via de’ Tornabuoni peering into the showrooms of luxury labels of Armani, Gucci, Pucci, and Prada.
End of Day: Old world Tuscan dining at Cantinetta Antinori
The Antinori family has been winemakers in Tuscany since 1385. In this cozy restaurant on the ground floor of their grand city palace, dishes are cooked to traditional recipes, creating an old-world dining experience and attentive service. The kitchen follows the rhythm and seasons of Tuscany, offering fresh pasta and game. In truffle season, buttery pasta with shavings of this prized root is to be savored. When on the menu, try carciofi (artichoke) tagliatelle or a plate of porcini mushrooms hot off the grill. Maître d’ Daniele happily suggests dishes, daily specials and which glass you should sample first from the family’s many wine estates scattered throughout Tuscany and Umbria. All the Antinori wines are on offer, by the glass or bottle, from Chianti Classico to crisp Vermentino from Bolgheri.
Late night: indulge at Rasputin
Named after the Russian mystic and self-proclaimed holy man assassinated in St Petersburg in 1916, this ‘secret’ bar has been a word-of-mouth hit since it quietly opened in 2016. There’s no street number, just directions – you need to find the basement bar and ring a discreet doorbell nestled within a small alcove fashioned on a private chapel with church pew and crucifix hanging on the wall.
Established by Marco Vinci, Rasputin has a distinctly British gentleman’s club-feel tucked under an exposed brick arch ceiling, warmed by walls in a blood-red hue and furnished with antiques and dimly lit lamps. Seasoned wait staff guide you through a drinks list that has a prohibition-era flair. Cocktails are stiff and perfectly blended created by head bartender Daniele Cancellara who revisits old classics using only the finest raw ingredients. Shelves behind the wood paneled bar house over 300 bottles of spirits (100 of which are whiskey) plus a selection of fine old-world wine from Italy and France, including Champagne, available by the bottle. With only 43 seats, reservations are wise and can be made until 11 pm each night.
Start your day surrounded by ferns and fashion at Floret
An oasis within the walls of high-end fashion store Luisa via Roma, Floret is a welcomed serene addition to inner-city Florence dining. Away from the hustle of the shopping streets below, this courtyard cafe on the first floor of the fashion emporium is surrounded by leafy ferns in pots, with 1960s inspired decor in muted pastel shades and indoor sofa seating under a canopy ceiling. The seasonal menu is good greenery too with superfood salad bowls, fresh sandwiches and pressed juices. Tuck into dishes like tabbouleh with grilled lemon chicken or a Dr. Green smoothie (pineapple, spinach, banana, mint, avocado, wheatgrass, matcha), a meal in itself. With many gluten-free and vegan dishes, as well as non-dairy options. (Try the golden turmeric latte). It’s organic, clean eating that will satisfy any fashionista or wellness seeker.
After dinner, take a slow stroll across the city’s cobbled streets down via Roma to cross the Arno over the famed Ponte Vecchio with its glittering jewelry stores. Dating back to the 14th century, it’s the oldest existing bridge in the city.
Lunch over the finest Bistecca at Osteria dell’Enoteca
If running one of the best wine bars in the city wasn’t enough, the team from Pitti Gola & Cantina decided to open a restaurant specializing in bistecca and wine, the kind of place they would want to frequent on their day off. And you can see why. Opposite the walls of Boboli Gardens, the restaurant’s exposed brick walls and linen-draped tables offer a refined yet not-stuffy dining experience. Chef Nicola Chiappi’s menu is laced with seasonal local ingredients and four types of bistecca, from a house special to Chianina breed. Spring starters include savory flan of ricotta cheese with monks beard greens and lemon, or paté aficionados will devour local specialty of fegatini (chicken liver) glazed with a sweet Vin Santo wine reduction. Then there are traditional crespelle (crepes) stuffed with ricotta and spinach, or handmade maccheroncetti pasta with asparagus and pecorino cheese. The team will happily perfect a pairing to suit your food from their hefty Wine Wall featuring Italian labels from small batches made by boutique wine producers.
Lose the afternoon in the grand rooms at Palazzo Pitti
Originally built by banker Luca Pitti in the 15th century, Palazzo Pitti was purchased in 1550 by Eleanor of Toledo, wife of Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, who desired a more modern home away from the ‘old’ apartments of Palazzo Vecchio. They doubled the building in size to become the most grandiose palace in Florence, a symbol of their power and the new Grand Ducal residence. The facade is striking and imposing when approached from the palace entrance, its stone piazza a popular spot to sun yourself between gallery visits. Within Pitti are five museums, making it the largest exhibition complex in Florence. Treasury of the Grand Dukes has exquisite quadrature frescoes and priceless jewelry including 16th-century gems once belonging to Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici. Upstairs is Gallery of Modern Art, Museum of Costume and Fashion, and the Royal and Imperial Apartments, kept in their original 18th-century style since the House of Lorraine-Habsburg called Pitti home.
In the Palatine Gallery, 500 masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio and Rubens that were once part of the Medici collection hang in ostentatiously decorated rooms. Napoleon, in his quest to expand the French Empire, used the palace as his Florence base between 1799 and 1814 (his private bathroom remains) while out back, the Boboli Gardens is a green respite from the city’s cobbled streets.
Post gallery, shop along Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti for artisan crafts at Giulia Materia
Like many of the stores in the artisan neighborhood of Santo Spirito, craftsmanship here is key. Designer Giulia Materia hails from Arezzo, studied at Bauhaus-Universtät Weimar, Germany, and was trained in binding at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence. With partner Enzo Sarcinelli, she opened her shop and laboratory in 2012. Here, you’ll find the duo behind their shop counter most days gluing together their latest notebooks ready for display. Products in her snug store have a distinctly retro flair using bright, bold materials in block neon colors, stripes, and prints. Overnight and gym bags and pencil cases are sewn with ’70s inspired wool upholstery fabrics, notebooks are bound in bright cotton, and there’s rows of shift dresses and colored T-shirts to peruse. If traveling during weekdays, be sure to pop into Tiziana Alemanni atelier for fine female fashion at number 20.
Come dusk, enjoy gentleman’s club dining with a Tuscan twist at Gurdulù
Its dining room is slick and chic, with smoky grey walls, antique mirrors, and paintings, flickering tea lights and banquettes in dark check fabric sitting bedside vintage wood tables. At the zinc bar, ‘barlady’ Cristina Bini offers a fresh look at cocktail mixing including her take on the classics, like a Negroni based in mezcal. For the wine enthusiast, choose from an extensive selection of over 250 homegrown and international labels from Tuscany, Piedmont, Burgundy, and Champagne before the food love begins. Chef Gabriele Andreoni is a Florence native who has worked under Michelin-star maestros Mauro Colagreco and Heinz Beck. Andreoni’s menu is anything but traditional Tuscan – Marzolino cheese risotto with fava beans, vanilla and mushroom powder or duck breast with sweet kumquat, carrots, and tart wasabi are two recent favorites.
Sleep within the walls of a historic palace at AdAstra
The first floor of this 15th-century palazzo has been creatively converted into 14 bedrooms by Betty Soldi and Matteo Perduca, the interiors team behind SoprArno Suites, and latest venture, Oltrarno Splendid. AdAstra has a selection of characterful rooms decorated with vintage Italian furnishings from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, a mix of up-cycled furniture finished with high-end fittings – from double showers to dreamy beds, in-room bathtubs to linen so crisp you may not make it out of bed in time for breakfast.
Or if your preference is sleek and modern, book a room at Milu
A boutique hotel and gallery with 22 rooms decorated in ’50s retro flair yet also contemporary in style, original artwork lines the walls along a grand central staircase, and also hang in rooms – many works are for sale – while bathrooms feature a distinct pop of color with neon perspex shower walls. Upstairs, in the communal lounge, library shelves are lined with books dedicated to photography and the arts while its cozy terrace offers rooftop views over Via de’ Tornabuoni Florence’s most fashionable street.