My brother emailed and said he has a friend who's taking the train from Rome to Florence for the day. She was looking for suggestions about the best way to spend one day in Florence, where to go, where to eat, etc. Here's what I said:
It's hard to give advice to someone I don't know because I don't know what type of traveller they are, but if it was me I would:
1) take the 10 minute walk from the train station to the Duomo. Here you could: a) go into the cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), b) climb to the top of the Dome, c) climb to the top of the Campanile or d) go into the Baptistry (above) --- my choice would be to go into the Baptistry which is just beautiful with bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti (note: you need a ticket for the Baptistry - info on tickets, hours, prices etc. for the Baptistry and the rest of the Duomo complex is here).
2) next walk from the Duomo down Via Calzaiuoli to Piazza della Signoria. Here you can go into the Palazzo Vecchio --- but for a one day trip I would just stroll around the piazza and take in all the sculptures in the Loggia to the right of the Palazzo and the others in front of the Palazzo (including the David of course!).
3) Also just to the right of the Palazzo is the world famous Uffizi Gallery - If you want to go in there I would get a reserved, timed ticket ahead of time since the line can be 3 hours long - you can buy them online (just a timed ticket - this is the official site) or you can book a tour with a guide (this is a popular Uffizi tour you can do in 90 minutes). On your own to see all the galleries can take at least 2-3 hours just breezing by, so I would either start this early in the day (and maybe skip the Duomo/Baptistry) or save the Uffizi for a longer trip.
4) From the Piazza Signoria I would walk over to the Ponte Vecchio just to see one of the world's oldest and most historical bridges (and especially if you are interested in some Italian gold).
5) From there I'd walk east along the river until the Ponte alle Grazie then hang a left on via de'Benci and go to Piazza Santa Croce. Here you can go into the Basilica of Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world and known as Italy's "Pantheon" for the number of famous citizens buried inside. This are also a couple of nice places for lunch: "Boccadama" on the south side of the piazza - they have nice salads, pastas, and other Tuscan dishes, with outdoor tables on the piazza in the summer, and "Finesterrae" in the north east corner with a wider Mediterranean menu including pizza. Also down the street (one block west on Via Islola delle Stinche) is the famous Gelateria "Vivoli" if you're interested in some after-lunch gelato (tip - Vivoli also has some of the best pastries in Florence in the mornings and great cappuccino).
6) After lunch I would walk over to the under visited Bargello, only a few blocks west on Via Proconsolo. It's a great museum with amazing stuff (mostly sculpture), but not so much that it's overwhelming to do it on a day trip.
7) For dinner we know a bunch of restaurants (!), but most are closer to our neighborhood (note: Santa Croce when this was written) than to the station. After dinner you can get a cab at the taxi stand in Piazza Santa Croce - it's only about 5-8 euros and about 10 minutes to the station:
(note: that the below is fairly old but still valid - I did update it where needed - more dining suggestions are at the end of the article)
For a very casual but good meal, I would go to "Yellow Bar" on Via Proconsolo #39R, just north of the Bargello (you'll know it by the big round yellow lights outside).
More expensive, with typical tuscan food and a very good wine list is "La Giostra" on Via Borgo Pinti - here's their website (note: this is a very eclectic place - we ate there a couple of times and loved the food- I still remember the rabbit I had 8 years ago - but the staff can be a little hit or miss).
Another good one is Osteria del Caffe Italiano - on Via Isola delle Stinche #11R (just past Vivoli). I would recommend the Bistecca Fiorentina (for two)! (Note: right next door to this restaurant is their pizzeria - they only have pizza, beer, and wine, but it is a very good wood oven pizza - maybe the best in Florence.)
Note: Some updated dining options:
For an upscale and slightly different take on Tuscan food our go to place is Il Santo Bevitore - great food, reasonable prices, large wine list. Can be a little loud at night. You definitely need a reservation. Santo Spirito area.
The best wine bar in Florence - Le volpi e'luva - this is a must for lunch or late snack. Fantastic selection of wine by the glass, and the most tasty cheese and salumi platters. On the Pitti Palace side of the river, 2 minutes from the Ponte Vecchio.
For a really unique and different dining experience you can try iO Osteria Personale in the San Frediano area. Hit the link for more info and photos. Highly recommended!
For something amazing in the center of town, try a truffle panino at Proccaci (you actually have to try several with a glass of wine).
Bargain meal ideas: Cafeteria Leonardo (near Piazza Duomo). Here is another post to check out - inexpensive meals in Florence.
And some other lunch ideas to try in various locations around town (also mentioned in the article linked to above):
- Trattori Anita (on a side street between Santa Croce and Palazzo Vecchio)
- Il Brindellone (near Piazza del Carmine)
- Bistro del Mare (Lungarno Corsini)
These are "pranzo veloce" or "fast lunch" places that all have a menu of 2 or 3 courses for around €10 (along with a la carte choices). Dinner is also available at all of the above.
Just a few more dining mentions - if you are around the Sant'Ambrogio area and want a really different lunch experience find the little panino shop called "Semel". The sign out front says "The best panino in the world" - it is hard to argue with that. Some of the most interesting, original, and historical (yes, some ancient recipes) you will find anywhere. You can grab a couple of panini and a glass of wine for around €10, and you will never forget it.
Another favorite, for lunch or dinner, is Il Giova. This is a real trattoria - inexpensive, honest food, cooked with a lot of passion by the owners - a husband and wife team (he waits tables at lunch and she cooks, at dinner, they flip positions). If you want the fritto misto (fried seafood platter) for lunch on Friday make a reservation! It is hard to get a table, and they sell out of the dish - so reserve not only the table but the fish.
Lastly in the area you have to mention the Cibrèo conglomerate of Fabio Picchi - the flagship ristorante Cibrèo, the trattoria Cibrèo, the cafè Cibrèo, and Teatro del Sale (an amazing experience). Never had the pockets for the first two :( but depending on who you read and/or listen to on Florence dining they are supposed to be a couple of the best restaurants in Italy. I can vouch for the cafè (see the cookie above - maybe the best cookie you will ever eat in your life), sublime pastry and panini, great coffee, etc. And Teatro del Sale is an amazing breakfast or lunch experience. You eat in the theater watching the open kitchen as a small army of cooks prepares food for all 3 restaurants and hands plates through a window that land on a giant buffet table. Breakfast and lunch are self serve all you can eat (and drink) affairs, so be careful - dinner is with a show. A real experience.
Finally, a couple of general Florence travel tips:
You can not hail a taxi in the street as they drive by (well, at least technically you can't although sometimes they will stop - but more often you will just look like a fool as they pass you). For a taxi, go to a taxi stand (there are many - most major piazzas, the train station, etc. have them) or call 055 4242 (if you have a local cell phone or have purchased a chip for your phone). Most likely they will speak English - you tell them your location and they pick you up. They should also accept credit cards. Taxi drivers usually don't expect tips in Florence but are very pleased to receive from our experience. Taxi to and from town to the airport should be €20 flat fee plus bags and supplements (night, time of day, extra passengers, etc.).
Florence has two sets of street numbers, red (rosso) and black (or sometimes blue). If you see an address that has an R after the number it means it is a commercial establishment. Be warned (for example) that #11R could be next to a black #89 - so you just have to pay attention. Black numbers are residential and between the red and black numbers there can be a huge difference on any one street. The red numbers are actually on little ceramic tiles (usually) and are in red, while the residential numbers are on tiles and are in black and/or blue, but without any letter after them, just the numerals.
Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section below!