• Jennifer

Florence, Italy: A few of our favorite things

Updated: Nov 5


During our month in Florence, Italy we had the opportunity to do lots of cool things. Of course, there are the "must-do's" that every guidebook will send you to (Michelangelo's David at the Academia, Botticelli's The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo, and on and on), but we especially loved the things that you might not discover if you were just hitting the top "must-see" spots in the city. This isn't to say that those things aren't worth doing (in fact, one of our favorite things was climbing all 463 steps to the top of the Duomo and looking out over the city), but we had some favorite little Florentine gems that made our time living in the city truly special - and they don't cost a lot of money, sometimes they're free with just a few Euros for a panino, like our first pick.


So, without further ado, here a few of our favorite things to do in Florence (in no particular order).

1. Piazzale Michelangelo

On the south side of the Arno River, just a short walk from the heart of the old city and up a steep hillside, lies Piazzale Michelangelo. A piazzale is simply an open-ended piazza (square) and this particular one opens to the most fantastic view. Atop this point a crowd gathers every evening to watch the glorious Tuscan sunset over Florence's famed Ponte Vecchio. There are food trucks with delicious panini, cold beer and wine, and yes, gelato! We always loved getting panini and beers at Chalet il Boschetto, a food stand that's been feeding people in the same spot since 1952!

One evening when we were there we happened to catch the orange glow of the descending sun reflecting off the clouds behind the replica bronze statue of Michelangelo's David. A musician had set up to entertain the crowd, playing a wild mix of Italian classic tunes like "Bella Ciao" and worldwide party favorites like "YMCA" and "Macarena." The whole crowd joined in and danced well after the sun had set (and our visiting family may have been at the center of the crowd showing some serious moves, yes that's you, Alison!) .


2. Sunset boat ride down the Arno

What could be better than watching the sunset from a traditional "barchetto" (Florentine gondola) as you slowly make your way down the Arno river? How about having a glass of Lambrusco in one hand, some Parmigiano Reggiano drizzled with Balsamico in the other, and a sing-along led by our host, Ilenia, and her boyfriend as the sun turns the sky crimson and orange. It was an amazing (and delicious and fun) experience, we would definitely do this again. Here's how you can do it, too!


3. A guided walk around the Oltrarno neighborhood. On the opposite side of the Arno river, away from the busy center of Florence, is the Oltrarno neighborhood. We were lucky enough to get a personal tour from a college friend, Elizabeth, who creates bespoke travel experiences for visitors to Italy via her company, My Italian Treasures.

After a morning spent visiting the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace, we shared an afternoon with Elizabeth and learned about the Medici family, Florentine history and architecture, and got to do things we never would have been able to do on our own (like seeing how artisan Florentine paper is made and a behind the scenes visit to the Basilica de Santo Spirito, where there is a crucifix sculpted by the 18-year-old Michelangelo in 1492 and where he started his dissections of cadavers from the hospital at the monastery there). To top off our afternoon in the Oltrarno, we enjoyed aperitivo from the loggia of the Hotel Palazzo Guadagni overlooking Piazza Santo Spirito and gorgeous views onto the monuments of Florence. This neighborhood, its small shops, stone alleys, and history are amazing.


4. Local riverside hangouts

Just down the street from our apartment we discovered that the city had set up seasonal eating, drinking and entertainment spots along the bank of the Arno River. With food trucks offering casual and delicious local food (including Tuscan Chianina beef hamburgers, fish sandwiches, poke bowls, craft beers, and so much more), we went here often and loved it every time. There was plenty of seating and in one area the riverside was even dotted with deckchairs to sit back and watch as rowers slid their way down the river at the end of the day. This is seasonal but so worth leaving the bustle of the city center to hang out with locals and enjoy some street food during the summer months.


5. Outdoor concert at Palazzo Vecchio

After our cruise down the Arno we walked toward the sound of music...and discovered a full-on symphony playing music in front of the Palazzo Vecchio! It was the most unexpected and awesome surprise! We joined the crowd and sang and danced along as the symphony played songs by the Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Queen and others. We had no idea this was taking place and were so glad that we stumbled upon an outdoor concert on a random Wednesday night. It also made us realize we needed to find out what else was going on while we were there.


6. Fiesole walk

In the northern hills overlooking the city of Florence is the beautiful little town of Fiesole. It's only about 4 miles outside the city, so it's an easy bus or cab ride. We were up for some exercise, so we opted for the 1.5 hour walk, which was pretty steep, but the views around us the whole way up were worth it.

We walked past lots of large villas surrounded by olive trees on our way, and we were definitely hungry and thirsty by the time we made it to the town at the top. The views to Florence are wonderful from Fiesole and on a clear day you can see far off into the Tuscan countryside. The town at the top has several restaurants to choose from, so we picked one and enjoyed a delicious lunch while taking in the view...with the well preserved ruins of a Roman amphitheater and residences just steps away! This is a great little side trip from Florence.

7. Making perfume in a laboratory below Palazzo Corsini-Antinori

Part science class and part art, this experience making a personal scent at Aquaflor was about learning the history of perfume making in Florence, appreciating what goes into developing fragrances, and walking away with a bottle of one-of-a-kind perfume. Read more about it here.


8. A small, local vineyard...with pool!

After a few (hot) weeks in Florence, we grabbed some e-bikes and headed to the hills of Fiesole for a day at Fattoria di Poggiopiano, a vineyard 7 kilometers from the city center. While we looked forward to tasting some wine, the real draw was the beautiful swimming pool overlooking the vines and olive trees. We were excited to cool off from the crazy heat! The bike ride was beautiful, all along the Arno river until we headed up, up, up (it was steep) into the hills. This was a great, easy way to escape the city for a day and feel like you are truly in Tuscany. If you're in Florence long enough to need a break, and want to enjoy some delicious organic wine and local appertivo, head there!


9. The garbage...truly a daily sanitation experience

In a few ways, the Italian infrastructure might be a bit behind what we are used to in the USA. But one area that Florence is far ahead is... the trash disposal system. It's a thing of beauty. Trash and recycling bins are well organized, sorting cans from bottles, plastic from paper, and household refuse from organic waste.

When you leave your apartment for the day, you simply take your refuse with you and drop it into the appropriate small bin. And what happens next...well, you need to see it to believe it. Just watch. We felt like kids peering out our window to catch the trucks come by every day. What you can't see is that beneath these simple containers, under your feet, is a huge vessel that stores a mass pile of this garbage and awaits the trash truck. It is awesome to watch, if you've never seen it before! We never would have imagined that trash collection could be an attraction, but for us, it was a daily marvel!


If you're ever in Florence, we hope you'll enjoy these unusual experiences as much as we did!


Follow us on Instagram (Worldwide.Wizas) and Subscribe to our blog today!




61 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All