The Florence Guide
The Florentines know how to enjoy life—and they’ve known it for roughly 2,078 years. In 60 B.C., Roman soldiers named the city Florentia, meaning “may she flourish.” We’ll cut to the chase here: She did. She flourished with some of the greatest sculptures, the greatest architecture, the greatest artwork the world has ever known. She flourished with exquisite fashion, with world-class hotels, with pasta, with gelato, with wine that may well be the nectar of the gods.
To bring the Renaissance back to life, pick up a copy of Vasari’s The Lives of the Artists. After all, art is also the gateway to the city’s social and political history (and the reason there are so many exchange students here). The men who commissioned and paid for all those palazzi, sculptures, and cathedrals were the most powerful figures in Italy (and the Mediterranean) for centuries, with the infamous Medici family being the most famous among them.
For all of her accomplishments, for all her beauty and world historic significance, Florence has another side. The side of beauty to be quietly absorbed, beauty that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There is no better city in the world to walk around in, to get lost in, to stumble into a new place, to try new flavors. It’s what the Italians call “dolce far niente,” the sweetness of doing nothing. And if there is one place where doing nothing may well be life-changing, it’s in the modern, bountiful, fascinating, energetic, historical city of Florence.
Caffé GilliVia Roma, 1/R, Florence | +39.055.213896
The oldest café in Florence was founded (ironically) by a Swiss family in 1733, initially as a bozzolari, or doughnut shop. These days, the sweet selection has expanded to include hundreds of traditional Italian pastries, chocolates, cakes, and the chewiest nougat. The interior resembles a grand stateroom, with wood-paneled walls, stucco detailing, and glittering chandeliers. Despite the elegant allure of a seat inside at breakfast time, the afternoon cocktail hour is best enjoyed outside. Sit at a table with a spritz and the accompanying assortment of sandwiches and snacks and watch the world fly by.
DondinoPiazza di Santa Croce, 6, Florence | +39.055.2342610
Grab a table outside at this little local wine bar and take in every nook and cranny of the stunning Church of Santa Croce as you sip your Vino Nobile. In the winter months, retreat inside to the warm bar with its stone walls, candles, and platters of charcuterie.
Harry’s BarLungarno Amerigo Vespucci, 22/R, Florence | +39.055.2396700
Harry’s Bar in Venice is most famous for reputedly creating the sublime peach-purée-and-prosecco mashup that is the Bellini. The Florence outpost has the same sense of frivolity as its Venetian counterpart, and taking a seat at the bar and watching the white-jacketed barman whizz up the signature cocktail is a fun way to pass an hour or two. The space is elegant and charmingly old-fashioned with chevron floors and pink tablecloths. If Bellinis aren’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with the expertly made Negroni Sbagliato and the best steak tartare in Florence.
La Terrazza at Hotel ContinentaleVicolo dell'Oro, 6, Florence | +39.055.27265987
Florence at dusk is pure magic. And there’s no better observation point (other than perhaps Piazzale Michelangelo) to soak up the changing colors of the evening sky than at La Terrazza. The bar is (as the name suggests) a small terrace hovering over the Arno, buffered from the winter wind and summer scorch by stone walls on three sides. It’s small, chic, and cozy. Book a seat for sunset and prepare for the best view in town with a buzzy atmosphere to match.
ManifatturaPiazza San Pancrazio 1R, Florence | +39.055.2396367
In the little-known Piazza San Pancrazio, Manifattura is quietly shaking up Florence’s sleepy cocktail scene, under the expert direction of master mixologist Fabiano Buffolino. The aesthetic is that of a 1950s lounge, replete with lacquered tables, suited-up barmen, and an impressive inventory of nearly one hundred Italian Amari. The menu is an ode to Italy’s older drinking traditions, full of Italian sodas, vintage liqueurs, and several classic prosecco cocktails that go way beyond the Bellini.
ProcacciVia Tornabuoni, 64/R, Florence | +39.055.211656
Procacci, on Via dei Turnabuoni, was the truffle supplier to the Italian royal family until its dissolution. It’s the ideal stop for a glass of prosecco and a truffle panino slathered with the restaurant’s signature truffle spread. Other menu options include a truffle anchovy spread and even a truffle artichoke cream, which is truffle nirvana. The extensive wine list is generous with the by-the-glass options.
RasputinPiazza Santo Spirito, Florence | +39.055.280399
Rasputin is as close as Florence gets to a speakeasy. It’s in Santo Spirito, and to find it you have to rely either word-of-mouth or clues given over the phone. (It takes its secrecy seriously.) The name is a nod to the aesthetic—a moody, sumptuously decorated lair that feels a bit illicit, and the décor is a blend of over-the-top 1940s Italy with a hint of St. Petersburg thrown in (ruby-red walls, sloping brick ceilings, antique carpets, and a candelabra on each table). It’s the kind of bourgeois cave the owners imagined Rasputin must have frequented. The drinks are strong, and the candied citrus peel and dried fruit muddled into cocktails somehow tastes better here.
Signor VinoVia Dei Bardi, 46/R, Florence | +39.055.286258
Signor Vino is a wine-shop-meets-bar occupying prime real estate on the Arno, by the Ponte Vecchio. The space is modern, sophisticated, and as beloved by locals as it is by tourists. In the winter months, try to get a seat by the windows to take in the view as you enjoy your Brunello di Montalcino. Summertime is spent on the perpetually abuzz terrace. The beauty of Signor Vino is that you can try a few glasses, see what you like, and pick up your favorite bottle from the curated selection on the way out.
Art BarVia del Moro 4, Duomo | +39.055.287661
The fruity cocktails here resemble mini masterpieces, topped with extravagantly cut fresh fruit and served with small bowls of salty popcorn. There’s a rotating selection of art on the walls and a sloping roof that makes you feel like you’re drinking in a warm cocoon. Service can be slow, but the friendly staff are still wonderful. Pro tip: Give up what you think you want and ask the bartender to surprise you. They know what they’re doing.