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.
Ditta ArtigianaleVia dei Neri, 32/R, Duomo | 39.055.274.1541
A morning café (black) or macchiato (marked with milk) is sacrosanct in the entire country. And very often, those are about your only options. But not so here, where Francesco Sanapo is modernizing the coffee (and brunch) game in Florence. There are two locations, though the original on Via dei Neri is our favorite. Staff at Ditta are actually happy to make you an almond milk flat white, or a cold-brew iced coffee, and even the filtered options are great thanks to the in-house own roaster. There are also pastries, polenta cake, and biscotti to dip in your coffee for breakfast (as well as pancakes and baked eggs if you’re homesick). At night, the space turns into a lively bar that favors all things gin.
Gelateria La CarraiaPiazza Nazario Sauro, 25/r, Palazzo Pitti | 39.055.280695
There are no artificial flavorings or colorings in the gelato at La Carraia, just the concentrated nectar of the best fruits, nuts, and herbs of the season. La Carraia’s display is enough to lure you in, with its creamy mounds of colorful options. Go for a more unusual one, like torta della nonna (“grandma’s cake,” a regional pine nut dessert), or the best one, ricotta. Best of all, the small degustazione (taster cones) are a steal at only one euro.
Mercato Sant’AmbrogioPiazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, Santa Croce | 39.055.234.3950
If you’ve enjoyed dinner at one of Florence’s better restaurants, there’s a good chance the produce came from this market. Ten minutes from Piazza del Duomo, Mercato Sant’Ambrogio is open daily and is the ideal spot to fill up on vegetables and fruit—or a panino from Semel, which we heartily recommend—if you’ve maxed out on pasta but not on carbs in general. The nearby Enoteca Sant’Ambrogio is a wonderful spot to taste some bold Tuscan reds or spend the late afternoon after browsing the market.
RivoirePiazza della Signoria, 5/R, Duomo | 39.055.214412
Breakfast your local café in Italy is a ritual as social as it is caffeinating. The centuries-old habit has led to the proliferation of especially beautiful ones, as well as grand salons all across the country. In Florence, no spot is more elegant than Rivoire. The feeling is very old-world, with a mahogany bar, white tablecloths, and suited-up waiters flying around with silver platters held high above their heads. Take a seat in front and settle in among the elderly Florentines with their newspapers and machiattos, or sip a café standing at the bar as most locals do. In the colder months, wrap up and brave the outdoors with a view of the statue of David (disclaimer: The statue outside is a stand-in for the real deal, which is safely inside the museum) and the Accademia while savoring Rivoire’s ridiculously indulgent hot chocolate.
Salumeria VerdiVia Giuseppe Verdi, 36//R, Santa Croce | 39.055.244517
Salumeria Verdi is the Florentine equivalent of a deli. But this is a city with high gastronomic standards, and what you get here are no ordinary sandwiches. Italy in general and Tuscany in particular have an extremely varied bread tradition and this Salumeria showcases close to all of them. There’s schiacciata (a type of squashed, doughy Tuscan flatbread), piadina (an even flatter bread that you almost treat as a wrap), and the ubiquitous ciabatta (a very airy, white loaf); all are stuffed full of the region’s best meat and cheese by proprietor Pino and his family.
SemelPiazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 44, Santa Croce
A hole-in-the-wall hatch in a corner of the Sant’Ambrogio market, Semel’s proprietor—the very dapper and thoroughly Florentine Marco Paparozzi—turns out hundreds of perfect panini (the perfect late lunch). Don’t go expecting a sliver of prosciutto and some cheese wedged between two slices of bread. Paparozzi’s panini are the most sophisticated combinations of Tuscan ingredients: Wild boar (cinghiale) and broccoli, sweet pear and truffled Pecorino…you get the idea. Order off the blackboard then settle in to watch the theater of Florence’s busiest market from your curbside seat.
VivoliVia dell’isola delle Stinche, 7/R, | +39.055.292334
The storefront at Vivoli is so under the radar you could easily miss it but for the little neon sign above the doorway. The gelato here is made fresh daily from the finest eggs, dairy, and whatever ingredients are currently in season—pear and green apple in the fall, apricot and melon in the summer. Stop into some of the neighboring leather stores afterward, as the area of Santa Croce is famous for them.
Gelateria della PasseraVia Toscanella, 15/red, San Niccolò | +39.055.291882
This tiny gelateria churns out the kind of gelato beloved by Florentines—and anyone with taste buds. The seasonal specialties are made from completely organic, regional ingredients. The mint is breath-fresheningly minty, the chocolate is sinfully rich, and the lemon sorbet’s tartness snaps you awake. You won’t be sorry if you make it the first stop of every trip to Florence.