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.
13 GobbiVia del Porcellana, Santa Maria Novella | 39.055.284015
Despite being a few minutes from Piazza Santa Maria Novella and a stone’s throw from Florence’s most popular hotels, 13 Gobbi feels like a local secret. The chatter that fills the room is mostly Italian, the old wooden chairs and tables, black-and-white photographs on the brick walls, and generally laid-back, rustic air is distinctly Tuscan. The food even more so—grilled steak Florentine served medium rare and room temperature (as it’s meant to be), white beans and spinach, and the most perfect plates of homemade spaghetti al pomodoro. Take a seat in the leafy courtyard and order all of the above plus a caprese salad and a bottle of the vino rosso della casa.
Alla Vecchia BettolaViale Vasco Pratolini, 3/5/7, Santo Spirito | 39.055.224158
With its floor-to-ceiling tiles, hanging cured meats, rustic wood tables dotted with carafes of house red, and bottles of oil and vinegar—to be liberally doused on salads—Alla Vecchia Bettola is the essence of Florence. Open since the late ’70s, the restaurant’s staying power is rooted in its solid, no-fuss menu of tender steak Florentine, desserts of fresh fruit and tiramisu, and of course, pasta. Long, communal tables mean guests often sit with people they don’t know, filling the restaurant with the convivial buzz and friendly chatter of strangers.
Borgo AnticoPiazza Santo Spirito, 6-red, Santo Spirito | 39.055.210437
This relaxed trattoria in the Santo Spirito neighborhood is one of the better places anywhere in the city for satisfying basics, like pizza and pasta al pomodoro. Service can be Italian, so be prepared to wait a bit—this will be a more leisurely meal. If you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting outside overlooking the local piazza. It’s like real-life theater, and tourists are few and far between.
BracVia dei Vagellai, 18/R, Uffizi | 39.055.094.4877
It’s not easy to come by vegan food in Italy, and it’s basically impossible to come by good vegan food. Libreria Brac is the exception to the rule. A restaurant-meets-bookstore-meets-bar, it’s run by a group of young Italians looking to modernize the city’s cuisine (if just a little). Have a glass of wine as you browse through the selection of design and culinary books or head straight to the restaurant for dishes like a zucchini and cashew cheese galette, hearty soups and salads, and delicious vegan pastas.
Buca MarioPiazza degli Ottaviani, 16r, Santa Maria Novella | 39.055.214179
Securing a table at this upmarket restaurant can be a challenge, so take advantage of your hotel concierge or a local friend to make the booking. Buca Mario does the Florentine classics well, but also seafood—which isn’t as common in the city as you might think. Order a grilled fish or pasta dish (there are gluten-free options) and the gnocchi, which has a sharp, rich gorgonzola sauce. The service is excellent, and don’t be discouraged if you find fellow tourists on either side of you. It’s not that Buca Mario is a tourist trap; it’s just that all the hotels know the food is reliably good and recommend it regularly. Just don’t skip dessert—it comes wheeled out on an old-world trolley, displaying various fruit tarts and tiramisu.
Enoteca PinchiorriVia Ghibellina, 87, Santa Croce | 39.055.242757
If you’re looking for Michelin stars (plural) in Florence, Enoteca Pinchiorri is your place. A former Renaissance palazzo, the wine cellar alone is rumored to be the most expensive—and expansive—in the world, with over 70,000 bottles. The food, meanwhile, is wildly inventive (pigeon cooked under a salty cocoa bean crust with mango chutney, red mullet fillets wrapped in Tuscan bread with candied fennel purée in extra virgin olive oil and stewed sea snails). Ask to sit in the restaurant’s beautiful, airy courtyard to listen to the live pianist. The experience is utterly charming.
Il Santo BevitoreVia di Santo Spirito, 64/66 r, Santo Spirito | 39.055.211264
Maybe it’s the dozens of lit candles and their gentle, suffused light. Maybe it’s the army of wine bottles against the wood-paneled walls. Or maybe it’s knowledge that we’re about to eat a really, really good dinner that makes us return here over and over again. Artichoke-stuffed squid, rich duck breasts, and hearty risotto are all reasons to come in for dinner. If there’s a wait, grab a Negroni at nearby Il Santino for the perfect start to the evening.
Trattoria CamilloBorgo S. Jacopo, 57/r, Palazzo Pitti | 39.055.212427
Oltrarno—literally, the other (oltro) side of the Arno—is home to some of the city’s best restaurants. Trattoria Cammillo is that kind of old-world, white-tablecloth, monogrammed-plates place that serves up simple Tuscan food, elevated with perfect ingredients and careful preparation. The menu is seasonal, and autumn is our favorite time to stop in for one reason: ribollita. Translating directly as “reboiled,” this traditional soup is made of layers of vegetables, beans, and stale bread (and it’s much more appetizing than it sounds). After starting with a bowl of this Tuscan staple, try the celery, egg, and bottarga side dish (which can be a meal in itself.)
Trattoria SostanzaVia del Porcellana, 25/R, Santa Maria Novella | 39.055.212691
Busy, casual, and no-frills Sostanza is the Florentine equivalent of your reliable neighborhood standby. The food is traditional and tasty, and it hits the spot: simple pastas, tender grilled meats, and house Chianti. The space is tiled and tiny, and the delicious plates of artichoke omelets and reasonably priced stek Florentine means Sostanza will make your trattoria recommendation list—even if only for a quick, easy lunch.
CibrèoVia del Verrocchio, 8/R, Florence | +39.055.2341100
There’s no pasta at Cibrèo, nor is there a menu. Instead, a server explains what’s available for the evening from chef Fabio Picchi (who has four establishments in the city, including his trattoria of the same name next door). Cibrèo is well loved by tourists and locals alike, so if your waiter speaks perfect English, don’t be discouraged. Despite the formal dining room, it’s a laid-back kind of place—if you can’t decide between two mains, perhaps they’ll give you a taste of both. If three of the desserts sound appealing, smaller portions of all three might appear at the end of the meal. It’s all very personal and warm, which is a big reason why we come here.