Alla Vecchia Bettola
Viale Vasco Pratolini, 3/5/7, Santo Spirito
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.
Il Santo Bevitore
Via di Santo Spirito, 64/66 r, Santo Spirito
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 glass of something fizzy and locally-produced at nearby Santino for the perfect start to the evening.
Piazza Santo Spirito, 6-red, Santo Spirito
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.
Piazza del Carmine, Santo Spirito
Of all Florence’s cultural gems, the pre-Renaissance frescoes at the tiny Brancacci Chapel might be the ones we return to the most. The architects broke ground on the chapel in the mid-1200s, but artists Masaccio and Masolino’s era-defining frescoes weren’t painted until around 1425 and 1427. They depict the life of St. Peter, the most famous scene being the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. Their bodies mark the first time an artist attempted perspective, depth, and realism in depicting the human body, and these frescoes signal the beginning of the Renaissance.
Piazza de' Pitti, 1, Santo Spirito
Designed in part Brunelleschi amongst others in the 1400s, the Palazzo Pitti has been the home to various Florentine dynasties for centuries, starting with Luca Pitti and including, most notably, the Medici family. Today, the immense structure is divided into four museums: The Palatine Gallery contains collections of Medici-owned paintings; the Gallery of Modern Art is home to works from the Neoclassical period up to the 1930s; the Treasury of the Grand Dukes displays the Medicis’ decorative arts; and lastly, there’s a costume museum. We love to wander around the beautifully preserved royal apartments to see the furnishings, tapestries, ornate silk wallpaper, and tables inlaid with precious stones—the sumptuousness is next-level.
Piazza Santo Spirito, Santo Spirito
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.