Firenze, bella Firenze: The cradle of the Renaissance, birthplace of many writers, artists and philosophers responsible for changing the course of Western Civilization, famous for it’s churches, paintings and cuisine. Home to a myriad of Renaissance landmarks such as Il Duomo and the Uffizi and dubbed as one of the fashion capitals of the world, Florence is a mecca of fine art, fashion and sophistication.
Last summer, I spent twelve happy weeks here working as an au-pair and exploring this gorgeous city in my spare time. Its awe-inspiring Renaissance architecture in green and white marble, its quaint little cobble stoned side streets, drivers zooming purposefully by on their motorini, locals walking by with their perpetual air of effortless glamour and self-confidence, animatedly communicating just as much with their hands as as their mouths, sipping espressos and smoking cigarettes.
There is something about the city that just takes your breath away and makes you stop for a moment. “When people come to Florence for the first time, they say ‘Thank you God’,” a local once said to me. It’s really no wonder why it gets inundated with so many tourists every year. It’s often been referred to as the city “with an English accent”, while the Chianti region just outside it has been dubbed as “Chiantishire”, a nickname that pays homage to it’s British ex pats and pensioners.
It goes without saying that one could never fit a full three months of sightseeing, culture, wine sampling and gelato guzzling into the average three or four night sojourn of any eager tourist, but nonetheless here are my top recommendations on how to wine, dine and live like a local during your time in Florence:
Where to eat
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do, eat as the Romans eat…” While we’re not in Rome Florence is close enough! I think the key to finding a good restaurant wherever you are is to follow the locals. If it’s good enough for them then it’s probably good enough for you. Here are my all time favourite places to eat in Florence-
- Trattoria ZaZa- this restaurant is located in the lively and upbeat shopping area of San Lorenzo and boasts a varied menu, offering everything from wild boar to truffles and steak. It has a cosy yet upbeat and lively atmosphere, is tastefully decorated and offers menus in a variety of languages. The food here is very traditional and authentic and I would highly recommend any of the truffle or seafood dishes.
- Ristorante Dino- this restaurant is located quite close to Piazza Santa Croce, which is a little bit off the beaten track from the city centre, but it is well worth the walk. The restaurant is cosy and fairly laid back and the food is exceptional. The simple menu and the uncomplicated dishes on offer echo the essence of Italian cooking. I would highly recommend the meatballs and the steak.
- Cantinette delle Terme– this romantic and cosy restaurant is a great spot for seafood lovers. The wine list is extensive and their menu is creative while staying true to Tuscan traditions. I’ve had their fried baby octopus (delish!) and ravioli with burrata (a combination of mozzarella and cream).
- All’Antico Vinaio- this is, in my opinion the best osteria in Florence by far. It’s sandwiches are made fresh to order and are made using local schiacciata bread, cold cuts and local cheeses. They have some really innovative sandwich combinations such as ‘La Favolosa’ (sbriciolina ham, creamed pecorino cheese, artichokes and grilled aubergine) and ‘L’Inferno’ (pork, grilled vegetables and cream cheese with pepper). If you are searching for a fast and cheap lunch in Florence then look no further!
Where to get the best aperitivo
Going out for aperitivo with friends is the done thing during the summer months in Italy. Many bars and restaurants offer apericena, which basically consists of a cocktail served with some antipasti. On a balmy summer’s evening in Florence, there is nothing more refreshing than sipping an ice cold glass of Campari in the company of friends. After being in Florence for a while, my fellow au-pair friends and I soon realised that going for apericena was a financially astute decision- while an authentic, sociable thing to do, it also saved us money as we always made the most of the selection of antipasti on the buffet table to ensure that we were full for the evening which meant we didn’t have to fork out more money on a restaurant!
Here are my favourite places to go for aperitivo in Florence-
- Pop Café- this is situated in the lively Santo Spirito piazza in Oltrarno, the local side of the Arno. During the summer, this piazza becomes alive with tourists, locals, street performers and artists alike and is thronged with people well into the small hours of the night. Pop Café is situated in the heart of this piazza and has outdoor seating which is brilliant for soaking up the upbeat atmosphere and meeting locals and other tourists.
- Odeon Bistro- this restaurant is located in Piazza degli Strozzi, just a two minute walk from Piazza della Repubblica. It has a gorgeous outdoor patio and the antipasti here are delicious and include local meats, cheeses and local specialties such as panzanella (Tuscan bread salad) and pappa al pomodoro. This venue doesn’t have the same lively atmosphere as Piazza Santo Spirito, but is more relaxed and intimate and would probably be better suited to couples rather than a big group of friends.
- Grand Hotel Minerva- if you really want to treat yourself, Hotel Minerva is the place to go for aperitivo in Florence. With a rooftop bar offering panoramic views of the city, an extensive list of cocktails and delicious antipasti, you will feel like a Medici royal watching the sunset over Florence. Cin, cin! (Italian for cheers)