Meet Kat, a student studying Spanish and Italian who has spent the past year living in Florence and immersing herself in everything Italian. From the best aperitivo spots to her top vintage market stalls, Kat’s day of unique recommendations has you covered for your next trip to this beautiful city!
What is a typical breakfast and where would you go?
Breakfast is generally super cheap in Florence if you know where to go. Tourist spots along the river and in famous Piazzas will ramp up the price to €10+ for breakfast, but in reality you should be paying around €4-6. North of the river, in the more touristy and expensive area, you will find the pasticceria (patisserie) and café La Loggia degli Albizi, that specialises in delicious pastries and coffee. I usually go for a honey croissant and cappuccino and maybe a fresh orange juice if I can swing it! They offer inside and outside seating with a vintage shop next door for some post-breakfast browsing! Iced coffees aren’t too common in Florence – especially in traditional places, however this place does both.
If you head south of the river Arno to the less touristy Oltrarno area, my favourite spot would be Buonamici, a lovely bakery and pasticceria which has outdoor seating and lovely indoor seating at the back. The café’s interior is designed in a way that you feel as if you might be in someone’s kitchen – this cosy place offers delicious coffee and pastries and loveliest women serving, with a much smaller price tag too!
Any must-do morning activities?
Sant’Ambrogio is a fantastic market that is open every day until 2pm. We went every Saturday morning after breakfast at La Loggia; it is the best day of the week to go as there are the most stalls. At Sant’Ambrogio you can buy anything from a pair of sparkly sliders to a 4ft tall cactus! One of my favourite stalls is the €1 clothes man- you have to sift through a lot of tat but there are always gems to be found. Another stall sells factory faulty Brandy Melville for €3-5 a piece. The jewellery is also great- I have bought both gold and silver coloured jewellery there and they’ve never lost their colour. Finally, there is a very sassy older man who sells 100% cashmere jumpers starting at €15.
What is your favourite place to grab lunch?
In the centre of the Sant’Ambrogio market is a building which holds the refrigerated food market (fruit and veg are outside), including fishmongers, delis with fresh pesto, arancini balls and butchers selling all sorts: Tuscan wild boar, an entire rabbit or some intestines if you fancy…
Inside this indoor section, there is a restaurant called Trattoria Da Rocco. Always bustling and full of people, you may occasionally have to queue but their turnover is so rapid that you’ll be sure to get a seat within 10 minutes. This is a really authentic family restaurant – you will most likely have to share a table with some strangers because it is so popular.
There will be a large bottle of their house red wine on the table and baskets of bread. You can help yourself to wine (yes, at lunch!) and they will only charge you for what you drank – and yes, those plastic cups are the best you’re going to get. Make sure you overuse the olive oil – it is their own and the best I’ve tasted – if you have hold luggage make sure you stock up on some to take home!
I have been to TDR upwards of 10 times so I like to think of myself as having the best dish recommendations. I would choose between the melanzane (aubergine) alla parmigiana, ¼ roast chicken and the velvet pumpkin soup. If you go here you must get the crème brûlée! It is set on fire with alcohol, so looks spectacular when they set it down in front of you. The flames make the top bubble and the alcohol makes it taste slightly boozy, it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had!
What is an ideal afternoon activity in a city like Florence?
One of my favourite outdoor spots is the Piazzale Michelangelo, a hill top Piazza that overlooks the city. There is a beautiful rose garden on the walk up, and I recommend going in the afternoon on a nice day to spend time chilling in the rose garden and then heading further up to the Piazza for sunset with a bottle of vino. There is a lovely views but lots of stairs- you’ve been warned: take water, or it’ll cost you about €10 at the top!
For some more time wandering around the city, I love heading to San Miniato, the monastery, just up from Piazzale Michelangelo. The monastery offers a higher view than Piazzale Michelangelo, and has beautiful golden interiors. During certain hours an elderly monk sits and sings, and there is a shop outside which sells honey made by the monks.
If you fancy some shopping, definitely check out Mondo Albion, a shoe shop owned by Albion, an incredible elderly gentleman who might be the most eccentric man I’ve ever seen. He wears matching multi-coloured tops and trousers that he has made himself, and has a huge long beard. He has had this shop for over 70 years, which is full to the rafters with shoes, handcrafted by him. They range from a classic court shoe to the wackiest most wonderfully bizarre boots and platform shoes. The shoes are 150 euros a pop so not affordable for everyone, but I would argue a fantastic investment with a wonderful story behind each pair! Even if you don’t buy anything, please just go and have a look for the experience, to marvel at his wares and at the man himself. I also like checking out Florence’s vintage shops– they are more expensive than your average but usually because they’re selling vintage Italian designers such as Pucci, Gucci and D&G. They are worth a spot of window shopping at least, and some of my favourites are Celeste, Melrose, Epoca and MoMo.
Where is the best place to have dinner?
Gherado’s – a tiny Napolese pizza place. In warmer months you should aim to be there at 7pm, as this is when they open and they don’t take reservations. It’s the best pizza you’ll ever eat- according to me and every one of my friends who have been there, and I’m not joking! Huge puffed up crusts, plenty of delicious tomato sauce and amazing generous blobs of mozzarella. I was always someone to judge people for getting a margherita, but the pizza is so good here that it’s all I want. There is fresh basil in a vase on each table for you to add, and their chilli oil is delicious too. Dip those crusts in! I dare ya.
La Vecchia Bettola is another great restaurant slightly off the beaten track that is always buzzing and full of locals; I’m yet to go there and spot another party that isn’t Italian.
I would recommend the antipasti alla bettola con funghi for starter – a sharing platter – you order for the number eating it and they will make it up accordingly. You must order the penne alla bettola! I have never tried anything like it. A creamy tomato sauce made with vodka, you can’t taste it but it enhances the flavour and its delicious. This place is always packed – I would recommend you book at least 5 days ahead to be safe, and, like Trattoria Da Rocco, the popularity of the place means that you won’t be able to stay long after finishing your meal, but the dishes are worth it.
In the evening what is the city like and where do you usually find yourself?
This depends on the weather, as in warmer months the city is still bustling at night- it is only freezing temperatures and rain that will stop Italians from congregating in the squares! We lived just 5 minutes from Piazza Santo Spirito, which is home to a multitude of bars and restaurants. We split our time drinking fairly evenly between Cabiria, Volume and Pop. Cabiria does great Aperitivo, which is an Italian tradition of paying for a drink plus slightly extra (in this case €8 for a drink plus Aperitivo). It lasts from 7pm-9pm and you can fill your plate up as many times as you like. They have pasta, arancini, delicious salads and lasagne. As soon as one dish is finished they bring a new different one out. I would recommend arriving at around 8 and staying for the second hour to make the most of all the dishes on offer!
There are a few clubs in Florence- I only really know Club 21 north of the river and Disagio in the south. Neither of these are particularly mind blowing but they do the job after a few Negronis! Ostello Tasso south of the river sometimes has good DJ events, and there are occasionally big events such as LattexPlus with more well-known DJs.
Florence has loads of wine bars where you can sit and have a glass or five, or you can have a bottle filled up to take home starting at around €3. There is a fab one called L’uva e il vino (‘the grape and the wine’, of course) which has a cosy interior and is always busy. It offers delicious complimentary snacks to accompany the wine. I would recommend a glass of the Barone. Their pizzas are apparently delicious too – I sadly never got round to trying one.
In a busy city like Florence, is there anywhere to chill?
Florence boasts some lovely gardens to shelter from the heat and rest your feet after hours of walking around. The rose garden on the way to Piazzale Michelangelo and the Bardini Gardens are both beautiful, as are the Bobboli Gardens at Pitti Palace – you have to pay €1.50 entry but you can stay as long as you like and the scenery is worth it.
Where is the best area to stay for young travellers?
Santo Spirito – cheap and student-y!
What season would you recommend visiting?
To escape the crowds and experience a less busy Florence I would visit at the end of February/start of March, but it won’t be hugely hot.
However for the best temperature I would recommend April and October, but these are the busiest times!
Is Florence best for family holiday/friends holiday/ couple holiday?
Any!!! But I’d say friends or couples would be best – there’s a lot of sightseeing and walking which can get super tiring – prime time for an argument with a family member who can’t read the map right!