There aren't many places in the world as enchanting as the Italian Renaissance city Florence. Whether you're a romantic, an art lover or a true foodie, Florence will steal your heart. Which explains why the city is so popular! Think of a labyrinth of authentic, cobbled streets. Masterpieces by Michelangelo and Botticelli. The best pizza, pasta and gelato. Florence is a place you need to savor, like a good glass of wine. You could pack the activities and sights below in two days, but instead I recommend taking your time, getting lost and making it at least a three day trip. Ciao!
Visit of the Uffizi Galleries | Piazzale degli Uffizi 6, 50122 Florence
If you should visit only one museum in Florence, it's this one. And that's exactly why it appears on the to do list of everyone coming here! The Uffizi Galleries are home to the greatest collection of Renaissance art in the world and they house some of the most famous masterpieces in the Western world such as Botticelli's Birth of Venus (1485) and Primavera (1478). The extensive collection of ancient sculptures and paintings (many coming from the Medici family, the political and financial rulers of Florence for more than 150 years) is shown over two floors of the 16th century building. Personally I found the 2nd floor, the one you begin with, to be the most mesmerizing. Keep that in mind to fully take in the glorious art and beautiful hallways before going down to the 1st floor which is a little less flamboyant. The number of visitors is kind of horrifying so make sure to book your tickets online in advance and, if possible, be there at the opening of the doors at 08:15.
Lunch at FAC | Via de' Martelli 22, 50129 Florence
In many aspects, Florence is very traditional, so you shouldn't expect too many hip, modern places to eat. One exception though is the 'fast food' restaurant FAC (which stands for fast and casual). It's not the most obvious place to find since it is located on the first floor of the traditional, Tuscan cuisine restaurant Eatitaly, but you really owe to try this innovative concept. Designed by a great chef, their menu is a refreshing, international take on Italian food. Some highlights are the Taco Lasagna and the Pici All'aglione, as well as the bowls you can create yourself (by picking 6 ingredients from a list of 18). The prices and the interior might resemble those of a fast food, but what you get in your plate is anything but!
If you're in the mood for some gelato in the afternoon, I recommend Carabè (Via Ricasoli 60R) located in the same neighborhood. Try one of their nutty flavors such as almond, pistachio or hazelnut; they are made using nuts from Sicily.
Contemplating the Duomo | Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Florence
The most famous monument of Florence is also the one soaring above the center's buildings, so it will inevitably cross your path multiple times! The city's cathedral in Gothic style is one of pure beauty with its pink, white and green marble inlays. Besides this color scheme, it strikes by its sheer size which positions it on number 4 of the list of biggest churches in Europe. It is possible to visit its interior, but that means braving the hundreds meters long queue to enter, something I would definitely not recommend, especially since the inside of the cathedral is very sober compared to its exterior. If you're willing to pay however, you could buy a ticket to go to the top of the dome and enjoy the supposedly gorgeous views up there, this way you don't have to wait in line (your outfit shouldn't show too much skin though, or they might not let you in).
Shopping at Luisa Via Roma | Via Roma 19/21R, 50123 Florence
Remember the famous, Parisian concept store Colette? You could say Luisa Via Roma is its Florentine equivalent. With its fine selection of items from high end labels such as Givenchy, Saint-Laurent or Alexander McQueen, but also fresh faces, Luisa Via Roma is an inspirational place. Mere mortals like you and me can't actually shop here, but both men and women can enjoy this luxurious shopping space and perhaps splurge on an accessory or a deco item. Should you be thirsty, there's also a bar with tropical vibes upstairs!
Visit of the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella | Via della Scala 16, 50123 Florence
Shopping wise there's another institution that's been around for a very long time: the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica. You wouldn't except cosmetics to be sold inside the chapel of the convent of the Basilica Santa Maria Novella, but it's true. Based on 13th century recipes by Dominican monks, they sell lotions, supplements and soaps, among other things. Make sure to try one of their best-sellers which is the Catherine de Medici eau de Cologne and take in all of its magnificent Renaissance architecture. In the back you'll discover a small café where they serve a great selection of teas. Its windows open on the convent of the Basilica, which can be visited through the main entrance of the church (entrance fee is €7,50 but gives you access to a great deal of decorated halls).
Dinner at Irene | Piazza della Repubblica 7, 50123 Florence
The restaurant of Hotel Savoy is one of indulgence: from the exceptional service to the fine dining, at Irene you'll be treated to a memorable experience. It's a little expensive, so not exactly what I'm used to recommend, but it's a definite go to place if you're looking for a dining spot for a special occasion. They serve great Martinis (although you might want to try a Negroni, a classic cocktail that was born in Florence) and their little terrace in front is set on the Piazza della Repubblica, which is one of the best squares to sit and relax, boasting a charming carousel in its middle. On the menu you'll discover Florentine classics revisited in a modern way, with eyecatching dishes cooked on Himalayan salt stones.
Brunch at La Ménagère | Via de' Ginori 8R, 50123 Florence
Here's a spot that's perfect for all the Instagram lovers: La Ménagère is a beautifully decorated space that brings together an Italian bistrot, a florist and an interior decoration boutique. Open since 2015, it attracts both hipsters and tourists. The flower corner is picture perfect, the items for sale are mainly stylish dishware and the menu has got you covered from morning to evening. We went there in the late morning and composed our own brunch table with the breakfast combo complemented by some fruity pancakes and an avocado toast. Not the most Italian experience, but definitely a tasty and photogenic one!
Contemplating the Ponte Vecchio
Florence's oldest bridge over the Arno river is another icon of the city and a favorite among tourists. In the past it was very usual to have houses on bridges in Europe, but only very few remained this way. On the Ponte Vecchio, the buildings have been shops for centuries. Originally butchers and tanners, they were gradually replaced by gold and gem merchants to avoid any unpleasant smells. Fun fact: in the 16th century, the duke of Florence, Cosimo I de' Medici, had a hallway built going from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace, over the houses, so he would be able to go from one residence to the other without having to mingle with the crowds. To this day, the bridge is still very crowded so I would recommend going there at night. The shops will be closed but that isn't necessarily a bad thing: their wooden shutters make them look like big, wooden chests. A sight on its own!
Visit of the Pitti Palace | Piazza Pitti 1, 50125 Florence
The Pitti Palace owes its name to its original resident, Luca Pitta, who had it built in 1475. When he died, the Medici family bought it over, had it enlarged and made it their primary residence. That's how it became this enormous palace with an incredible display of wealth. Today the palace is divided in different 'museums' that you can all visit with your one ticket. A tour of the Pitti Palace feels a lot like visiting a royal palace, going from room into the other, contemplating every corner filled with ornaments, lots of gold, lots of opulence and big chandeliers. Much like at the Uffizi, I felt like the best of the visit was thrown at you from the beginning: The Palatine Gallery is the most flamboyant one, packed with wall paintings, decorated ceilings and walls full of framed artworks (mostly 16th and 17th century paintings, including works by Raphael). Another 'museum' I enjoyed was the small Costume Gallery since it's dedicated to fashionable exhibitions (of course). Behind the palace lies the incredible Boboli Garden...
Visit of the Boboli Garden | Piazza Pitti 1, 50125 Florence
Through the inner courtyard of the Pitti Palace, you enter the largest green area of Florence and Italy's most famous garden. More an open-air museum than a garden, Boboli is a place you can easily spend in entire afternoon wandering, discovering its fountains, statues and caves, going up and down its hills and occasionally getting some rest in the shadow. Some highlights are the Amphitheater that greets you at the beginning, surrounded by statues of Roman myths, as well as the Viottolone, a wide boulevard lined with cypress trees that leads to the Isolotto, an artificial island with a big fountain in its middle.
Drinks at Forte di Belvedere | Via di S. Leonardo 1, 50125 Florence
Leaving the garden in the North East section, you can easily reach the Forte di Belvedere. Originally built as a fort for the court to take shelter in case of a threat, it is now used as a space dedicated to small exhibitions and most importantly, its café is the perfect spot to enjoy a cocktail while overlooking the city. In summer, it's probably the most spectacular setting to enjoy a Spritz while waiting for an equally spectacular sunset!
Dinner at NapoLeone | Piazza del Carmine 24, 50124 Florence
Staying on the South banks of the Arno, I recommend having a real Italian dinner at NapoLeone. Located in the Oltrarno area, one of the few last original Florentine areas, it feels like having an authentic experience, far from the touristic crowds. NapoLeone favors local products and offers classic Italian cuisine, meaning antipasti, first dishes and second dishes. Some highlights of the menu are their truffle specialties and a memorable tiramisu. We enjoyed dinner on the terrace with views on the charming Piazza del Carmine, but the eclectic interior is equally satisfying.
Visit of the Loggia Dei Lanzi | Piazza della Signoria, 50121 Florence
On your third day in Florence, let's explore the Piazza della Signoria, with on one of its flanks the unique Loggia Dei Lanzi. This arched gallery that you can access for free houses a remarkable collection of Renaissance and Roman sculptures and has been doing so since the 1500's, making it one of the first open-air sculpture gallery spaces in the world! There are about ten statues, among which Cellini's bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head, a masterpiece that took him nine years to complete. You can have a seat in the back, between the five marble, female statues, and overlook the action on the large, lively square that stretches below you.
Visit of the Gucci Garden | Piazza della Signoria 10, 50122 Florence
Another highlight on the Piazza della Signoria is the very special Gucci Garden. Let's not forget the Italian house was founded in 1921 by Guccio Gucci in Florence, so it's only fitting the brand has a space here to embody all of its values. The Gucci Garden brings together a boutique with exclusive clothes and accessories, an inspirational gallery, a gift and souvenir shop with a fine selection of books and magazines and to top it off, it has its own restaurant called the Gucci Osteria. On the first and second floor, the gallery dives you under in the Gucci world with a selection of magnificent items from the archives. There aren't that many items on display, but they're just the right ones and all of the icons of the house are there: the double G, the horsebit, the flora print, the loafers and the bamboo bags. The entire space feels like a trip inside Alessandro Michele's brilliant mind and has you leave with a joyful head full of color and patterns!
Lunch at Brac | Via dei Vagellai 18R, 50122 Florence
And from one multidisciplinary space to another... Brac is not only a bookstore, they also sell wine and it is a very nice vegetarian restaurant. If wanted, they offer an attractive offer called 'piatto unico' with which, for only €15,00, you can choose three different dishes that are served as small portions on one plate. For a vegetarian like me, their menu was basically a dream come true, I rarely get so much to chose from! The place is composed of a small room in the front and another in the back, with in between the cutest little courtyard with hanging pieces of fabric. Note that the place is kind of hard to find, since it has a small entrance located in a quiet street, and it doesn't open before 12:00.
Again, if you're in the mood for some excellent gelato in the afternoon, you can find Vivoli (Via dell’Isola delle Stinche 7R) in this area of the city. This renowned gelateria is the perfect spot to try some classic flavors such as crema (aka vanilla), pistachio, chocolate or stracciatella.
Visit of the Bardini Garden | Costa S. Giorgio 2, 50125 Florence
And from the Gucci Garden to a more 'traditional' kind of garden: Located next to the Boboli Garden, Bardini offers an entirely different experience. Relatively unknown, it is really quiet and you'll encounter much less people on your way. It is also a lot smaller meaning it is easy to navigate. The best time of the year to visit it is Spring, when all the flowers are in bloom, but it is worth visiting in Summer too, if only for the breathtaking views.
Visit of the Rose Garden | Viale Giuseppe Poggi 2, 50125 Florence
Roses are my favorite flowers so I had to see Florence's garden dedicated to them. Again, this is a smaller garden but with some nice surprises. In this case, a little piece of Belgium, since 11 bronze statues by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon grace the garden! It is open all year round, whereas the nearby Iris Garden can only be visited from end of April to end of May.
Stop at Piazzale Michelangelo
By now you've enjoyed quite some panoramic views of Florence, but I guess the ultimate views can be seen at Piazzale Michelangelo, since you get to see everything from up here, from the Duomo, to the Ponte Vecchio, to the ancient city walls. The site was designed by Florentine architect Giuseppe Poggi as a tribute to Michelangelo, which explains its name and the replica of the David in its middle. Poggi also designed the beautiful building behind the statue which was meant to be a museum dedicated to Michelangelo's work. However it never got this purpose and nowadays Ristorante La Loggia is housed here, the perfect spot to have a break and a much needed drink after the hike up!
Visit of San Miniato Al Monte | Via delle Porte Sante 34, 50125 Florence
The climb up continues to reach one very special church: San Miniato Al Monte. Relatively unknown, this church isn't quite like any other I've visited in the past. First of all, its facade strikes by its minimal beauty, with geometric patterns in green and white marble. Going in, you'll discover an almost mystical atmosphere, because the church is very dark, with just a few rays of light creeping in. The interior is rather simple, with more geometrical patterns, and boasts an elevated presbytery, something I had never seen before. Before leaving, make sure to have a look at the marble pavement in the central aisle: you'll discover some surprising motifs!
Dinner in San Niccolò
After reaching the top of the hill South of the Arno, time to come back down, in the San Niccolò area to be exact. This neighborhood is known as the artistic one and has a very cool vibe with lots of bars and restaurants. As such, there are a few great options to chose from for dinner, near the old city gate. Enoteca Fuori Porta (Via del Monte alle Croci 10R) has more than 500 wines on its list so you'll surely find the one you're craving for. Accompany it with some of their simple, Tuscan dishes such as salads, bruschetta or crostoni (a sort of open panini). La Beppa Fioraia (Via dell’Erta Canina 6R) serves the most beautiful plates and has a lovely interior with big windows overlooking a garden. Last but not least, Il Rifrullo (Via di San Niccolò 55R) is where you have to be to enjoy a classic aperitivo among locals (meaning you only pay for your drinks and get access to a buffet for free).
Florence is just a 2 hour flight away from Brussels. To go from the airport to the city center, you can chose between taking the bus or the train (personally I favor the train, even if there's a connection). Both options take about 1 hour. As mentioned earlier, you should buy your tickets online in advance for the museums. You can do so here. The combined ticket of €38,00 gives you entry to the Uffizi Galleries, the Boboli and Bardini Gardens and the Pitti Palace. The ticket is valid for 3 days and you should start with the Uffizi Galleries.