Travel Guide: Florence, Italy
Explore way beyond the obvious tourist sites with our guide to Florence’s must-sees
- By Tom Powell -
The best alternative things to do in Florence
See street art
Forget Michelangelo, da Vinci, Titian and the rest for a minute, because if you want to get to grips with the bustling modern heart of the city, you're going to have to look a little more carefully. Florence isn't exactly full of graf tags (let's face it, when a city is built on pristine 14th-century buildings, it's not gonna hang around) but if you keep your eyes on the road signs as you go about your day, you'll notice pieces by local legend Clet Abraham, whose quirky sign hacks have spread all across Europe. Fancy a souvenir? Hit up his studio in San Niccolo.
While it's the renaissance art-packed Uffizi and Accademia that pull in the biggest load of punters in Florence, sometimes it pays to do something a little different – enter La Specola. Almost as old as the city's two big hitters, and with a lot less pomp, the museum is home to one of the world's biggest collections of anatomical waxworks – which basically means a super-informative, antique and slightly creepy look at the inner workings of the human body. Needless to say, it's not a place for the squeamish (or to linger in a museum café).
Easy Living Urban Beach
The perfect tonic to a boiling-hot clamber up to Florence's prime viewing platform and Insta spot the Piazzale Michelangelo, the city's urban beach takes up residence in the shadow of the San Niccolo tower throughout the summer months on the less tourist-laden southeast side of the city. Have a drink on the terrace, grab a lounger or shuffle to the DJs down on the beach, or take an afternoon yoga lesson on the sand under the Tuscan sun. It might not quite be a slice of the Italian seaside, but it's still bliss. Easylivingfirenze.it
Where to stay in Florence
Less a hotel and more like staying in an eccentric mate's Florentine palazzo, this 12-room guesthouse between the Duomo and Santa Maria Novella station is eclectic, original and quirky. Each of the rooms takes on a different theme and runs with it. From ramshackle rooms with exhibition posters to deep red, old-time-Italian style lodgings, each room has a distinctive character – and access to an honesty fridge full of bubbly, wine and soft drinks for those remove-the-sandals-it's-been-a-long-afternoon moments. From £107. sawdays.co.uk
When the city gets too hot, the rule in Tuscany is head for the hills, and this lavishly appointed 15th-century villa perched discretely among the greenery out to the north of Florence is the perfect place to escape to. Expect a two-tiered outdoor pool (pictured) that'll let you admire the city's skyline from a glorious and much less frantic remove, as well as gorgeous, cavernous rustic-meets-luxe rooms with 19th-century frescoes and hotel art that's actually worth something. Not bad.
From £247. mrandmrssmith.com
The cosiest of a group of four luxury properties that straddle the River Arno near the Ponte Vecchio, Hotel Lungarno was given a new lick of paint (and then some) and reopened earlier this year. Prime location river views come as standard, and so do fine-dining options which range from the hotel's Michelin-starred, 900-wines-in-the-cellar restaurant to private dining experiences on a riverside terrace. Our only worry is that they might not serve spag bol, though – we're sorry about that.
From £320. lungarnocollection.com
Where to eat and drink in Florence
Boldly dubbed one of Italy's finest places for street food, All'Antico Vinaio is your ideal lunching spot if you love cured meat and ciabattas the size of your head, and don't mind sitting on the pavement while you eat. You'll find the postage stamp-sized deli on Via Dei Neri (look for the people chomping giant sarnies), which isn't far from the Uffizi, which means it's the perfect fuel for tackling that round-the-block queue. Thinly sliced fennel sausage and creamed artichoke never tasted so, well, arty. Via dei Neri, 74/R; allanticovinaio.com
Il Santo Bevitore
In the less-trodden streets to the west of the Ponte Vecchio, this serene, high-end restaurant is everything you love about Italian cooking, but with some interesting modern twists. Expect cured meats on regionally organised platters, fresh pasta with less classic Italian ingredients like cuttlefish or pig's cheek. And then there are the mains… raw scampi with burrata and wasabi; scallops with white polenta and lemon chutney; and wild boar with white asparagus and plums. It'll do, we guess. Via di Santo Spirito, 64/66; ilsantobevitore.com
Way back in 1919, Count Camillo Negroni decided he fancied adding a gin kick to his americano cocktail in this high-class café near the Duomo, and just like that, the negroni was born. Nowadays, it's still as brushed up, with marble counters, an upmarket clientele and (strangely) a Roberto Cavalli boutique in part of the building. But that doesn't make it any less worthy of a visit for cocktail aficionados, fans of Italian nobles or those who like a punchy tipple in the middle of the afternoon. Via della Spada, 10r; caffegiacosa.it
British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Florence from around £140 return. britishairways.com
Enoteca Palazzo Pitti
About five minutes from the Ponte Vecchio opposite the Palazzo Pitti, this small wine shop and restaurant boasts floor-to-ceiling shelves of small production, high-end booze and (importantly) a super informative team of waiters who'll help you navigate the terroirs of Italy, and discover all the flavours you favour. With tons of classic (and pleasantly curveball) Italian wines by the glass or bottle, it's great for a lunchtime pick-me-up, or sipping your way around the country with a paired dish for each glass. Piazza de' Pitti, 16; pittigolaecantina.com