If you are bitten by the Pitti virus, you know very well that symptoms include long hours standing, chatting and shaking hands at the Fortezza. The most debilitating symptom, though, is perhaps one’s inability to explore the crevices of this magical city you travelled so long to get to and were so excited to be in, yet have only scraped the initial tourist-filled surface of. Fret not, though, as we have the antidote! Welcome to a curated guide to the Florence one wouldn’t normally get the chance to stumble upon. Filled with unusual and, for some, still secretive go-to destinations adored by locals.
* Please note that, in the interest of time and functionality, I have limited the scope of my tour to the historic center.
Let’s start with places to stay. If your budget is measured and all you need is an immaculately clean room walking distance from La Fortezza, try La Dimora degli Angeli, a small inn just steps from the Duomo.
If you can splurge, anything from Westin to the Helvetia & Bristol, to the Savoy and all the way to the Portrait, will certainly not disappoint. An all time classic compromise is the 4-star Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni. This elegant tower partially overlooks the Arno and serves a scrumptious buffet-style breakfast – and if you’re anything like me and would rather skip lunch than stand for long time in the Pitti cafeterias, this key advantage is not to be overlooked. Other worthy nominees in this same category are Hotel Spadari and Room Mate Isabella Hotel. If you want to make the best of your Florentine nights and wake-up as late as possible (Anyone? No? Just me? ), try Hotel Cellai, a charming boutique venue located in a newly restored 19th century townhouse, only 10 minutes walking distance from Fortezza da Basso. One golden rule applies across the board, regardless of where you choose to stay: book early!
If your mind doesn’t immediately dart to the deliciousness of Italian cuisine when you think of traveling to Italy, you might need to reevaluate your priorities. Fasten your taste buds and keep reading.
Among the top Florentine restaurants of the moment is Osteria dell’Enoteca (Via Romana, 70/r), where you can personally hand-pick the wine from a curated cellar under the guidance of an expert sommelier. No matter your choice, you won’t regret it.
Another dining experience not to be missed is offered by Cibrèo (Via Andrea del Verrocchio, 5r), offering since 1979 authentic seasonal cuisine alla toscana. Two doors down and owned by the same chef, Fabio Picchi, is its Tuscan-Japanese fusion version Ciblèo. If you love the feeling of a rustic ambiance, Trattoria 13 Gobbi (Via del Porcellana, 9r) is going to be your top pick – just be sure to get their mouth-watering rigatoni sauce. Another old school trattoria I discovered in my college years that I ritually visit every time since is Cammillo (Borgo San Jacopo, 57 r). It is a classic go-to spot that combines Tuscan delicatessens (including gluten-free options, evviva!) with wonderfully moderate prices.
If you are lucky enough to be able to step out from Fortezza for lunch (if that’s you, teach me your secrets), try Luisa Via Roma’s Floret. With its gorgeous terrace seating, this spot offers very clean organic recipes in addition to delicious cleansing juices. Another little favorite of mine (especially on a tight schedule) is Essenziale(Piazza di Cestello, 3 r). Order chef Simone Cipriani’s tasting menu ad occhi chiusi. You’ll be assisted by one waiter for orders and drinks, while the cooks will explain each dish to you. For the true steak connoisseurs, indulge in a carnivorous feast at Buca Lapi (Via del Trebbio, 1 r). Founded in 1880, it is the oldest restaurant in Florence. Everything screams perfection at Frescobaldi (Piazza della Signoria, 31), from the sophisticated décor, to the menu. To top it off, just a few steps away, inside the recently opened Gucci Garden, you can find an all-day museum restaurant, opened by chef Massimo Bottura, that mixes Italian dishes with international flare.
If you are on the go and like to jump from one place to another like a social butterfly, then small bites and drinks to–die- for, served up in an all Italian set-up, may be what you are looking for. Start at the new Manifattura Tabacchi (Piazza di San Pancrazio, 1), mixing ambience with sublime cocktails. Just steps from Ponte Vecchio, in Piazza dei Rossi, 1, is Le Volpi e L’Uva, one of the city’s best wine bars to seek out vintages from small producers and delicious stuzzichini. Mad Souls & Spirits turns mixology into an art with their unique combinations and unconventional concoctions – try their carrot jam with bourbon and egg whites – all in a small, minimalistic space. A classic staple is The Fusion Bar (Vicolo dell’Oro, 3), nested inside the Gallery Hotel Art, never failing to impress its devotees with sophisticated cocktails and elegant ambiance. The exclusive first speakeasy bar in Florence, Rasputin, may be hard to spot as the only clue you are given is the street name, Piazza Santo Spirito. I will give you a quick tip (sshh!), and trust me, your feet will thank me: when you see a tiny entrance with two-seater wooden pew, a crucifix on the wall, and tea lights glimmering in the doorway, stop and get in. Inside this gothic extravaganza, you can find 1930s furnishing and Prohibition-era cocktails. Social media fanatics be warned, photography is not allowed inside! In addition to the classic Coquinarius (Via delle Oche, 11 r), which is arguably one of the best wine bars in Florence, I would encourage you to try, for a totally different experience – Kawaii , a tiny minimal bar famous for its sake’ and Japanese whiskey (Borgo San Frediano, 8 r).
Yes, I know, it’s easy to fall into the charm of luxurious 5-course meals and extravagant wines, but you cannot have a full Florentine experience unless you taste one of the below Panini. Easy, simple, and delicious. Perfect for a quick stop or for a lunch on the go, i Fratellini , in Via dei Cimatori 38 r, is only 64 square feet, yet has been around since 1875. A useful address for a snack after a visit to the Uffizi is Ino (Via dei Georgofili 3r/7r), a gourmet sandwich bar that uses ingredients sourced from all over Italy. Bakery by day and wine bar by night, the Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, Via dei Tavolini, 18r, is adored by locals. Waiting is well worth it if you find a line outside of Il Vinaino, Via Palazzuolo, 124, one of the most popular “street food” places offering among the best truffle-based plates in town. Order a glass of vino della casa (house wine) at the vegetarian friendly Fiaschetteria Nuvoli, in Piazza dell’Olio, 15 and don’t forget to make your way to the cellar, where you can taste their unforgettable ribollita.
Speaking of delicatezze fiorentine, il Trippaio di Sant’Ambrogio in Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, located inside the infamous market, offers the best lampredotto sandwich in town. If you feel full, take the opportunity to get your digestive system going with a 10 minute walk across the Arno to Piazzale Michelangelo, a square up a hill with stunning views of the city. For all the romantics out there, you cannot miss the nearby Giardino del Bobolino, the smaller, quainter version of the adjacent public park Boboli Gardens.
If you are a shopaholic, guard your wallet! These places are sure to tempt your addictions. The Scuola del Cuoio (School of Leather), in Via S. Giuseppe 5r, offers glimpses into the craft of leather making. Older masters and young apprentices cut and transform the leather into all different pieces. You can personalize your purchases with golden initials that will be embossed on the spot. Giovanni Baccani’s The Blue Shop is a dream for all home décor lovers. Founded in 1903, this 4th generation artisan shop still preserves its early 20th century furnishings, and sells chandeliers, frames, lamps and typical artifacts of the Florentine handicraft tradition. Another family-run business is the book shop of Alberto Cozzi, who makes bindings for handmade books, gildings, and engravings created with the tools of the trade inherited from his grandfather. In you’re thinking fashion, and fawn at the idea of having a suit or dress sewn by expert tailors, pick your fabric among the miles of textiles that via De’ Pecori’s Casa del Tessuto has to offer since 1929. Last but certainly not least is my favorite shopping spot: the grandiose Santa Maria Novella perfume workshop. This is the oldest pharmacy in Europe that produces and sells lotions, drugs and perfumes according to the medieval recipes of the Dominican friars in the 1300’s.
Thousands of pages would still not suffice to round up all the magical hidden artistic gems Florence has to offer. Considering that, after all, this is not technically a vacation, I will share a “quick art ritual”. After an inevitable first night aperitivo at Procacci, I go straight to Palazzo Strozzi, located in the namesake Piazza, and enjoy its major exhibitions. No matter how busy I am, I always find the time to go see the Brancacci Chapel, in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, famous for its 1400’s glorious painting cycle designed by Masolino da Panicale and his protégée Masaccio. Before heading back to the train station on my way to Milan, I never miss the contemporary art exhibits at Museo Nocevento, in Piazza Santa Maria Novella. If you are either too early or…too late for your train (guilty!), a last stop at the train station’s luxury bakery VyTA can offer one last quick glimpse of Florentine beauty before you embark in your next journey.
Are you ready to enjoy this hidden Florence? Pick your favorite spots and, uno due, tre, via!
Cristiano Magni, owner of the namesake New York based PR agency, is a long time Pitti addict. His longstanding love story with Florence started in his college years, when he moved to the Renaissance capital to complete a thesis in Medieval Art History. MR has asked him to share his favorite (and secretive) spots.