Whenever travel to Italy is mentioned, it is almost inevitable to include the city of Florence in the discussion. Declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, and ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Florence is the capital of the lush region of Tuscany and is considered as the birthplace of the Renaissance. It was also a center of trade during medieval times, and to this day, it remains a major economic center.
As one can expect from a city that is steeped in culture and history, almost every street and every corner boasts a historical building or a work of art (because even the door knockers here are sights to behold). However, other than your usual tour of galleries and museums, there are still a myriad other interesting places to see and things to do in beautiful Firenze. Here is a short list of just some of the other attractions to experience in Florence, and we’re sure that you will discover even more in your own explorations!
San Lorenzo Food Market
The San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale is a two-story building that was built in 1874, and serves as both a historical landmark, as well as a food-lover’s paradise. It is filled with stalls that sell everything you would ever need for your own Italian kitchen (which is perfect if you plan to cook your own meals during your vacation), with products that include fresh and preserved meats and seafood, as well as wines, breads, pasta, spices, herbs, and cheeses. There are also, of course, a plethora of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.
Just remember, however, that when dealing with produce in Italy, DO NOT TOUCH THE MERCHANDISE. It is considered rude and unhygienic, so instead, point at the items that you want, and ask the grocer to get it for you.
Other than fresh ingredients, the Mercato Centrale is also home to a good number of food stalls and coffee shops where one can stop in for a bite to eat if you ever need a quick break from all the shopping. These places have few seats, however, and can therefore get pretty crowded, so try to avoid the lunch rush. If it can’t be helped, it is also perfectly acceptable to take your food with you and sit down on the steps of the building as you eat.
The Panino con Lampredotto
Despite the number of lovely restaurants and cafes in Florence, the humble Panino con Lampredotto remains THE signature Florentine food item. Classified as street food, it is very popular with locals, and it shouldn’t be surprising if you end up buying your share alongside the city’s workers. It is basically a sandwich with tripe (the fourth stomach of a cow) that has been boiled in broth, and then served with some local condiments and sauces. For a few euros, you can have a traditional, delicious, and most importantly, filling snack!
Photo credit: Lucarelli via Wikimedia Commons
Biblioteca delle Oblate
Formerly a monastery and hospital, this building has since been converted into the city’s main public library. The library itself feature books and magazines in Italian as well as a variety of other languages, and it also has a children’s section with comfortable seats and enough space for kids to play in. Best of all, the Biblioteca also has a café at the second floor that not only serves delicious food, but also offers a stunning view of some of Florence’s most prominent landmarks, the Duomo and Brunelleschi’s Cupola. Perfect for a relaxing afternoon aperitif!
Photo credit: sailko via Wikimedia Commons
Florence’s “Secret Bakeries”
Most establishments in Italy have set operating hours and tend to close rather early, so looking for some place to eat at two in the morning or so can be rather problematic. However, whether you happened to arrive in the city too late or too early, you’re back from a late night out, or you just really want a snack in the middle of the night, all you have to do is to walk down a street and look for the lights coming from open doors and windows. Be brave, and peek in, as it would most likely be a bakery starting its operations, and they would be happy to sell you fresh breads, pastries, and pizza.
Love Locks at Piazzale Michelangelo
For the lovers, couples, and romantics out there, you might want to pass by this spot either to join or admire a relatively new ritual that has sprung up over the past decade. Inspired by the novel Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo (Three Meters Above the Sky) written by Federico Moccia in 1992, sweethearts have been visiting the bridge at Piazzale Michelangelo to profess their affections for each other, as they inscribe a padlock with their initials before locking it into place on the railings, and throwing the key into the Arno River.
Oltrarno Quarter’s Artisans
Whether you’re out for a shopping expedition, or you’re just someone who appreciates traditions and fine craftsmanship, a visit to the Quartiere Oltrarno is a must. A short distance away from Florence’s bustling central quarters, Oltrarno features restaurants, cafes, tranquil gardens, squares, monuments, museums, churches, and palaces. However, it also serves as home to a majority of Florence’s artisans who create beautiful pieces of merchandise that include items such as bespoke shoes and clothing, stationery, jewelry, leather goods, and mosaics of Murano glass. Even if you’re not out to buy, feel free to peek inside their studios and ateliers to watch the masters at work.
In fact, while you’re in the area, try visiting the studio of the renowned goldsmith, pharmacist, and sculptor Alessandro Dari whose products are considered as pieces of art in and of themselves.
Traffic signs by Clet Abraham
Every day, we tend to simply walk past road and traffic signs without a second thought, because they’re… well… everywhere. In Florence, however, you might want to stop and look for a few seconds longer, as the French artist Clet Abraham has taken his brand of whimsical art to the streets, adding a touch of fun to otherwise plain installations.
The city of Florence is a treasure box of treasure boxes, where every turn at almost any hour can lead you into something fascinating and beautiful. So after you’re done with your museum and gallery tours, go ahead and feel free to step out, take a deep breath, pick a direction, and just keep walking. Stop at whatever catches your fancy. Take your time to appreciate it. Heck, rent a bike or a Vespa while you’re at it, and see what adventure you can find that day. Enjoy Firenze and keep it with you wherever you go.