We absolutely love Tuscany, so much so that we went there for our annual team trip last year (you can read our tips here).
Varud of Bicoastal Cooks, who last wrote about Lisbon, Machu Picchu, Medellin, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Lofoten Islands, Norway, Ushuaia, Argentina and Patagonia, Argentina is back with his practical travel tips for Florence.
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Florence brings out the nerd in me. Walking around this city, I easily get transported back to the Renaissance, imagining myself running on top of buildings a la Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, fist-bumping my man Da Vinci, or engaging in politics with the Medicis. There is just so much history and influence that stems from Florence. And when I’m not in this dream state, I’ve got a mouth full of either the Tuscan cuisine or Italian classics. Florence is just one of those rare cities, where the magic is still able to shine through the now touristic nature. (All prices were collected when the conversion was 1 euro = 1.11 dollar.)
Flying: Florence (FLR) Airport is the closest airport to the city. Buses by (Vola In Bus) run approximately every 30 minutes, take around 20 minutes to reach the city center, and will cost 6 euros one-way/10 euros return. One-way tickets can be bought directly from the driver, but return tickets need to be purchased at the booth. Alternatively, if you are coming at odd hours or if your accommodation is not within the city center, taxis are readily available for a flat fare of 24 euros and take about 15 minutes.
Alternatively, many people find that the nearby Pisa airport offers better prices (and sometimes flights get re-routed to this airport due to weather conditions). The Pisa Airport and Florence Train Station are directly connected by train (around one hour depending on line) for 9 euros; there are bus options available as well (70 minutes) for 5 euros.
Trains: If traveling from other cities within the country or transferring from the Pisa airport, you will end up at the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station. The station is actually really conveniently located, just a few blocks Northwest from the city center (5-10 minutes) and should put you fairly close to your accommodation. If leaving to surrounding cities, keep in mind that there are usually regional trains and high speed trains; the regional trains will take longer (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours to Rome) but will save you money (and are usually Rail Europe pass friendly.) During the peak season, the two trains that were departing next were already full so I would recommend buying your tickets in advance if time is a concern.
Around the city: Public transportation is not a big part of Florence, especially for tourists, but that’s okay as the best part of Florence is aimlessly walking the streets. The city center itself is around 15 minutes wide, and add up to another 10 minutes to any places on the other side of the river, hills not included.
Uffizi & Accademia Museums: It’s a shame to spend so much time indoors, surrounded by hoards of tourist groups while in Florence, but having such important and influential pieces of art in one place like the Uffizi (built by the Medicis—one of the most powerful families of the time) or Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia make these two places essential stops. If you are visiting during the peak season, do yourself a favor and buy tickets online beforehand: Uffizi and Accademia.
City Center: The main center area is full of the majority of the other sights, from the iconic Florence Cathedral (Duomo), to Palazzo Vecchio, Basillica of Santa Croce or San Miniato, and Ponto Vecchio. And on the other side of the river are even smaller streets and Palazzo Pitti. You can grab a map so that you don’t miss all the sights, but try not to have your face buried in it. Look up and around you!
Viewpoint: The most popular spot for a great view is Piazzale Michelangelo, located on the other side of the river and up a medium-sized hill. It’s about a 10 minute uphill (and stairs) walk. Alternative spots would be in the Duomo itself, Forte di Belvedere, and Palazzo Vecchio.
Food: If you want to escape the touristy restaurants, cross the river to Piazza Santo Spirito. Within the square and along the surrounded alleys are countless restaurants with more local vibes. However, a lot of the restaurants in this area tend to have reservations during the peak times so arrive early or call in beforehand. Further, I think you are doing Italy wrong if you end up here and don’t learn how to cook a bit of the cuisine. Ranging from 50 to 100 euros, there are many classes on the local cuisine, pizzas, or pastas. Do your tummy a favor and take one—making fresh pasta is one of the most rewarding experiences!
Day Trips: Pisa is probably the most popular day trip from Florence, but Lucca and Siena are both towns with less of a tourist rush. All three of these places can be reached by train in less than an hour—but, the beauty of the Tuscan countryside is not to be missed and renting a car is a great way to explore this region and even pop into the Chianti wine region. Cinque Terre is not too far as well (need to take two trains to get there) and is a great option for a day of hiking near the coast.
Costs and Practicalities:
Given the touristy nature (as well as a great food scene near Piazza Santo Spirito), expect your meals to be pricey: 10-15 euros per main dish and 3-6 euros for beer/wine. At restaurants, a 3-ish euro cover charge per person is fairly normal (regardless of eating the bread or not) and tipping is not required. The reason for this cover charge varies, but think of it as “renting” the table for which you can stay as long as you want—which is great if you are like me and love your cheese and wine courses.
Wi-Fi is readily available all over the city, especially at restaurants and cafes, and was found to be reliable.
Although most people will start speaking to you in Italian, most people know English and the language is not a problem at all. But learning some of the simple niceties is always fun and can certainly help you get your gelato order faster!
Safety did not seem to be a problem on either sides of the river. The biggest concern seemed to be of pick-pocketing, so pack smart and wander carefully!
About The Author:
Varud’s life is food–eating, reading, exploring, and creating. Voted Forbes 30 Under 30 for ‘Most Clueless Individuals’, he jumped ship from his management consultant lifestyle in October 2015 and embarked on a culinary journey to learn about cuisines around the world. His first book documented an experiment in Recipe Development (how to create and gain inspiration for original recipes) while his most recent novel narrates the journey of leaving the US to travel to Argentina and learn about Asado, or Argentine BBQ. Follow him on his blog, Bicoastal Cooks, instagram or Twitter.
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