It’s usually not difficult to sell me on the idea of going someplace new. In the past 20 years, I’ve had over 25 different addresses in 8 different states and quasi-lived in 3 different countries other than the U.S. Some have said I have a problem with commitment and with respect to settling somewhere; I used to agree, until now. Finally, I’ve found a place I can call home and feel comfortable wearing out my welcome in— Florence, Italy. If Florence is on your destination horizon, bravo! And if not, seriously consider making it an addition to your list of must see places. Florence (or as the Italians call it, Firenze) is one of the most beautiful little cities you
will ever experience.
Visiting the home of the Renaissance is truly like taking a page out of history, but Florence won my heart for all of its hidden charm; all of the stuff that makes it feel like any other normal European city, and not a hub for the 16 million tourists that descend on this little gem every year. Finding its soul wasn’t easy but after two years, it finally started feeling familiar. I’m no longer in that phase of trying to “fit in” with Florence. Right now, we are like old friends. I know just enough about this city to keep my calendar stimulating. So here are my tips for those of you interested in seeing Florence like a quasi-local.
Florence is very easy to navigate by foot so bring some comfy shoes and an eagerness to walk a lot. Most places are reachable in a 20-minute time-frame but the maze-like layout of the city can be intimidating at first. Do yourself a favor and take the first couple of days to just wander the streets and get familiar with it. There is so much history and beauty at every turn, and every street leads back to the river, the Duomo or the central station, so it’s really hard to get lost. Along the way, enjoy the sights and copious amounts of gelato. Just make sure it’s the good stuff, because there is definitely a difference in quality and you don’t want to spend your entire trip eating bad gelato.
The general rule is to avoid places with huge mounds of gelato with fruit or candy sprinkled on top. Stick to places that are artigianale, or have lids on the containers. It’s perfectly normal to ask to sample the gelato first, so why not? The hip crowd hang out in the Oltrarno area, across the river from the Duomo. There are less tourists on this side of town and it has a more “local” feel to it. Santo Spirito is kind of like the central meeting place for locals in Oltrarno. It’s a great place to enjoy a spritz or grab a bite to eat. If you get tired of wandering aimlessly, there is always some event going on in the city. Check out The Florentine magazine for information on current events. If you happen to be visiting this time of year (during the spring/early summer months), Fabbrica Europa, Notte Bianca, and Pitti Uomo are great venues to see art and fashion. No matter what time of year you visit, there is always something to do.
The general rule is to avoid places with huge mounds of gelato with fruit or candy
sprinkled on top.
One of the things I adore about Florence is Mercato Centrale. This is the best place to find the sweetest fruit and freshest meat, fish and cheese. It’s in the heart of the city and there really is no better place. If you go, get there before it closes at 2 pm (it’s not open Sundays) and remember, it is not polite to touch the fruit. The second floor of the market opened a couple of years ago and it’s a cool spot to grab a bite to eat and just people watch. Right outside is the San Lorenzo Market, which is not hard to miss. In a nutshell, it’s a good place for trinkets and things but not for high-quality goods.
Buy with caution. If you’re into fashion, you can’t go wrong in Italy. Besides being the home of many top designer brands, Florence also has some incredible vintage stores. Be on the lookout for them as you wander but remember, most businesses close between 1pm and 4 pm for lunch, so time yourself accordingly. It’s really hard to go wrong with restaurants here and the list is long so instead of listing them, my best advice is to see what’s close by and just check the ratings before you reserve. What I can recommend however, is the Fiorentina bistecca if you eat meat. This is what they are known for.
Also, Tuscany is truffle land so don’t miss out on enjoying truffles at some point during your dining excursion. Otherwise, eat anything and everything that looks and smells good. You won’t be disappointed. The last thing I want to recommend, especially if you’ve had enough of the museums and walking until exhaustion, is to have a picnic in one of Florence’s many beautiful free parks. They truly are amazing. Grab your book, blanket, and a bottle of vino and head to Giardino delle Rose, Giardino Villa Strozzi, Parco di Villa il Ventaglio or Cascine park to name a few. Find a tree, relax and enjoy!
Aniya Dunkley is originally from Brooklyn, NY. She practiced law for 12 years before moving to Italy where she is currently working on a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in contemporary jewelry design at Alchimia Contemporary Jewelry School in Florence.