Friday, April 8, 2016

Florence Travel Guide: Photos, Attractions, Food and Travel Tips

On March 4th my sister and I boarded a plane to Florence in celebration of her birthday. This was my third trip to Italy but my first time in Firenze and we were looking forward to sipping cappuccinos, overdosing on pizza and sharing some quality sister time over scoops of hazelnut gelato. Despite the jet lag, terrifying turbulence and exhausting time difference we arrived in one piece, weary but exited!

Ponte Vecchio (oldest bridge in Florence)

We decided to stay at a hotel that was centrally located since Florence is knows as a city best explored on foot. I am sure there are many budget-friendly accommodations available but we spent our week at the posh Grand Amore Hotel & Spa. Admittedly my sister and I are not the roughing it type. We prefer a bit of luxury, quality service and since it was a vacation, a lot pampering! This is exactly what we got from this luxurious boutique style hotel, rated third best in Florence and located on Via dei Servi, just down the street from the popular Piazza del Duomo and walking distance to most major attractions.

Via Dei Servi

Lobby of the Grand Amore Hotel & Spa

Checking-in after a long flight was a relief and the warm welcome with delectable cappuccinos was fabulous! The unique thing about The Grand Amore is that it is very intimate with just 11 guest rooms. Since there aren’t hordes of tourists you basically get your own private wait staff who are absolutely delightful!

By European standards our room was quite spacious and modern with a large king size bed, adequate closet space, French windows overlooking the street and a luxurious floor-to-ceiling Italian marble bathroom complete with towel warmers and fluffy robes!

Unlike most hotels, a mini bar service was included so we could call down for beverages at any hour. We also got breakfast with our reservation which was made to order and delicious! Every night we chose which items we wanted and specified how we wanted them cooked. In the morning everything was brought to our room and laid out before us. Usually I am not a fan of hotel breakfast but this was the best I’ve had. The items included fresh fruit platters, sausages, coffees/tea, yogurt, eggs, breads, pastries, fresh fruit juices and more.

The hotel also had a unique turn-down service every night where they prepared the room for our arrival in the evenings and left special treats including wine, fruit, sweets and pastries from the surrounding region which was a wonderful touch!

Since there aren’t many guests, the spa can be booked for private sessions which is exactly what we did for my sister’s birthday. We had the steam room, sauna and hot tub all to ourselves which was relaxing after a long day of touring the city. We really appreciated the personal touches and impeccable service! The room rates for this hotel (at the time of our stay) ranged from $530 - $700 per night. You can visit the website by clicking HERE.

Our first day in Florence was spent finding our way around, doing a self-guided walking tour from an app we downloaded and picking up our Firenze cards. This card grants you access to most of the must-see attractions for three consecutive days at a discounted rate. It also lets you bypass ticket lines but the signs for entry are difficult to locate. (For more info on this attraction card click HERE).We also spent a lot of time marveling at the Duomo Cathedral's intricate details and the carvings that cover every surface.

Duomo Cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore)

On the second day we took The Best of Tuscany Walk About Tour ($102.13 per person) which included a guided tour of Sienna, San Gimignano and Pisa plus lunch and wine tasting at a beautiful estate overlooking the rolling hills and vineyards. (Click HERE for tour website).


Sienna was very old but in a good way. It felt like we were being transported back to medieval times and our guide was knowledgeable about the history and traditions.

Sienna: Piazza del Campo

Sienna Cathedral

In San Gimignano (a very small town in the Tuscany region) we explored, purchased souvenirs and ate at a gelateria ranked #1 in the world! If you stop in this area you must, I repeat MUST head to Gelateria Dondoli (also visited by Michelle Obama herself) and try the Gelato, it is definitely the best I’ve had!

When we stopped for lunch at the charming little farm and wine estate we were served a homemade, organic Italian meal with delicious pasta, wine from the vineyard and fresh baked bread drizzled in local olive oil. They also made us omelettes with hearty roasted potatoes.

I finally saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa in all her lopsided glory!

Town of Pisa

We also went to Cinque Terre on The Small Group Day Trip ($153.19 per person) which consists of a few towns along the coast. It took about 2 hours to get there but I highly recommend this tour if you love picturesque views and beautiful landscape! We explored colorful cliff clinging villages some of which were inhabited by just 15 people and we loved exploring the remote cobblestone streets and taking in the fresh sea breeze. (For more info on this tour click HERE).

In the town of Vernazza we were given complimentary appetizers and wine but since this region is known for its fresh pesto I highly recommend trying it with the spaghetti at Tavern del Capitano   (you will have to specifically request it). The service is slow but it was the BEST pasta I’ve ever had, my sister and I are still craving it!


Some of my must-see recommendations in Florence include:

*Duomo Cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore)

*Bascilica di Santa Croce: the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile & Rossini.

*Palazzo Vecchio

*Uffizi Gallery (may take 2-3 hours)

*Accademia Gallery - home of Michelangelo’s most famous work, the statue of David

While touring the galleries make sure to look up to the heavens for a view of the most amazing ceilings and intricate artwork in Florence!

For one of the best views of the city head to the train station and take the #13 bus to Piazzale Michelangelo. If you decide to walk it is quite an uphill hike but the trek down is quick and easy.

We didn’t get to the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens as planned because my sister got sick but we did enjoy Mercato Centrale and San Lorenzo Market. The outdoor market has an abundance of silk scarves, leather goods and souvenirs while the indoor market has everything from wine, pasta, olive oil and other local produce. Upstairs there are some amazing restaurants where the food is scrumptious yet affordable and the atmosphere is fun and upbeat. Many people gather here late into the evenings to catch a soccer game, sip wine and have dinner with friends and family.

To recap here is my list of MUST-try restaurants and food places:

* Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano (Tuscany region) – said to be the best gelato in the world.
* Tavern del Capitano in Vernazza for spaghetti with the best pesto in the world!
* Mercato Centrale – I recommend the pizza place located to the left side of the market adjacent from the wine bars. Also on the opposite side of the food court towards the back there is a restaurant that makes fresh potato chips. Warning, if you try these chips you will dream about them for days! They are a delicious chip-french fry hybrid that is absolutely scrumptious!

The pizzeria place in Mercato Centrale

*Le Botteghe di Donatello located by the Duomo on the corner of Via dei Servi – fresh pasta and a great selection of delicious food.

*Geleteria Edoardo by the Duomo (try the hazelnut and pistachio flavors)!

*Pizzeria ToTo – delicious, affordable pizza with great dough and amazing sauce.
*Gusta Pizza (rated #1 in Italy) – make sure to get there early as a line forms before the restaurant opens for dinner. I also recommend checking the hours of operation because they close at 4 pm and reopen again in the night.

Gusta Pizza

*Panini Toscani in Piazza del Duomo – They offer great Panini with fresh local cheese, veggies and or meat plus wine if you wish to indulge.
*Venchi – for delicious gelato, lots of chocolate, gifts and delectable sweet treats.

There is a lot to do in Florence, and although one week is not nearly enough to see everything we did as much as we could without burning out. We walked so much that we actually lost weight which balanced out all the rich foods, gelato and pasta. If you are heading to Florence I recommend wearing the most comfortable shoes you own or even investing in a pair of walking shoes, plan ahead and make sure to look up all the attractions + hours of operation beforehand. Book some fun day trips, eat well, relax and enjoy the beauty of the city!


  1. Replies
    1. It was def a fabulous experience! I felt very at home in Florence and I would love to go back one day :)

  2. Your photos are absolutely stunning!!!

    1. Thank you! I am actually in the process of deciding on a new camera to enhance my photo quality.

  3. This post got me so excited! I am going to Italy with my sister in September and we will be travelling across the country to Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples, Pompeii and Cinque Terre. We just finished planning and booking everything :) Amazing post and photography!

    1. OMG that is so exciting! You girls are going to love it, Italy is a gorgeous country. I have been to Rome and Venice as well, + a few other cities and I loved them all! I hope this post was helpful :)


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I love hearing from all of my amazing readers. Have a wonderful day!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...