Europe and Middle East, Florence, Italy, Newsletter, Trip Reviews, Tuscany

Insider guide to Florence

09/05/2023 by .
guide to florence

Home to Renaissance art, amazing architecture, fine food and wine and some very eccentric shops and experiences, Judith Baker’s insider guide to Florence never fails to delight.

We start our insider guide to Florence with Florence’s most famous landmark; the beautiful 15th-century Duomo, also known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Del Fiore, which forms the centre point of the city. Climb 463 steps to the top if you want to take in magnificent views over Florence’s breath-taking skyline.


The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most important in the world with its large collection of Renaissance masterpieces, with works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, there are always queues to enter, so get there early.

Perhaps the most iconic work of art in Florence is Michelangelo’s statue of David, carved out of a single block of marble 500 years ago by the 26-year-old artist. The Academia Gallery houses Michelangelo’s original marble statue. You will see a copy of it in front of Palazzo Vecchio, usually surrounded by selfie-takers, but seeing the original is a worthwhile experience.

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The Ponte Vecchio arches over the river Arno and although it gets busy with tourists browsing for jewellery and souvenirs, it makes for a historic and diverting walk… The present bridge dates from the 1500s. There were originally all types of shops, including butchers, fishmongers and tanners, whose waste caused a stench in the area. So in 1593, Ferdinand I decrSo,d that only goldsmiths and jewellers be allowed to have shops on the bridge. You can pass underneath on a boat tour, or by paddle boarding.

After crossing Ponte Vecchio, you reach the Oltrano area where the Pitti Palace stands, home today to several museums including the Palatine Gallery and the Modern Art Gallery, with the impressive Boboli Gardens behind. The gardens are a welcome spot to sit and relax after a morning’s sightseeing. Nearby is Piazza Santo Spirito with the Church of Santo Spirito, built by Brunelleschi. This is a lively area, and the streets nearby are full of attractive restaurants, bars and cafes serving excellent Tuscan dishes and wines.

 Florence Foodie Tour

You can’t have a guide to Florence without a food tour and Florence is full of foodie surprises, If you think you know Italian food, a tour to discover the city’s lesser-known corners and cafes is an eye-opener.

You will see fascinating insights into Florence’s history, such as the wine windows, and little arches in the walls through which wine was passed during the Plague. The windows made a comeback during COVID when a new generation found the fun of enjoying a contactless drink medieval style. My favourite was one on Bella Donna Street (formerly the red-light district)

Coffee drinking here is not just a morning ritual, but the sight of local Florentines enjoying their macchiato and expressos before work is a colourful start to the day. Not consumed in the Neros or Costas we know, they are drunk in lovely old cafes and pasticcerias with crumbly walls and murals and accompanied by sweet pastries such as budino di riso (rice pudding tart) or spoglia (a creamy cake).

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We learn that the Florentines got their coffee from Ethiopia, but frothy drinks like cappuccino were introduced by the Austrians. The name comes from the fact that the milk formed a hood over the coffee, like that worn by Capuchin monks.

The eating day continues with mid-morning coccoli caldi (it means hot cuddles) a fried dough ball filled with cheese or prosciutto – eaten while on the move in the street.

Lunch can be a plate of cold cuts and cheeses, eaten with a chunk of pan de ramerino, crusty fruit bread with rosemary.  The delis or alimentary can be simple rustic-looking cafes or more sophisticated lunch spots where ladies sip Franciacorta (Italian champagne) after a shopping trip down Florence’s fashionable streets.  Locals and tourists alike flock to simple central restaurants such as Beppa Fiora with its sunny outdoor terrace.

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A local delicacy is lampredotto, the final lining of a cow’s stomach and found on tripe stalls or trippaio throughout the city. Usually served on a crusty bun, locals eat the famous sandwich standing up in the Mercato Centrale. Its not for everyone, and   I preferred to go in search of ice cream. Italy wouldn’t be Italy without gelato and Florence is full of ice cream stalls and shops many of them dating back centuries.

Fine Dining in Florence

Florence has a wealth of fine dining establishments and Gune is one of the city’s most interesting with unusual dishes made from produce from Tuscany and Luciana. The striking interior is decorated with strong wall art featuring portraits of well-known women, including one which puts Mona Lisa’s head on Sharon Stone’s body. A five-course tasting menu includes small plates of surprising combinations and cocktails such as Amy, with a ‘deep husky identity named after Amy Winehouse’. It combines tequila with spicy ingredients from Italy’s Basilicata region.

Wine And Cocktails

Our guide to Florence is not just about endless walking. Take a late afternoon break. Florentines love an aperitivo whether it is a classic Negroni at Harry’s bar at Sine Villa Medici hotel or a small glass of wine at a roadside bar.  Florentines claim that the Negroni was invented in the city when Count Camillo Negroni asked his bartender to add gin to his Milano Torino cocktail. The charming 270-year-old Caffe Gilli is the perfect place to enjoy the drink. Being close to Tuscany’s famous vineyards there is no shortage of excellent wines in Florence. Stop at the Chianti Classico enoteca in the Mercato Centrale covered market to sample some of the finest.

Perfumery experience

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For something fragrant and different, visit the shops and workshop of perfumer Sileno Cheloni who performs sensory rituals using essences and natural materials and also blends individual perfumes to order. We were transfixed by the theatrical master conducting his incense ceremony and recalling the ancient origins of perfume as he wafted incense around the room. He can even arrange a sensory dinner where fragrances are paired with food and wines.

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This guide to Florence is a small snapshot of Florence a little off the beaten track. There are plenty more here, you just need to explore a little further.


Tell me more about this insider guide to Florence.

For more details on the places feature here please visit Feel Florence, the official tourist board.

To join Judith’s food tour, visit Curious Appetite

To book the perfume tour visit Sileno Cheloni

For fine dining book your table at Gune



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