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Florence is the capital of the Italian region of Tuscany and attracts millions of visitors each year. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and a center of art and culture since medieval times. Best of all, Florence has many attractions to suit just about anyone.

florence italy photo

Where to Stay

Whether it is a bed and breakfast place, an apartment you rent from an individual owner or a hotel room that you are looking for, Florence has it all. There are three areas where you can find accommodation.  The historic center, the larger metropolitan area outside the old center and the outskirts and hills surrounding the city. Each area offers a very large variety of different types of facilities.

The most popular choice and therefore the most expensive as well is the historic center.  It’s a relatively small area, a district of breathtakingly beautiful old buildings surrounded by a large boulevard built in the place of the old city walls.

Outside the old city, accommodation is cheaper, but not less cozy and well equipped. It is the best choice if you come by car and you need a safe place to park your vehicle.  It will also let  you sample what residential life for the locals is really like.
Finding a place in the hills surrounding Florence is best for visitors who want to combine sightseeing in the city with the exploration of Tuscany. Accommodations here will allow you to do both.

Where to Eat?

Florence gives you restaurants with international kitchen as well as the very best of Tuscan cuisine. You can find simple, delicious and very hearty authentic dishes in any trattoria.  Hit the square behind the Mercato Centrale, the central market and you will find lots of great and friendly places.  One place is the Trattoria da Mario that offer the best food and the most extraordinary wine selections for very reasonable prices.

If you like beef, you should also try the world-famous Florentine steak.  It’s a huge chunk served in modest restaurants and prepared by world-class chefs such as in Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco.

If you prefer modern places, you can check the Piazza Santa Croce and hit Oibo.  This place offers cocktails, an eat-all-you-can buffet and a sleek, modern environment for very reasonable places.

What to Do?

Florence is as varied in terms of the activities available, as it is when it comes to food and accommodation. Start by going on a hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour and see the most beautiful buildings created by Renaissance masters. Then go around the place on foot and create your own itinerary. It must include the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge linking the two sides of the Arno. You will find small and extraordinary jewel shops, museums such as the Uffizi Gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art or the Galleria dell’Accademia that gives home to Michelangelo’s David. Still not done, do not forget to check off palaces such as Palazzo Vecchio and cathedrals such as Santa Maria del Fiore or Santa Trinita.

If you love the arts and not only the visual arts and architecture, but music, too, you can attend one of the numerous opera performances in the historical center.  Many of them are free. From June to September, you can enjoy free jazz concerts all over the historic center as well.

If you feel you would like to relax after visiting the busy city, the hills of Fiesole offers a completely different kind of entertainment. You can go for walks, hike, visit villas or just find a spot and take in the view.

City Explorers Tip

If you want to explore a place that looks like nothing else in Florence and is also a quiet place not very frequented by tourists, go to the Oltrano, just across the river Arno. The small district is more bohemian and even more relaxed than the rest of the city.  It offers not only a wide choice of restaurants and cafes, but also an excellent opportunity to buy some souvenirs.

A Day off the Beaten Path

If you are looking for some unusual things to do during your stay in Florence, you can plan your own itinerary and make your holiday truly unique.

Start the morning by grabbing breakfast at one of the extraordinary brunch places downtown such as the Moyo, right next to Santa Croce. Then, go on to explore some unusual sights such as the Vasaro Corridor, a secret passageway that links the Palazzo Vecchio and the palazzo Pitti.  The corridor starts under the Uffizi and runs for about a kilometer, with walls lined with renaissance art. When you come out at the other end of the passage, you can go straight to the Giardino Bardini.  This garden is full of tiny grottos and colorful blooming flowers.  Afterwards, enjoy a cup of real, Italian coffee at the peak, in the Kaffeehaus.

Continue your day like locals do.  Only tourists finish their day early on, so take your time, stroll around a bit more, then get an aperitivo in a bar. The day is far from over, if you are not exhausted, go to Eby’s Bar in the Via dell’Oriundo.  There you can enjoy the fruit plate Eby himself prepares for you and the orders he shouts out to you about how to eat your plate.

Florence is a city that shows an entirely different face during the night than it does during the day. The center is very crowded during the day, but at night everything becomes more relaxed, the building are all beautifully illuminated.

If you would like to try authentic local cuisine and a traditional Italian dish that may not be to the liking of many, but it is a must-try, you should check out one of the places that sell tripe sandwiches.

Sold from tripe carts in most squares in the city, these large sandwiches are available with or without salt.  When Italians say salty, they mean really, really salty! Beware, hot or cold, with or without a salsa sauce, whichever version you choose, it will surely be among the most memorable dishes you have ever tried.

What about you?  Share your Travel Tips and Recommendations for Florence in the comments below.  Thanks!

My girlfriend and I were at a subterranean restaurant in the industrial port-city of Catania, Sicily. Cargo ships filled the harbor, shops sold horse-meat kebabs out of their doorways, and salt water flowed from the faucets. Ever since we’d landed in Sicily, the atmosphere had been one of fine suits, cigarettes, and Alfa Romeos. And this little restaurant, with its proud display of freshly caught fish, eels, prawns, and calamari sitting on ice chips beside the entrance, felt straight out of The Godfather.

The host seated two men at the table beside us, and a flurry of glasses, plates, and wine bottles followed. They were definitely getting better service than we were. The waiters brought course after course, some brimming with squid ink, others lightly fried like tempura. As far as we could tell, the two men hadn’t said one word to the wait staff.

Our tables were close together, and I overheard bits and pieces of their conversation. It involved buying properties across the globe and shipments between Sicily and Brooklyn, but I couldn’t catch the details. They kept switching from Italian to English as though they were trying to hide something. My ears perked up when I heard something about tax evasion in Buenos Aires. “Big Tony’s been doin’ it for years,” one of the men said. When they mentioned Big Tony again, Kristin kicked me under the table. A shiver ran down my spine: Could we be sitting beside two members of Cosa Nostra, the local version of the Mafia? I was horrified and enthralled. Don’t tick these boys off, I thought, or you’ll be sleepin’ with the next night’s dinner.

A street band began playing Italian classics. They played very loud and very fast. After a particularly intense version of “Mambo Italiano,” the little band asked for tips. I only had a five, and I wasn’t going to give it to them. A sharp glance from one of the Mafiosi got the musicians to leave us in peace. I looked over at the guy, and my eyes accidently made contact. After tipping the musician, he turned toward me.

“Hello,” he said in his Brooklyn accent. “We’re chiropractuhs.”

I pictured bones breaking; it had to be a cover. Their names were Freddie and Alfonso. The conversation rattled on, but they didn’t seem too interested. Then, to my surprise, they invited us for an after-dinner drink. At first, it seemed like a bad idea. But curiosity got the better of me.

Freddie and Alfonso went out to smoke, and I tried to get the waiter’s attention. The waiter took forever, and by the time we paid, Freddie and Alfonso had finished their cigarettes and were standing a ways down the street. As we headed toward them, a car squealed into view. It headed straight for us going at a ridiculous speed. The guys grew tense. The car screeched to a stop, and a massive man with a shaved head emerged from the driver’s seat.

He spoke heatedly with Freddie, who spoke just as heatedly back. I couldn’t understand a word of it, but I saw Freddie and Alfonso reach for the car’s door handles.

“We’ve got to go take care of something real quick,” said Freddie over his shoulder, and just before he ducked into the passenger seat, “Meet us at the Woxy. It’s straight up the street.”

The car departed as it quickly as it had arrived, wheels squealing.

The Woxy? The Italians don’t even use the letter w, and they hardly use the x. “I think they have some business to attend to, if you know what I mean,” I said. We laughed, partly out of nervousness, partly out of relief.

“They were clearly trying to get rid of us,” said Kristin. “The Roxy’s famous. Maybe that’s the first club that came to mind.”

We made a perfunctory search for “the Woxy” without success, then bought a couple beers and wandered the cobblestone streets of the old town. We tried to guess where they had rushed off to, coming up with a handful of unreasonable explanations. Then, on our way back to the hotel, we saw Freddie leaning out of a parked car.

“Yo guys, you find the bar?”

“No,” I said, stunned. “Are you heading that way?”

“Yeah, it’s straight up the street,” said Freddie. “Alfonso had to go home, but my cousin and I were just on our way there.”

The Woxy really does exist. It’s an Irish Pub in Piazza Spirito Santo. When Freddie arrived, something about his demeanor had changed. He was way more relaxed. His cousin was not the big guy from the getaway car. His name was Marco, and he was a laid-back guy with long hair and torn jeans. He was friendly but didn’t speak English. Freddie started to talk about the woman he was going to marry, who lived in Ft. Lauderdale. That’s when I realized that we’d been totally wrong: Freddie actually was a chiropractor.

“Have you ever heard of Ideal Spine? It’s this genius new way of mapping out the geometric structure of each individual vertebra. You should check it out. W-W-W dot ideal spine dot com. He’s the new way of chiropractory. Nothing this big has happened in the field since the seventies.”

As I listened to Freddie go on about being a chiropractor and about the girl he loves and how nervous he was about asking her to be his wife, I realized that this—what I’d been viewing as my Adventure with the Mafia—was all in my head. I’d taken my preconceived notions of Sicily and slapped them straight onto Freddie and Alfonso. How could I have thought that this chiropractor from Brooklyn could be a Mafioso? I have no idea. But I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t.

After the drinks, we left the bar and Freddie and his cousin took us to a long set of steps packed with people drinking and smoking. There, we learned why Freddie’s demeanor had seemed to relax.

“You want to smoke some weed?” he asked.

On the steps, surrounded by the nightlife of Catania, we told Freddie that our next stop would be Taormina. He called the city “paralyzingly beautiful,” and his cousin nodded in agreement. Freddie recommended a restaurant.

“If you go,” he said, “tell Nino Freddie sends his respect.”

For more writing and photos by Mattie Bamman, the Ravenous Traveler, check out www.europeupclose.com