TRAVEL

13 Best Things to Do in Florence

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There's never a question of what to do in Florence; rather, it's a question of how much and when. With its varied selection of museums, galleries, boutiques, and storied sites, the Tuscan town has something for everyone, from contemporary art buffs and super foodies to sports fans and serious shoppers. To experience the city to its fullest, you only need to step out into the street. Here, a list of our must-sees to narrow down your itinerary.

- This article originally appeared in CN Traveler, January 2019.

Ilaria Costanzo/Courtesy Explore Florence — The Oltrarno: History + Artisans

Explore Florence: The Oltrarno, History + Artisans

This ultra-professional walking tour kicks off in the historic Piazza Santo Spirito. It's best for those wanting to learn more about Florence's artisans—the craftsmanship and skill that's in danger of disappearing—rather than folks hoping to shop for international fashion brands. Groups are small, since it's a private tour, and you have to book yours in advance. The guide, Alexandra, is knowledgeable and passionate.

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Bargello Museum

Italy’s largest collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures is housed in the Bargello, a former prison and an austere medieval fortress. The museum’s architecture alone is worth the visit—beautiful Gothic arches, crenellations, a bell tower, and a dramatic courtyard—but the big draw is its blockbuster names. Donatello’s David, Michelangelo’s Bacchus, and Ghiberti’s designs for the Cathedral doors are front and center in this capsule museum, which has somehow remained less trafficked by tourist crowds.


Stadio Artemio Franchi

The hub for soccer in the city, Stadio Artemio Franchi is the stadium and home to ACF Fiorentina, Florence's Serie A soccer team. Serie A is Italy's top soccer league, so you're guaranteed to see the country's best teams compete here. It's also a great place to bring kids and learn about Italian soccer culture. Get Tribuna Onore seats, which offer views of the midfield away from the teams' more rabid fans.

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Giardino Bardini

Grand in design, but intimate in scale, the Giardino Bardini has a pergola-covered stairwell leading up to the Belvedere panoramic terrace. Know that ascending requires a slight effort—the stairs are shallow and long. It's the perfect pit-stop if you're sick of traipsing around museums, as the garden doesn't present anything all that urgent to do, other than the obvious: stop and smell the flowers.

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Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi, an illustrious collection of who's who in priceless Renaissance art, is a Florence must-see. Plus, thanks to a curatorial investment by director Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi is slowly modernizing its approach. The newly arranged Room 41, dubbed the Raphael and Michelangelo Room, now focuses on the artistic exchanges between the two masters; the re-opened Room 35, meanwhile, is dedicated to Leonardo and displays three paintings originally created for churches. Upgrading the experience further is a new reservation system, where visitors take a timed ticket from one of seven machines outside the museum and come back later to explore, without ever having to wait in line.

Aquaflor Firenze.

AquaFlor Firenze

The yesteryear atelier is one of those beautiful finds that make you feel like you're actively involved in creating not just a scent, but Florentine history, as you sniff through the unparalleled collection of raw materials, essential oils, and scents. With the help of Sileno Cheloni, the nose of Aquaflor, you're led through olfactory discovery to create a perfume that's personalized just for you.

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Palazzo Strozzi

One of Florence’s best kept secrets, Palazzo Strozzi is a beautiful, freestanding Renaissance palazzo with an ambitious contemporary art program. Whether its Carsten Holler’s latest experimental piece or an Marina Abramovic retrospective, Palazzo Strozzi constantly amazes through innovative, often interactive, exhibitions. Although the historic structure remains intact, the gallery space inside is thoroughly modern and aptly renovated for art shows. Most exhibitions require advanced reservations, and the shop sells wonderful made-in-Florence gifts.

Francesca Pagliai/Courtesy Tuscany Again

Tuscany Again: Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art Tour

Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art is a personal tour designed specifically for those interested in modern art in and around Florence. Expert guides plan bespoke itineraries based on travelers' preferences, leading intimate groups to futuristic buildings and offering their take on the collections within. Most notable: the architecture itself as well as the survey of Arte Povera, Italy's art movement of the 1960s. Transport is included and reservations are required.

Gucci Garden

Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele is always pushing the limits, and this time he blurs the lines between monument and merchant at Gucci Garden, an interactive complex where fashion, food, history, and art commingle. Located in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence’s Piazza Signoria, Gucci Garden is Michele’s colorful journey through the Florentine fashion house’s past, present, and future. The multi-level boutique-slash-museum includes a store selling exclusive Gucci Garden designs, a gallery space with contemporary exhibitions, and a ground-floor restaurant by rockstar chef Massimo Bottura.

Collezione Roberto Casamonti

Open to the public, the private home-cum-gallery of collector Roberto Casamonti showcases about 250 works of modern and contemporary art from his personal collection of more than 5,000 works. Italian and international artists, including pieces by Warhol, Picasso, and Basquiat, are all represented here. It's a well-lit, inviting, and organized space that doesn't draw a ton of visitors, so it's easy to walk around. In fact, you'll likely have a room entirely to yourself.

Antonio Quattrone/Courtesy Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is a gorgeous and large new museum dedicated to the Dome and Basilica, as well as restoration projects. Home to the largest collection of sculptures from Medieval and Renaissance Florence in the world, this museum has an active restoration lab and school on site. Other highlights include Ghiberti's doors, Michelangelo's The Deposition, a model of the original, never-completed façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, and a room dedicated to Brunelleschi's architectural masterpiece: the Dome of Florence cathedral. Be sure to hit the gift shop on the way out; it sells great books.

Silvio Palladino/Courtesy Curious Appetite

Curious Appetite: Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour

Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour of Florence kicks off at a given meeting point in Piazza della Repubblica or via dei Tornabuoni. The custom tours are private or small group and are tailored to your preferences—say, a particular liquor or cocktail. You'll visit multiple cafés and bars on foot. Reservations are required, but you can book as late as 24 hours in advance.

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Medici Chapels

The Medici Chapels are two beautiful chapels in the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which set the stage for the Renaissance. They're a great stop if you're short on time, a Michelangelo buff, or want to feel like a Medici prince or princess—even for an hour. The site more than lives up to the hype; in fact, many people find the chapels truly mind-blowing. They'll make you want to delve even further into the history of the Medici family and Michelangelo. Tickets, which cost €9 (about $10) and can be booked online or in person, are required.

VINTAGE EDITIONS: Two Italian Boutiques Putting a Spin on Collectables

This article first appeared in Le Miami, December 2017.

PierLuigi – via Sperastudio

Beanie babies; Polly Pockets; Pokémon. Remember the satisfaction of drawers filled with all the right cards? Of shelves lined with all the right dolls? And of bragging rights to having the best collection on the block?  There’s something about a collection that makes you feel at home – probably because every single object was hand-picked and personally chosen. Now imagine that you’re making your collection into a home… Or better: a boutique hotel.

For restauranteur Lorenzo Lisi, his favourite collectable is wine – and with preferences to a 1970s Chateauneuf du Pape or a great Barolo, when he decided to renovate an early eighteenth century palazzo in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori neighbourhood into a hotel, he looked no further than the cantina at family restaurant, PierLuigi.

The 1,700-plus labels on the wine list are a composite of life moments as simple as a great dinner with friends, or a celebration for a new job or baby.  “Wine has always been tied to the story of man. If you think about it, wine is a constant in every phase of the celebration of life”, says Lisi, a sentiment that led him to establish the city’s (and Italy’s) first wine hotel.

Hotel de’ Ricci lobby sitting area – via Ebookers

Located on one of Rome’s historic Renaissance side streets, the eight-room Hotel de’ Ricci is a discreet hideaway in the city-centre.  And the wine celebration begins before stepping foot inside the brick townhouse.   Ricci’s 20-strong team of staff are expertly trained sommeliers who coordinate with guests to personalise wine experiences – from curated in-house wine bars (with Coravin devices to extract single glasses without uncorking) to vineyard visits with wine masters. And while you stay at the hotel, the sommeliers set up private tastings and evening apéritifs in the light-blue guests suites, where oversized vintage wine labels and original paintings by Andrea Ferolla intermingle with mid-century furniture.

Hotel de’ Ricci – via How To Spent It

As well as the on-site cantina lined abundantly with Italian and non-Italian labels, (looking for a Super Tuscan or the 1977 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Paulliac?), Lisi keeps the vibe local at the ground-level Charade bar, a Chez Dede-designed speakeasy that’s a favourite hangout for the guests – the kind of place where you’re likely to spot the neighbourhood archaeologist chatting away with the guys at Gucci.

Private charade bar at Hotel De’ Ricci – via TripAdvisor

Halfway to Florence on the A1 is countryside refuge Tenuta la Bandita, a refurbished farmhouse overlooking in the beautiful hills of Val d’Orcia and hinterlands of early Renaissance papal enclave, Pienza.  Like Lisi’s Hotel de’ Ricci, La Bandita has a subtle element of personality that sets it apart from the myriad of Tuscan villas and farmhouses that populate the countryside.  Music.  When owner John Voightman, a RCA/Sony Global Marketing veteran a made the move to Italy more than a decade ago, he brought 70 or so vinyls, culled from Voightman’s personal collection.

“Music is an experience”, muses Voightman, “it’s an expression of beauty, fun and joy”. Voightman’s LPs have become the literal and figurative centrepiece to the farmhouse, taking residence in its communal living area, an open-plan lounge perfect for a party. Displayed on custom-built shelves, the vinyls are meant to be looked over, played, and talked about it.  There’s switched out on occasion, and over the years, the collection has evolved from LPs Voightman’s personal collection to a mix of records accumulated from his guests’s contributions.

For the guests and Voightman, music is the nucleus of La Bandita country house and the townhouse, Bandita’s city counterpart. On any given evening, each property’s lounge is the scene where guests drop the needle on albums like 1970s Jose Feliciano jazz covers, John Lee Hooker, Meatloaf and Led Zeppelin, and spin conversation.

It’s all about vibe, and La Bandita has a great one.  The country house is an upgraded Under the Tuscan – where farmhouse walls are coated in a soft palettes of eggshell and ecrus and with natural stone floors. Meanwhile, following the same style as the town house, the interior décor is an effortless fusion of cool minimalism and rustic charm – and following in the same style is the Townhouse, a restored former convent in Pienza proper.  The hangout spaces are key – from its communal lounges and farm-to-table breakfasts, to Voightman’s wine cellar and vinyls.  It’s like that Italian rec room you never had with great tunes and wine, where your 10 besties meet up for a weekend of absolutely nothing.

Cipressi: Cypress trees of Tuscany

Near Buonconvento, April 2014

Cipressi.  Chee-press-eee.

The word  rolls out of my mouth with ease.  Maybe it is just me.  I'm a conifer kind of gal, an ever happy Evergreen lover, and a wanna-be tree hugger.   I love everything about cipressi~ their height, smell, color , cones and poetic suggestions.   Good bye, welcome home, majestic, earthy  and lil' ol' me.  These are just some of the words I think of when I see Tuscany's cypress trees waving from hill tops and beckoning down dirt roads.  I know they aren't mine. And they aren't really Tuscany's. But I wave back, never the less.

In 1993, I fell in lust with Fiorile, a Taviani brothers film spanning two centuries of a cursed Tuscan family.  The opening of the film begins with the present-day family driving down a cypress-lined Tuscany road, telling the tale of how the family's bad luck legends.  French soldiers, stolen fortune, poison mushrooms, 19th century costumes, cute boys, melodrama and cypress trees dotting the countryside- I was hooked.  I didn't want to move  Tuscany--  I just wanted to drive around the region  in search of fantastic stories.

I cipressi che a Bolgheri alti e schietti van da San Guido in duplice filar,

quasi in corsa giganti giovinetti, mi balzarono incontro e mi guardar...

Giosuè Carducci

Viale dei Cipressi, a 5 km long road near Livorno