Fox Guide: Florence
Culturally rich, geographically stunning, gastronomically enchanting (and home to our very own Pale Fox) we believe Italy has it all! As the cultural capital of Italy, Florence’s pull is magnetic.
Things to do
A lasting image associated with Florence is the Duomo di Firenze. Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome on top of the Santa Maria del Fiore (the proper name for the Duomo), built in only 16 years, is still the largest ever constructed. Some say that this dome and the decorative mix of pink, white and green marble makes the exterior more impressive than the simple gothic interior. Make sure that you pay special attention to the dominant gilded bronze doors known as the ‘Gates of Paradise’ and their compelling portrayal of scenes from the Old Testament.
In the heart of Florence is also the iconic Ponte Vecchio, which straddles the river Arno. There is no doubt that the bridge will be thronged with travellers, marvelling over the gold and silver merchant’s wares, but see if you can spot a sundial! The bridge has withstood floods and destruction to remain a solid connection between different districts of the city. Nevertheless, if you are looking to discover Florence off the beaten path, step inside the unassuming door of the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. It is the oldest operating pharmacy in the world, everything is still handmade and you can delve into the history of the products in an opulent setting.
Change up your daily sightseeing routine to visit some beautiful gardens. While most stroll around the Boboli Gardens, the Giardino Bardino is a bit more tranquil as it features tiny grottos and quiet nooks as well as blooming flowers in the spring. Similarly, Piazzale Michelangelo is a great place to conclude a busy day with a gorgeous sunset and a view over the city. The skyline itself is unique: for years buildings were not allowed to be built higher than the base of the Duomo’s cupola. Leaving the crowd behind, you should climb a little higher to find the gem that is Basilica San Miniato al Monte.
After an authentic leather souvenir? Home of leather goods, navigating the shops and markets in Florence can be tricky. The best place to hunt is the San Lorenzo market - try to haggle, but ultimately you will get what you pay for. However, it is also a good idea to search the craft shops and artisanal boutiques of Oltrarno, arguably the chicest neighbourhood.
Little introduction is needed for this institution of Renaissance art - the Uffizi is heaven for art lovers. Allow yourself half a day to explore the illustrious works, bequeathed to the city by the Medici family in 1743 on the condition that they would never leave Florence. Arranged chronologically, the collection lets you delve into the period and relish in priceless works such as Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’. You must pre-book a visit to the attached Vasari Corridor, which allowed the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici to move between his home and offices without fear. Nowadays, the corridor exhibits an extensive collection of self-portraits.
The Galleria dell’Accademia won’t take up too much of your day, but it is worth a pit stop to ogle at the famous David sculpture. Carved from one single piece of marble it is in the gallery for preservation, but originally it stood in the Piazza della Signoria, where there is now a replica.
To really take in the culture of an Italian city, a mid-morning espresso break is necessary. Sit outside the old-school Caffè Gilli, which dominates the Piazza Della Repubblica, and absorb what’s going on around you. Mercato Centrale is a huge, indoor, authentic market full of Italian food ranging from meats and cheese to spices. We recommend this as a good place for an affordable lunch, as apart from fresh produce stands, there are prepared food stalls.
Regarding cuisine, bistecca alla fiorentina, a 2-inch-thick steak that includes a bone, is a firm favourite. If you don’t eat meat, ribollita is an uncomplex but comforting vegetable and bread soup. You should try both dishes and more examples of local cuisine at Il Latini, a traditional Florentine haunt. More obscure is the lampredotto sandwich, which is made from the fourth stomach of the cow. Only found at food carts around Florence, this unusual delicacy has been around for centuries.
In Tuscany, the wine is just as important as the food. The region is world-renowned for its production of red wine, in particular the medium-bodied Chianti, which pairs perfectly with bistecca alla fiorentina. In terms of cocktails, a negroni is the popular choice of aperitif, and Locale is a trendy venue to enjoy one.