It’s been twenty years since I’ve lived in Florence, Italy, a college student studying fashion design. This city has a special place in my heart. It’s a place where my adulthood became in fruition and basically being on my own for the first time. I was dirt poor, but I was happy and learned to make things work. I remember staying in hostels and living on bread and water. Oh those good old days! Returning as a “grown-up”, is a completely different experience. I’d like to take you along with me some of my favorite places to visit and new recent discoveries.
Palazzo Pitti – Built around 1440, this former grandiose private resident of the Pitti family, is a prime example of Renaissance architecture with its elegantly decorated rooms to grand facade in the front door. Today it hosts many museums including the Costume Gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art and many more. They all have separate entrance fees and opening hours. Make sure to check their website upon visiting.
Bonus: If you’re there before March 5th, make sure to visit the exhibit Fashion in Florence, displaying post WWII archive photos from Foto Locchi, of fashion photography from the 1940’s – 1970’s. From Ferragamo to Elsa Schiaparelli, who were influencers of their time in the Florentine fashion scene.
Boboli Gardens – An open air museum full of sculptures, old oak trees, florals, gardens and fountains located right next to Palazzo Pitti. A serene place to get in touch with nature and history, while imaging the days when it used to host glamorous parties attended by many socialites and movie stars.
Piazzale di Michelangelo – Right up the hills of Boboli Gardens, is an enormous square that has the best view of Florence. You can see the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio in one panoramic view. It’s like being up on Empire State Building or the Space Needle (ok maybe not that high up). This is a must visit!
Santa Maria Fiore Catherdral, A.K.A. Duomo – The third largest cathedral in the world and once largest in Europe, is a must visit if you had to choose one landmark. It’s the star of the show! From the interior to the exterior, the architecture of these buildings can withstand earthquakes and last until this day is quite phenomenal. The beauty of the marble and stones laid by hand tells you the history of this building. Don’t forget to climb up 400+ steps to the very top of the dome. The reward will be worthwhile! Free admission and check for opening hours.
Uffizi Gallery Museum – The most famous sculpture in the world David by Michelangelo, is located in this building. You can not come to Florence without seeing the statute. It’s like visiting NYC without eating a slice of pizza. This place is huge and includes 500 years worth of art. To be productive, make sure to plan accordingly and know ahead of time the art pieces you’d like to see.
Gucci Museum – I’m a fashion designer, so I knew I had to stop by and check this out. Especially with Gucci having a comeback moment in the industry, I wanted to see where it all began. If you’re a big fan of the Italian fashion house, please visit. There’s a cute bookstore and a restaurant for you Gucci fanatics out there.
St. Regis – One of the most glamorous hotels in the city right by the Arno River. I stayed in the St. Regis in NYC back in October, and was impressed by the accommodations. So, I knew what I was getting into! From the beautiful fresco paintings to the crystal chandeliers, it’s decor and service is impeccable to say the least. It was definitely a treat to stay in this dream hotel and the icing on the cake was when my husband upgraded my room to a suite, which included butler service! Also, fashion lovers they have a Bottega Veneta Suite.
Hotel L’Orologio – A four star hotel conveniently in the heart of the city, located in Santa Maria Novella. Stylishly and uniquely decorated with excellent service. The room is moderately priced with daily breakfast included in the beautiful breakfast room with large windows and a view of the Santa Maria Novella Church. Such a great deal!
Via Tornabouni – A street full of high end boutiques from Gucci, Prada, Cartier, Pucci (just to name a few). Whether you’re window shopping or you have your eye on that bag, this is the place to fashionably indulge. Don’t forget to take advantage of the tax free offer for non-EU residents.
The Mall – If you’re looking for discounted price fashion labels, this luxury outlet mall is your answer. With just 45mins from the city, there’s a direct bus run by Busitalia, near the central railway station that will get you there conveniently. Make sure to have exact change!
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella – I accidentally came across this 400+ year old apothecary boutique store on my way back to the hotel one evening. I followed the scent and it led me to the most beautiful building with high ceilings and chandeliers. The products include scented soap, skincare, scented candles, room diffusers and many more. My favorite item was their first perfume scent that was ever produced, called Angeli di Firenze.
Ponte Vecchio – The infamous bridge that sells gold and jewelry for centuries to aristocrats is now easily accessible for you to purchase a little keepsake. Make sure to visit Fratelli Piccini, one of the last original jewelers on the bridge. Even if your don’t buy anything, it’s a beautiful bridge with spectacular views. Go during sunset and make sure you get a good selfie of the bridge by the Arno River.
Leather School – Italians are known for their make with leather products. The leather school allows you to visit their workshop and purchase their work at their retail store. Watch artisans hand-stitch and craft leather handbags, wallets, belts and many more right in front of your eyes.
Venchi – Been in business since 1878, selling gelato and chocolate using the same recipes from the very beginning. The gelato uses all natural ingredients with no additives and the chocolates are all naturally gluten free in tons of different flavors. This is the place to satisfy your sweet tooth and bring treats home.
Osteria Pastella – It was the last dinner of my trip and it blew me away! I came across the restaurant through Yelp and glad I did, as it can be a hit or miss sometimes. See my Yelp review here. The pastas are all handmade daily by Helena (the pasta chef) in front of the restaurant. The service was impeccable, atmosphere was laid back and of course the food was amazing. What a great send off, leaving me wanting for more!
Mastro Ciliegia – My go to place to grab an inexpensive meal back in my school days. It’s a 10 min walk from the Duomo and tucked in the back, so a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. I told the waiter we used to eat there 20 years ago, and he was touched that we came back to say “hi”.
Il Gusta Pizza – The best pizza in town made famously by Guy Fieri. Visited by many locals and tourists, its pizza made in a wood fire burning oven with a secret dough recipe that’s been past down from family. It has a casual atmosphere where you can share a table with others and make a new friend. Stop by here before/after the Pitti Palace.
La Prosciutteria – Cured meat at its best with over 13 locations all over Italy. This place is NOT a restaurant. It’s a casual self-serve establishment serving large portions of meat and delicatessens a like. A place not to be missed and near the Ponte Vecchio.
To wrap this up, the best part of my trip was my best friend Jennifer from college, who also studied in Florence, joined me on a journey to memory lane. It’s our 20th year anniversary since we were there together and we relived it all over again, one cappuccino at a time!
Hope you enjoyed the recommendations and thanks for reading!
Please comment below on your favorite places to visit in Florence.