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From vintage shopping and aperitivo bars to beautiful gardens and bustling markets, a visit to Florence offers a unique mix of artistic attractions, traditional activities and the innovative cuisine of an exciting modern city. These are the best things to do in Florence.
Fashion is part of the urban fabric in Florence. With so many historic labels and celebrated ateliers still in operation, dedicate some time here to sourcing rare finds. Explore the stalls at the Santo Spirito Market (Piazza Santo Spirito) on the second Sunday of every month for vintage fashion and accessories, or head to Cascine Park Market (Viale Lincoln) on Tuesday mornings for a kilometre-long display of clothing, leather goods, antiques and accessories. Boutiques are plentiful in the city: several are located on Via dei Conti, including Tartan Vintage and Desii Vintage, the latter of which is a treasure trove packed with coveted handbags. Antiquariato Il Cancello is also worth a visit for its high-end vintage dresses and accessories. Art&Fashion is a low-cost vintage shop alternative with great finds including printed denim jackets and warm winter sweaters. The boutiques that light up the famous Ponte Vecchio carry genuine and revisited vintage-inspired jewellery collections such as earrings, gemstone rings, pearl necklaces and rare brooches.
Escape Florence’s bustle at the city’s beautiful parks. The Boboli Gardens are certainly worth a guided visit, and a day ticket grants full access until closing time, so you can freely explore the majestic open-air museum imagined by the Medicis. The marvellous park is adorned with antiques, fountains and marble statues, while hidden paths and sprawling lawns overlook the city – perfect for an urban picnic, perhaps with a bottle of Tuscan wine from the city’s Mercato Centrale. Check the website for special exhibits in the park. Another favourite is the 16th-century Torrigiani Garden, an enchanting botanical garden and woodland designed with Romantic-style landscaping. Visits are by appointment only (call +39 055 224527). For 360-degree city views at sunset, head over to the grounds of the 12th-century Church of San Miniato on the outskirts of Florence, a beloved, tranquil spot for reflection and photography.
Alongside the priceless artworks showcased in its Renaissance churches and museums, Florence has earned a name for itself among the world capitals of photography, and is always expanding its artistic offering. Several modern galleries are worth adding to any Florence itinerary. To start, Tethys Gallery is the only gallery in Florence dedicated to contemporary photography, with a rich programme of temporary exhibitions and events that feature both well-known artists and new talent. There’s also La Corte Arte Contemporanea – set in a classical building, this gallery houses rotating exhibitions by Italian and international artists, showcasing contemporary styles and techniques. Aria Art Gallery, conceived by author and businessman Elio D’Anna and tucked away in a lush 16th-century courtyard, houses acclaimed exhibitions of photography, new media, paintings and installations. Nearby, the award-winning Galleria360 is an avant garde reference point on the international art scene that hosts exhibitions of various artistic media, including photography and mixed media. Art critic Virginia Bazzechi Ganucci Cancellieri affirms, “Through its careful selection of international works and artists by a highly qualified staff, Galleria360 intends to bring contemporary art back into the ancient beating heart of artistic expression, giving life to a new era of innovative sparks and promoting the development of new trends and artistic expressions.”
Once you’ve admired the treasures at Galleria dell’Accademia and the Uffizi, head to the Library of the Archbishop’s Seminary to view the famous 1448 Rustici Codex, which is among the most precious manuscripts in the world. The codex was written by Marco di Bartolomeo Rustici and is a celebration of Florence’s artistic and religious splendour in the 15th century. The Florentine goldsmith embarked on an existential journey from his home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and back. The result is a beautifully expressive story of the pilgrimage, with illustrations in ink and watercolour that, beyond its artistic significance, bears witness to Florence in the 15th century with accurate descriptions of churches, monasteries and buildings that remain a point of reference for international art and architecture historians. It is said that it took Rustici 27 years to write the codex, the same amount of time it took Lorenzo Ghiberti to complete the Gates of Paradise at the Baptistery of San Giovanni, adjacent to Florence’s unmissable Duomo cathedral.
Possibly the coolest neighbourhood in Florence today, San Frediano was the historic address of Florence’s local craftspeople, where tanners transformed leather into objects of art and wool workers took to the factory at Piazza Tiratoio. Florence’s relentless artistic spirit still infuses the area. Special highlights include a visit to the 13th-century Giotto-designed Carraia Bridge and the Bartolomeo Cristofori Academy, the first school dedicated entirely to the piano. If you’re exploring by day, make sure to visit the masterpieces of Masaccio and Masolino that can be found in the Brancacci Chapel. Take to the streets after sunset and join the locals at the lively bars and restaurants, or head over for a gelato and people watching at Piazza Tasso. San Frediano is also a highly recommended area for accommodation in Florence.
Substituting Florentine steak for mindful cuisine is ever easier in the Renaissance capital thanks to the several high-quality, health-conscious eateries that have recently sprung up across town. The menu at the city’s first gluten-free restaurant, Ristorante Quinoa, has been curated by nutrition experts to accommodate vegetarians, vegans and organic food eaters, and alongside good food it has a youthful, happening vibe. Gluten-free pizza can also be found at Ciro&Sons, including special recipes for coeliacs. The chic eatery 5ecinque is particularly popular for its high-quality organic and vegetarian food, smartly presented in a relaxed atmosphere. House specials include the couscous with chickpea croquettes, fresh quiches and the focaccia flatbread with Recco cheese. La Raccolta take the green experience even further with a vegan, vegetarian and macrobiotic menu.
In a city where style is everything, Florentine bars do not disappoint. Lights are dimmed from 7pm to 9pm at the sleek and sophisticated Colle Bereto Lounge Bar, and come aperitivo hour a showcase of Italian and Asian-inspired appetisers complement the meticulously crafted cocktails. In the boho-chic district of Santo Spirito, head to Volume for ambient music and live events, and enjoy the on-site library and cocktails. Two more chic addresses that are particularly recommended for a drink are Irene at the Hotel Savoy and the Picteau Cocktail Bar at the Lungarno Hotel, each offering city views and creative cocktails in a stylish atmosphere.
To really get to know Florence means meeting its artisans; they are the fabric of Florentine society and have made it one of the most prestigious design cities for 500 years. Handmade fabrics are woven into fine home collections and made-to-measure accessories at Antico Setificio Fiorentino, one of the last remaining silk manufacturing workshops in the world. The business uses 18th-century looms, patterns from historical archives and a weaving machine designed by Leonardo da Vinci. For home accessories, the creative duo Piero and Luana handcraft lampshades and furnishing accessories side by side at their little studio, Il Paralume, using everything from wood to ceramic and fine textiles. Official embroiderer to the court of Leopoldo II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Amelia Lastraioli was a master craftsperson whose unique designs graced the shoulders of royals, celebrities and first ladies for some 150 years; today, her family continues to run the atelier as the Flora Lastraioli brand, maintaining the legacy with exquisite luxury lingerie.
What was once an industry-insider event has become a biannual pilgrimage for Italians and international visitors who love, breathe and sell fashion. Pitti Immagine is one of the most important platforms for clothing and accessories, particularly when the renowned men’s edition takes over Florence in the months of January and July, attracting the world’s best-dressed men and women. It is recommended to purchase tickets online in advance to avoid the long queues. Traditionally held at Fortezza da Basso, a five-minute walk from the Central Station, the parade of style commences at the Giardino di Valfonda. Of course, the choice of Florence is no coincidence; the capital of fine Italian craft is the ideal location and the city streets become a fashion runway with private events, cocktail parties and installations.
Mix up the museum itinerary with a stop at Mercato Centrale, which is, as five-star hotel JK Place’s general manager Claudio Meli asserts, “a gourmand’s paradise in the heart of Florence”. Constructed in 1874 when Florence was the capital of Italy, the indoor market is set in a beautiful cast-iron and glass building boasting architectural mastery and grandeur. The first floor is the city’s oldest covered food market where a huge space plays host to butchers, fruit and vegetable vendors, speciality shops selling truffles, cured meat (don’t miss Perini’s market stall), and even a bookstore dedicated to cuisine. The market’s new hub on the second level pays tribute to Italian culture and history, where authentic culinary traditions thrive and inspire both its creators and visitors. Open from 10am to midnight seven days a week, the culinary hub features 12 sections where visitors can watch recipes become a wide range of impeccably presented dishes, complete with comfortable seating and an events programme. It’s a great option for cold or rainy days.
Pro tip: Start your visit from the outdoor market and work up an appetite to satiate at the gourmet cuisine hall on the second level.
This is an updated version of a story created by Nikki Crowell.