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Florence City Guide: How to Explore Florence Like a Local…

Florence City Guide

My name is Alex and I lived in Florence, Italy for six months.

Florence can best be described in these five words: enchanting, bright, lively, historic, and unique.

Women should consider visiting Florence because Florence is a magical place that has captured the imaginations of generations of travelers. Between it being the birthplace of true Renaissance art to providing some of the best pasta in the world, Florence has a little something for everyone.

Florence City Guide

How do you get to Florence?

The best and quickest way to get there is to take a plane right into Amerigo Vespucci airport. It’s about a fifteen minute cab ride from the airport to the city center. You might also want to think about flying into Bologna or Pisa since flights are usually cheaper, and then taking a train from there to Santa Maria Novella—Florence’s main train station.

What’s the best way to get around Florence?

Walking is without a doubt something you will do while you are here. Though Florence does have a bus system, and cabs are easy to come by, the best way to see the city is by strapping on a good pair of boots and walking the streets. Most everything you will want to see is no farther than twenty minutes from each other.

What’s the best time to visit Florence?

I would recommend visiting during less crowded times of the year like April or May. The fall season is also nice. Florence has so many tourists that avoiding crowds during the summer is almost near impossible. You will also find cheaper flights to and from if you skip coming in the summer.

You should also avoid coming in August if possible. The entire country of Italy shuts down and heads out to the southern reaches of the peninsula for some vacation time. It’s hard even to find a gelateria open!

What are the different districts/areas of Florence and can you tell us a little about each?

Florence has several different districts, but the most famous and the ones you will probably spend the most time in are the city center (where the Duomo is), the Sana Croce region, and the Santo Spirito region.

The city center is where you will find the most tourists, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Academia where the David is housed. Prices there are the highest in the city. Make sure you watch your purse and take some time to enjoy the Duomo. It’s one of the great architectural marvels of Europe.

Santa Croce is mostly populated by a mixture of Florentines and expats, and many study abroad students. It has a vibrant nightlife, so if you are looking to party and enjoy a night out, you will probably end up there. The region is named after the Santa Croce church—also worth a look inside. Michelangelo, Galileo, and other famous Florence residents are buried there.

Over the river, the Santo Spirito area offers a more local feel. It tends to be the place young Italians go when they want a night out, and the piazza in front of the church there is always buzzing. You will also find some lower prices here and some great cocktails.

Florence City Guide

What advice can you give women about what to pack for their time in Florence?

Depending on what time of year you are there, you will need to pack different items.

An umbrella is a must—even in the summer rain tends to come unexpectedly. You should also have a sturdy pair of walking shoes. A good pair of boots should help you to blend in with the locals and will get you where you need to go on the tough cobblestone. Simple clothing will keep you from looking like a tourist, and you’re less likely to be pick-pocketed or bothered by gypsies.

What is the most common misconception about Florence?

I would say that the most common misconception about Florence is that because it is a larger city that it’s unsafe. Though you have to watch yourself to some extent like you would anywhere you are traveling to, it really is one of the safest cities in Europe.

Women can easily walk home alone, and cabs offer a discount to women alone after 10 pm. If you stay around the city center or Santo Spirito regions, you should be fine to walk around and enjoy the sights on your own.

Is there a gender divide in Florence? What can women travelers expect?

Italy overall is patriarchal, and men on the street won’t hesitate to whistle at you or cluck. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed modestly or not, you will probably hear a “ciao, bella” or five while walking around and enjoying the city.

The best thing to do is not to engage if you don’t want the attention. Italian men are notoriously persistent, so a simple “no” probably won’t do the trick.

Are there any culture shocks women should expect in Florence?

The largest culture shock for most women will probably be the lack of availability for certain items. You should think about bringing your favorite products (deodorant, make up, feminine hygiene) because you will not be able to find them in Florence.

Pedestrians are also not given the same rights as they would be in the States, so watching the roads for buses and cars is very important.

Overall, I think the Italian lifestyle is fairly easy to slip into, which makes it hard to leave when your time is up!

What are three things every woman must do in Florence?

A stop at Piazzale Michelangelo is necessary for any traveler to Florence. You might want to think about going up there during the sunset, when the best lighting touches the Ponte Vecchio and the River Arno. There is usually some music playing, and going up there with a glass of wine can complete a long day in the city.

You also have to have some of the best gelato in Italy. Florence has a multitude of different options when you are looking for a gelateria, but La Carraia might be the best one in the city. Think about trying some new flavors like pine nut or fig.

Also, a walk over the Ponte Vecchio is essential for any visitor. It’s by far hold the most expensive purchasable items in Florence, and its history as a bridge makes it worth a stop in order to take pictures and take a look at the glittering jewelry.

What’s the most over-rated thing to do in Florence?

Some visitors like to take a horse-drawn carriage around the city, but it is overly priced and the animals are not treated very well. Instead of paying to do that, you might want to think about renting a vespa for the day and seeing the city on the road instead.

What’s the most traditional meal that every woman should try in Florence?

It’s hard to pick just one dish that you should have here!

As a vegetarian, I would recommend one of the many kinds of gnocchi. Some of the best I have has been drenched in truffle oil and roasted in a stone oven until baked to perfection. Many restaurants also offer it with basil and tomato sauce with mozzarella. So delicious!

If you are thinking about something, well, meatier, you should think about trying a Florentine steak, which is unique to the area. It’s usually a T-Bone cut cooked with garlic and olive oil with a side of vegetables.

Add a bottle of chianti and you are set for the evening.

What’s your favorite restaurant AND bar in Florence and what do you order?

My favorite restaurant would have to be Osteria Santo Spirito, which is located right in front of the Santo Spirito church. It’s well known for being one of the best places to have a great meal, so I have to make reservations a few hours before. I usually get the half portion on gnocchi (only 5 Euro!), but they also have some amazing antipasti options, as well.

I also really like Popcafe for a bar, which is right next door. They have a great staff and plenty of tables outside. I almost always get a negroni, which is a traditional drink created in Florence—one part gin, one part sweet red vermouth, and one part Campari.

Florence City Guide

Where’s the best photo opportunity in Florence?

Again, it’s hard to pick just one, but Piazzle Michelangelo is probably the best place to get an overall view of the city. The Ponte Vechhio is nice when you want a great shot of the river, and you can always climb up Brunelleschi’s dome or the campanile for a great photo from above.

Where’s the best place to go shopping and what’s the best gift or souvenir to buy?

Most of the major sites will have places where you can buy cheaper types of souvenirs.

Crossing the Ponte Vecchio can help you find some more local options, where the artisans of the city are mostly based. These can be more expensive, so it really depends on what you want to buy and what you can afford.

You can’t really go wrong with some good leather products, and you can often bargain them down at the San Lorenzo or Porto Rosso markets. Florence leather is some of the best in the world, and a new journal or wallet is easy to transport in your suitcase.

What’s the best outdoor activity in Florence?

Walking around the city is often a great way to see it, and it’s free!

I would also recommend thinking about renting a kayak and taking it down the Arno, just make sure to avoid the rowers that frequently pass through. You’ll probably have to pay by the hour, but it’s a lot of fun and worth taking the afternoon.

Florence City Guide

What’s the best indoor activity in Florence?

I would highly recommend the Uffizi museum on a rainy day. You will see works of art there that are more than famous, and it will take up your entire afternoon if you let it. Works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, and others are all housed here. You can also get a reduced price if you are a student.

What do you do to get off the tourist trail?

I usually head to the other side of the river, away from the Duomo and other touristy attractions. Walking on that side will give you a whole other flavor of Florence—definitely a more local one!

You might want to think about taking a stroll around Fort Belvedere. It’s near the Boboli gardens and one of the most peaceful parts of the city. It also has some great history, so you can learn something while you are there.

What other advice or tips can you give women considering visiting Florence?

With so much art and history offered, you might want to think about investing in a good guidebook.

I would recommend Rick Steves’—he seems to have an almost nerdy obsession with the history of Florence, which can be really beneficial when you are confused about the significance of a particular building or monument.

A phrasebook might be helpful too, though most Florentines also speak a bit of English.

Any other thoughts or advice for our women readers?

Enjoy your time in Florence! And make sure to visit Porto Rosso to rub the statue of the pig—it means you will return to Florence and have good luck!

Florence City Guide

What did you think about this city guide?

Join the discussion and leave your comments, tips, and personal experiences in the comments below.

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Alex Schnee is a freelance writer writing for USA Today’s 10Best as an expert on Florence. She’s a blogger at Wanderlust and Lipstick.com, and is on a mission to try every kind of pizza in her city. You can find her at alexinksit.com.

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