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How to do Italy like an Italian: the non-tourist guide to Florence

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Sarah Lakos
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Your guide to doing Florence like a local

There’s something going on in Florence. And it’s not happening at the tourist epicentres of the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio. 

Check those off your list ASAP and follow our alternative guide to see another side to this beautiful city.

Best places to stay in Florence

For the history buff

Just a casual palace for you to stay 

If you want your own slice of history in Florence, book a room at the majestic Relais Santa Croce, previously known as the Ciofi Jacometti Palace. It was once owned by a treasurer to the Pope giving a new meaning to ‘if these walls could talk’. After a champagne welcome, wander the halls to the lavish music room where minstrels once serenaded Florentine aristocrats from a hidden balcony. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience waking up and breakfasting in a palace. Location-wise, you’ll step out into an equally historical precinct, just a few blocks from the Basilica of Santa Croce and Museo Galileo.  

For the eco-minded

Pretend you’re a Florentine in your very own dining room and kitchen

If you’d like your holiday to be a little friendlier to the environment, this eco-friendly loft is available to book on Airbnb. It’s full of character, and you’ll be posting it on Instagram as #interiorgoals quicker than you can say ‘penne arrabbiata’. The apartment has been decked out in non-toxic furniture and finishes. Plus, it’s in the perfect central location. 

For mod-cons and location, location, location

Can we stay forever? 

If palaces don’t do it for you, find an oasis of modern design and mod-cons in the Gallery Hotel Art. It’s located just a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio and surrounded by a busy shopping precinct. The hotel rooms are comfort personified, and if it wasn’t for the delicious breakfast on offer, you could spend all morning in your peaceful room. 

For train station access (that’s also vegan-friendly)

The Eco Urban B&B is a sustainable, pet-friendly hotel that has only six guest bedrooms. If you’re arriving by train into Florence, this is the perfect location for you. Its organic and recycled fit-out will tick your sustainability checklist. It serves organic, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options for breakfast too. 

For a boutique experience

The Soprarno Suites are packed to the brim with character. They’re an interior designer’s dream: think velvet bedheads, vaulted ceilings and beautiful art adorning all walls. Located near the Piazza Dei Pitti, you’ll step out the front door into the quirky neighbourhood of Oltrarno. However, you may not venture out as much as you thought, instead choosing to revel in this design haven. 

Eat like a local in Florence 

Trattoria Il Francescano 

Trattoria Il Francescano is everything you’d want from a local trattoria: photos of famous diners (hello, Mr Armani), a generous menu, fantastic house red if you’re so inclined. It’s next to the Basilica of Santa Croce, so after marvelling at the religious architecture, duck in for a glorious bowl of béchamel ragu. 

Largo Piero Bargellini, 16, 50122 Firenze . +39 055 241605

Trattoria del Carmine

Walk into Trattoria del Carmine on a weekend and you’ll discover a Florentine ritual. Older couples, families, and groups of friends are sat around crowded tables, gesticulating and laughing over the lunch mainstay of pasta. While sturdy Nonnas order ‘un quatro’ carafes of wine, we say request a bottle and stage a sit-in. It’s people-watching at its best. 

Piazza del Carmine, 18, 50124 Firenze. +39 055 218601

Trattoria Ruggero

Trattoria Ruggero isn’t in the centre of town, so we’d suggest a winding walk in its direction or a €10 taxi from the Ponte Vecchio. Everything about this Tuscan restaurant is pleasingly Italian, from the handwritten menu to the serious but helpful wait staff to your fellow diners (mostly local families and groups of friends). 

If you get the table by the kitchen window, you’ll have the pleasure of watching the chefs serenely cook your pork chop (which, if it’s on the menu, we strongly recommend choosing). As it’s Tuscan food, steer your menu choices towards the arrosto (roasts) and griglia (grilled) as they’re all heartily served with potatoes and lashings of seasoning. Stay for dessert. 

Via Senese, 89, 50124 Firenze. +39 055 220542

Enoteca Alessi

Love perusing jars of preserves, colourfully wrapped panettones and bottles of mysterious Italian digestifs? Roll up foodies and wine aficionados (and amateurs alike), the Enoteca Alessi is a haven of Italian gourmet food and booze. The word ‘enoteca’ literally means ‘wine collection’. It has also been awarded with the prestigious recognition of Esercizio Storico Fiorentino (Historical Florentine Shop). 

We dare you to not walk away with packets of dried pasta, biscotti and sweets wrapped in sparkly foil. It also hosts wine tastings, which are great fun as a lunchtime or pre-dinner activity while you’re in town. Drop by to book your place or head to the website to get in touch

Via delle Oche, 27/red, 50122 Firenze. +39 055 214966

Caffè dell’Oro

In Florence for a birthday, anniversary or #romance? Caffè dell’Oro is the very chic adjoining restaurant to the Lungarno Collection Gallery Hotel Art. A menu highlight not to be missed is the Parmigiano-Reggiano tasting board, which includes a 100-year-old parmesan cheese (curious? It tasted nutty). Start with a cocktail and peruse the extensive wine list – the staff will assist with some of the more niche Italian varietals. 

Lungarno degli Acciaiuoli, 4, 50123 Firenze. +39 055 2726 8912

Where to shop in Florence

Florence Factory Shop

Bypass the touristy shot glasses, novelty leather goods and fridge magnets and step into the Florence Factory Shop. You’ll find it hard not to walk away with a locally designed hat, scarf or pottery. All keepsakes you won’t dispose of in six months time. 

Via dei Neri, 6-8 rosso, 50122 Firenze. +39 055 205 2952

The shopping streets of Via Della Vigna Nuova and Via dei Fossi 

Have your fill with the luxury-lined piazzas, where you’ll find the usual Prada, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, then walk west towards Via della Vigna Nuova and Via dei Fossi and their perpendicular streets. You’ll find yourself window shopping and parting with your euros too. Great Italian and local Florentine brands are represented in strength here.

Todo Modo

Need a shopping break? Stop by bookstore and cafe Todo Modo on Via Dei Fossi for a coffee and sweet treat. Unless you read Italian, you won’t be buying any books, but you might sit for an hour or so absorbing the buzzing local vibe. If it’s later in the day you may even have a wine. 

Via dei Fossi, 15/R, 50123 Firenze. +39 055 239 9110

Dolce Vita New Vintage Lab

There are so many brilliant vintage stores in Florence, yet the immense selection at Dolce Vita New Vintage is exceptional. Lots of designer wares (from handbags to shoes) are displayed alongside vintage football shirts. Don’t go here in a rush, take your time to peruse the racks of pre-loved clothes and unique pieces. 

Via del Giglio, 37, 50123 Firenze. 

What to see and do in Florence 

Salvatore Ferragamo Museum

Love shoes? Museo Salvatore Ferragamo is for you. It’s a shrine to the Italian brand. You can spend a good hour or two here marvelling at the technicolour displays of shoes and inspiration.

The museum is open 10am to 7.30pm everyday. Piazza di Santa Trinita, 5R, 50123 Firenze

Piazzale Michelangelo

Burn off your lunch by walking 20 to 30 minutes uphill to the best lookout in Florence. It’s a photo opportunity, as well as a spot to linger (there’s a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David in the square too). There’s a snack cart and the usual tourist tat, but find a quiet ledge and you’ll lose yourself in the view.

Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte

Keep walking uphill from Piazzale Michelangelo and you’ll reach a Basilica standing atop one of the highest points in the city. The 11th century church is a marvel. Its original wood beam ceiling is still in situ. You’ve walked up approximately 35 floors to get here, so enjoy the view. 

Medici Chapel

If you love history, you’ll revel in this Basilica’s ties to the most powerful family in Italian history: the Medicis. It houses enormously impressive monuments designed by Michelangelo and wonderfully intricate marble flooring and wall coverings. 

Check for opening hours here.

A tour celebrating women

Ladies only, thanks

If you’re game to learn more about the famous Florentine women of the renaissance - what they wore and how they lived - this tour is for you. It’s three days of art, culture and food where your guides will focus on the representation of women in Florence’s most famous monuments and paintings. You’ll be taken to basilicas, architecture gems, museums, the Uffizi and to local artisan makers and sharing traditional Tuscan meals with your tour mates along the way.  

Learn more here

Loved this Florence city guide and want more insider travel tips? Check out our guides to Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Zurich and Lisbon to sate your wanderlust. 

Image: Keith Zhu for Unsplash 

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Sarah Lakos

Sarah Lakos is Stylist’s social media manager. She doesn’t write often for the website, so please enjoy this fleeting occurrence.

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