I had dreamt of visiting Florence since I read The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant years ago. The book is set in Florence and paints such a beautiful scene of the city (no pun intended!)
We travelled on the cheapest connecting flight we could find from London Heathrow through Zurich and onto Florence. It’s safe to say the stress of leaving Quentin in an unfamiliar cattery for 12 days (we ventured around Tuscany and Le Marche after our first few days in Florence) coupled with not much sleep and a super early take-off meant that day one in the city was a bit of a sleep-deprived blur, but after a nap and our first serving of gluten-free pizza we managed to squeeze in as much as possible over the next few days. So! Here’s our take on the best experiences Florence has to offer, with limited time and a low budget!
Our top tip
Unless you like to visit every church, museum and read every tourist information board (like my dad) then you’ll easily complete Florence in two to three complete days. For this reason, we’d really recommend hiring a car so you can venture further into the Tuscan hills where you can hire electric bikes, enjoy the countryside and tour vineyards. We took a day trip to San Gimignano, which was really beautiful.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed in an Air Bnb (our go-to accommodation booking site) that was based south of the river Arno, 100m from The Old Bridge (Ponte Vecchio). It was a simple one-bedroom studio apartment but the views from the spacious roof terrace were absolutely incredible, so for that reason I would 100% recommend it to other couples or solo-travellers. We made the most of the terrace views by having mini morning workouts up there, sipping wine in the evenings and taking photos for brands I was working with at the time. Being that side of the river meant that it was within easy walking distance to all main attractions while being quiet and away from the bustle at night.
CHEAP EATS SUITABLE FOR VEGAN OR GLUTEN-FREE DIETS
Eating authentic local food in Florence is accessible on every street corner but equally if you fancy a break from the standard Italian cuisine then Florence is also full of modern, stylish eateries with global options and there are always gluten-free and dairy-free options on menus.
My gorgeous friend Sophia – who runs Sophia’s Kitchen Therapy – recommended Gelateria Edoardo for delicious organic, vegan ice cream. Edoardo’s is based right next to The Duomo and although it seems to have a permanent winding queue down the street, it’s well worth the wait! I had a scoop of the vegan dark chocolate and a scoop of vegan almond, and the chocolate half was genuinely the best ice cream I’d ever tried. For those that do eat animal products, you can have confidence in the origin and quality of the food here as, for example, their cows and chickens are able to roam free and all their ingredients are certified organic.
If you don’t make it to Edoardo’s then don’t fret – there were vegan ice cream and gluten-free cone options at every other place we went to!
The best authentic, family-run restaurant we found was called Trattoria Pizzeria da Nasone. It had exceptional food and a super welcoming atmosphere. Book your table ahead of time to secure a spot in the courtyard.
Ristorante Santa Felicita Ponte Vecchio serves amazing sourdough pizza – the best we’ve found in Italy! While this wouldn’t be suitable for coeliacs, for people with gluten intolerances like me, sourdough can often be okay to eat. This is due to the long-fermentation of the bread (usually 8 hours or more) but that’s as far as my knowledge on this stretches I’m afraid. Anyway, you can sit outside in the courtyard here, the prices are good and it’s nothing fancy but there’s a lovely relaxed atmosphere.
Right next door to Ristorante Santa Felicita you’ll find super cheap gluten-free pizza at a placed called Panini. It’s not the best, but if you’re on a budget and wanting something safe to eat then it’s perfect!
You can find the top 10 vegan restaurants in Florence according to TripAdvisor’s public vote, here.
SIGHTS TO SEE
We aren’t hugely into traipsing round museums all day but we do like to tick of all the main sights on a map by conducting our own walking tour and stopping for the odd coffee and bite to eat along the way. From our apartment south of the river, we set off on foot and covered the terrain in this order:
This medieval bridge is lined with shops and nearly all of them appeared to be jewellers, with gold and silver glistening from every window. We played a game where Paddy had to guess my dream engagement ring from the choices available by the time we crossed to the other side (his idea, not mine!) and (thankfully for me!) he got it totally right! Credit must go to my cringe-worthy Pinterest board of dream rings!!
You’ll come across this landmark next. It’s Florence’s town hall and overlooks the Piazza della Signoria – a picturesque L-shaped space bustling with people and featuring some impressive statues in and around the Loggia dei Lanzi (open building with arches).
This former barracks and prison is now an art museum. It’s not much to look at from the outside but good to have “been there, seen that.”
This is the main landmark in Florence and usually the busiest tourist area. Florence Cathedral stands here with its beautifully colourful and intricate design and huge domed roof. It dates from the 15th century and is the third largest church in the world. This religious site is a must-see, so try to get there super early to beat the crowds and get some good shots.
Basilica di San Lorenzo
Paddy and I walked here next, sat on the steps and fed our ice cream cones to the pigeons. This was apparently Paddy’s highlight of the trip and we were certainly a sight, surrounded by about 30 hungry birds who ate right out of our hands! (Grains and vegetables are probably a better food source for pigeons though, FYI!!)
This smaller church is beautiful too and well worth a walk past and snap or two.
Much simpler in design, walking past this church takes you back to the river, where you can turn left and stroll along the bank. There are often people playing music along here, and original paintings and funny souvenirs being sold.
Ponte Santa Trinita
This lovely old bridge is the oldest ‘elliptic’ arch bridge in the world – aka it is characterised by three ellipses, that get reflected in the water to form full circles. From this bridge you have a great view of Ponte Vecchio for photos too!
The uphill trek to Boboli Gardens is well worth the cityscape view from the top. Pack a picnic blanket, some lunch and make sure you bring lots of water if it’s hot out!
Explore the back streets!
My favourite part of every trip is to wander round and see what you stumble across! The narrower streets in Florence are full of rustic charm and make a nice break from the crowds of tourists.