BY MADDY THOM
Whether you are young or old, single or committed, solo or a group traveler, all will find their niche in Florence. It matters little if you are the type of traveler who prefers exploring historical churches or the type who’d rather sit on the stoops of those churches sipping wine and listening to local youth play guitars, the city offers enough attractions and tours to fill the schedule of the most ambitious and enough cafes and piazzas to please the most relaxed. Falling into the groove of Italian existence will be easy, but try separating yourself from life in Tuscany will have you immediately contemplating your return.
A city rich in culture, Florence is home to no fewer than seventy museums. Ranging in theme from art to artifacts and botanical gardens to libraries, determining which are most worth of your time and money can be an overwhelming decision to make. Among these are the Accademia Gallery and Uffizi Gallery—best known for housing Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, respectively—which are both worth a trip, even if only to view these masterpieces; however, perhaps lesser known are the Galileo Museum and the Basilica of Santa Croce, at which you can take a tour of Italian-born history, philosophy, art, and science.
Approaching the Galileo Museum, pay attention to the enormous sundial that sits in front of the entrance. Ask a staff member or check the museum’s website before you go for a detailed rundown of how it works. Once inside explore the history of cartography, Medici instruments, and original telescopes, all contributing to the evolution of astronomy and science over the years. Then spend an afternoon with the great minds of Italy at the Basilica of Santa Croce. Known as the Temple of the Italian Glories, prominent Italian philosophers, artists, and inventors such as Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo have all found their final resting place in the tombs at Santa Croce.
For a relaxing and free day outside, visit Cascine Park. Rent bikes to explore before selecting a spot for a picnic. Bring your own snacks, or buy a panino from a vendor inside the park and lay out in the grass watching the soccer players—or better yet, bring a Frisbee of your own and start a game! Stop by the hippodrome to watch racehorses practice. If lucky enough to go on a Tuesday, spend the morning trolling the weekly market at the entryway.
Experience a taste of Florence’s delectable social life by partaking in an aperitivo. Found at almost all of the city’s trendiest bars, it’s the Italian of version of happy hour—only it’s better, much better. Generally held from 7 to 9 PM, with some establishments opening earlier or closing later, bar counters are laden with a buffet of finger foods and traditional Tuscan treats, for patrons coming to relax and socialize at the end of the day. Order any drink—usually ranging in price from 4-7€—for access to the spread. Dinner out becomes an experience, hopping from bar to bar casually sipping cocktails and tasting the variety of dishes offered. With each bar offering a different take on the idea, worth checking out are Volume in Santo Spirito, which offers live music most nights and caters to a young crowd; Moyo for its themed apertivi and extensive snack selection; and Biblioteca delle Oblate, a café atop the community library overlooking the Piazza del Duomo—a picturesque place for watching the sun set over the city.
Producing what is perhaps the most acclaimed cuisine worldwide, a meal out that falls short of exceptional is an Italian anomaly; however, my most flavorful memories come from Florence. For a uniquely lavish evening, taste the Tuscan Bistecca Fiorentina as prepared by Dario Cecchini, the world’s best butcher. Just outside of the city, Dario’s restaurant offers a six-course fixed price dinner. Though the price is steep—30€—this two hour dining experience comes complete with sides, breads, wines, coffee, and cake. But vegetarians be warned—all dishes revolve around Dario’s specialty: beef. For a romantic or chic night out in the city try il Santo Bevitore or il Munaciello. (Order the gnudi; there’s no way to dress up the presentation, but you’ll be in love at first bite.)
Unlike some other countries in Europe, Italian hostels have the unfortunate reputation of being unremarkable and overpriced and you should determine what luxuries you’re willing to sacrifice before booking. While lockout hours and strictly enforced curfews are a considerable disappointment, Hostel Santa Monaca delivers in all other areas. Wake up in the heart of the city—the district of San Frediano—within walking distance of all Florence’s major attractions. Beds start at only 16€ (a price considerably less than the 30-40€ nightly average in many area hostels), which includes linens, towels, kitchen access, and wi-fi are all included. But, don’t forget your earplugs—the largest dormitories can hold up to twenty-two travelers and you might be sharing a room with quite a few of your new friends.
Also worth checking out: Casa Della Creatività, a commune-sponsored social network offering language tandems and aperitivos, and the organic food market in Piazza Santo Spirito held from September-July. Find things like marijuana seed bread and inexpensive locally produced organic wines.