Last time I visited Florence, I left knowing I’d come back. There’s something about this city — its easy accessibility from Rome; its not-too-overwhelming size; its location in relation to the rest of Tuscany; and, obviously, its food — that keeps me thinking about it and wanting to return.
Yesterday, I did, along with my friend Lauren. We spent the day in beautiful Firenze, and I was able to see parts of the city I hadn’t seen last year.
I think I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Florence because it was the first solo trip I ever took. And whenever I think about doing another solo trip (which is quite often), it’s the place that always comes to mind and that always makes me eager to travel again.
We left Roma Termini around 8:30 a.m and arrived at Santa Maria Novella station at around 10:00 a.m. Lauren had never been to Florence, so I made a pretty detailed itinerary to ensure that we’d hit all the must-see spots I was familiar with, while also seeing some places I hadn’t been able to check out last year.
Our first stop was Caffè Gilli, the oldest caffè in Florence which I visited last time and loved. It’s definitely not the cheapest breakfast spot, but it is so special, and the service is wonderful. I feel like I’m watching a choreographed dance as waiters juggle trays of gorgeous pastries, or baristas effortlessly froth milk for cappuccini.
Here’s what we got: for Lauren, un cornetto al ciocolatto & una ciocolatta calda, and for me, un bombolone (the pastry I eat pretty much every day for breakfast that I will miss so dearly this summer) & un cappuccino.
After breakfast, we headed out to see some of the must-see sights in the historical center of Florence.
In my bedroom in Rome, I am constantly looking out the window down at the street. I watch people walk as they head to work or to school or to the bar, and it’s rare that anyone actually looks up. So I try and look up as much as I can, when I remember, and it’s always fun to spot fellow people-watchers.
We walked towards Piazza del Duomo and it became immediately clear that tourist season has begun. I wish I counted how many tour groups we saw throughout the day; it had to be at least 10.
This entire piazza is unreal. The tickets to enter the main structures are a little pricey, but next time I visit I need to tour all three of the masterpieces: the cupola, the duomo, and the bell tower.
After admiring the piazza, we made our way towards another one: Piazza della Signoria, which is home to a bunch of statues and Palazzo Vecchio.
This one is the one that always holds a spot in the back of my mind: Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna.
I’ve got a thing for taking photos of empty or half-finished drinks people leave on the sidewalks very often here in Italy. Here’s a recently-finished spritz.
And here’s a pretty much perfect row of vespas.
I’ll admit, whenever I travel, I always do more research about the food than the actual historical aspects. Before returning to Florence this time, I did even more research about Tuscan and Florentine cuisine. I had some pretty incredible food experiences here last year, so I wanted to make sure I could say the same this time.
I had already tried one of the famous Florentine street foods, the lampredotto panino, which is made with meat from the fourth stomach of the cow. I loved it, and I knew that I had to find another great panino this time.
I found two places that were highly-rated amongst Italians and ended up going with this place, I Fratellini. You know when you just know the restaurant you chose was the right one? Yeah, I knew that this was the right one the very second I stopped in front of it. The line out the door said enough, but the small, hole-in-the-wall vibe was the selling point.
Customers are encouraged to grab a paper menu while they wait in line so no time is lost once they get to the register. I eyed the extensive menu filled with panini (all of them priced at four euro): prosciutto, mozzarella, tonno, finocchiona, porchetta, mortadella… I felt more indecisive than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
I alternated between three panini for about five minutes, and then decided to go with the very first one on the menu, since they said it was one of their specialties. It was a panino of prosciutto crudo, crema di formaggio, & rucola (prosciutto, soft cheese, and arugula).
I ordered it at the small storefront, where one man was taking orders and running the register, and another was preparing drinks. There must have been a kitchen somewhere in the back where some extremely hardworking people were cranking out panini by the minute.
The second I took a bite, I knew that there is no bad panino at this place: anything I ordered was bound to be delicious.
The bread was tough but not too much that it was hard to bite into. The prosciutto was slightly stringy and perfectly salty, and the cheese — oh, my god. It was like a cream cheese, but it had the texture of chèvre, and it was like heaven. I wish you could taste it. And I wish I could eat it every single day.
From there, Lauren and I split up for a little while. She wanted to see the Statue of David, which I saw last time, so I got to roam around a bit on my own. I wanted to check out the Mercato Centrale, so I walked about 15 minutes to get there.
It’s basically two floors of foodie heaven. The top floor felt like an extremely elevated mall food court. It was crazy busy, so I decided not to get anything there. If I lived in Florence, though, I know exactly where I’d be doing my shopping.
Next, I stopped by Bar Vivoli for some much-needed gelato.
I was considering trying a new gelateria to break from routine since this is the one I’d visited last year. However, Vivoli makes some of the very best gelato I’ve ever tasted, so naturally, I had to come back. I had to get the same flavors, too: pera e caramella & fragola. Perhaps this will be a Florence tradition for me: it’s just too damn good not to visit every time.
The pear/caramel combo is insane, and while Fatamorgana here in Rome is hard to beat, Vivoli’s pear is slightly sweeter, which I love. There are bits of caramel flakes that create the most complex texture with the slightly-grainy pear. I can’t get enough of this flavor, so I do not regret playing it safe.
It’s also the most charming little gelateria ever. I love the neon cursive font.
This church, Chiesa del Santi Simone e Giuda, is right across from Vivoli. Lauren met back up with me, and we decided to step in and check it out. We had the whole place to ourselves, so we took advantage and rested a few minutes inside. I cannot believe that I can just walk into places that date back to the 1100s here — and that they still look this beautiful.
This elaborate wood ceiling stopped me in my tracks. It also happens to feature my favorite color.
After exploring the church and resting for a bit, we began to walk towards the river. We walked through the Uffizi Gallery’s piazza where tons of artists had their pieces for sale outside.
I wasn’t too eager to see Ponte Vecchio again, but it felt necessary to show it to Lauren. It’s one of the busiest and most touristy places in all of the city, but its history is quite cool.
I do think it’s more fun to look at it from afar, though; after all, you can’t see the bridge and all its beauty while on the bridge.
We walked over the Arno and began a longer stroll towards Piazzale Michelangelo. I’d wanted to check this out last time but decided against it, and honestly, I’m glad I waited! It was more fun with another person, cause walking a million stairs and steep hills isn’t so fun to do alone (mostly because there’s no one to complain with).
The weather was so perfect, so even though this was a pretty intense uphill climb, it was just nice to be in the sun. And, of course, the view let me know that it was 100% worth it…
Like, come on! Florence is a painting and a poem and a fairytale all squished into one city.
Here’s another with a horizontal view. I spotted a church a little further up the piazzale, and we decided that (somehow) we could bear to do some more climbing.
This is what I had spotted and what we checked out for a little while: Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte. The inside boasted some gorgeous frescoes, but I am so impressed by the facade. Its green and white marble is very reminiscent of the structures in the Piazza del Duomo.
And here’s me, smiling at literally no one.
(Also, I’m no fashion blogger, but I must say: this skirt is one of my favorite things I’ve ever thrifted. I found it a few years ago at Salvation Army for only three dollars.)
After taking photos and resting inside the abbey, we walked down all the hills and stairs and paid one euro to use the public bathroom. I wanted to show Lauren Piazza Santo Spirito since it was one of my favorite places I’d visited last time. We walked quite a bit and had aperitivo there. I didn’t take any photos, but we ate some of my beloved pappa al pomodoro alongside some drinks before walking back over the river for dinner.
I made a reservation at Trattoria Marione Al Trebbio for 7:00 p.m., which is quite early for Italian standards. They had just re-opened for dinner, so we were one of the first to sit down. I was very proud of this restaurant selection, which I found last-minute but had a good feeling about.
As we ate, a huge group of Americans, likely on a food tour, sat at a long table behind us. Their accents sounded very Bostonian, which was so funny to listen to. One woman, who was extremely loud and Lois Griffin-esque, said, as the table clinked wine glasses, “When in Rome… or, when in Florence!” to which the entire table responded with a cacophony of laughs and howls. It was quite funny, and I felt, just for a second, like I was back in the states.
I ordered la ribollita, which is a classic Tuscan bread soup, similar to the texture of pappa al pomodoro. I don’t even know how to describe it, other than the fact that it is the most flavorful mix of vegetables and beans and bread. I’ve been dying to try it, and wow was it good. It’s always the least photogenic dishes that taste the best. But seriously — I am so excited to learn how to make it and to eat it again someday.
Also, as seen, a glass of Chianti, because even though it’s not my favorite… you can’t go to Tuscany and not drink Chianti!
Following dinner, which didn’t take nearly as long as I thought, we strolled a little more around the historical center and then eventually made our way back to the train station. I bought some chocolate at Venchi, the only storefront that was still open inside Santa Maria Novella, and we waited for about an hour for our train to arrive at 9:43.
I read on the train so that I wouldn’t fall asleep. A man next to me observed some sheet music on his laptop and played air piano with his fingers. And after an hour and a half, we were back in Rome.
I am really happy with how the day turned out. My itinerary was pretty much followed to a T! We saw everything we wanted to see, and I ate everything I wanted to eat. We walked around 30,000 steps in total, but it was totally worth it. I feel so lucky to be able to take day trips to such incredible places.
Ti amo tanto, Firenze… a presto. ❤