Perhaps the most agreeable thing about Florence is its manageable size, with nothing of conspicuous interest being much more than a 20-minute walk away. The city’s crowning jewel is its magnificent cathedral, topped by Brunelleschi’s extraordinary dome. At the heart of the city is the incomparable Uffizi Gallery, founded by a Medici bequest. And located on a famously scenic height above Florence, five miles from the city center, is the exquisite hill town of Fiesole. Because of its location in the Arno river valley, Florence can be hot and humid from June to August. I enjoy winter visits, when the crowds have thinned.
For me, dining in Florence is about finding superbly rendered Tuscan classics prepared with seasonal, top-quality ingredients. As much as I love the innovative and the unusual, in Florence I seek out pappa al pomodoro (a hearty tomato-and-bread soup), bistecca alla Fiorentina (grilled Chianina beef with rosemary and olive oil) and house-made pastas.
Shopping and Dining in the Oltrarno District
Across the Arno from downtown, the Oltrarno district is home to numerous independent boutiques and restaurants. Stop in Quelle Tre (Via Santo Spirito 42r) for stylishly colorful women’s wear and Angela Caputi Giuggiù (Via Santo Spirito 58r) for unique jewelry. Take a break in Vivanda (Via Santa Monaca 7r), a wine bar with an extensive list of organic bottlings.
A Respite from the Bustle
When I’ve had my fill of museums and galleries, I love to spend a morning at the lively Mercato Alimentare Sant’Ambrogio in the Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti. The stalls at this popular market sell all kinds of Tuscan delicacies, including olive oil, pecorino cheese, charcuterie, dried wild mushrooms and more. It’s much less touristy than the Mercato Centrale, the city’s main market, and there’s also a small, simple, inexpensive restaurant, Trattoria da Rocco.
A Superb New Museum
Florence gained a superb museum in late 2015 with the reopening of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Piazza del Duomo 9). The “office of works” was founded in the 13th century to oversee the construction and maintenance of the city’s cathedral. As such, it has gathered an extraordinary collection of sculptures, created by giants such as Donatello, Luca della Robbia and Michelangelo. Space limitations kept most of these treasures from view. Now they are on display in 6,000 additional square feet of space. The centerpiece is a great hall featuring the full-size reconstruction of the Duomo’s original façade, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in the late 1200s. Many of the pieces are being seen publicly for the first time.