College Town Tours: Florence, Italy

Traveling abroad is always exciting! There’s so much to do and so much to see, at first you wonder how you’ll fit it all in. But once the initial touristy phase wears off, it’s always nice to have a rough survival guide when traveling to a foreign country. Here are some of our favorite spots in this beautiful city – we hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

**The Best Places to Visit in Florence, Italy**

Best Gelato
La Carraia
Piazza Nazario Sauro 25r, Firenze // 055 280695

Let’s face it, pasta and pizza are delicious, but everyone’s favorite Italian delicacy is gelato! Here in Florence, you haven’t had authentic gelato until you’ve been to La Carraia. Located across the Arno, La Carraia is a traditional gelateria two bridges down from the Ponte Vecchio.  The flavors range from fruity to creamy: try the yogurt, zuppa inglese, mousse tiramisu or amarena (black cherry) for something unusual, and the nocciola (hazelnut), stracciatella (chocolate chip) or melone for a more classic taste.  What’s more, La Carriaia has a one-euro cone on which you can get two flavors! Of all the gelaterias in Florence, La Carraia is definitely the place to go to get a good amount of delicious gelato without breaking the bank.

Best Fresh Food Market
Il Mercato Centrale
Via dell’Ariento, 10/14, Firenze

Living in Italy can be expensive…but only if you don’t know where to shop.  Whether or not you’re a student living on budget, the Mercato Centrale should be at the top of your list for fresh products.  Right down the street from the Duomo, the market is right in the middle of the San Lorenzo market, one of the largest outdoor markets in Florence.  Inside you will find stands with anything you could possibly need: fresh and local produce, meat, dried fruit, olive oil, baked goods, flowers, the list goes on and on. The market is open every day except Sunday from 7am until 2pm – embrace the true Italian lifestyle and buy fresh ingredients every day, or just go to take advantage of an experience not found in the U.S.  Compared to the supermarkets (and to the United States), the fresh produce found here is incredibly cheap, making this market the best for your health and your wallet!

Best Outdoor Market
San Lorenzo Market
Piazza San Lorenzo to Via dell’Ariento, Firenze

It’s hard to miss this market if you’re in Florence.  It takes up the entire street starting at San Lorenzo Cathedral all the way down and around the Central Market.  Whether you’re looking to buy leather goods, ceramics, scarves or just typical tourist knick-knacks, this is definitely the place to go.

Best Bargain
Sant’Ambrogio Market
Piazza Ghiberti and Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Firenze

Be sure to leave space in your luggage to bring back Florentine souvenirs! The best place for a good find is the Sant’Ambrogio market. Not as large as the more famous San Lorenzo Market, Sant’Ambrogio is half-food based and half outdoor thrift store. Here you can buy brand-name clothing for as cheap as 5 euros, as well as good quality coats and sweaters for much less than you would find in a store. Whether or not you make any purchases, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Best Authentic Eating Experience
Trattoria Mario
Via Rosina 2 on the corner of Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Firenze // +39 055 218550

Italian culture primarily revolves around two things: food and family. At Mario’s, you can experience both in the typical Tuscan manner. Mario’s is a tiny restaurant behind the Central Market, where you are seated wherever there is space. You unavoidably end up sharing your meal with complete strangers, many of which are locals. The menu includes many of the region’s most typical dishes, such as osso buco and tripe. You have to try the ribollita, a Tuscan bread and vegetable soup, the ultimate comfort food. Mario’s is only open for lunch, but it is the perfect place for some authentic Italian food in a friendly atmosphere that feels like home.

Best Saturday Excursion
Boboli Gardens, Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti // +39 055 2388786

If you’re looking for a place somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of the central part of the city, take a walk across the Ponte Vecchio and visit the Boboli Gardens in Palazzo Pitti. Once one of the palaces of the famed Medici family of Florence, Palazzo Pitti has a large garden with plenty of paths to explore. If you walk all the way up to the top of the gardens, you will find a magnificent view of the Tuscan countryside just outside the city walls. From the other side, you are treated with the breath-taking scene of the historical city of Florence. The Boboli Gardens are the perfect place for some fresh air and a break from the city.

Best Pastries
Cosi Pasticiaria
Borgo degli Albizi, 15r // 055 2480367

While there are many pasticierias in Florence, Cosi Pasticiaria takes the cake, or rather, sells the best kind. There is a large variety of pastries to choose from, including croisssants, beignets (crème filled donuts) and tartes. Have a cappuccino (before 10 am only!), hot chocolate of classic espresso with your dolce, and eat the whole thing standing at the bar, Italian style. Standing the bar will prevent you from having to pay a service charge, and besides, it’s the experience that really matters.

Best Getaway

When you feel like you’ve had enough of the city, it’s nice to get out into the Tuscan countryside for a change of scenery. Hope on the number 7 bus for a 20 minute ride to the beautiful town of Fiesole, where you can roam the streets and possibly discover some small crafts markets. Be sure to climb up to the monastery at the top of the hill near the bus stop for an unforgettable view of Florence. It might be a bit of a hike (it’s a steep hill) but you won’t regret it!

Best Panoramic View
San Miniato and Piazza Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo // +39 055 2342731

Speaking of views, you do notwant to miss the best one in the city! Cross over the Arno, through the gates of the historic center of Florence, and climb up to the basilica of San Miniato. At the top of the hill, enjoy a look out over the entire city of Florence. On your way back down, stop in the Piazza Michelangelo for a panoramic view of both the city and surrounding mountains. It’s quite the sight to see.

Best Biscotti
Piazza del Mercato Centrale

You may have had chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, and the all-American oreo, but while in Italy the biscotti is the cookie of choice. I’Panaio is the largest bakery stand in the Central Market, and is right in the middle of the vendors. Be sure to walk around to the side of their stand, where they have samples of each one of their biscotti. Depending on the season, their flavors vary from fig or pistachio and chocolate in the summer, to orange and an Italian version of rum raisin biscotti in the winter. Freshly baked each day, you can’t wrong getting your biscotti-fix here!

Best Late Night Adventure
Secret Bakeries

What’s the best kept secret in Florence? Well, actually, we can’t tell you. But if you’re ever out late at night, as many college students are, make sure you take notice of any tempting smells that may be wafting down the street. The bakeries that supply the cafes of the city with their pastries start baking at 2am to be able to deliver then at around 6 am, but they are tiny kitchens that are hidden down side streets. If you happen to stumble across one, you can knock on the door and order a croissant (cornetto) or even a slice of pizza through the crack in the door, all for one euro! The whole procedure is very secretive, since you have to be quiet to be sure not to wake anyone up! So follow your nose and discover this secret for yourself.

Best Supermarket
Via Pietrapiana 4/R or Piazza Dalmazia 12/14, Firenze

While most Italians buy the majority of their food at the markets, there are some things that are better bought at a supermarket. After stopping in numerous stores, it seems that Billa is the best supermarket in the central part of the city, especially for the college student. Although it is best to buy produce at the market (where you will find better quality fruits and veggies for cheaper prices), Billa is great for stocking up on dried pasta, tomato sauce, baking supplies and any other generic staple you might need. Both cheese and wine can also be found at good quality and low prices. Be sure to bring a reusable bag, though, as there is a tax on “buste” in Italy.

Best Hidden Historical Masterpiece
Medici Chapel

Florence is the world’s center for art and history, and for good reason. In a city that is brimming with masterpieces at every corner, it is easy to overlook some of the most impressive – and even well known – works of art Florence has to offer. The Medici Chapel, built by Michelangelo for the burial of four of the Medici men, is hidden in the back of St. Lawrence Cathedral. Be sure to walk down the side street at the rear of this famous Cathedral and go in to appreciate one of Michelangelo’s most extensive architectural accomplishments. Just be mindful of the dress code, and cover your shoulders and knees.

Best Free Concert
Organ concerts at Chiesa Santa Maria dei Ricci, Via del Corso

Florence is not only a city full of art, but of music too. Take advantage of the organ concerts at Chiesa Santa Maria dei Ricci on Via del Corso that happen every evening starting around 7pm. Entrance is free, and it is always nice to sit and listen to some beautiful classical music in the mysterious and sacred atmosphere of this small church.

Best Study Spot
Bibliotecca Oblate
Via dell’Oriuolo 26, Firenze // +39 055 261 6512

Finding a good study space can be hard, especially in a foreign city. The Bibliotecca Oblate is probably not the library you’re used to – housed in a former convent, you can goup to the third floor for an up-close view of the Duomo. The library has a large collection of books on every subject in a variety of languages, and is open to the public. If you’re looking for a getaway from the tourists and noise for some quiet study time, this is the place to go.

Candice Allouch and Sarah McAnaw are juniors at American University currently studying abroad in the beautiful historic city of Florence. For these travel-loving foodie environmentalists, the city’s diverse mix of cultures, foods and sustainability is a dream come true.


Originally posted on Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

4 Responses to “College Town Tours: Florence, Italy”

  1. Bethany

    December 21st, 2011

    I agree with everything on this list :)

  2. Candice

    December 22nd, 2011

    Great! Florence was a wonderful time! I hope everyone gets the chance to visit it :)

  3. jamie

    December 22nd, 2011

    agreed!i studied there in the summer of 2005 and it was WONDERFUL! :)

  4. Emily

    March 7th, 2013

    Spot on recommendations! It’s awesome how many of these places remain authentic and not obviously overrun with foreigners(especially the library), despite being some of the top destinations for students in Florence.

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