Gemma Sturt, Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT
Here’s how to spend a weekend like a local and get a flavor of what its really like to live in the world’s most beautiful renaissance city….
After a long week of uni lectures or working on lab placement (having done both, I still couldn’t tell you which is the lesser of two evils) I usually arrive back to the centre in the evening just in time to catch up with my housemates and see who’s around for the weekend. Since everyone is usually pretty shattered we tend to keep Fridays chilled and make our way up to Piazzale Michelangelo when it’s a bit cooler outside – there’s a steep walk to the top but the cityscape views, especially over a summer sunset, are not to be missed. My favourite way to spend a relaxing Friday night is watching the sun go down with a bottle of red wine and a takeaway pizza. This year we were even lucky enough to see it in the snow too!
After making our way back down the steps we usually stop off somewhere in the San Niccolò neighbourhood just below, where you can find a river-side restaurant beneath the trees or a bar on an artificial beach (Spiaggia sul’Arno). The short walk back to the main city centre along the river is gorgeous and a night time walk along the Ponte Vecchio is not to be missed.
Saturday mornings are a great time to visit markets in and around the centre of Florence – there’s a great one in the Sant’Ambrogio area at this time every week and a beautiful antiques fair in Piazza Santo Spirito. Expect to see loads of local produce (cheeses, honey, dried meats, fresh fruit & veg) as well as jewellery, leather products and other artisan and hand-crafted items.
Grab lunch on your way back home through the centre at the famous panino shop All’Antico Vinaio or cool off with an ice cream at Eduardo’s in Piazza del Duomo (I’m a hardcore fan of the cinnamon and ricotta scoop).
In the afternoon you can walk off lunch through the Boboli Gardens or Le Cascine Park, which also has an open-air swimming pool that opens in the summer months.
Taking an ‘aperativo’ in Piazza Santo Spirito is a must-do in Florence and is one of the city’s best-known spots for both locals and tourists. Whilst there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area the popular choice is to sit on the steps of the church and watch the world go by; more often than not there’s some form of live music. Especially during the summer months and also sometimes in the winter, Italians love to stay outside in the evenings to socialise.
Found in one corner of the same square, I really recommend starting the evening on the rooftop terrace of Hotel Palazzo Guadagni which is relatively reasonably priced and gives views of the whole piazza and Oltrarno area at dusk.
Florence becomes even more beautiful at night and walking around the Duomo and Piazza Santa Croce in the east of the city after dark is the perfect way to end an evening. More commonly in the summer you can hear all types of live street music whilst passing through the centre and Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Santa Rosa Bistrot is a great place to grab Sunday brunch or even serves as a nice afternoon tea spot too – the conservatory opens onto a large garden which is great to keep cool in summer and still cosy in colder weather too.
Alternatively, I like to take an expresso or read a book at La Cite or L’appartamento which are two other cafes to be found in the centre. The latter in particular is a great chill spot and is quite literally an old apartment (from which it takes the name) converted into a performance space, arts and textiles school, bar and café. Take care to note the address – its in the middle of the bustling city centre and you need to ring the doorbell to get the barman to buzz you in – just like a real apartment!
Italy offers free entrance to all state-owned museums and galleries on the first Sunday every month and this can be a great opportunity to visit the sights on a budget or discover some lesser-known museums. Particular favourites are L’Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Cappelle Medicee and Fort Belvedere – boasting both panoramic views of the city and contemporary exhibitions.
Palazzo Strozzi also usually hosts interesting installations that are free to the general public.
Sunday nights are strictly reserved for flopping on the sofa, Chinese takeaway (surprisingly good in central Tuscany?!) and occasionally making pasta… if you’re only passing through but still want to get involved I can highly recommend the pasta making courses at MaMa Florence Cooking School.