This little city, tucked amid the Tuscan hills, casts a long shadow through history. The wellspring of the Renaissance, Firenze (or Florence) sheltered the powerful Medici family and inspired artists like Michelangelo (David) and Brunelleschi (the Duomo). If it weren’t for the fashionable Italians and chic shops lining Via Tornabuoni, you might think you had traveled back in time to the 14th century. But Renaissance art is not the only reason to come: You also visit Florence for its gorgeous sunsets, its Italian cooking and its unbeatable romantic charm.
How To Save Money in Florence
- Book a hotel on the outskirts For a somewhat more authentic (not to mention, cost-efficient) experience, book a hotel on the outskirts. You’ll get to wake up to the glory of the Tuscan hills, and you’re simply a quick train ride from Renaissance central.
- One or the other For that postcard view, we suggest you pay the admittedly high fee to climb to the top of the Duomo. The nearby Baptistry offers just about the same view for a price, but we’re partial to the Duomo. Do one or the other and save a few euro.
- Dine smart Stay away from the tourist attractions when you’re hungry — restaurants are generally overpriced here. In and around Mercato Centrale is a good place to find cheaper Italian food.
Florence Culture & Customs
The idea of la bella figura is one that is extremely important in Italian culture. Literally translated as “the beautiful figure,” la bella figura covers everything from a person’s dress to his or her actions and manners — to Italians, all of life should be beautiful.
Picking up a few Italian phrases is helpful and even attempting the language will win you points with Italians, who are usually more than willing to help if they see you trying. In any kind of store or restaurant, it is appropriate to greet and say goodbye to employees even if you do not purchase anything. A buongiorno on your way in and an arrivederci on your way out should cover it. Ciao is also acceptable but is less formal. Like in America, please (per favore) and thank you (grazie) will go a long way.
Many establishments — restaurants, grocery stores and tourist attractions — close on Sundays. And although Florence attractions tend to open at a normal hour, many will take a midday siesta after the lunch hour. And some Florence attractions are closed an additional day a week (besides Sunday), so be sure to research attractions’ hours before making your itinerary.
In comparison to the United States, Italians have a less strict sense of personal space. Do not be surprised if they go further than a handshake at first meetings. Cheek-to-cheek and mouth-to-cheek kisses are not unusual, even between two men. Follow their lead and note: Reciprocation is bella figura; to pull away would be rude. Speaking of rude, you should avoid pointing with your index finger, as most Italians point using all four fingers. And never point at something with just your index and pinky together. It is considered very vulgar.
Finally, Florence’s official currency is the euro. Since the euro to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops.
For many Italians, the food you’ll find in tourist-heavy Florence does not offer a real Tuscan dining experience. Restaurants tend to be overpriced and the quality is not the best. That said, recent travelers praise the delicious Italian food and warm ambience of Pitti Gola e Cantina and the Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, near the Boboli Gardens. Head to either Santa Croce for authentic Tuscan food or travel across the Arno for the best establishments.
Tuscan cuisine is all about simplicity. Hearty pastas flavored only with a few ingredients are still somehow rich and multi-faceted. Fish and meats are also well-represented in the Tuscan repertoire. Like most of the Mediterranean, olive oil is an important ingredient in almost every dish.
Florence is also filled with a multitude of gelato stands. The pistachio flavor is the key to differentiating between the good ones from the not-so-great ones (the darker the colot, the better). You’ll find authentic gelaterias with pistachio gelato around the Piazza di Santa Croce.