Top 10: Florence, Italy

Here’s the next installment of Sparky’s Top 10 series. Intern Alexa Dombkoski shares her top 10 recommendations for Florence, Italy, including another 10 honorable mentions of things to do and see!

1. Duomo: I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of the most architecturally stunning and renowned churches in the world on this top 10 list. The cathedral, Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is better know as the Duomo. After many years and many architects, the Duomo was finally finished by Filipo Brunelleschi in 1436.  Piazza del Duomo is also one of the major hubs of the city where tourists and locals alike go to meet with friends, do some shopping and admire the breathtaking cathedral.

2. David: You’ve all seen it in pictures and read about it in books, but absolutely nothing compares to seeing Michelangelo’s David in person. The statue is located in the Accademia Gallery, which also contains many other famous works of art, but David is the star of the show. Originally, Michelangelo’s masterpiece was originally supposed to stand on top of the cathedral. Luckily, the plan was altered and now David has found a home in the Accademia where we can all enjoy the statue up close and personal. Helpful tip: set aside more time than you would think for your visit — you could literally spend half a day taking in the David! Also important to note: Don’t be fooled by the replica David in Pizza della Signoria, where the David originally resided.

3. Stanza del Guardaroba in Palazzo Vecchio: No one can argue the beauty of the Duomo or Michelangelo’s David but one of the most spectacular sites in all of Florence has to be the map room in Palazzo Vecchio. Palazzo Vecchio is Florence’s town hall located in Piazza della Signoria. The Palace tour includes many beautiful rooms, however nothing compares to the map room. To think that every beautiful map displayed in the room was hand drawn before the existence of satellites and GPS is absolutely mindboggling. The room is breathtaking and should be on everyone’s list when visiting Florence.

The fountain in Piazza Santo Spirito with Chiesa di Santo Spirito in the background.

#4 The fountain in Piazza Santo Spirito with Chiesa di Santo Spirito in the background.

4. Piazza Santo Spirito: One of my personal favorites, Piazza Santo Spirito has it all. During the day go for a visit inside of the Chiesa di Santo Spirito, one of Florence’s best-kept secrets. The church is fairly plain on the outside but the beautiful frescoes inside are well worth the visit. After stopping to admire the church, grab a seat outside and have un café at one of the many cafés in the piazza; my favorite is Volume. At night the square comes alive with young locals who enjoy the many bars located in the area.

Florence by night - the view from Piazzale Michelangelo.

#5 Florence by night – the view from Piazzale Michelangelo.

5. Piazzale Michelangelo: Ever see a pristine, awe-inspiring aerial view of Florence in a magazine or on a postcard and think, “I wish I could go there”? Well, that picture was probably taken from Piazzale Michelangelo. The area provides one of the very best views that the city has to offer and is a perfect place to take a bottle of Prosecco and watch the sunset — or maybe watch the sun rise after a long night of partying in Florence; the nightlife is a part of the cultural experience after all =) After taking in the view, keep climbing and head up to the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte.

View of the Duomo from Boboli Gardens.

#6 View of the Duomo from Boboli Gardens.

6. Boboli Gardens: In such a popular city bustling with tourists, the Boboli Gardens can be a much-needed haven from the humming streets of Florence. The main attractions within the gardens, most notably the view of the Duomo, are frequented by the many visitors to Florence, however the grounds are extensive enough that it is easy to find a quiet patch of grass or secluded area to enjoy the quiet and relax.

7. Gelato: If you go to Italy without trying gelato, you aren’t doing it right! My two personal favorites are Perché no? and Rivareno. Both gelaterias offer unique and interesting flavors. You can find gelato on just about every street in Florence, so taste around to discover your own personal favorite. But remember, not all gelato is created equal, so your safest bet is to stay away from the gelaterias located in the more touristy areas of the city (although Vestri, located just off the Ponte Vecchio is tasty)!

8. Ponte Vecchio: Without a doubt the Ponte Vecchio is one of the most recognizable sites in Florence. The bridge was first created with butcher shops lining the street. However, after the Vasari corridor was created above the bridge, the stench from the meat was so offensive that it was renovated to hold less stinky jewelry vendors instead. During World War II Hitler allegedly ordered all of the bridges in the city to be destroyed, save for the beautiful Ponte Vecchio. The bridge’s true beauty must be appreciated from afar, on the Ponte alle Grazie or the Ponte Santa Trinita, which run parallel on either side of the Ponte Vecchio.

Wine barrels filled with Chianti at Castello del Trebbio.

#9 Wine barrels filled with Chianti at Castello del Trebbio.

9. Castello del Trebbio: You cannot go to Tuscany without sampling some of the delectable Chianti wine that the region has to offer. There are plenty of places and opportunities to drink Chianti in the city, but if you are looking for a change of pace, escape to Castello del Trebbio or any number of the many wineries located just outside of Florence. Castello del Trebbio is particularly interesting because they invite their guests inside the “Conspiracy Room,” which is where the Pazzi family planned the somewhat failed assassination of two members of the famous Medici family. Don’t miss out on a very important piece of Italian history and a day in the countryside sipping delicious wine!

10. Teatro del Sale: So much of Italy’s culture is entwined in its food, so when in Florence, eat, eat, and then eat some more! Teatro del Sale serves delicious authentic Italian dishes and also provides live entertainment each night after dinner. Dinner at Teatro del Sale is a little bit pricier than at many of the other restaurants in the city, but the bigger price tag is well worth the experience. If offered on the night you go, try the bistecca fiorentina. The gigantic cut of meat should be served rare and is typically on the bone. If you cannot get the steak at Teatro del Sale, try it at I Latini for a delicious and charming dining experience.

Honorable mentions (because a list of 10 is just not enough for an amazing city like Florence):

1. The Uffizi Gallery: The Uffizi is the most famous museum in Florence. Here you’ll find Botticelli’s celebrated Birth of Venus painting. Don’t leave Florence without paying a visit.

2. Fiorentina game: Italians love their calcio, or soccer. Going to a game is a great way to immerse yourself in the Italian culture (and learn some of the Italian curse words). Forza Viola!!!!

3. Aperitivo: Aperitivo in Italy is a tried and true staple of the Italian lifestyle. Many bars in the city offer this Italian version of the happy hour. Both the Santa Croce and Oltrarno neighborhoods have a ton of great options. My personal favorite: Soul Kitchen on Via de’ Benci.

4. San Lorenzo: Florence is famous for its leather goods. If you are looking for leather gloves, jackets, jewelry, or bags, the San Lorenzo market is the place to go. Plus, it’s fun to haggle with the vendors – prices are negotiable!

Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce

#5 Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce with Basilica di Santa Croce in the background.

5. Basilica di Santa Croce: Santa Croce in general is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city and the Basilica di Santa Croce in Piazza Santa Croce is also on my list of favorites. The church is the largest Franciscan church in the world.

Roman theater in Fiesole

#6 The Roman theater in Fiesole – If you visit in the summer, see a show here!

6. Fiesole: Only a few miles outside of the city, this former Etruscan town provides a spectacular view of Florence on a clear day. Spend a half a day in this idyllic locale exploring the Roman theater and baths and the convent.

Shoppers at Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio, one of the many open-air markets in Florence.

#7 Shoppers at Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio, one of the many open-air markets in Florence.

7. Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio: One of the best parts of Florence is the abundance of open-air markets. Plus, in Sant’Ambrogio you’ll find many locals doing their grocery shopping and hanging out at the trattoria in the indoor section of the market. While in the Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood, be sure to try a lampredotto sandwich from one of the street vendors. This traditional Florentine staple is delicious; just don’t ask what’s in it!

8. Café Gilli: You’re in Italy, you are undoubtedly going to drink espresso, why not do it at one of the oldest cafés in the country?

9. La Terrazza: Inconspicuously located atop La Rinascente department store is a tiny café with outdoor seating overlooking the Duomo. When the weather is nice, there is nothing better than sipping a fresh cocktail (perhaps the famous Florentine Negroni?) while taking in the view of the Duomo, the sprawling hills and the busy goings-on of Piazza Repubblica below.

10. Piazza della repubblica: Piazza della Repubblica is the location of the iconic photograph “American Girl in Italy” by Ruth Orkin. At night the piazza is especially beautiful when the carousel is lit up.

Alexa Dombkoski Study Abroad Spotlight intern Alexa Dombkoski studied abroad for two semesters in Florence, Italy. She is currently finishing her degree at the University of Pittsburgh with plans to return to Italy to teach English and pursue a career in international education. Learn more about Alexa by checking out her Spotlight here! You can also find Alexa heading up Sparky’s Facebook!

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