Florence is one of my favorite spots on earth. I think we all have that one place away from home that is our happy place. For me, that’s Florence. I was lucky enough to study there for a semester in college. It was the perfect spot for a wide eyed art history student like me. I was dazzled by it’s beauty, delicious food, and relaxed pace. John had come with me to work at a local vineyard. We lived in a quirky little apartment with our friend Michelle very close to the city center. We had very little money but it didn’t matter. We had Florence! We spent four very happy months there, and even got engaged there before coming home.
We had been dying to go back, especially with our sons. But life kept getting in the way. When we realized that Max would be graduating from college and Alex would be graduating from high school in the same year, we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate! We spent two weeks in Italy, also visiting Venice and Rome, but using Florence as our base. We had an amazing time, and the best part is that the boys fell in love with Florence, too. We are already planning another trip! (And FYI, it was 100 plus degrees when we went in July. We didn’t have a choice because of our schedules, but bear that in mind if you’re planning your own trip there. Thankfully we had made sure that all of our apartments had air conditioning!)
Coincidentally, one of Alex’s friends and former teammates is currently studying just outside of Florence and his family is going to visit him soon. His mom asked if we had some recommendations for restaurants since we were there recently, and that is what has inspired this post. I thought it might fun to share some of our favorites with you all! (All pics from this post were taken on the iPhone.)
One last note, make sure you try the house wines. So delicious! The beer and wine is so affordable, and it’s such a nice addition to your meal.
1. I Ghibellini, Piazza San Pier Maggiore, in the heart of Florence
After a very long day of travel, we settled in to our apartment (we rented through Marriott Homes and Villas for all three locations, and were very pleased with them all), took a long nap and woke up ready to explore and eat some delicious dinner. When we were there as poor students, we didn’t go out to dinner very much, but when we did we went to our favorite restaurant, I Ghibellini. Over the years the boys had heard many times about the wild boar ragu and lasagna that had come from this magical location, but we weren’t even sure if it was still in business. A quick search led us right to it and it did not disappoint. It was just as good as we remembered! John spoke to the owner and it turns out that he’s the son of the owner we met all those years ago. He was really touched we came back, We actually ate there twice because it was so good! We started with the grilled octopus with pesto and burrata cheese. (I’m not going to lie, I was slightly concerned that this was the first thing that we were eating in Italy but the boys LOVED it. They ate every bite!) I had lemon gnocchi with grilled calamari and fried sage and the only word I can use to describe it is heavenly! So flavorful but not heavy, and who knew that fried sage was so delicious? The guys all had the with wild boar ragu which was just as amazing. Their menu changes seasonally, and they have outdoor seating from April to October. They also have pizza which looked great. Make sure you book online through their website or Trip Advisor!
2. Caffe Noir, Corner of Via San Zanobi and Via VentiSette Aprile
We were lucky enough to stay right down the street from this amazing little coffee place. The most delicious cappuccino (2 euros!), pastries (1 euro!) and selection of freshly made panini. The owner is a delight, and didn’t even charge us to sit (the norm at most coffee bars in Italy). John and I went every morning (other than Sunday, when he is closed) and brought back pastries for the guys. Highly recommend this little gem just far enough from city center to be full of locals.
3. Mercato Centrale, Piazza del Mercato Centrale
I don’t have any pictures from the market, but it is worth a mention. John and I were amazed at how much this place had changed. The entire third floor is dedicated to food stalls, basically a really beautiful food court. We did grab a bite there but finding seating was a bit of a challenge. What we really love about the market is hitting up the bread and cheese stalls on the first floor. The quality is amazing and the prices are so good! It’s a fun experience just wandering around. I loved staying in an apartment with a small kitchen because we were able to go to the market and a small grocery store (we went to Carrefour on Via Ginori) and pick up some Nutella, fruit and meats and would make our own delicious (an super affordable) lunches. Not to mention that the grocer has a nice selection of wine and beer.
4. Trattoria Marione, Via della Spada
We knew we wanted to have the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. It was far out of our student budget! We knew that it was going to be a splurge, so we wanted to make sure that we picked a great restaurant try it. Luckily I thought to ask our local host who checked us into our apartment which restaurant he would recommend. He highly recommended Trattoria Marione and we were so happy that he did! Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a huge, thick t-bone steak that comes from a specific breed of cattle, the chianina, just outside of Florence. It’s cooked very rare, and when done well, melts in you mouth! It’s definitely a delicacy that’s worth the splurge, especially for meat lovers. The guys all shared and polished off this incredible steak (the server was so kind and helpful in helping with the size to order) while I ate the best eggplant parmesan that I’ve ever had.
5. Ristorante Cafaggi, Via Guelfa
We discovered Ristorante Cafaggi while strolling down Via Geulfa (which just happens to be the street we lived on!) and a quick search showed that it was well reviewed, traditional family restaurant. We made a reservation, and were happy to find that they had a prix fix menu. The food was excellent and the service was so friendly. I had a 1st course of tortellini with pesto (yum) and a second course of Peposo, a peppery, Tuscan red wine and beef stew that originated in Florence. I really wanted to try it despite it being 100 degrees out. (Thankfully Ristorante Cafaggi has air conditioning. In fact all of the places that we visited had air conditioning and were very comfortable, despite of what we were told.) It was amazing! Definitely a must try! The guys all had gnocchi with meat sauce as their first course. John and Alex had beef with potatoes and Max had pork with tuscan white beans. All excellent!
6. Trattoria Boboli, Via Romana
We decided that we really wanted to go to a restaurant on the Oltrarno, or the other side of the Arno river. It’s a much quieter part of the city, and definitely worth checking out. We chose the Trattoria Boboli, just down the road from the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. We were seated in their back garden and enjoyed an appetizer of bruschetta with burrata cream, pear, walnut and honey. It was delicious. I enjoyed pici alla senese with guanicale and burrata. Max had a duck breast cooked in vin santo that he loved. John and Alex both had spaghetti carbonara. The food was very good, and the view walking back over the Ponte Vecchio was breathtaking!
7. Ristorante Pizzareia Ginori, Via de Ginori
We walked past this charming little restaurant every day. It’s located right next to the Palazzo Medici Ricardi and has a pretty large menu. We ate there twice, not only because the food was really good but also because the owner was such a nice guy! I had the lasagna both times, and the guys had delicious pizzas.
8. All’Antico Vinaio, Via dei Neri
Last but not least, this famous panini shop is so popular that there are two on the same street! Don’t be thrown off by the long lines. They move quickly and it’s worth the wait. These delicious sandwiches are definitely a meal. They are huge. I had the San Marco, which is mortadella with gorgonzola, pistachio cream and sun-dried tomato on their signature schiacciata (the florentine version of foccacia.) So delicious! It’s definitely an experience. And you can’t beat finding a spot in Piazza della Signoria to enjoy your masterpiece surrounded by masterpieces! And a fun fact, there’s now an All’Antico Vinaio in New York City.
9. My Sugar Gelato Artigianale, Via de Ginori
Gelato is a way of life in Italy, and let’s be honest, you can’t go too wrong. But we happened upon this little shop around the corner from our apartment and it became our favorite gelato place, by far. As it turns out, this shop is run by the nicest couple who make gelato everyday with fresh ingredients. It’s incredible! And the prices were so good. A win, win, must try.
And finally, here’s a few scenes from around Florence. Can’t wait to go back. If you love it too, i’d love to hear some of your favorites spots!