After a long sleep-deprived day in Frankfurt, we arrive in Florence around 11:30pm local time. So, Tom’s first view of Italy was a teeny tiny airport (no customs necessary, just step off the plane and walk out) and a nerve-wracking cab ride to Hotel Rivoli (New York has nothing on Italy’s crazy drivers).
But after some sleep (yay!) we awoke fresh, energetic (kinda), and ready to explore the city.
Our 3-day tour (discussed later) included one night in Florence, so once Hotel Rivoli was confirmed as our point of departure, I booked an extra few nights. Unfortunately, a miscommunication with tour companies landed us in the wrong hotel, so we had to switch when our tour started. However, it worked out – I love Best Westerns in Europe and they really maintain the local culture while bringing in American amenities.
- Hotel Rivoli: Close to the train station and easily walkable to all of the sites, this quaint hotel was much more Italian that you would imagine for a Best Western. An adorable garden served as a dining room for the included breakfast. The room had everything we needed, but nothing extra.
- Hotel Adriatico: another Best Western only a few blocks away. While their sister Hotel Rivoli had an updated common area and slightly outdated rooms, Hotel Adriatico had the opposite: very nice rooms for the price, but the lobby could use some sprucing up. Overall, another really great value for the money.
The first day was spent sightseeing, hitting all the spots that made me first fall in love with the country at 16 years old, and introducing Tom into the world that every international tourist flocks to see.
- Santa Maria Novella
- Florence Cathedral (AKA “The Duomo”) and Batistoro: The famous green and white cathedral and baptistry, the great site of Florence. Unfortunately, in arriving on a Sunday we could not interrupt mass. So we oohhed and ahhed from the outside.
- San Lorenzo: the famous leather market. Go once to look and go back later to barter.
- Galleria dell Accademia: the home of Michelangelo’s famous David, who is much larger in person. Entry is 11 Euro, and during peak season there is a bit of line (which we waited in), so book in advance.
- Piazza San Marco
- Galleria degli Uffizi
- Ponte Vecchio: the “old” bridge lined with gold shops. I enjoyed this much more at 25 than at 16 (or 19 for that matter) because I could actually afford to make a purchase! Ok, actually Tom made the purchase…
- Palazzo Pitti and Giardino de Boboli: the famous Pitti Palace with Garden of Boboli out back. The gardens have some of the best views of the city, and really showcase that Tuscan charm.
- Museo Nazionale de Bargello: if you have time, this museum is worth a stop for the 6 Euro price.
- Santa Croce
- Da Vinattier: an amazing lunch suggestion from Nicole and Mike – an adorable sandwich shop tucked in a narrow street near the Duomo.
- The Oil Shoppe: another great suggestion that came from my co-worker. This is the study abroad hot-spot for lunch and it gives American tourists a little taste of home. Not only are the sandwiches amazing, but they actually have iced coffee – a rare find in Italy!
- Osteria del Gato e Volpe: a delicious spot for gnocchi.
- Mamma Gina: real chicken parm …. as in, made with PARMESAN cheese. I’ve never had anything like it.
- Festival del Gelato: any flavor of gelato you want
- Friends Pub: an Irish pub great for a drink. Plus, they have free WiFi so you can start bragging on Instagram.
One of my favorite parts of the whole vacation was a day trip we took to the infamous Cinque Terre – the little Italian Riviera town that is blowing up your Pinterest page. Five little villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – built into the cliffs are only connected by one train … and hiking trails. So, we put on our hiking shoes and grabbed a bus with Walkabout Tours and hiked our way through the beauty of the rugged coast.
It was really a HIKE – lots of steep and uneven stairs, pathways along the rough terrain, up down and across the coast. If you’re able and willing, I 100% recommend seeing the villages this way. Not only do you feel better about all of the pasta and pizza you’ve been eating, but it’s even more rewarding once you arrive at the next village.
While each village was gorgeous in its own way, the last two (furthest west) were the most touristy, and for good reason. Monterosso and Vernazza both have the picturesque beaches washed with crystal blue water – the view that even postcards envy.
Overall, an amazing stay in Florence with the perfect day trip. Next, our 3-day Northern Italy tour began and I tucked away my map and let the tour company do that navigating for me, all the way to Venice….