The Concise and Opinionated Guide to the City
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Frightening but fun – October 2019
Our recommendations for travelers going to Florence in the fall are usually about nearby wineries, but our newest series of “bored in” travel books have inspired us to go in a spookier direction this year. Bored in Florence –Awesome Experiences for the Repeat Visitor has an entire chapter on chilling and thrilling things to do here and so we’ve chosen a special one to share with our readers here…
You could go to Florence a hundred times and still not know about La Specola even though it’s right at Via Romana 17, just up the street from the Pitti Palace. This smaller satellite location of the city’s large Natural History Museum has all the creepy stuff, and trust us when we say that it’s not for the faint of heart. From animal taxidermy to rooms filled with wax figures of human illness and injury (copied precisely from actual corpses) this place is definitely a fascinating delve into the macabre.
La Specola is the oldest public museum in all of Europe and was started as a personal collection of the Medici family. When it opened in 1775 it was a huge hit. Today you can visit it with few tourists around. Its taxidermy collection is open to the public and features a hippopotamus once owned by the Medici’s that they kept as a pet in the Boboli Gardens. To view the human anatomy figures in their other wing, you’ll have to book a special tour. Call ahead to reserve one of the limited spots because they can sell out quickly. The making of these anatomical figures was an art form developed in Florence in the 17th century for the purpose of medical instruction. The wax models of naked women posed in semi-erotic poses with their innards pulled open are particularly frightening and were evidently a favorite of the famous Marquis de Sade when he visited.
Intl. calling: (011) 39 055-275-6444 / Local calling: 055-275-6444 Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm (entry time) and Friday through Sunday from 9:30 am to 12:30pm (entry time.) Closed on Mondays and some major holidays.
It’s the start of the social season in Florence – September 2019
There’s a lot going on in the Tuscan capital so if you’re planning to visit during the fall season, snag a ticket to something soon. We recommend the vocal concerts held at the deconsecrated Church of Santa Monaca in the Oltrarno neighborhood. For just €25, you’ll enjoy great opera arias sung inside a gorgeous venue. Grab a ticket soon.
In addition, the mid-September segment of the months-long world gelato competition will feature its regional ice cream champions at Piazzale Michelangelo for a final gelato-tasting and it’s the lucky attendees who will help decide who the winner will be!
Let’s Stay in a Convent! – August 2019
If you’ll be on a definite budget during your stay in Tuscany but aren’t prepared to give up style, charm, comfort, or (God forbid) cleanliness, we don’t blame you! It’s true that there are many fancy five-star hotels in Florence… many. So where should you stay when you want to save some bucks? Our favorite cheapie-cheap hotel in Firenze is actually a convent -or was a convent. Check out the Horto Convento (“garden convent”) where one sleeps on real Italian linen and has private access to a lovely garden complete with reflection pool. What’s the catch? Well, it’s located on the south side of the Arno which means it’s a bit farther from the main sights. But Florence is a walkable city so this should not be a problem for most visitors. If you and your loved ones are avid walkers, you won’t mind the location at all. The Horto Convento is is a fourteen minute stroll to the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge and a twenty-two minute walk to the city’s Duomo cathedral. Totally do-able and more than worth the price they charge. Breakfast is included, and the rather fancy stone arch entrance to the property makes you feel special every time you walk through it. You can thank us later.
In focus: Summer Happenings – July 2019
This year marks the 500th birthday of two legendary Medici family members, namely Cosimo I and Caterina de’ Medici (who became the Queen of France.) To commemorate them, the city of Florence will be offering longer hours at some museums and holding festive tributes, historical reenactments, and concerts throughout the summer. Does that mean this is a great time to visit Florence? Yes! But like every summer in recent history, the city center will have its share of crowding especially in August. If you’re planning a visit there, make sure to get your tickets to the Uffizi Galleries beforehand online. They’ll be celebrating the first Grand Duke of Tuscany with a special “triptych” of exhibitions called Homage to Cosimo I.
Where to enjoy a picnic in Florence – June 2019
Now that summer has arrived you may want to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors rather than be inside a cramped restaurant. Between all the casual cafes, sandwich stands and salumeria shops it’s easy to put together a finger-food feast here. The exquisite salami and prosciutto of the region served up with a crusty chunk of bread, some olives, cheese, grapes, and a nice bottle of wine is all you need. (Don’t forget the plastic cups.) For amazing overstuffed sandwiches, find our favorite deli, All’Antica Vinaio located at Via dei Neri 65, just one block east of the Uffizi Gallery. They’ll also make you a custom platter of goodies upon request. Then where to go? The most scenic place to have a (legal) picnic is at Piazzale Michelangelo. Cross over to the south side of the river and take the walking path upward. Grab a stone bench among the flower beds just below the viewing level. Heaven. Buon appetito!
Commemoration – May 2019
The infamous Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, was burned at the stake right in the middle of Piazza Signoria on May 23, 1498. (Look for the bronze plaque on the ground near the Neptune Fountain showing the exact spot.) Every year since, on the same day, a Mass in his honor has been is celebrated in the Palazzo Vecchio and flowers strewn in remembrance. This annual homage, known as the Fiorita, is now accompanied by music and a performance by traditional flag-wavers. The event begins at 9:30am in the Piazza with the flowers and continues with a historical procession to the Ponte Vecchio (bridge) at 10:00am where petals of roses are then thrown into the Arno river.
In Focus: Where to brunch in Florence/ April 2019
April and May bring amazing weather and moderate temperatures to the Tuscan region so why not make a celebration of it by enjoying a really delicious brunch… in Florence that means La Ménagère and this is why: the Florentines aren’t big on having brunch (or even a hearty breakfast) and prefer to eat light in the morning and then have a typical Italian feast for lunch. Because of this, the so-called brunch spots in the city center are either “USA diner-style” copycats that try to appeal to American tourists (and greatly miss the mark!) or they are fancy buffets in the most expensive hotels. But this relative newcomer near the Palazzo Medici breaks those rules and offers a beautiful ambiance, casual vibe, top quality food, and a brunch menu that is sure to please.
Important Update: March 2019
Though recommended in our Clued In Florence for 2019, the lovely Helvetia & Bristol Hotel (and its fabulous restaurant Bibendum) continue to be closed for renovation. It’s scheduled to reopen in a few weeks and is accepting reservations for the restaurant as early as April 2, 2019. Ciao bella!
In Focus: Palazzo dei Davanzati/ March 2019
This month we’re featuring local sights that are lesser-known but which are a must-see in our very opinionated view. In Florence, that means the Davanzati Palace. While it’s certainly not off the beaten track, it’s the type of place that you can walk by a hundred times and not really notice it. From the outside it looks like yet another one of the many Medieval buildings that make up the city center but we’re here to tell you that it is far from ordinary. The interiors of this place, a former private home of a well-heeled merchant family, have been kept intact or been added to for hundreds of years and you can tour it. Its great entry area, dining hall, bedrooms, kitchen, and even bathrooms whisk you back in time in a way no other sight in Florence can. Make sure to visit all the floors as each is special in its own way. We adore the interior frescos that are clearly a precursor to today’s wallpaper, as well as the Sala dei Pappagalli (the room of the parrots.) In addition to the many furnishings from several centuries, the Davanzati also showcases gorgeous old ceramics, and lace from the Renaissance. Be careful to note its seasonal hours because it can close as early as 1:30pm! Details in Clued In Florence.
In Focus: Antique Market/ February 2019
If there’s nothing you’d rather do than paw through tables of baubles, frames, and trinkets, then don’t miss Florence’s monthly Antique Market. Starting this month it has a new location, just in front of the city’s lovely Cascine Park, at Piazza Vittorio Veneto. The February dates are February 20 & 21 from 9am to 7pm.
In Focus: Where to shop the sales/ January 2019
Like many stores in the U.S., Italy puts its best designer items on sale after the holidays. If you’re visiting Florence in January and have the urge to do some shopping (or just want to come home with one really special item) now is the time. The most famous shopping street in Florence is via dei Tornabuoni, affectionately referred to simply as Tornabuoni, which runs north/south from the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge on the River Arno. For those who are unfamiliar with Florence, this means that the best shopping can be found smack-dab in the old city center, just west of the city’s main sights. This may be helpful to know even if you don’t plan on hitting the boutiques… being aware of this type of location also tells you precisely where a city’s most desirable neighborhood is. That’s usually where you’ll also find some of the best hotels, and some top-notch restaurants too.
In Focus: New Year’s Eve in Florence/ December 2018
New Year’s Eve celebrations in the Tuscan capital are as varied as they are festive. From jazz performances in the open-air Piazza del Carmine to a classical music concert in Piazza della Signoria, this place has it covered. If you’d rather dance than listen to musicians, snag a ticket from one of the larger discos recommended in Clued In Florence. Like most of Italy’s popular cities, a fireworks display will call in the New Year. For a majestic view of them, join the traditional concert party in Piazza Michelangelo (on the hill across the river.) Toast with a bottle of Spumante or Prosecco and feel free to sleep in the next day; most shops and all of the museums will be closed on January 1. If you have trouble finding a restaurant on that day, remember that all the larger hotels will be open and serving.
In Focus: Autumn in Florence/ November 2018
If you’ll be one of the clever travelers coming to Florence before the onslaught of visitors who descend upon it for Christmas and New Year’s then good for you. You may not have the opportunity to spend your actual holiday in this historic city, but you’ll get a taste of what this incredible place is really like for its local residents. Why not try some true local cuisine at Osteria dell’Enoteca, or visit the new temporary art exhibit from the 16th century at the Palazzo Stozzi? If shopping is your thing, don’t miss the German style Christmas Market at Piazza Santa Croce which runs from November 29 through December 17th. All will make for great memories. And before you go we hope you’ll grab a copy of Clued In Florence. It has info not found in other guides which is exactly why it stands apart from the rest!
Announcement: New 2019 Edition!
Clued In Florence for 2019 is available now at amazon.com. If you wish to update any previous version that you already own, you may do so for free by following the instructions just above. And don’t forget to leave us a review at amazon.com!
Update – October 2018
Where to go and what to do in Florence during the fall months? Get thee to a winery, of course! There are so many great tours to the countryside beyond Florence that it just makes sense to fit one into your itinerary. Many are only half-day and will pick you up at your hotel. The grapes are being harvested and the wineries are alive with tastings and gasto-food samplings. We trust tours by Viator but there are many online companies that offer them.
September Event – 2018
If you’ll be in the region of Tuscany on Friday, September 7, 2018, don’t miss Florence’s lovely Festa Rinicolona (paper lantern festival) which boasts a procession from Piazza Santa Felicita to Piazza Santissima Annunziata. A street party in Piazza della Signoria completes the festivities.
In Focus: Hotel J.K Place, Firenze/ July 2018
This summer we’re featuring some of our favorite hotels. In Florence, that means J.K. Place Firenze, a standout for the well-heeled who want something a bit different. You see, a stay at this small but exquisite boutique hotel is more like a visit to your own Florentine townhouse. It just doesn’t feel like a hotel at all. The beautifully appointed lobby is styled like an entryway and livingroom, the reservation area is an intimate library, and the breakfast area is actually a dining room, like those in the best residences. This is all by design of course, because it’s their intention to make you feel like you’re at home. And the level of service offered is so extraordinary that J.K. Place Firenze has earned the coveted Leading Hotels of the World designation. Centrally located in town at Piazza Santa Maria Novella 7, it’s perfect for those arriving or departing by rail. Dine by candlelight at their lovely Terrace Restaurant, right on the piazza.
In Focus: New “genius” cocktails at The Mayday Club/ June 2018
When in Florence (or in any Tuscan town nearby) don’t miss an evening at The Mayday Club. This fun speakeasy has specialty cocktails made with the finest original homemade concoctions anywhere. Owner/magical chemist “Marco” is the brains behind the tasty potions and even adds ten new cocktails every year. This year, his theme is “Tuscan Geniuses” or I Geni Toscani and are inspired by Italian innovators from the 1800’s and 1900’s. They are all simply exquisite, but the three shown above are Total Black dedicated to the Alinari Brothers, La Tempra dedicated to Giovanni Michelucci, and Il Paperino dedicated to Enrico Piaggio. If you are into mixology, this is your place. If not, this is still your place. Go and have a great time– we wish we were there with you!
The Mayday Club is closed on Sundays and Mondays so plan your visit there accordingly. (They also close for the month of August.) More info on this special club can be found in the pages of Clued In Florence.
May 2018 update: Awaiting your upcoming trip
If you’re like us, you like to think about a European sojourn almost as much as going on one! For those dreamers and planners, we thought we’d take a moment to introduce you to our favorite live viewers, Skyline Webcams. Through their terrific website, we’ve watched everything from the New Year’s Eve crowds in Piazza della Signoria to daybreak over the Ponte Vecchio. You just never know what you’re going to see. Check out the list and start getting excited for your own visit there. If you’re in the USA, remember that Italy is six hours ahead of the east coast and nine hours ahead of the west coast. So fun!