Florence’s unparalleled charm is impossible to resist. A Renaissance wonderland decked out in russet-coloured roofs, eye-watering frescos and narrow cobbled streets, it hums with vibrant, contemporary style in a way that defies its more than 500 years of glory. This is a truly walkable city, small enough to let you get your bearings quickly, yet still just wonderfully chaotic enough to lose yourself within it. What shall you visit for a trip to Florence? Snuggled among the verdant Tuscan hills, the best weekend trip to Florence delivers gastronomically, artistically and, after a sneaky jaunt out into the countryside, scenically.
Although often heaving with tourists, a trip to Florence is inexorably magical, always beautiful and always surprising. And even if you are looking for non-touristy things to do in Florence, it is one of the best cities to replenish every aspect of your soul. Here are non traditional ways to discover Florence.
1-Have different intake to Italian food
Florence’s iconic monuments are, thankfully, mostly within walking distance of each other. This means that you’ll spend at least one afternoon zipping from one historic point to the next. In between marvelling at the ancient beauty, you’ll need to refuel. Start at Da Simone – La butticche del Lampredotto. As one of the oldest street food spots in the city, it is well known among locals and visitors alike for serving good value, utterly delicious Florentine specialities. An absolute must-try is the eponymous lampredotto consisting of a tomato-braised cow’s stomach served on crunchy bread.
It is a belief widely held by Florentines that their city was the birthplace of gelato. Whatever the weather, a soft scoop of creamy ice cream is the perfect way to punctuate an afternoon of strolling and there’s no better place than the aptly named Perchè No (translating to “Why Not”, aka the only acceptable response to an offer of gelato!). Although founded in 1939, this historic gelateria doesn’t just keep up with the trends, it sets them. The first ice cream spot to pioneer the semifreddo technique, which incorporates whipped egg-white to produce gelato served at higher temperatures, they were were among the first places to serve non-traditional flavours, such as curry, Sacher torte and honey sesame.
2-Take a boat tour on the Arno river
For a unique perspective of Florence, eschew the long corridors of the museums and the bustling squares for a leisurely drift along the Arno on a traditional wooden boat. These tours last just under an hour and stop alongside many historical monuments, where an enthralling guide will give you a brief overview before you meander on. For a truly special experience, book a sunset tour that offers an aperitivo of drinks and snacks to keep you sustained as you float along.
3-Discover the best restaurants and trattorias
Although street food has its merits, you simply can’t leave Florence without indulging in a proper feast. Wander down to Sant’Ambrogio, where you’ll find Trattoria Cibrèo, the younger, more raucous sister of fine dining establishment Cibrèo next door. Here, the speciality is rustic Tuscan soup – from velvety porcini mushroom to bright yellow pepper – and meat dishes. Try the minestrone followed by a stuffed chicken neck and a generous helping of the legendary flourless chocolate cake. They don’t accept reservations so turn up sharp and expect your meal to come accompanied by some authentic Florentine charm.
Another night, try something a little more refined at ZEB Gastronomia. Run by a mother and son, this restaurant serves contemporary twists on classic Tuscan food. The menu is handwritten by Alberto (the son) every morning on a chalk blackboard and comprises simple ingredients prepared with the utmost care. Sample pear and ricotta ravioli and herb-crusted pork loin in the cosy but bright space, where a long curved table wraps around the open kitchen.
If you’re craving some fresh air and wide open spaces, head out to the lush Tuscan hills and the neighbouring region of Chianti. This is where some of the best wines in the country are produced and a trip to the area wouldn’t be complete without a vineyard visit. An unmissable spot is the Castello Nippozzano, a 1,000 year old castle owned by Florentine nobility and surrounded by 600 hectares of vines, where one of the oldest vintages dates to 1864.
In fact, you can follow the Strada del Vino, dell’Olio e dei Sapori di Chianti Classico, a road that leads from Florence to Siena, via some olive groves, vineyards and other flavours of the region. Visit the picturesque town of Greve, dominated by a beautiful central square where weekly organic and local markets are held. Spend an idyllic afternoon at Azienda Olearia del Chianti, an olive oil mill that produces a surprising selection of oils and olive-based products. You can wander the sun-dappled groves before sampling a variety of local produce, from truffles to melt-in-the-mouth cured meats.
It’s no secret that Florence is one of Italy’s greatest cities. From historic artworks to a culinary scene spanning centuries, there’s no end to the magical experiences just waiting to be had in this Tuscan gem.