As tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels across Italy, travellers itching to visit Florence face a delicate decision: How to experience the Tuscan capital’s Renaissance grandeur while remaining sensitive to the damage mass tourism inflicts.
One solution is to travel outside of the high season. But in the fall, visitors still will face crowds at the Galleria dell’Accademia and at the Uffizi (especially if the latter reopens the long-shuttered Corridoio Vasariano to the public this year, as planned).
Even better is to approach Florence not as a historical theme park, but as a living city, by seeking out lesser-known pockets and new projects – from an ambitious cultural complex to a tiny trattoria run by passionate young Florentines – that will help sustain this city for years to come.
3pm: Admire a masterpiece
In the shadow of Filippo Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome on the eastern edge of Piazza del Duomo, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is easy to overlook, but you shouldn’t. This unassuming museum that displays art created for the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral underwent a complete renovation several years ago.
11am: Shop artisanal wares
Florence has long been known for its traditional crafts and fine luxury goods, from silks and silver to leather and perfume. But to see what the modern era’s guilds are producing, pop into Florence Factory, an inviting shop dedicated to contemporary Florentine artisans and designers.
Located on the eastern end of Via dei Neri, this is the place to find handcrafted jewelry, woven satchels and handmade leather sandals, one-of-a-kind clothing made in Tuscany from hand-dyed fabrics, and colourful graphic-design prints of your favourite local landmarks.
1pm: Pick a panino
Whatever the fillings – prosciutto, burrata, truffles, tripe, lardo or lampredotto – the panino is the preeminent Florentine pick for a quick lunch. (Just please don’t eat one on the streets, per city ordinance.)
Tucked away on a small piazza in the Oltrarno, Schiaccia Passera is a shop that opened last year with ample seating and made-to-order sandwiches on fresh, house-baked schiacciata, Tuscany’s thinner, chewier version of focaccia. Try La Passera, with Tuscan salame, pecorino and porcini cream (7 euros), or the vegetarian La Chiavi, with sun-dried tomatoes, baby artichokes, mushrooms and arugula (6 euros), paired with a citrusy house spritz (6 euros).
4pm: Reset with modern art
Sometimes you might need a break – like Stendhal famously did – from all the Renaissance-era splendor. That’s when it’s time for Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in the historic centre. Yes, it’s a museum in yet another absurdly beautiful Renaissance palazzo, but the contemporary art inside will snap you back to modern times.
Past exhibitions have included major retrospectives from international art stars, such as Olafur Eliasson and Marina Abramovic. Now up: Anish Kapoor, a sculptor known for his large-scale abstract installations, which here will include a site-specific work in the palazzo’s central courtyard (through Feb 4; admission, 15 euros).
10pm: Go for a night stroll
After dinner, return to the historic center, where the daytime crowds will have thinned, for a nighttime passeggiata. Start at La Gelatiera, an artisanal gelato shop that opened in 2020 serving flavours made by hand with all-natural ingredients: Almonds from Noto, lemons from Sorrento, hazelnuts from Piedmont, Candonga strawberries.
Order a small cup (2.80 euros) with two flavours – peach and fig were my late-summer favourites – to savour while walking a couple of blocks to the Duomo. Admire the neo-Gothic marble facade, now aglow in the night, then continue onward to Piazza della Signoria to stand in awe beneath the soaring tower of the spectacular, spot-lit Palazzo Vecchio.
WHERE TO EAT
Manifattura is a chic cocktail bar stocked exclusively with Italian spirits.
Vineria Sonora, a funky enoteca in Sant’Ambrogio, specialisesin both natural wine and vinyl.
Schiaccia Passera, on a small piazza in the Oltrarno, serves sandwiches on house-baked schiacciata bread.
Pizzeria Giovanni Santarpia is a destination for Neapolitan-style pizza just south of the city center.
La Gelatiera is an artisanal gelato shop where flavoursare made with all-natural ingredients.
Pasticceria Buonamici, in the San Frediano neighborhood, is a local favouritefor pastries and coffee.
10am: Have something sweet
A typical Italian breakfast is quick – a coffee and a cornetto at the nearest bar – but Sundays call for something special. Stroll to Pasticceria Buonamici, a family-run artisanal pastry shop and cafe in the San Frediano neighborhood, to join locals lingering over a frothy cappuccino and a custard-stuffed sfoglia pastry, chocolate-filled brioche or traditional budino di riso (rice-pudding tart). Afterward, walk to the nearby market at Piazza Santo Spirito to browse stalls selling vintage Italian sunglasses, marbled Florentine-style stationery, farm-fresh produce, Tuscan pecorino and fresh taralli in a variety of savouryflavors.
Noon: Take a hike
Florence is surrounded by hills, so there’s no need to join the masses huffing up the steps to Piazzale Michelangelo to snap another photo of that particular panorama. For a different perspective, start at Piazza Torquato Tasso, just west of Piazza Santo Spirito. From there, it’s an easy 20-minute hike along Via Villani and Via di Bellosguardo to a lovely natural vantage point where lush foliage frames a view across the terra-cotta rooftops, bell towers and ornate cathedrals.
Those with energy to burn can continue along the narrow lanes winding through the serene hills to arrive an hour or so later at San Miniato al Monte, a striking Romanesque basilica with hilltop views of the Tuscan capital from yet another angle.
WHERE TO STAY
Velona’s Jungle Luxury Suites blurs the line between boutique hotel and bed-and-breakfast with 10 suites filled with vintage gems that owner Veronica Grechi sourced from her grandfather, a Florentine art-and-antiques dealer. Doubles from 250 euros.
The Oltrarno Splendid is a delightful 14-room bed-and-breakfast in a palazzo with 18th-century frescoes, Italian antiques and views across Florence’s terra-cotta rooftops. Doubles from 229 euros.
Ad Astra, next to one of the largest walled private gardens in Europe, is a 14-room hotel situated in the ancestral palazzo of the patrician Torrigiani family. Doubles from 229 euros.
Ostello Bello Firenze is a popular hostel that opened in 2021 in the San Lorenzo neighbourhood with common areas, a rooftop terrace and nightly events. Mixed-dorm beds from around 60 euros.
By Ingrid K Williams © The New York Times Company
The article originally appeared in The New York Times.