Florence – or ‘Firenze’ as locals call it – encapsulates just about everything fabulous about Italy, and truly glitters at Christmas.
Artfully dilapidated streets drip with Renaissance history. Twisting alleyways are peppered with beautiful shops. Cosy restaurants beckon you in for four (or even five) courses by candlelight. It’s the perfect place to escape London for a few days, returning feeling rather festive.
At the time of writing, Covid rules are changing daily. Check Gov.uk for the latest travel restrictions and book your required tests (we had an easy, reassuring experience with Covguard) before the fun begins.
Check out the scenery. Obv
It’s impossible to walk around Florence without your mouth agape, marvelling at monuments and cathedrals. The Duomo (pictured left) AKA Santa Maria del Fiore is perhaps the most famous, while the equally arresting Palazzo Vecchio dominates the skyline.
Walk the banks of the river Arno, running through the old centre of the city, and be sure to cross its other-worldly bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. Pick up a trinket at one of the jewellery shops crowding each side, curiously held up by stilts.
I love to start a city break with a guided running tour, always held by locals who truly know their city. I find it an amazing time-saver, as you get your bearings quicker than you would by walking.
Go! Florence Running Tours proved excellent here, our kind (and patient – we were hungover that day) guide Lapo letting us set the pace to a very slow trot. We sweated our way up to the city’s viewpoint, where he explained the history of the jaw-dropping scenery stretched out before us. Then back to the hotel for a massive breakfast and gallons of Italian coffee. Grande.
Rope in the experts
Want to explore the incredible buildings all around you, but not sure where to start? The Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti (and its beautiful gardens) and Accademia are no-brainers, stuffed with world-class paintings and works.
I normally use GetYourGuide to take care of the plans for me (not an #ad, they’re just great). Their range of group walking routes, guided tours, skip-the-queue museum & gallery tickets – plus simple audioguides – take the tedium out of researching the ‘must-do’s’.
While pricier than doing it alone, you’ll be glad of a proper expert explaining the context and significance of the Raphaels, da Vincis, Botticellis and Giottos.
Priceless figures of strength and beauty, like Michelangelo’s David, deserve a bit of background knowledge.
Eat, and eat. Aaaaand eat…
If you have time, head a little further out to less touristy areas. In Santa Croce you’ll find properly authentic gelato (and tons of vibey bars – think Shoreditch ten years ago). Only got a day or two? Here’s your hit list…
Simbiosi Organic for out-of-this-world vegan and regular pizza (tried and tested), huge pasta dishes and organic wines
All’Antico Vinaio draws queues of sandwich lovers daily, with its no-nonsense menu of meat, truffle and cheese-filled focaccia. Absolutely *huge* for just 5 Euros
Rivoire for beyond decadent chocolate
#RAW for healthy juice shots, smoothie bowls and brunch dishes. Everything on the menu just happens to be vegan and raw – perfect for offsetting overindulgence
Cocktails with a view
Poring over a 20-strong Negroni menu, looking out onto the Ponte Vecchio at sunset? Now that’s how you end a holiday. The bitter drink was invented right here in Florence by Conte Camillo Negroni, so it’s fitting to try a few different takes on the classic. Line your stomach with beef ragu, or quinoa salad if you’re feeling saintly.
Reserve a spot on the famed balcony at natty lounge bar Picteau inside Hotel Lungarno, literally steps from one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, and you’ll be rewarded with enough ‘gram content to last you all month.
So close to the river, the bar creates the feeling of sitting on an extremely luxurious yacht, insides bedecked with blue and white. With a unique collection of 20th century art work takes up the walls indoors too, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. And if you plan on getting really stuck in with the cocktails, you can always book a (stunning) room upstairs…
Shop for something special
After wandering the chi chi Via de’ Tornabuoni, brimming with the latest from high end designers, head to the technicolour Gucci Garden boutique and exhibition. Start in the gift shop: if you like what you see (and of course you do), pay 8 Euros to explore the wacky display spread across several floors upstairs.
Next, choose a flouncy wax seal at old world-y bookbindery Signum, where stationery lovers will die and go to heaven.
Travel rules are changing all the time, so be sure to check the status of any country you wish to visit before booking. Allow yourself extra time to research and follow government guidelines re: testing and quarantine.
If you’re nervous about taking crowded public transport to the airport, a private airport transfer can help ease concerns. We booked with White Glove Chauffeur Service (pick ups available from London, Essex or Suffolk), kicking off our festive trip with a chilled bottle of bubbly, Christmas music and even some disco lights. What fun!
And getting around…
We regularly fall back on Blacklane Transfers for a safe, efficient pick up in a new place. Lovely local drivers are always knowledgable about their city, and even better, you can cancel your booking for free up to one hour prior (if it’s less than 200km). A godsend in these strange times. Buon viaggio.