We had a glorious trip to Firenze, or Florence in English. I had visited Florence three times in the past; however, all of my trips were action-packed backpacking trips, and Florence was sandwiched somewhere in the middle, leaving me not much opportunity to truly appreciate its beauty.
Upon arrival at the Santa Maria Novella train station, Florence’s central station, Ryan and I immediately headed for our hotel located near the Duomo, a mere 10 minute walk away. I should probably take a second to give our hotel props. Hotel Axiel is a three star centrally located establishment. The staff were incredibly welcoming. They had an “honesty” bar with all sorts of goodies, an internet room and patio, complimentary breakfast, and large rooms, all for $80USD per night. I highly recommend this hotel for a traveler on a budget.
We dropped off our travel bag and immediately ventured back out into the busy historical center. There was a walking tour we needed to get to by 2 PM, and it was only 11:30. Our first mission was to check out the San Lorenzo Market and the Mercato Centrale for some lunch. Of course, it was necessary to stop for food on our way to get food. We grabbed some pizza from a casual take-away joint near our hotel:
As I said, the San Lorenzo Market and the Mercato Centrale are located near the train station. The San Lorenzo market is a daily outdoor market that sells typical Florentine products (e.g., purses, scarves, jewelry, leather, leather, leather). Filled with tourists and locals alike, the market was thriving and offered great products for fair prices. Negotiating acceptable. We spent very little time wondering around the outdoor market as we were more interested in food than shopping for goods at the time.
The Mercato Centrale is directly next to the San Lorenzo market; it’s essentially the indoor food section of the San Lorenzo market.
We walked in and were immediately overwhelmed with delicious smells and the sites of Tuscan delicacies. Truffle products, wine, produce, meat, fish, cheese, pastas, oils, sauces, balsamic vinegar, and antipastas. I wonder if this is what heaven looks like?
We were first drawn to a truffle shop and purchased truffle salt, black truffles in oil, truffle crème, and truffle honey. Yes, please and thank you.
Continuing on, there were plenty of butchers offering a variety of meat products, from steak and pork loin, to tripe, heart, and lungs. It was all available. All you could ask for, and more.
I was lucky enough to find a shop selling all sorts of dried goods. Nuts, coconut, figs, chocolate, berries, and so on. I needed coconut and pumpkin seeds for recipes, so I went ahead and bought some. They were nice enough to let me take a picture.
Fresh pasta, hand crafted sauces, friendly Italians, and quick service at a local food market in Florence? Okay! Ryan and I ordered up spinach and herb ravioli with noci (“no-chee”), or walnut sauce, topped with grated Grano Padano cheese. Oh, my, delicious.
Next stop? Wine tasting, of course. We tried five different wines that were from Florence and the surrounding areas. As you may or may not know, Florence is at the Northern tip of the Chianti region. We learned that there is Chianti and Chianti Classico, with Classico being the more full-bodied and robust of the two. There is also a Chianti Riservo (reserve) that is even more full-bodied and flavorful, as it is required to age for at least two years in barrels. I like this website for explaining Chianti and the differences behind the different types.
After purchasing two bottles of local wine, we headed up to the 1st floor (what we typically refer to as the “second floor” back home) where there were a ton of excellent restaurants to enjoy. This thriving section of the market is open from 10 AM until midnight every day and offers a wide variety of local foods and drinks.
It was nearly time for our tour. We headed back to our hotel to ditch our new goodies, then walked back to the Santa Maria Novella Basilica (right near the train station; hence, the train station name) to meet up with our tour group. I have to also give a big thumbs up to our tour company and tour guide. Free Tours Florence puts on free tours of the city. The guides essentially only work for tips, and you tip according to how much you think is deserved (5-10 euro is typical). Here is their website: http://www.florencefreetour.com/.
They hold two tours: the Medici tour (which we took) and the Renaissance tour. The Renaissance tour is a more general overview of the city, where the Medici tour focuses heavily on the Medici presence in Florence. Each tour is two hours and covers the majority of Florence’s historical city center and main attractions. I highly recommend doing this while in Florence!
We started off at the Santa Maria Novella Basilica and made our way to the Pitti Palace over the course of two hours. We learned a lot (much of which I shared in the “A Bit of History” section) and enjoyed the tour immensely. Our tour guide was very friendly, informative, and knowledgeable. He was also a Florence local, so he had great insight into the city’s importance and culture.
Our tour concluded at 4 PM. We had dinner reservations at 7:30 PM and decided to find a restaurant or bar where we could have a drink and a snack. We stumbled upon this great little wine and sandwich shop right off of Piazza Della Signoria, Vinaino. It was full of Italians enjoying great wine and food in a relaxed atmosphere, which was nice considering I thought everything would be overrun with tourists. There was very limited seating in this casual joint; Ryan and I lucked out and snagged two bar seats. We got talking one of the employees who immediately identified me as Canadian. This made my day, as everyone always asks me where in the STATES I’m from. Pet peeve. Moving on.
She was originally from Ireland and visited Florence 14 years ago. She loved it so much that she picked up, left, and moved permanently to Florence, working as a bartender.
We each enjoyed a glass of red wine and snacks (on the house). She provided us with her favorite places to eat and drink around town. We gladly took the list of suggestions and set off to find our next stop before heading to dinner.
Of course, we sought out a craft beer option from her list and wound up at Brew Dog Firenze. This Scottish brewery has had a pub in Florence for the last 6.5 years, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled. We pulled up next to the bar and each ordered a flight of four beers. While tasting our beers, we geeked out with the bar tender and another customer (an art student from the US), talking in depth about craft beer, beer styles, and beer festivals. It was great.
An hour later, it was time to head to our dinner reservation. I had read about Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori online, recommended by many locals and tourists alike. They do not have a website and they are located in a tiny little hole-in-the-wall off of Piazza Della Signoria.
We were seated at a table with another couple and were immediately impressed by the ambiance of the restaurant and the freshness of their menu. The family-run restaurant only serves what’s fresh and therefore have a menu that changes daily, written on a piece of loose leaf paper.
One of the employees was solely responsible for slices prosciutto and dressing salads in the center of the restaurant. We thought this was pretty cool, so we started with a small platter of freshly cut prosciutto and bufala mozzarella cheese, the best type of mozzarella available in Italy. With that, of course, we ordered a bottle of the house red wine which was incredibly tasty, for only 14 euros.
Following our first appetizer, I thought it would be great to try the chicken livers on baguette, and it was. Ryan begged to differ; however, I enjoyed the tasty treats immensely.
Next up? Main courses. I opted for the Osso Buco, a cut of beef containing a small portion of bone and bone marrow, served with peas. Ryan ordered the Duck Pappardelle, a pasta dish created from fresh egg pasta and topped with a bold and flavorful duck ragu.
Sorry, I’m drooling as I’m typing remembering these amazing dishes.
We were full and happy. It was only 10 PM, but we both felt like we needed to head back to the hotel to satisfy our food comas by going to bed. On the way back to our hotel, we stumbled across a small pub called King Grizzly that was recommended by a Brew Dog employee as a great place to find craft beer. Although we each ordered a pint, we were unable to finish due to the fact that we were incredibly full and slightly tipsy; therefore, we continued our five minute walk back to the hotel and hit the hay.
It was Sunday and we still had a lot to see and do. We enjoyed a complimentary breakfast before venturing out into Florence’s historical center once again.
Our first mission of the day was to see the Uffizi gallery (see history above). In the middle of January at 10:30 in the morning there were no lines to speak of. For 8 euros, Ryan and I enjoyed two hours of admiring some of the world’s best art in a beautifully constructed, historical building.
Here are some of my favorite works:
Doesn’t this guy look like Johnny Depp?
We worked up an appetite while looking at the famous art works, and we decided we’d better grab a bite to eat. I had spent a ton of time researching restaurants before arriving in Florence and continually read about L’Osteria di Giovanni, located near the train station. We headed to the restaurant and were luckily seated without a reservation, mind you it was a lunch on a Sunday in January and the restaurant filled up after we got there. We were lucky, but I’d recommend making reservations if you want to come here.
Immediately upon being sitting down, we were presented with complimentary glasses of prosecco. It was lunch, so we also ordered a bottle of their (amazing) house red (that’s normal, right?).
Our waiter then brought us complimentary traditional fried bread and regular bread with olive oil. After we ordered our main courses, our waiter came by with complimentary bowls of traditional Florentine bread soup, drizzled with olive oil. We were on food cloud nine, and loving our waiter. Who doesn’t love delicious Tuscan food for FREE?
For lunch, I had rabbit braised in a red wine and green olive sauce with garlic Swiss chard and roasted potatoes. Holy, moly, tasty. The rabbit was incredibly tender and everything was seasoned to perfection.
Ryan ordered a fettucine with a mixed meat sauce which was equally as delicious.
Following our meal, we ordered tiramisu as we knew it would be some of the best available. Before our dessert even came, our server brought us MORE free food, almond biscotti with Vin Santo, a traditional Tuscan dessert wine. This light dessert was amazing. I don’t even care about sweets, but we were beyond full and we downed the entire plate before our tiramisu even arrived.
Next up? Tiramisu, of course. This stuff was amazing. The best we’ve hand so far in Italy. Be sure to check out this BEST EVER tiramusi recipe 🙂
We were full beyond comfort but couldn’t be happier. This was our favorite meal of our weekend trip, if not since we’ve been in Italy.
We still had a couple of hours before our train left, so we decided to check out an Irish pub recommended by our Irish friend from the vino bar the night prior. We headed to the Lion’s Fountain for a quick pint before embarking on our short journey back to the train station. This is a great place if you want to watch sports in a traditional pub setting.
After enjoying a quick pint, it was sadly time to go. On our way to the train station, I thought I’d better grab some street meat, a quick lampredotto, one of Florence’s most traditional and loved foods. What is it, you ask? Why, it’s tripe. I literally ate a tripe sandwich, something I thought I’d never do. I had the owner top it with some herb sauce and spicy sauce. I couldn’t leave without at least trying it, as Florence locals had been talking about how great lampredotto was all weekend, and I had read about the Florence specialty before visiting. Trying not to think about what I was ingesting, I ate about half of the sandwich before calling it quits. It was actually delicious, but I was full and couldn’t stock thinking about stomachs (tripe).
The lampredotto experience was the last event we would enjoy during our time in Florence. It was time to go home.
Our trip to Florence was a wonderful experience. We had a full weekend filled with art, history, drinks, food, and fun. There is just so much to do in Florence, so I can’t wait to get back and experience even more of the city.
My favorite things about Florence were:
- Walking around the city and admiring absolutely everything
- The Free walking tour
- Lunch at L’osteria Giovanna
- The limitless options for great dining
- Mercato Centrale stalls
- Brew dog
- Food, food, food; vino, vino, vino