Several weeks before departing for my semester abroad in Florence, Italy, I read about all the things you could see and do in a week. The thought of living in such a place filled me with excitement because I would not be spending a week in this famous Renaissance city; I would be spending an entire semester.
As expected, once I arrived in Florence, I fell completely in love with the place.
While almost all travel guides will include the major tourist attractions such as Il Duomo and the Uffizi, most fail to highlight the less-known cultural spots. These “behind-the-scene” gems help paint the picture of what Florence really is: the jewel of Renaissance Italy.
By no means does living in Florence for several months make me an expert, but I’d like to think I was able to experience most of the city and all its wonders during my brief time as a Florentine. The following list contains the top 5 things for student travelers to do while in Florence.
For more information about Florence, see the BootsnAll Italy travel guide’s top 10 things to do in Florence.
Do this over an espresso in the Piazza della Signoria.
Italy holds coffee to a higher standard than most cultures, and it shows by the many cafés and bars scattered throughout Italian towns. The Piazza della Signora itself is pretty much like any other in Tuscany – a nice large open square ringed with cafés, restaurants, sculptures, souvenir shops and packed with tourists. What makes this piazza special is the history in which it is closely tied.
ind a café, grab a seat, and order an espresso. For the next hour simply relax and watch the hundreds of tourists snap photos of this beautiful piazza. Let it soak in that you are surrounded by hundreds of years of history, sitting where the Florentine Republic originated more than 800 years ago.
Visit the Uffizi Gallery
If Florence isn’t the first stop on your tour through Europe, it’s likely you have already visited a museum or two in other cities. However, the Uffizi Gallery is without a doubt a "must". It displays some of the most incredible artwork ever created. The downside of visiting the Uffizi is that everyone else is probably doing the same thing, but you can avoid the lines altogether by purchasing your ticket online or in advance.
Eat as much Gelato as humanly possible
First, it’s important to clear something up about Italian gelato: it’s not the same as ice cream. While ice cream is made with cream, Italian gelato is almost always made with milk. It’s richer, smoother, creamier, lighter, more flavorful, and altogether better than your average ice cream. Most "gelaterie" will offer a variety of flavors and you’ll find that the gelato tastes better at some places than it does at others. As you try more and more gelato, you’ll become an expert of sorts in the field of gelato tasting. Therefore, I encourage you to try gelato as often and at as many places as possible during your time in Florence.
Find the Elusive “Secret Bakery”
Somewhere nestled in the narrow streets of the city is a tiny, discrete, and relatively unknown bakery known simply as the “Secret Bakery". Soon after I arrived in Firenze, my fellow student travel companions filled me in about the folklore surrounding Florence’s famous “Secret Bakery". It immediately captured my attention. For several months, we tried to gather as much information as possible, in hopes of one day finding this special place.
Yes, we did eventually discover the mysterious bakery. And yes, we basked in all of its deliciousness as much as possible (see the above picture for proof).
To preserve the bakery’s mystique, I will not disclose its exact location (it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, now would it?). I will, however, share the same clues we were given and encourage you to take up the task of discovering it for yourself.
1. The bakery is only open from 3:00am to 6:00am.
2. There are no doors or windows on the outside of the bakery.
3. You will be able to smell the bakery’s glorious aroma from blocks away.
4. The bakery is located somewhere between Piazza Santa Croce and Via Ghibellina.
5. Once the bakery is located, knock on the door until someone answers.
If you’re up for a fun, late night scavenger hunt, head for Piazza Santa Croce and embark on a quest to find the Secret Bakery. I promise that you, and your stomach, will be glad you did.
Admire the Ponte Vecchio at Sunset
Aside from Il Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge is perhaps the second most identifiable landmark with the city of Florence. Spanning the Arno River, the bridge was originally built more than 800 years ago. The current bridge, built in 1345, is truly a magnificent sight. Because the bridge is lined with expensive jewelry stores and always crowded, the best way to enjoy it is from the banks of the Arno, or on one of the neighboring bridges on either side of the Ponte Vecchio.
As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence attracts a countless number of visitors. There are undoubtedly things that everyone wants to see, but aside from the big sights, I encourage you to check out some of the lesser known things mentioned above that might help make your time in Firenze a little more memorable and unique.