7 Things You Can Do In Florence That You Can’t Do Anywhere Else
I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I’m from Florence and I’m sure that is one of the world’s best cities to live in! There are plenty of great reasons to live in this place that it makes is tough to sum them up here. Magnetic, romantic and fascinating, cradle of Renaissance, city of traditional foods that have become internationally known, centre of famous fashion designers, full of fantastic panoramas and wonderful narrow streets that evoke thousand tales – that’s Florence. The city attracts millions of visitors every year and, unfortunately, it also means you have to stand in line for hours before entering the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s top art museums.
The most popular and important artistic treasures in Florence are the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore with its Brunelleschi’s Cupola, the churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, Accademia Gallery and Pitti Palace. But there are also a lot of beautiful views to enjoy (from Piazzale Michelangelo or from Fiesole), gardens that you can visit (Boboli Gardens or Rose Garden) or hills that you can climb (San Miniato al Monte). You’ve got plenty of options to choose from!. You’ll probably go in Florence to devour some culture, but below you can find some suggestions about particular things that you can do only in this city and you can’t do anywhere else.
1) Rub Porcellino’s snout to get good luck
Florentines call it Porcellino (piglet), but actually it’s the nickname for the bronze fountain of a boar in Loggia del Mercato Nuovo. The original fountain was sculpted by a Baroque master, Pietro Tacca, in the mid 16th century. Here there are few things that you can do to get good luck. First, you can put a coin into the boar’s gaping jaws and let it fall through the underlying grating. After that, you can rub the boar’s snout for good luck. That’s the reason why the snout looks polished and sheen, while the rest of the boar’s body is coated with a dull brownish-green. Another superstition involves putting a coin in the boar’s open mouth: if the coin falls into the fountain grate below, it’s supposed to be a sign that you’ll surely return to Florence. If you’re superstitious you can’t miss this place!
2) Buy a one-of-a-kind handbag at Scuola del Cuoio
Leather, I mean a top quality Italian leather, has been tanned and processed in Florence for centuries, since the Middle Age. This long tradition is made by skilled craftsmen cut and sew the hides to create a huge variety of bags, wallets, purses, gloves, belts, travel accessories and leather jackets. One of the most elegant leather shop is Scuola del Cuoio (“School of Leather”) located inside the beautiful basilica of Santa Croce. It was created after World War II to give work to orphans of the war and now you can buy leatherware of the finest quality. The school offers also visits, courses and workshops: you can see demonstrations of the gilding of the leather or listen to explanations on the various techniques and materials that master craftsmen use in their productions. So even if you’re not in the buying mood, you will sure enjoy the visit.
3) Eat a “Lampredotto sandwich”
The Lampredotto sandwich is a traditional Florentine street food. Made from the fourth and final stomach of a cow, Lampredotto is a kind of tripe, it’s boiled in a broth containing herbs and tomatoes, cut into strips, put in a bun called semelle and topped with a special green sauce and spicy extra virgin olive oil. You can’t leave Florence without filling your belly with this tasty and nutritious food, the king of all panini (sandwiches). It’s a poor’s dish coming from an ancient tradition which is still alive and in the city there are so many kiosks (called trippai) located along the streets where you can eat a good Lampredotto sandwich (in Porta Romana, Via dei Cimatori, Via Gioberti, Via Caccini or Via de’ Macci). The city is yours, go and find them!
And if you want to combine a tasty schiacciata (white flat bread) with a good glass of Chianti wine, I suggest you to go to All’Antico Vinaio in Via de Neri, definitely a stop not to miss in Florence.
4) Taste Tuscany specialities without leaving Florence
Florence‘s most famous market is San Lorenzo: the market is composed of two separate markets, a new indoor two-levels food market, known as Mercato Centrale, and the traditional outdoor market, at the end of Piazza San Lorenzo. A carnival of colours, this is the perfect place to find a gift to bring to your friends like bracelets, scarfs, Florentine magnets or leather jackets and bags.
In Mercato Centrale (enter through Via dell’Ariento or Piazza del Mercato Centrale) you can find butchers, fishmongers, fruit and vegetable vendors and small specialty shops selling local olive oils, meats, cheeses and much more. All the shops are run by artisan traders who share a real passion for their craft. Full of stalls that remind Italian culture and history, visitors are allowed to see the production of artisan culinary traditions and participate in cooking courses in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Cooking School (on the first floor). Here you can appreciate and learn new recipes and you can have an unique experience exploring the traditions and history of Italian regional products and cuisines. So, if you don’t have time to discover the whole region, you can learn many culinary processes and traditions without setting foot outside of Florence!
5) Watch a wonderful sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
6) Have a glass of wine on special rooftops
A trip to Florence in spring isn’t complete without a drink or a glass of wine at one of the many rooftop bars that brightens the city’s skyline. Modern or classic? Stylish or hip? Which one suits better your taste? For example, if you are passionate about culture and books, you can choose Biblioteca delle Oblate: can you believe that you can drink a glass of wine on the rooftop of a library? That’s true, you can have a drink, moderately priced, while enjoying sensational views of the city. And trust me, spending a fantastic day on Florence’s rooftops is all about partying on top of the world.
Otherwise you can taste a Spritz or hot chocolate in La Terrazza on the fifth floor of La Rinascente, a luxury department store in Piazza della Repubblica. With a marvelous panoramic view of the entire city and surrounding area of the Duomo, you can indulge in some of the world’s finest champagne, exotic cocktails, wine-by-the-glass or non-alcoholic beverages in the bar area, or go all the way for a memorable lunch of barbecued meat and melted cheese. This is the perfect place to take a rest after a shopping day!
If you’re looking for something posh and luxury, I suggest you Il Conventino di Marignolle Restaurant, where you can have dinner on a wonderful terrace in a Renaissance villa only five minutes from the historical city centre of Florence. Traditional Italian cuisine and a swimming pool surrounded by olive groves are waiting for you!
7) Visit one of the oldest pharmacies in the world
It’s true, Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. Founded by Dominican friars in 13th century, the pharmacy used medicinal herbs grown in the monastic gardens to make medications, balms and pomades. Today the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella sells everything from ancient preparations, extracts, and essences, to cosmetics, liquors, fragrances and herbal-based beauty products. And if this is not enough, you can also have blended essences to create your own custom fragrance. There’s also a museum with old laboratories, a library where you can read antique texts and specialist volumes and an aromatic herb garden. A good balance between past and future: you can buy good quality beauty products and, in the meantime, going from room to room, you can easily imagine people from Medici family walk beside you like the Officina was an oasis that has been untouched for centuries.
Florence, as Dylan Thomas thought, “Is a gruelling museum”. It is a city so dense in art, history, and culture that even a short visit might find yourself very tired. That’s why this city has a name for the effect a synaptic overload on its pleasures can have: it’s called the Stendhal Syndrome in memory of the day in 1817 when the French novelist Stendhal literally collapsed from a surfeit of art and, overwhelmed by the aesthetic beauty of the Renaissance, he had to lay in the bed to recuperate. But no worries, Florence is one of the most comfortable Italian cities, so relax, take it easy and don’t forget that is your holiday… enjoy it!
Written by: Isotta Pieraccini
If you liked this article, read also “A DAY’S DINING IN FLORENCE: 5 RESTAURANTS TO TAKE YOU FROM BREAKFAST TO DINNER”