Visiting Florence In Fall
As the days grow shorter and Florence’s streets start to empty, the renaissance city takes on a new and exciting lease of life. Having once again survived the sweltering bustle of summer, Florence becomes far more slow-paced and relaxed — an autumnal city very much beginning to wind down for the winter. Winters in Florence are beautiful and quiet but they also tend to be colder than you’d expect of Italy, and few visitors come to Florence for a summer beach holiday (though nearby beach trips are aplenty). So all things considered, the best time of year to visit Florence is by far the fall.
Florence’s mild autumnal climate is inviting enough. Although most mornings tend to start off chilly, it usually warms up to the mid-twenties by lunchtime –– cool enough to stave off the sweat of summer, warm enough to ward off winter’s shivers. Rainclouds might sometimes loom large overhead, but they don’t rain down storms as violently as they do in August or as consistently as they do in March.
Then there’s the people watching: one of the main pastimes of choice in the bel paese. Wherever you look in the renaissance city you see Italian fashion conspicuously back in vogue. Having long since shed themselves of their summer shorts and t-shirts, locals adorn themselves with stylish autumnal coats, scarves, and dreaded (yet curiously ubiquitous) puffer jackets.
You have to hand it to the Italians for being able to stay in such great shape, especially considering the sumptuous food on offer around fall. Florence is famous for its cuisine, from its bistecca alla fiorentina to its buzzing aperitivo culture to its world-class gelato (as you might expect, given it was a Florentine that invented the creamy stuff of dreams). Autumn is still warm enough for gelato and not too hot to put you off a sizzling steak. Before you go into winter hibernation, there’s no better time of year to indulge yourself.
We at Roman Candle Tours have written this article to help you make the most of your upcoming fall trip to Florence. Whether it’s the city’s must-see sites, some ideas for quirky day-trips, or a list of the finest Florentine food and drink on offer (essential ingredients for any Italian holiday) we hope it’ll inspire you to get the most out of your time in the Cradle of the Renaissance.
Visit Florence’s galleries and museums while the city is quiet
One of the best things about October and November in Florence is the crowds. Or rather the lack thereof. It’s no secret that Florence is a popular place for tourists; in 2017 alone an estimated 10.2 million tourists visited the small city. As almost everyone who visits Florence has the Uffizi and the Accademia on their list, you can see how visiting either of Florence’s main galleries can be a problem.
Not so much in fall. Numbers drop dramatically outside the high season, meaning finding time to squeeze in Florence’s main attractions won’t require military planning. There will still be lines, but one of the many benefits of our Uffizi gallery tour or Accademia touris that you won’t have to waste hours waiting in one.
Of course, if you go between May and September once inside you’ll still be competing with the crowds. Such is the repertory, and reputation, of Florence’s artistic patrimony that there are no real “off days”. But if you want to get a more intimate viewing of Botticelli’s “Venus” (rather than the more mundane view of the back of someone’s head or screen of their camera), you’ll have a much better chance during the fall.
Fall head over heels for Florence’s autumnal food
Between the 16thand 19th of November, the epicentre of Florence’s cultural events calendar, Fortezza da Basso, will host the Food and Wine Biennale. Save the date, and save some space in your stomach. Wine tasting sessions, talks from experts in all kinds of food and drink from beer to pizza (who doesn’t want to be an expert in pizza?) and workshops built around traditional Tuscan cuisine are just a few events on the annual event’s agenda.
This year Pizza is getting the biggest slice of the action as it takes centre stage at the Biennale. Expect to see the world’s best pizza-makers — pizzaioli — set out to impress as they showcase their modern takes on pizza’s best-loved classics. If you want to try more of a fixed pizzeria to get your fix of authentic pizza, book a table at Santarpia, recently voted one of the best pizzerias in Italy, and treat yourself to their pizza with pumpkin cream and pancetta. That’s amore.
If there’s one thing that sums up Florence’s culinary scene during the autumnal months it’s the smell of roasted castagne — chestnuts — wafting through the city centre’s streets. It’s surprisingly versatile, the humble chestnut. But to my mind the best way to enjoy it is when it’s ground into flour and used as the base of culinary wonders of necci.
Once part of Italy’s cucina povera (poor food) originating from the nearby mountains of Pistoia and Garfagnana, necci are essentially simple pancakes made from chestnut flour. Simple, yes. But standard, no. You can eat necciin a number of ways — sweet, savoury, stuffed or sprinkled. Believe when I say they’re best served in a big heap with a generous smothering of nutella and a big dollop of melted ricotta.
The changing of the guard and the opening of new bars
Summer in Florence is the season of open-air bars and clubs and dinners out on the piazza. Late into the night its streets swell with students, especially around Santa Croceon the Via dei Benci. This is great if you’re a night owl, but not so great if you’re a bit more of a lark. With the nightlife comes noise, something few inner-city Florentine hotels manage to insulate against. Fall is in many ways much nicer, as a lot of those bars that close during the summer months reopen to let late-night revellers take refuge inside.
My long-standing favourite and usual haunt is the Jazz Club, a few minutes’ walk from the Duomo, just off a street called the Borgo Pinti. Open from 10pm – 3am every night except Monday, this cavernous hobbit-hole of a bar is a staple of Florence’s nightlife, popular among students and in-the-know tourists who fancy some live music and, once the DJ has taken stage, some dancing. Pop in on a Sunday for their famous jam session, which the house band kicks off at around 10.30.
For something a little livelier, try Rex, just a few minutes away on the parallel Via Fiesolana. With DJs, good cocktails, a lively vibe, and some comfortable retro furniture, it’s a perfect place to start (or indeed end) your night. Just be aware that at the weekends Rex gets very, very busy. A friend once likened trying to make his way around its dimly lit red bar to being a piece of partly digested food arduously passing through the large intestine; a grim metaphor I know, but an apt one nonetheless. Best to head there earlier.
Take a trip for a dip in one of Tuscany’s thermal baths
Tuscany may be home to a whole host of hot-water springs (terme), but from Florence many of them are only reachable by car. Bite the bullet and hire one and the region is your oyster. Wade through the white, gleaming waters and cascading falls of Saturnia’s famous Cascate del Mulino or hike through Tuscan pine-forest until you stumble upon the sulphur-rich rock-pools and calcified boulders of Bagni San Filippo.
If you’re happy (or, like me, constrained) to rely on the region’s public transport, your best bet is the Sienese town of Chianciano Terme. Situated in the province of Siena due south of Florence, Chianciano is a small, sleepy medieval town whose main attraction is its eclectic selection of thermal baths. From indulgent state of the art spas designed to stimulate the senses to a naturally heated swimming pool of 33 and 36 degrees, Chianciano has it all. Be aware though that both spas are closed on Tuesdays.
Reaching Chianciano Terme from Florence is easy. Take a direct train from the main station of Santa Maria Novella to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme. Just outside Chiusi station, you’ll see a bus going either to Chianciano or Montepulciano — another local attraction, famous in the area for its wine. The whole journey to Chianciano Terme should take just a couple of hours from Florence and the rewards are well worth it.
Do as the Florentines do: go see a football match at the stadium
If there’s one Italian stereotype that rings truer than their love for food, it’s their love for football. Or should I say for their adopted team. For many Florentines, A.C.F Fiorentina (known lovingly as La Viola, “The Purple”) ranks as importantly as family. And fall features as prominently as Christmas in the Italian calendar as it marks the kick off of the country’s premier league.
Going to watch a Fiorentina game at the Stadium Artemio Franchi really is an unforgettable experience, even if you’re not the biggest fan of football. The drama, the passion, and above all the creativity of the swearing when things aren’t going Fiorentina’s way (here you don’t need to understand Italian to understand the colour of its language) make for a truly memorable and unique evening out. And for the foreseeable future, assuming by the time you read this they haven’t been relegated, Fiorentina is fielding and playing against some of the best players in the world.
Tickets can be bought either directly or through various third-party sellers online, but unless it’s one of the big encounters (like Fiorentina vs Juventus or Inter Milan) you’re better off buying them directly from the ticket office. The ticket office is situated a stone’s throw from the stadium on the corner of Via dei Sette Santi and Via Giovanni Duprè and is open until shortly before the match. Ticket prices range from €20 to a couple of hundred with discounts for children under 14.
Return home with a more lasting souvenir
Every October since 2008, Fortezza da Basso has hosted the annual Florence Tattoo Convention. Stretching across 3,300 square metres of exhibition space, the convention welcomes 120 artists from all over the world to flaunt their designs, practise their craft, and educate and encourage the next generation of tattoo artists.
Anyone angling for an inking is welcome to offer up their body as a canvas, and can rest safe in the knowledge these artists are handpicked from among the world’s best. A tattoo might in many ways be the ideal memorable souvenir; it is at least one you won’t have any issues getting past airport security.
Roman Candle Tours in Florence
From everyone at Roman Candle Tours, we hope this post has given you some useful ideas for your upcoming fall trip to Florence. We run a number of tours covering Florence’s main must-see attractions (including the Accademia, the Uffizi, the Duomo, and the Ponte Vecchio) as well as trips to the local towns and cities of Pisa, Siena, and San Gimignano. And if there’s something in particular you want to see in the company of an expert, we can arrange a tailored tour to accommodate your needs.
Should you need any more information — whether its about accommodation in Florence, where to find the finest bistecca alla fioretina (Florentine steak), which bars serve the best aperitivo and most delicious gelato, or you’re looking for ideas for things to do with the kids — visit our website and browse our blog. There you can uncover the hidden places that’ll give you the true Florentine experience.
If you liked this article, read also “A Day In Oltrarno: Florence’s Trendiest Neighbourhood“