Florence is famous amongst tourists and scholars for her glorious artwork, cultural heritage, and the major role she played in the Renaissance and Humanist movements. All these facets combine to make this one of the most glorious cities in the world. Florence may be a small city, but she is extremely beautiful and a favorite meeting place for visitors and ex-pats of all ages and nationalities. The city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
San Giovanni (Duomo)
San Giovanni takes its name from San Giovanni Battista (St John the Baptist), patron saint of Florence, in whose honor the Baptistery was built. The historic city center (centro storico) is most representative of Florence. The layout of the district follows a road system created by the Romans (known as the cardus and decumanus system). In the centro storico, you will see the enormous, imposing structure of the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore , referred to mostly commonly as the Duomo (from the Latin domus, meaning house of God), with its cupola designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, a beautiful dome that adds splendor to the city skyline. The city has also preserved its medieval network of streets, lined with regular, geometric Renaissance palaces such as the Palazzo Strozzi and Palazzo Medici-Riccardi , which once belonged to Florence's powerful, oligarchic families. Florence is divided into five districts and the center is divided into four sections (San Giovanni, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and Santo Spirito). The university and the Tribunale di Firenze (which is housed in the Complesso di San Filippo Neri) are also in this district.
Santa Maria Novella
Named after the Santa Maria Novella Basilica - a Dominican basilica and important cultural center during the Middle Ages, the district of Santa Maria Novella covers the area west of the train station where a majority of affordable hotels and the city's largest park is located. The train station of the same name (designed in 1932 by the young architect Giovanni Michelucci) is also situated nearby. Not far from the station is the Fortezza da Basso, a former stronghold of the city which is now used as an important center for conferences, conventions and exhibitions. The zone is also home to the Parco delle Cascine , one of the city's green oases. In this district also lies exclusive boutiques that are concentrated in a few of the most well-known streets, such as via de' Tornabuoni and via della Vigna Nuova. Via de' Tornabuoni is famous for being home to some of Italy's most prestigious designer boutiques e.g. Versace and the Florentine Salvatore Ferragamo .
Santa Croce is named after Santa Croce church, a medieval Franciscan basilica. The National Central Library (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze) is also located here.
Santo Spirito (Oltrarno)
The entire stretch of the side of the river opposite the majority of the city's tourist attractions, the Oltrarno is home to many locals, small eateries and amazing tourist sights such as San Frediano to San Niccolò . At its heart is probably one of the most incredible Renaissance churches and piazzas: the Piazza Santo Spirito , which has retained much of its historic charm and is filled with workshops of the city's traditional artisans. This piazza is the place for parties on summer evenings, bringing together young Florentines and foreigners, many of whom live in this area. The Palazzo Pitti with its old Medicean garden and the Boboli Garden , are both in Oltrarno. The famous Piazzale Michelangelo (with its panoramic view) is also in this district. From here, it is possible to see one of the few remaining stretches of medieval wall around the Belvedere that was spared from demolition in the 19th Century. Included in this is the lovely medieval gate of the Porta Romana .
Campo di Marte & Fiesole
The Campo di Marte is located outside of what used to the be the medieval city wall and is home to many historical buildings dating back to the early 20th Century, as well as to many modern stone and cement apartment blocks which were built after World War Two. There are also numerous sports venues, athletic facilities and the Stadio Artemio Franchi , Fiesole , and the Bellariva zone are close by; these are swathes of Piagentina countryside that always induced feelings of nostalgia in Tuscan painters.
Gavinana & Galluzzo
Gavinana and Galluzzo are south of the Arno and lead to the well-known Chianti wine region. On the southwestern side lies Galluzzo, famous for its Carthusian monastery.
Isolotto & Legnaia
Combining areas of the city that were developed during the 1960s and 1970s (and are still expanding!), Isolotto and Legnaia are home to commuters and enormous American hotel chains. The Isolotto district was once the scene of various clashes and social unrest during the 1960s.
Rifredi in the northwestern part of the city where, by the 15th Century, the Medici had already constructed some of their many country villas, among which Villa di Careggi , the villas of Castello and La Petraia in the Castello. In this district there are also several industrialized, residential zones, such as Novoli, Firenze Nova, Brozzi, Le Piagge and l'Olmatello. Brozzi, the zone is host to many Chinese and African immigrants. The influx of immigrants means that even a city like Florence cannot live forever in the past but must create a new multi-ethnic history.
Tuscan cuisine, and Florentine food in particular is essentially based on simple, natural ingredients. It hails from the traditions of peasant food and is wholesome and tasty.
Extra-virgin olive oil is held in pride of place in Florence, and it is never missing from the Florentine table. Olive oil from Tuscany is cold-pressed, green and pungent or pizzichino (sometimes with a slightly bitter after-taste) and is eaten within a year and a half of harvesting the olives. Olive oil is used as a dip for foods such as celery, artichokes and pinzimonio (a selection of fresh vegetables). It is also used in cooking, and as a condiment for salads and delicious bruschette. Amongst the bruschette there is one that is king, and must be tasted to be believed! It is made with red cabbage and beans and then seasoned with ground pepper and Frantoio oil.
If you want to indulge in Florentine bread you should remember that in general, bread in Tuscany does not use salt. Try schiacciata if you want a more flavorful bread—this is a crusty focaccia salted and drizzled with olive oil. A typical Florentine antipasto dish is a recipe called crostini di fegato, pieces of Florentine bread which have been baked and dunked in soup, and then garnished with chicken liver pâte, capers and anchovies.
Another traditional Florentine specialty is the famous bistecca alla fiorentina. The steak comes from Chianina, a region near Tuscany which produces the Chianina breed, regarded as possibly the oldest breed of cattle in the world. It is thick cut, weighs not less than 800g, cooked on the grill, served rare and, on occasion, with a wedge of lemon on the side. A Fiorentina can satisfy two people, but there are those brave enough who will attempt to eat one all by themselves!
The soups and minestre are well worth trying and they are derived from peasant traditions. The most delicious, famous Florentine soup is ribollita, made with a mixture of stale bread, beans, cavolo nero (a black cabbage grown in Tuscany, similar to kale or Swiss Chard) and other typical Tuscan vegetables. Ribollita derives its curious name from the fact that the peasant women would usually cook the soup in large quantities that would be boiled repeatedly (ribollita), and then eaten for several days. As with many leftovers, ribollita always tastes better the day after! Other delicious soups are pappa con il pomodoro (a tomato-based soup that's thickened with bread) and minestra di farro (spelt or barley soup with beans, tomatoes, celery and carrot). While some of these soups might not sound terribly appealing to your palate, they are absolutely delicious, simple and hearty.
Do you have a sweet tooth? Schiacciata alla Fiorentina is a special Florentine treat: an orange-flavored sponge cake, covered with confectioner's sugar (often with a cocoa giglio, or lily - the symbol of Florence—sprinkled onto the center) and filled with pastry or whipped cream. Although typically served around Carnevale, it can be found at Florence's pastry shops year round. Cantuccini di Prato are dry almond biscuits that are dipped in Vin Santo, a sweet, aromatic dessert wine.
Tuscan Specialties These specialties can be found in the majority of Florence's restaurants. Some of the more famous, traditional restaurants include: Il Latini , Trattoria Mario , Coco Lezzone and La Casalinga , there are also many others, so don't feel dismayed if you don't get into the places above.
Haute Cuisine If you fancy something more "refined", or if you want to celebrate a really special occasion, then it is worth spending that little bit extra and going to Enoteca Pinchiorri , or Il Cibreo , you could also try Cammillo , although you will definitely need to book in advance.
Wine Bars There are also many enoteche or wine bars in Florence: here you can drop in, relax and have a glass or two of good Chianti with a sandwich. In the most elegant places e.g. Enoteca de' Giraldi and Enoteca "La Sosta del Rossellino" , you can try delicious wines accompanied by tasty bruschette and delicate appetizers. La Barrique wine bar is also very popular and has an extensive wine list.
Pizza Italy is famous for its pizza and pizzerias can be found in almost every nook and cranny of Florence, although getting a typical Neapolitan-style pizza might be a bit of a challenge: Florentine crusts tend to be thin and crispy, cooked in a wood-fueled oven. If you prefer the "traditional" Neapolitan pizza, it is almost always possible to ask for a pizza with doppia pasta (double crust), which means you'll get a softer, thicker crust. Try Ciro & Sons for a slice of Naples in Florence.
International Cuisine Recent years have seen a big growth in the amount of ethnic restaurants, ranging from the Chinese restaurants to Mexican ( Cafè Caracol ), from Indian ( Ashoka or Ristorante India ), to Japanese ( Momoyama ) and there are also many other restaurants in various areas of the city.
Vegetarian Vegetarian cuisine has also made an impression on Florence! Ruth's is next to the Synagogue and sells Kosher, vegetarian fare. Il Vegetariano serves wonderful meat-free and organic dishes and is a huge success in the city.