When leaving for this trip I was given extensive recommendations and advice from friends who studied abroad, so I thought I should group it all together and reflect on my experience in comparable detail.
Traveling to Florence was easy - you can't fly direct so we connected through Rome - we flew Air Italia and carried on a small duffle bag, as well as a satchel bag, with no checked luggage, since their reputaiton is to lose things. One note - don't change your money in the Rome airport - they charged us around 9% in commissions and fees, which is a significant rate.
We stayed at Hotel Pierre - it's dead center of the city, in between Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo. This is great, but not all that relivant since the city is so small, but I would make sure to stay on this side of the river since you spend most of your time there. The Hotel was nice - clean, helpful staff, nice room (we paid the extra $30 for "delux room", not sure what that got us). The general comments are that this hotel is in a loud spot - this could have been true, luckily we were in off season so this wasn't a big issue. The breakfast was continental, and decent, but as mentioned in reviews the eggs were dried.
I don't need to talk much about the main attractions, as they are extensively covered in other places. The first thing we did when we arrived in Florence was run up to Piazza Michelangelo, which was a great way to start the trip - a beautiful view of the sunset and the whole city. We also made sure to see the three major museums - the Ufizzi, the Accademia, and the Bargellio (the sculpture museum). The Statue of David is incredible, exceptionally impressive in spite of the build up. There is a lot to see just from walking around the cities - the various Piazzas, the street markets, and the churches. I would absolutely climb up the Duomo, as well. - the artwork in the dome is fantastic, and the site over the city is well worth it.
We also checked out the old Synagogue , which is known to beone of the most beautiful. It's unusual to see a synagogue with such dressing and outward artistic style. Unfortunately I made it there too late on a Friday to go inside, so I can't speak to that.
We checked out the Boboli Gardens one morning as well. They were very nice, with a lot to explore and take in. They would definitely benefit from a summer trip though, as there were no flowers in bloom, and the day was too gray to bring much life to the experience.
In terms of eating, there were definite hits and misses. Acqua al 2 is widely regarded as one of the best, and it didn't dissapoint, giving one of the best meals I've ever eaten. The pasta sampler was 5 chef's choice, which were phenominal. We then had the Blueberry and the Balsamic steaks, both of which were fantastic (ignore how strange they might sound). Finally we had the dessert sampler, of which the tirramisu was by far the best (if I went back I'd only order that).
Another restaurant that was fantastic was Da Mario. They buy food fresh that morning and make their menu up that day, staying open only until the food runs out. Because of the fresh and special daily menu, it's a popular local spot. We got there before 12, and it is known for closing by 2 or 3.
The Oil Shoppe is a critically acaimed sandwich shop, which was delicious, and a nice change of pace from the rest of the food we ate on the trip. We chose off the menu in Italian, which meant I had no idea what I was going to eat, and that was great because I would not have planned on liking the eclectic mix of meats, vegetables, and spreads on great bread, that ended up being all around delicious.
For mid-day eating we hit up Rivoire for pastries and hot chocolate. The layered cake we got was outstanding, the hot chocolate was underwhelming and over priced. We also hit up Vivoli, which is the most popular gelato place, which was very good.
We only had time for one day trip, and after much debate, we ended up going to Pisa. This actually was only our plan after our original plan fell through due to a national transit strike, but I'm glad it worked out this way. Pisa is generally criticized for being too touristy, and I can't refute that. But the Tower was a unique phenominom, and the church was probably the most beautiful I saw in all of the trip. You only need to go once, but you won't regret it. One note - we ate at Da Bruno in Pisa, outside the city walls, and it was the worst restaurant we ate at the entire week.
A final note on the trip - we went from November 29th to December 2nd, which is one of the least popular times to travel to Florence. It was definitely colder than expected, but there was little to complain about in doing it this way. We felt like we had the city to ourselves - we walked righ tinto the Ufizzi with no line whatsoever, had no problem getting tables at restaurants that required reservations, and all-in-all had a much more relaxing experience because the city wasn't flooded with tourists. If you can deal with the cold, and the gardens aren't the only reaosn you're there to see the city, it's an idea worth considering to check out Florence during this week.