A trip to Florence, or Firenze as the locals call it, was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. My grandmother gifted me with this amazing trip as my collage graduation gift. The trip was three full weeks of bliss.
My grandmother got the trip through the USC travel alumni for my aunt and I to go. So we did have an iternerary, a guide when touring, and also some extra-currecular classes like Italian lessons, and cooking.
I have no idea how much it costs to go with an alumni, but the people who work with and for them were absolutely amazing. And, I honestly recommend booking with them if you can. It made the trip even better.
I really enjoyed having a local take us around, and we would be joined by other guides and it made the world of a difference having someone there who could explain the significance of the art, buildings, and sculptures. Plus, it was all paid for upfront so we didn’t have to worry about getting passes for any of the galleries or museums (aside from one, which I’ll talk about later on).
If you’re going on your own, no worries. I’m going to tell you about a lot of great things you can see and do in this post.
Let’s start with the flight.
What to Pack for Italy
This would be my very first trip to Italy. Having no idea what to expect when it came to the weather makes pre-trip research a must for me. So it’s no surprise that I totally googled, “what to pack for Italy”. There are plenty of detailed packing lists out there.
I was going to be there in July so I was anticipating mostly warm weather. Also, I wanted to pack light in spite of it being a three week trip.
- 4 Sleeveless Shirts
- 2 Sleeved Shirts
- 2 Blouses
- 1 Dress
- 2 Pairs of Shorts
- 1 Pair of Jeans
- 1 Pair of Leggings
- 1 Sweater
- 1 Jacket (Waterproof)
- 1 Pair of sandals
- 1 Pair of nice comfortable shoes
- 1 Pair of Tennies
- Shawl (I didn’t bring this but you need it if you plan on wearing sleeveless shirts and going into cathedrals.)
Other items that were definitely needed:
- Power converter
- A Washcloth (if you use one, because I couldn’t find a store in Florence selling one.)
- A Purse that zips shut (aka pickpocket deterrent.)
Since I’m mentioning pickpockets, you should know that is a big problem in Italy. I would strongly advise that you do not wear or bring valuable items. And the less like a tourist you can look the better.
Traveling to Firenze
I’m pretty accustomed to traveling, plus I’m petite, so I don’t typically have any problems sitting in airplane seats. But be warned that this flight is a long, long flight. I watched a bunch of movies and spent a good amount of time clearing up memory space on my iPhone so the flight felt pretty quick and easy for me.
I’m in California, and Italy is nine hours ahead. Which basically means: when I’m getting ready for bed here, the day is just beginning there!
So I planned ahead and adjusted my sleep schedule a few days before the trip.
Anyways, we flew Lufthansa and we did have a plane change in Germany. They are a really great airline, no complaints here.
Arriving in Italy
Once we made it, we did get picked up by the tour bus and had to drive quite a ways to the hotel/apartments. We stayed in Hotel Palazzo Ricasoli, and the rooms were really more of an apartment style with a living room, dining, kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom. Small perhaps by American standards, but a good size none-the-less.
It was super nice staying in one place the entire trip (we’d day-trip to other places). And this place was very nice. They have a big breakfast down in the lobby.
When I think of Italy, I think of walking. LOL
We did a lot of walking (and I mean A LOT). So make sure the shoes you bring are actually comfortable. And while I definitely recommend doing some exploring and wandering, there are some specific places definitely worth seeing.
I feel like this a good place to mention that most of the historical places that you will see are cathedrals. And as I already mentioned they don’t let women go in with short shorts or sleeveless shirts (just FYI). It is true that some places give you something, like a paper shawl, but it’s probably best to bring your own.
These are the places I really enjoyed in Florence:
If you go to Firenze, then you most likely will go to the Duomo (The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) which is just one of many historical places. The details on the building are absolutely incredible. And if the outside wasn’t stunning enough, the ceiling murals were magical.
The Duomo wasn’t too far from our place, so we walked to it. But we also walked almost all of Florence. There’s stores, and restaurants tucked away between historical buildings.
Don’t be fooled by “closed” up shops. A lot of stores are closed in the early morning, but they do open up later in the day.
The streets and plazas were full of people, cyclists, and cars.
Museo di Palazzo Vecchio
Located in Piazza Della Signoria. This museum was absolutely breath taking. The intricate paintings on the ceilings and walls were unlike anything I have ever seen.
Even the sculptures that stand outside in the square were magnificent.
This place was spectacular. All of the old home furnishings, kitchen accessories, and even clothes were fun to see. If you love old things and not just old architecture then you should also go see Galleria dell’Accademia because there are musical instruments, paintings, sculptures, and more. Not to mention, that’s where the famous Statue of David is.
Church of Santa Croce
As I’ve already mentioned a few times, I was lucky enough to be there with an alumni which meant having a tour guide for almost everywhere we went.
What made that so special was that it gave me a better understanding and appreciation for the Florentine’s history. I guess I never really thought about how many great minds, and spectacular artists came from Italy (and many from Florence).
And right here in the Church of Santa Croce are the crips of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and a few other important people.
Wow, was this place beautiful! They had an exhibit set up in what looked to be an old ballroom, but the ceiling and chandeliers were breathtaking.
You can pay to go on a tour not only in the palace but also in the gardens. We ran out of time, so if you get to do that part please let me know how it was!
But I absolutely loved looking at all the details, from floor to ceiling, they definitely spared no expense. I’m still in shock about how much time and attention was put into everything. Absolutely beautiful.
The food was so good that I really don’t think any words could do it justice. I don’t think I ate at one place and thought that the food could be better.
Pasta, pizza, bread, meat, dessert, you name it—everything was delicious.
And just FYI if you plan on ordering meat you will see “cotto” or “crudo” on the labels, which mean cooked and uncooked.
So one of the “extras” my grandmother surprised us with were cooking classes. And it was so much fun! The best part is you can book classes yourself at the inTavola if you’re interested.
If you end up feeling homesick there is a Hard Rock Cafe & even a McDonalds. But why anyone would actually go there when there are a seemingly infinite amount of unique little places to eat at is beyond me.
Our Frequented Pizzeria
My aunt and I would eat at this tiny little Pizzeria off of Via S. Gallo (right next to our hotel). They have a giant pizza oven in the back, and the place itself is quite small—but it felt very homey. The pizza is all hand made (well, all the food out there is), and my absolute favorite kind of pizza was the Margherita “bufala” (Buffalo mozzarella). Yum, yum, yum!
Important things You Need to Know
One of the single-most important things I did on this trip was learn how to use Italy’s public transportation. A bus pass doesn’t cost that much and you really can go almost anywhere. You can buy bus passes in tobacco shops, and in little delis.
The other thing to pay attention to are the Gipsies. I know that sounds cool, but they aren’t called “Velvet Fingers” by the locals for nothing. In other words, they are expert pick-pocketers. They’re so gentle and swift that they can get into your purse or pockets quite easily.
So I highly recommend not wearing any valuables, and making sure that your purse has a zipper on it (guys use a fanny pack under your shirt). I used a purse that had a zipper and also folded over. I came back with everything, although a couple in our group were not so lucky!
One of Italy’s best little secrets is a currency exchange business practically a crack in the wall off of Via della Ninna. They have the best rate hands-down. I found them in my pre-trip research from another gal’s blog that I have never been able to re-find. (So thank you, whoever you are.)
I was worried that they wouldn’t be there since her post was a few years old. But they were, and I used them the entire time I was in Italy. Just FYI you must have your passport in order to exchange currency.
If you make it to the Piazza della Signoria, there’s a street to the south named Piazzale degli Uffizi where street painters sell their artwork. I purchased a small water-color, and it’s hanging above my desk to remind me of the wonderful adventures I had in Florence.
While you’re in that area head over to the Arno and you will see Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).
ii Teatro del Sale
If you like interesting experiences, then ii Teatro Del Sale is something that you won’t want to miss. Yes, it’s technically a club, but it’s worth the seven euros and filling out a membership form. The food is amazing, and you can expect nothing less from the famous chef Fabio Picchi.
The paneled walls, people, the quaint little shop in the front, and the chef are all wondrous.
If you’re intrigued by this place, then you have to check out The Girl in florence’s blog post as it was pure nostalgia when I was reading it. Oh, so good. So take a look!
You ladies know I have to bring up shopping! The purses, the clothes, and the shoes! OMG. Seriously, just come with an empty suit case. I actually came with a huge one, and only had it a quarter full.
When I left, you better believe that I had to sit on that thing to close it.
There really are so many stores—definitely not in short supply. They even have some main-stream things like H&M, Brandy Melville, and Zara.
On a quick side note if you love Brandy Melville, I swear Subdued is the Italian version of it. And you need to check it out. It’s off of Viale Giacomo Matteotti.
But I wanted to share a list of quaint places I found.
The first thing that I want to share are the shoe stores. Also, you can sometimes bargain with store owners (which is strange for us Americans, so if you’re not shy, give it a go!)
- Mistral Passion off of Via Pietra Piana —It’s just North of The Church of Santa Croce, and semi-close to ii Teatro Del Sale. They had really cute sandals here.
- Eleonora off of Via Porta Rossa — It’s close to Piazza della Signoria.
- Name Unknown, but you can find this semi-underground shoe store by visiting the east side of the Piazza San Lorenzo. They will have a ton of shoes placed on the outside wall.
The last little shopping area I want to mention is an open market. Reminds me a lot of Santee Alley in DTLA. Most things are fairly priced, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bargain! I found this to be the perfect place to buy gifts for others, or even for yourself. I bought a leather bracelet from one of the carts.
But even if you don’t go to buy anything, it’s definitely a spectacle to see! (But be on the alert for pickpockets.)
My trip to Italy will always have a special place in my heart. I hope to return to Florence some day soon. Until then, ciao!