If there’s a more romantic city in the world, the date flights team has yet to go there. Though, in full disclosure, we did get engaged and married in Florence, so we may be somewhat biased toward the home of the Renaissance.
The colors of this city are what come to mind first – all oranges and yellows and browns. It’s like fall in New England, only you get these magical colors all year round in Firenze.
Unfortunately, too many people make the mistake of seeing Florence as just another stop on a whirlwind tour of Italy. And while any amount of Florence is better than none, the best way [in our opinion] to experience this city is the same way Italians experience food – simply, never rushed, and always focused on quality over quantity. In many ways, it’s a lot like dating – you don’t want to rush into anything too fast here. If you try and cram in the Duomo, and the David, and all of the churches and museums that are Florentine must-sees in too short of a time span, you’ll just find yourself annoyed with the crowds, short tempered from the heat, and numb to the timeless, world-class beauty all around you.
Our advise? Take it slow. Spend your mornings tackling one of the giants of the city, and your afternoons strolling along the Arno, sunbathing in the Boboli Gardens, or sipping wine at the Piazzale Michelangelo. There’s a reason that life in Italy moves so beautifully slowly, and always has. Visit Italy the way the Italians live – trust them, they know what they’re doing.
Getting Here – From Boston
The closest major airport is Fiumicino Roma (Alitalia offers direct flights from a bunch of major US cities, and Aer Lingus offers a 1-stop option, via Dublin). From the airport, its super easy to take the Leonardo Express straight to Roma Termini (32 minutes and €17) where you can board a train straight to Florence (Firenze SMN) in about 1.5 hours via Trenitalia. The kiosks are all over Termini Stazione and are very easy to use. Trenitalia absolutely trumps Amtrak, or any other domestic US train service, in our opinion – not to mention the views on the train alone are worth staying awake for the duration! Hope you slept on the flight 🙂
Getting Here – From London
Staying Here (Economy)
Via Il Prato, 22, Florence, Italy
If the date flights duo were to pick their favorite hotel room on earth, it would have to be the Frida Khalo room at the Hotel Albion in Florence. It’s not the biggest room in the world, or even at the Albion. It’s not particularly luxurious either, decorated in the sparsely rustic Tuscan style. There’s a lone window that looks out over the small rotary below and the Arno behind it. It’s simple, and it feels like home.
If you read the reviews of the Albion and its sister hotel [Le Boscarecce, a converted farmhouse out in the Tuscan countryside], the major theme that will come across is how the family behind this family-owned hotel sets it apart from all others. Sara, Susannah, Massimo, Nick, and everyone else you’ll meet at the Albion will truly make you feel like part of the family. Moreover, they’re always happy to recommend activities for your stay and book tours or reservations upon request. Susannah also happens to be an incredible cook [she and her daughter Swan made our unforgettable wedding meal], so you certainly won’t be disappointed if you opt for a night in.*
Now onto the actual details of the hotel: breakfast is included in the price of your room [pastries, hardboiled eggs, cold cuts and cheese, and the best blood orange juice on earth], as is reliable wifi, and access to the hotel’s bikes [though we do strongly believe the best way to see Florence is on foot]. The Albion is perfectly situated – just a few hundred yards from the Arno, and far enough away from the Duomo that you won’t be constantly surrounded by tourists but you’re also within easy walking distance of the city’s renowned sites. The décor is eclectic but comfortable, and all of the rooms are named after strong, famous women in history. Truthfully, it’s really the intangibles of this hotel that make it our number one choice – the people, the indescribable homey feeling, the old fashioned hotel keys… In short, we think one of our wedding guests described his stay at the Albion perfectly – “It’s not the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at, but it’s my favorite all the same.”
Whether it’s your first time at the Albion or your tenth, you’ll feel right at home using this as your base to explore this beautiful city. Guests who stay at the Albion always return on future trips to Florence. And you will too.
*We’ve never actually dined at the Albion after breakfast. Our wedding reception was at Le Boscarecce, where dinner is served daily. We have, however, seen guests eating dinner at the Albion so feel free to inquire!
Spending the Day
There are a few you things you really do have to do during the day while in Florence [see the Duomo; see Piazza della Signoria; go to Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset; anything you could find in a Rick Steves or Lonely Planet guidebook].
But there are a few slightly off-the-beaten-path things we HIGHLY recommend in addition to the staples:
Chapel of Princes – Connected to San Lorenzo Basilica, it almost looks like a mini-Duomo. This small chapel and sacristy is home to not only one of the most amazing spaces we’ve ever seen (the main chapel) but also several original Michelangelo statues and sketches on the wall. Prepare for a recurring theme during your time in Florence to be extremely prominent here: Medici.
Vasari Corridor – In 1549 when the Medici’s moved from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, they realized they still had to get to Palazzo Vecchio every day for work. But, of course, they didn’t want to walk on the streets with the peasants [why would they??]. Naturally, Cosimo de’Medici had Giorgio Vasari build a secret hallway from their new home to their office in Piazza della Signoria. The Vasari Corridor winds through several buildings, behind a few churches [they didn’t even have to leave the hallway to attend mass], and right over top of the picturesque Ponte Vecchio. Tours of the corridor are offered irregularly, but it’s one of the most unique experiences in Florence.
Caffe’ la Terrazza – In the back of the 5th floor of La Rinascente in Piazza della Repubblica there is a flight of stairs that goes up to a small rooftop bar/cafe. This is the perfect place to stop for an espresso while exploring the city. As it’s relatively hidden, its never too crowded – and the views are amazing.
Pre-Dinner Drinks (Economy)
Via Sant’ Agostino 23R, Florence, Italy
If anyone could figure out a way to improve the nearly perfect concept of happy hour, of course it was the Italians. Fun cocktails, good music, and as much food as you’d like to nibble on combine to create the perfect start to your Florentine night out.
Unfortunately we’ve heard tell that there are a few establishments in Florence that try to stretch their margins on aperitivo by offering second rate drinks and less-than-appetizing snacks. Take our word for it that MEAT Market is not one of those perpetrators. The bartender takes time and effort to create beautiful drinks [he even dressed up our mojitos like little matadors!], and there will be no shortage of delicious bites to curb your appetite until dinner time. Because, let’s face it, anyone going out to eat before 9PM in Italy is a huge dork. Beyond the seriously high quality food & beverage options, the shabby chic décor and effortlessly cool vibe of MEAT Market will immediately make you feel like a trendy insider. This bar / restaurant is perfectly at home in the hip Oltrarno neighborhood.
To us, the perfectly casual evening in Florence starts with a stroll over to Oltarno at sunset, followed by a stop at MEAT Market for aperitivo, and ends with a leisurely dinner at Dante’s [taking care to save room for the world’s best gelato at La Carraia].
Pre-Dinner Drinks (First Class)
Westin Excelsior Rooftop Bar
Piazza Ognissanti 3, Florence, Italy
There’s just something that feels right about having a few cocktails on a rooftop, regardless of where you are in the world. Florence, with its picture-perfect skyline and beautiful climate, is no exception. We can’t think of a more romantic start to your First Class night out than sunset drinks at the Westin’s rooftop bar. Located right on the Arno, the Westin’s views of Florence, the river, and the too-good-to-be-true Tuscan landscape in the background will make you realize that life does not get better than this moment. Drinks are delicious, and the cost will be easier to swallow along with the free snacks that accompany your drinks [we had chips, nuts, and olives with our dirty ‘tinis].
Not ready for dinner yet? No worries! Pop across the Piazza Ognissanti – literally about 100 feet away – to the St. Regis Bar for round 2.
Dinner Date (Economy)
Trattoria Pizzeria Dante
Piazza Nazario Sauro, 12, Florence, Italy
Must: Get a bottle (or three) of the house wine
Trattoria? Pizzeria? Which is it?? Well, regardless of what you call it (we prefer Dante’s), this is one of our go-to date night spots in Florence. Each time we visit Florence, you can guarantee we’ll be eating dinner here at least once.
After spending all day walking and art-gazing in the birthplace of the Renaissance, the last thing any couple should want to do is elbow their way through a crowded and tourist-filled restaurant only to have a mediocre and likely overpriced dinner. Enter Dante’s: located in the hip Oltrarno neighborhood, the restaurant’s arched ceilings, soft lighting, and delicious house wine make it the perfect spot for a casual date night in Firenze. Everything on the menu is under €25 (and most dishes are around €15), and we’ve never had a bad meal there. Delicious, comforting food washed down with some of my favorite wine in the world is Italy at its best (seriously, the value of this house wine cannot be overstated – if anyone affiliated with Dante’s is reading this, please ship
one five cases of wine to Boston as soon as possible).
Dinner Date (First Class)
Il Palagio – Four Season Firenze
Borgo Pinti, 99, Florence, Italy
Dress: Elegant Casual – there’s no dress-code, but why not take the opportunity to bust out the fancy dress and sharp suit you packed?
Price: $$$$ – Il Palagio* has one of the coveted Michelin Stars, a sign that it is recognized at a top restaurant worldwide.
Bonus Tip: If you happen to be in Florence in the warmer months, take a stroll through the hotel’s gardens. The grounds are a little slice of heaven, and, in case you’re wondering about the level of service, pashminas are offered on nights the air is a bit cool.
If there’s one thing we love to do on every date flight we take, it’s a chef’s tasting menu in the city where we’re basing ourselves. This is
usually always our most expensive night out, but it’s also almost always worth the cost. Especially when you’re the type [like me] who errs toward the side of “chicken, please” when trying new cuisines. Tasting menus allow you to try expertly prepared foods that you may never have ordered for yourself, plus the excitement of being served new dishes without knowing what may come next is the perfect experience to share with your loved one. There really is no better date night than splitting a bottle [or two] of wine over the course of a multi-course tasting menu.
When spending money like this on a meal [Il Palagio’s tasting menu is €115 per person, not including wine], it’s perfectly within your rights to expect exceptional service. And every time we’ve dined at Il Palagio, the staff has delivered. Our glasses were never empty, and the manager makes it a point to personally visit with each guest in the dining room. Plus, on top of the amazing food and service, Il Palagio is hands down one of the beautiful restaurants we’ve ever seen. Seriously, if we ever come into enormous sums of money I’m going to model my house after the Four Seasons in Florence.
Towards the end of the meal, you may be asked if you’d like to try some chocolates. Say yes. The cart they’ll bring around literally carries a tree trunk made of chocolate, to be shaved off tableside for you to taste. To be honest, I have no idea how much this added to our final bill, but it seems like a good rule of thumb to say YES when asked if you’d like to try a piece of a chocolate tree.
Have a favorite place in Florence we missed out on? Been to any of the locations mentioned above?
Let us know in the comments section!