“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
All Photo Credits: Mónica Taher – The Tech & Money Gal
Financial freedom gives you the opportunity to travel to places you only imagined existed. If you haven’t figured out that controlling your personal finances allows you to travel in style, I am here to open your eyes.
I have been to so many countries around the world, however, what makes me go back over and over again to a particular place is its people. This is why I want to focus on Italy.
This is Part I in a series about one of the regions I love the most: Toscana (Tuscany) in Italy. On this blog, I will focus the places every tourist who visits Florence for the first time needs to see – and the not so well-known places, the hideaways only the locals know. The rest of the series will detail Tuscany’s wine country and its marvelous countryside towns.
All the times I’ve flown into Florence’s Perotola Airport, I’ve used American Airlines. In fact, I’ve religiously been flying American since 2002. While American doesn’t have straight flights from the city I live in (Los Angeles), it works with codeshare partners such as British Airways and Air Berlin. The service is superb and I can still claim my miles with American. You want to stick to one airline of choice as much as possible in order to accumulate the most mileage and receive the perks. I only travel business class on intercontinental flights and that makes things easier – and more confortable. But regardless if you travel coach, here’s a piece of advice: sleep as much as you can. Jet lag can ruin your entire trip.
So, let’s travel together. Here are the 10 spots that include common tourist places and those not so well-known.
- Il Duomo (check out my video here)
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or Il Duomo is a massive structure with marble panels in the Gothic style. The first time I arrived in Florence, I could not keep my mouth closed. I was in awe. Il Duomo is by far one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in my life – and I’ve seen many around the world. Next to Il Duomo is Giotto’s Bell Tower – another architectural jewel. Everybody poses outside Il Duomo, but not everyone goes inside. When you visit, make sure you do and relish on the 44 stained glass windows and the famous painting of Dante in the Divine Comedy.
2. Galleria dell’ Accademia
Walk a few blocks on Via Ricasoli and you will find one of the most incredible spaces guarding treasures from the renaissance. If you love neoclassical art as much as I do, you will find this visit worth it. Here’s a good tip: buy the tickets to visit this place online and ahead of time. Tickets are about $23.50 USD. Trust me. The lines are impossible and all tourists want to see David, Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Also, do not try to take photos of David. Security will literally cut your arms if you do – hence why I can’t offer you the real David here. Instead, here’s a photo of a certain David I found at Piazza della Signoria.
3. Piazza della Signoria
I love this square and its vibrant energy. This is Florence’s main plaza. What makes this piazza entertaining is the variety of amenities: the palazzos, town halls, the sculptures at Loggia di Lanzi and right behind it: the Galleria Degli Uffizi (the Uffizi Gallery). You can’t miss the impressive sculpture of Nettuno (Neptune) or the Palazzo Vechio, a relic of reflecting the Medici Family’s influence in Florence’s political life. If you visit Firenze, you will inevitably arrive at the Piazza della Signoria, however, I wouldn’t eat in any restaurant here. Most of these places cater to tourists and the food is expensive and not necessarily great.
4. Ponte Vecchio
The bridge crosses the Arno River and tourists can buy jewelry and souvenirs from the stores housed inside. The incredible trivia about this “ponte” is that the first version was probably built in the first century AD, but was swept away in a flood. The ponte you see today was actually built in 1345. I watched a few sunsets almost touch the rivers. It was incredibly romantic.
Ponte Vecchio on the left
5. Basilica di San Miniato
As soon as you cross the Arno River and if you are ready for a nice hike, head over to the Basilica di San Miniato where you will need a long-sleeved shirt to go in. No shorts either or they will kick you out. I can talk from experience. Like Il Duomo, the basilica and the adjacent churches also have gothic designs. There’s an ancient cemetery too. The view from that little hill (did I mentioned there was nice hike?) is breathtaking.
6. Santa Croce
This is Florence’s university town. The only type of tourists you find here are the ones who actually do their research before traveling. Otherwise, it is not necessarily a top neighborhood. Keep in mind, you do not need a car in Florence. Santa Croce has a small beautiful church in the middle of a square build in the same fashion as Il Duomo and the Basilica di San Miniato and has plenty of bars packed with loud local and foreign exchange students. I somehow ended up at Piccolo Cafè, the first gay bar in Italy I went to. It was tiny, but fun. I would pick Santa Croce to bars in Cancun packed with American Spring Breakers in a heartbeat!
Before & After
I am going to send you try great food that only locals know about. You won’t be taken advantage of and won’t have to pay premium prices for a dish of pasta – eve if you do not speak Italian.
Trattoria Sostanza on Via del Porcellana. I went there after a friend of mine recommended the place. The Tuscan food is to die for and the butter chicken is the best – or was the best when I used to eat meat. As you can imagine, the wine selection in all of Tuscany is glorious! However, order a glass of Super Tuscan (Super Toscano red wine) and you won’t want to leave. Make reservations ahead of time. This place is packed with locals everyday.
Da Nerbone – or the Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. This is another culinary jewel in Florence. It’s not fancy, alas, it is the Central Market, but while you can get sandwiches, order any pasta dishes with sausages. You will want to pack and move to Florence for good. The first time I was there, I tried securing a table in vain. Don’t bother. You can eat at the counter like a local.
Trattoria Mario on Via Rosino. Try this tiny but incredible place. The times I have been there, even after making a reservation, I have always had to wait. It is that good. The restaurant is famous for its signature bistecca alla fiorentina – a craving from my beef-eating years.
Now, remember this is Italy (me making the backflip hand gesture). A lot of places are closed on Mondays and even some restaurants are closed on Saturdays. So, there. Check everything online first or call ahead.
8. Hotels vs Airbnbs vs B&Bs?
I have stayed at the Sheraton Firenze where the service was exceptional as well as outside the city in Impruneta, a little town in the countryside and at Airbnbs. However, if you are faced with the decision of saving a few bucks and are thinking about finding a good Airbnb, I would actually recommend looking into Florence’s B&Bs. Airbnbs run for the same prices than a B&B and often times, they are not in the center of the city. However, I came across my friend Malena’s B&B on my last trip to Firenze.
B&B Galileo 2000 AKA “Malena’s Balcony”
This place is unique. You can find a room with a breathtaking view for very cheap. This B&B decor is elegant and has neoclassical touches. It’s located in the middle of Piazza San Firenze, just a few blocks away from Piazza della Signoria. Send me a message so I can put you in contact with my friend Malena. Check out this funny video of us. After so much chianti, we started speaking Portuguese instead of Italian.
Grasshopper celebrates her 18th bday in Firenze at a hotel next to Il Duomo.
9. Sinagoga de Firenze e Museo Ebraico
If you’ve been following me for some time now, you’ve probably seen that I am always chasing Jewish landmarks and local synagogues. Grasshopper & I visited the Templo Maggiore’s fascinating architecture. It’s a good 20-minute walk from Florence’s main tourist sites, but it was worth it. The sinagoga is built in pure Moorish/Sephardic style and was used by the Nazis to store ammunition. Remember, like any other synagogue, it is not open on Saturdays.
Sinagoga & Chabad
Everybody has heard of Florence, but almost no one knows about Fisiole – unless you read Boccaccio’s The Decameron. This picturesque town is only 5 miles away from Florence. It’s a 30-minute bus drive. You can see it in one day. I ventured into the tiny town one day and fell in love with the Etruscan walls and the Roman Baths I found. I also saw vestiges of the Roman Theater and the Cathedral of Fisiole, a more modest structure compared to the ones in Florence, but nevertheless magical. Fisiole has great restaurants and zero crowds. So, take an extra day to visit this tiny, beautiful place. You won’t regret it.
At the cathedral in Fisiole & vestiges of an 800-year-old monastery.
Follow my next travel blog where I will share Tuscany’s wine route including the towns of Impruneta, Radda and Greve in Chianti, San Gimignano, Siena and more!