Frenzied in Firenze

by Eszter Hargittai on February 28, 2007

.. is precisely what I don’t plan on being, but I liked my colleague‘s email subject line so I decided to use it here. Point being: I’ll be in Florence this weekend and am looking for suggestions for what not to miss. As a bit of background: 1. I’ve been already and have visited the relatively obvious touristy musts; 2. I have six guide books in my office with suggestions.

Of course, you could then say “so what do you need us for?”. Well, I’m looking for suggestions of that hole-in-the-wall place you found at the end of your trip having hoped in retrospect to have had more time to enjoy it. Or that specific sidestreet on which the view to some place is especially magnificent. Or whatever. There are hidden gems in every city so I thought it was worth asking.

And if anyone around here happens to be in Florence this weekend, let me know.* This is a work trip, but the meeting doesn’t start until Monday so I have Fri-Sun for fun.

For anyone curious, I’m going there for an OECD meeting on “new millennium learners”. Thanks to INDIRE for sponsoring this. We’ll also have a public meeting next Wednesday on this topic.

*I have another post in the works about how to keep people posted of one’s whereabouts.



John Emerson 02.28.07 at 12:21 am

I’ve Firenze’s Renaissance recommended quite highly.


The New York City Math Teacher 02.28.07 at 12:24 am

We got back from Firenze yesterday.

Some short recommendations: Trattoria Nella, on the Via della Terme – excellent ribollita and pasta and not so pricy.

Also, Trattoria Antico Fattore – the single best goddamn artichoke I have ever eaten. Via Lambertesca.

Otherwise, Ristorante Peruca in San Gimignano was better than both, and cheaper too.

The leather goods stank this time (we didn’t find *anything*) but we ate delicious gelato at the gelateria on the south side of the Ponte Vecchio.



eszter 02.28.07 at 1:02 am

Ooh, what kind of artichoke dish? Thanks for the suggestions!


ProfWombat 02.28.07 at 1:05 am

The Museum of Antique Scientific Instruments is amazing, and a lot of folk never get there…


duaneg 02.28.07 at 1:52 am

I don’t have any good first-hand recommendations, but I mentally filed this one from Cory Doctorow for my next trip there: I’ve seen God in a cup of chocolate.


sasnak 02.28.07 at 2:12 am

La Specola is pretty cool. It has an amazing collection of stuffed animals, and wax medical models.

I second the Scientific Instruments museum as well. They have Galileo’s finger on display, and the old instruments are beautiful.


The New York City Math Teacher 02.28.07 at 2:29 am

It was a stuffed, baked artichoke – carciofi ripieni – and the stuffing was uninspired breadcrumbs and salty. But the artichoke itself! Bliss. Heaven. I have never in my life eaten a artichoke that was more artichokey than this one. I blame vertically integrated commercial agriculture for the lack of decent artichokes in my life. This was a thoroughly decent artichoke.

There’s a garden shop near the Orsanmichele which stocks seeds of the three dominant varietals of artichoke, cavolo nero, mara des bois strawberries, and San Marzano plum tomatoes.

Oh, one good clothes store is Nicholas Parisi, but we didn’t make it this time.


Jay Conner 02.28.07 at 2:47 am

There was a restaurant…I hope it is still there…called Gaugin.

Run by a Frenchman. Vegetarian, but not the usual “eating club”, which is a ruse to avoid taxes.

The Gnocci is to die for.

going from Il Doumo towards David, about halfway, turn right, about two blocks.


Jay Conner 02.28.07 at 2:49 am

One more thing, in the church across from the Foundling Hospital, a fresco, “Madonna of the Sack”, just stunning.


Tyrone Slothrop 02.28.07 at 2:54 am

There’s a paper goods store in Oltrarno (the south side of the river) on Via de’ Bardi, on the south side of the road close to the plaza opening to the river and Lungarno Torrigiani. Fantastic stuff, and much better than any leather goods I found (and I was hunting for a briefcase).

We had two good meals at Santo Bevitore, a somewhat more modern (less traditional) restaurant in Oltrarno on the north side of Via di Santo Spiritu, close to the intersection of Via Maffia. They did a good job with the wine.

There’s a hole in the wall sandwich place on the north side of an east-west street a couple of blocks south of the Duomo, but looking at Google maps I can’t figure out where it is and I can’t remember what it was called. The butter and anchovy sandwich was wonderful. It had a real crowd at lunch, and they did not suffer indecision at the front of the line.

We found a bakery a couple of blocks north-east of the Duomo, maybe on Via Fiesolana or Via dei Pepi (?), that had these little salty rolls about the size of the top of a soda can with different pizza-like toppings on them — sausage or tomato, etc. Wonderful. I went back several times, and I’m sure I could find it again, but not just from looking at Google’s map, alas.


robert the red 02.28.07 at 3:05 am

For gelato: Vivoli. If it isn’t in your guide book, burn the book immediately as a piece of trash.


Mark Van Cleve 02.28.07 at 3:42 am

there’s a little church close by the square where Palazzo Vecchio stands. As you approach the square from the side opposite Vecchio, turn left onto the last side street prior the square itself, and look for a nearly-unmarked church with two high wooden doors. If you’re lucky, they’ll be open, and you can look into a single room, with high ceilings, completely covered with beautiful frescoes. Don’t know the artist and have never found it in a guide book. Good hunting.


Henry 02.28.07 at 4:00 am

Off the top of my head …

Cibreo’s trattoria (not the more expensive restaurant, unless someone else is paying). Make sure to order the yellow pepper soup, and the chocolate cake for dessert. Avoid the ‘neck of chicken’ unless you’re OK with the head being attached (it’s usually a cock’s head; the coxcomb is apparently a delicacy).

Il Pizzaiulo around the corner is very good pizza and pasta. Pizzeria Santa Lucia does the vera Napoletana thing, but is a bit of a hike from the city center.

Vace’s chocolate, close to Piazza Sant’Ambroggio, is excellent – the drinking chocolate with pepper flakes is to die for.

For a more authentic cuisine, il Cocotripone on Via Gioberti is excellent (although go for two primi rather than a primo and secondo).

Avoid Florentine bread if you can – it is non-salted and takes some getting used to for non-natives (I quite like it, but I lived there for three years. Ask for pane Pugliese at the bakery to get something closer to what you’re probably used to.

Tripe (trippa) is a big thing in Florence if you are into internal organs.

Vivoli is excellent – esp. the orange chocolate gelato. Avoid gelato in tourist traps like the plague (Vivoli attracts a lot of tourists, but is in a completely different category). There are a couple of other good places (one in le Cure on via dei Mille) but I forget their names.

Oltrarno is well worth exploring – less touristy and sometimes better food.


D. Ghirlandaio 02.28.07 at 4:34 am

Santa Maria Novella, Santa Maria del Carmine (Brancacci Chapel)
Michelangelo: the late Pieta and the Medici Chapel. San Marco/ Fra Angelico. The Baptistry doors. Giotto. It’s a long list.
All I read about here is entertainment. None of that matters. You’re in Florence, do things you can’t do anywhere else.
Learn something


Kieran Healy 02.28.07 at 4:49 am

I think there’s a pretty good Starbucks around there somewhere.


Filter 02.28.07 at 6:38 am

No Starbucks, sorry.


Isabel 02.28.07 at 7:25 am

Oh yeah, go to La Specola for me! I didn’t know about the stuffed animals, but I’ve dreamt of going there ever since I bought a book on its 17th century anatomical wax models. Wonderful!


Jacob Christensen 02.28.07 at 8:07 am

Re: “2. I have six guide books in my office with suggestions”.

May I suggest getting a guide book to guide books? ;-)


abb1 02.28.07 at 8:19 am

Yeah, gelato. Of course anything in Italy worth seeing or eating is advertised beyond any reason, to the extent that you often feel like a fool. It’s their main industry, after all. So, you really don’t need any advice or ant books, just follow the crowds.


rpbd 02.28.07 at 12:23 pm

What I like about Firenze is you can see the move from middle-ages to Renaissence in the art and architecture. Visit two churches, medieval and renaissence, in chronological order and you can feel the liberation of the mind from a restricted world to a freeer one.


Maria 02.28.07 at 12:59 pm

Ah now, abb1. Having recently spent a heavenly few days in a completely un-touristy and unadvertised part of Umbria, I can’t let that ungenerous claim go uncontested.

Sure, Italy relies heavily on tourism. But to find good food or interesting things, you just have to do your homework and hope for serendipity – no different from anywhere else. And if at all possible, write a blog post asking people for their hidden gems.


abb1 02.28.07 at 1:24 pm

Completely un-tourisy and unadvertised, huh. Is it how it was advertised? Sounds good.

Is it one of those completely un-tourisy and unadvertised agriturismo places?


Kieran Healy 02.28.07 at 1:37 pm

No Starbucks, sorry.

I guess Italy doesn’t have much of a coffee culture then.


engels 02.28.07 at 1:38 pm

How about Pizza Hut?


abb1 02.28.07 at 2:36 pm

What I like about Firenze is you can see the move from middle-ages to Renaissence in the art and architecture.

But isn’t this something you’ll run into just about everywhere in Europe, whether you want it or not? I’d rather prefer something like Gaudi or a bunch of good art-deco stuff or something. Though it’s a matter of taste, of course.


engels 02.28.07 at 2:50 pm

But isn’t this something you’ll run into just about everywhere in Europe…

abb1, my friend, you have clearly never been to Luton.


Eszter 02.28.07 at 3:50 pm

Some excellent suggestions here, thanks! I don’t drink coffee, but I love chocolate so I’ve taken note of those recommendations.

Isabel, sorry to disappoint, but La Specola just doesn’t sound like my kind of thing.

D. Ghirlandaio – I didn’t quite get your comment, your definition of entertainment may be narrower than mine. I consider viewing amazing art and architecture part of entertainment. As a wannabe art history major in college (came to it too late to make it a major), rest assured that I won’t miss out on all that this city has to offer in that realm.

I plan on going to lots of little churches. They tend to be less crowded yet still breathtaking.

Some of these recommendations will give me ideas for the less obvious parts of town, which is helpful.

(If I didn’t mention you by name here, it’s not because I didn’t take note of your recommendation. I appreciate the various suggestions very much!)


beeler 02.28.07 at 4:10 pm

Restaurant: Buca Mario

it’s on a side street near the duomo. I lived there for a year and this was always a favorite. Wonderful food and the best tiramisu


JR 02.28.07 at 5:46 pm

Il Pizzaiola. You may think eating pizza in Italy is a waste of a meal, but try a slice at least.


JR 02.28.07 at 5:48 pm

And watch out for the scooters!


Claudio 02.28.07 at 6:01 pm

Hire a car and drive in the direction of PIENZA.

1ST GEM: Take S.S.(=State Road) 222 also known as “Chiantigiana”. This road connects the North CHIANTI area (just south of Florence) to the South CHIANTI area (just north of Siena). While driving from Florence to Siena, you’ll get plenty of opportunity to stop at wineries and “taste” their products (get a co-pilot).

2ND GEM: Stop in SIENA (once the arch enemy of Florence)and walk through the city center: it’s worthwhile be cause the it is void of any vehicular traffic.

3RD GEM: From SIENA take S.S. 2 (CASSIA) till MONTALCINO. Once there, visit the fort (has a beautiful view of the countryside PLUS a fairly well stocked winery (Brunello di Montalcino is superb and can be ordered by the glass – again have a co-driver).

4TH GEM: leave Montalcino and follow the sign for SANT’ ANTIMO. This is a Monastery dating from year 770 (built on top of a Roman villa).
The Monastery had been recently restaured by the Italian Government and is run by 6 French monks and 1 Irish monk. At 11:00 every Sunday they celebrate Mass with Gregorian Chants. Even if you are not catholic, Gregorian chants are a joy to your ears!!

Leave SANT’ANTIMO, driving back to MONTALCINO and once there follow the sign S.S. 2 – PIENZA.
PIENZA is the birthplace of Pope Pius the I.
He loved so much his native little town that asked a famed architect to re-build the “town center”. It became the first example of a city center planned at the drawing table of an architect: Rossellino). From the walls of PIENZA you will have splendid views of Mount Amiata (an inactive vulcano) and of the “rolling hills” of Southern Tuscany.

Walking along Corso Rossellino, you will end up at a Trattoria called “Latte di Luna” (Moon milk) run by Roberto and his wife.
They have their mothers taking care of the cooking and you might enjoy the best “Roasted suckling pig” you ever had!!! Bad for cholesterol, but delicious as hell.

In any case enjoy your stay in Tuscany.


abb1 02.28.07 at 7:14 pm

Yeah, Siena is another one of these places in Italy I don’t like. Unpleasant. But, please, under any circumstances don’t go to Pompeii. Luckily it’s far from Florence. And most of all, try to avoid buying Prosciutto di Parma.


dearieme 02.28.07 at 8:01 pm

Perhaps too obvious, but take the bus to Fiesole and look down on the whole wonderful display.


PSP 02.28.07 at 8:21 pm


I knew a girl in college who put 40 pounds in one semester because she lived a little too close to vivoli’s.


robd 02.28.07 at 8:23 pm

If you like to see some different, “modern” architecture – the main railway station of Firenze is good.
It dates from about the time that Mussolini alledgedly made the trains run on time.


Randy Paul 02.28.07 at 8:26 pm

I’m in Florence right now (leaving for Venice on Friday).

For nice sit down meals, I recommend Trattoria 13 Gobbi and Trattoria Trebbio. Florence is great for red meat. Go to the Mercato Centrale for Panino. They’re about 2 euros each there and they’re terrific.

If you decide to climb to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome at the Duomo, go early. It’s exhausting, but the views are worth it. For gelato, avoid the area around the Duomo. Outrageously expensive and overrated.

For culture all the churches are terrific and the Uffizzi, well is the Uffizzi. Opera del Duomo museum is also great as is pretty much everything in Florence.

I got a leather jacket for a great price at a place called Old Town Leathers on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio.


Sylvia S Tognetti 02.28.07 at 9:12 pm

Oltr’Arno, in the older part of the city, the piazza and Church of Santo Spirito, which was not only designed by Brunelleschi, but has a crucifix carved by Michelangelo when he was 17 years old, in exchange for his stay at the convent when examining cadavers at the convent hospital.
I tried to get into the last two times I was there. The first time it was too late in the day. The second time it was closed for repairs. But you should be able to get in there and I doubt there will be any lines. Also recommended to me, a few blocks from there is the church of Santa Maria del Carmine which has Giotto paintings – I missed that on the last trip too but am quite sure I was there a very long time ago – once upon I attended a Florentine boarding school (starting in the year of the big flood). See also, A view of a room with a view – a post I wrote during my last visit. To see the full set of posts from that trip, click “Tuscanophilia” at If you can read Italian, I can also point you to a couple of Florentine bloggers…


abb1 02.28.07 at 9:22 pm

Florence is great for red meat.

Yeah, that’s typical for Tuscany. Big flat thick piece of meat without anything; no sauce, no nothing. And you’re supposed to be absolutely delighted and ask for more, or else you’re a brute. In fact you can get a better meal at any US steakhouse for half the price. Terrific panino? C’mon, how terrific can it be, it’s a frigging grilled sandwich.


JR 02.28.07 at 9:50 pm

Don’t listen to #32. Siena is a lovely town, about 40 miles from Florence and perfect for a day trip. The Duomo is very beautiful and the Piazza is spectacular. Much great art and architecture, more compact than Florence. And there’s no traffic! No cars allowed in the city center.


abb1 02.28.07 at 10:32 pm

And there’s no traffic!

Right. There’s plenty of different traffic, though. It’s one of those places with arrows on the pavement directing the herd of tourists to move from one attraction to the next. Start here, move along as directed, buy some stuff along the way, everybody takes the same pictures, back to the parking, back to the hotel. Hey, why not go to Disneyland instead?


Charlie Whitaker 02.28.07 at 11:24 pm

The Pazzi Chapel is on the tourist trail, but I remember it as being very special, and would go back, if I were there.


Charlie Whitaker 02.28.07 at 11:30 pm

And this is why, I suppose.


JR 03.01.07 at 4:27 am

I don’t remember hordes of tourists getting in my way in Siena. I do remember the coffee shop with a gleaming espresso machine about eight feet across and the proprietor standing in front of it in a blue coat and brass buttons and a huge handlebar mustache, like the captain of a luxury liner. I remember standing by the statue of the she-wolf suckling the sons of Remus, watching the black-haired Italian women on their way to work in jackets with shoulders broader than Al Capone’s and skirts no longer than than their manicured fingernails. I remember sitting in the Piazza sipping a sparkling limonata while little children in white shirts and pressed shorts skipped across the bricks. I remember, as I walked down a steep and narrow side street, passing three or four dignified men in suits and wearing the bright satin sashes of their contrada. I took their picture and they glared at me- rightly so. They were not tourist props.

I remember the extraordinary equestrian fresco of Guidoriccio da Fogliano (yes, I had to look up the name) by Simone, with the brightly lit rider between two castles against a dark sky. I remember the font in the Baptistry, two stories high and crowned with a statue of John the Baptist. I remember the splendid, almost oriental black and white striped columns of the interior of the Duomo.

God, I loved Siena. When Disneyland can give me memories like that, maybe I’ll go there.


Randy Paul 03.01.07 at 7:45 am

Yeah, that’s typical for Tuscany. Big flat thick piece of meat without anything; no sauce, no nothing.

Mine last night had fresh rosemary on it when it was grilled.

As for the panini, please let me know where in New York I can find a ham and cheese on semolina bread for US$3.


Randy Paul 03.01.07 at 7:56 am

I might add, by the way, the steak was excellent. They also cook steaks the same way in Argentina and Brazil (although without the rosemary).


abb1 03.01.07 at 8:24 am

Yeah, shining coffee machines and phony captains who will charge you extra for your ice-cream if you want to sit on their cheap lawn chairs – and yet more if you choose to sit close to where music is played.

And they have frescoes and cathedrales everywhere, it is possible to at least minimize the indignity.


novakant 03.01.07 at 8:53 am

Fiesole is nice, cool mansions on the way up, great view and there’s a nice castello on top (I have fond memories of seeing Barry Lyndon there in the open air cinema, but I guess not this time of year, but it’s also a museum). Siena is gorgeous, so are San Giminiano and Volterra.


abb1 03.01.07 at 9:34 am

To be fair, there are worse places on earth. For example, Mont Saint-Michel is much worse.


Eszter 03.01.07 at 9:57 am

Thanks for all the exciting suggestions. I won’t have time to leave Florence this time, but next time I’m in the area with more fexibility I’ll look back at this thread for the out-of-town suggestions.

I bought an extra memory card for my camera today to make sure I have plenty of room for the millions of photos I’ll be taking. These will be difficult days for picking just one for Project 365. Yeah, yeah, I know, life is tough.


Claudio 03.01.07 at 11:31 am

Hi Eszter,

Even without leaving Florence you will surely enjoy your stay and that’s the best “gem” of all.

Buon viaggio,



derek 03.01.07 at 9:20 pm

Two restaurants I’d recommend are: Trattoria Anita, Via del Parlascio 2/r (ang. Via Vinegia 16/r [closed Sundays] and Trattoria Casalingua, Via Michelangelo just off of the Piazza Santa Spirito in the Altrarno, 20-30 yards from the Brunelleschi church of Santa Spirito – a wonderful, wonderful church: clean, precise lines, very uncluttered – see the photo in this wikipedia entry – – also, I would recommend walking up to San Miniato []from the Altrarno for three reasons: one you get a wonderful view overlooking Florence; two, the cemetery behind the church is really quite extraordinary; and three, on some afternoons they sing Latin Vespers in the crypt [unbelievably peaceful and calming even for an unbeliever like myself] – as for gelato, Vivoli gets all the press and tourists but last time I was there, I thought the gelato at Perce Non! [?spelling?] was much, much better: I’ll eat gelato as though it is going out of style when I’m in Italy and always test by tasting the hazelnut gelato, so other persons views might be different – BTW: Trattoria Anita is just around the corner from Vivoli – also, you must really go to the 12th century Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella behind Santa Maria Novella: wonderful architecture and products though a little pricey [this URL is a little tacky but ignore the photos and the text is pretty good – – really an extraordinary place – finally, go to the Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella – wonderful frescos of the Hounds of God [a.k.a. the Dominicans]


bobbem 03.02.07 at 12:55 am


Your Ignatius J. Reilly impersonation cracks me up!


abb1 03.02.07 at 7:57 am

No impersonation here, fella, all original heartfelt rage.

Terrific panino… Terrific my ass. Italians ate their brains and replaced them with gelato…


I’ll eat gelato as though it is going out of style when I’m in Italy and always test by tasting the hazelnut gelato…

Go easy on this stuff – please! It’s been scientifically proven that Italian population has better metabolism than the rest of us – they can eat this stuff, but it’ll certainly kill you.

Aaah, forget it, it’s hopeless…


claudio 03.02.07 at 12:13 pm


As a born and raised Italian, I have found all of your comments somewhat amusing.

However, switching on your brain, BEFORE engaging the keybord, would help you greatly.


abb1 03.02.07 at 1:01 pm

Lighten up, man.


claudio 03.02.07 at 1:35 pm


I am always looking at the sunny side of things and I welcome a witty comment here and there as being refreshing.

When “witty” comments are constant, then some boredom creeps in…..


palto 03.04.07 at 4:06 pm

*I have another post in the works about how to keep people posted of one’s whereabouts.

Uhh, post them to Crooked Timber?


gfish 03.04.07 at 11:37 pm

“*I have another post in the works about how to keep people posted of one’s whereabouts.

Uhh, post them to Crooked Timber?”

Yes, that’ll do alright, but it should involve a pretense of some sort ( i.e., “Hi all, I’ll be surveying Bedouins about their internet usage – shout out the Saudi Govt. and to Google(tm) for the funding – does anyone have a special little corner of the Rub’ al Khali to recommend…you know, somplace away from the maddening crowds”)

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