Florence in January? Or is it February? Legendary! I say off-season—October to Easter—the only time for visitors to head to Italy’s cultural hotspots during the peak season where you can’t be moved. No sane person goes in August; In fact, the entire school holiday season is a no-no. September is still pretty busy. But when we get to October-November, that’s another story.
The weather was still mild – quite warm when I was there in November – with occasional rains. January and February are colder but still better from here. For me this is preferable even to the May heat. However, what makes the city so attractive is the absence of a large visitor mass.
Normally Florentines outnumber visitors. Nowhere is the old metaphor of tourists destroying what they come looking for more true than here and in Venice. But at this time of year the numbers are less disproportionate. The queue for the Uffizi gallery, one of Europe’s finest collections, winds right around the block during peak season; this time, wait about five minutes.
There’s still a long queue at the Accademia where Michaelangelo’s David stopped for a much shorter time than usual – book ahead. As for Bargello, the beautiful and atmospheric former prison filled with extraordinary pieces, where you can find Donatello’s pensive David, it was almost empty by summer standards; it was me and a few dozen others, max. Another point to note is that ticket prices are cheaper for some tourist attractions at this time of year; Uffizi charges 12€ instead of 20€ out of season.
Florentines look nicer than ever. Restaurants mentioned in guidebooks are less crazy, more likely for people who just stop by. Right next to the Santa Trinita bridge, which is normally full of tourists, the Santa Trinita ice cream parlor (have you ever tried black sesame ice cream?) is currently. And yes, it’s still gelato season (when isn’t it?).
Cibreo, a series of restaurants near the beautiful church of San Ambrogio, gave me a table in the trattoria without a reservation on a Saturday evening. And if you’re in a café-bar, keep your cappuccino and breakfast cake (make mine a custard doughnut) standing, not sitting at the bar; this is cheaper. This is true even for Gilli, the elegant tearooms serving beautiful pastries just above Via Roma.
Below is a list of the best Florence restaurants compiled by my friend Peter Kennealy, who lives in Florence. Take it with you.
It’s cheaper to go to Florence at this time of year. I traveled by plane one way and by train on the way back. And I think we should all try to make at least part of our journey by train, if we can afford it. I booked with Trainline who did the whole route for you. Keep in mind that Italian trains can be late, so probably give yourself the maximum changeover time in Turin. And while flying to Florence is easy, you lose something by landing at your destination. On the train you can see the route, heading south from Paris, and the Alps and Italy in the distance. I had fun searching the names of the stations on the road on Google and saw that we were following the Roman road from Italy to France.
On the downside, mosquitoes are the only creature that doesn’t have a note about the off-peak season in Florence. Do you think they all hibernate in the colder months or what horrible things do? No, when the lights went out, I heard the distinctive whine and got eaten alive. Bring an industrial-strength mosquito repellent or buy it at a drugstore.
Prices start from £106 one way from London to Florence; Trainline.com.
Florence’s best restaurants
Cantinetta di Antinori
“Elegant old world style place.” Excellent traditional Tuscan food well executed, great for lunch.” It’s pretty expensive, so go for a feast. cantinetta-antinori.com
Very Florentine. Charming neighborhood spot popular with locals. tripadvisor.co.uk
Via Ardiglione is in Oltrarno (the Santo Spirito side of the city), just off Via Serragli. Good lunch menu that changes daily. trattoriairaddi.it
Trattoria del Carmine
In the square with the same name.â€¯ Traditional Tuscan food. Starters are as cheap as €4. Divento.com
Via Dell’Orto.â€¯ A bit of luxury.â€¯tripadvisor.co.uk
In Piazza Tasso. Traditional good food, authentic and wonderfully friendly. tripadvisor.co.uk
So busy. â€¯Excellent food. ilsantobevitore.com
Another interesting restaurant is in Piazza S Spirito. Urban and edgy. Sit in the square. tamero.it
Elegant and historic. cantinetta-antinori.com
The freshest and most expensive fish in Florence and possibly anywhere. furdacqua.it
Shopping in Florence
Make a market for food. The large indoor central market Mercato Centrale (mercatocentrale.com) not only has a remarkable selection of stalls; upstairs on the first floor, there are several eateries where you can get excellent, seasonal dishes – a large roll with porchetta, roast pork, about 6 €; A portion of Florence tripe (a favorite local dish), about €7.
This market is large and busy, but there is a much smaller version near the historic church of St Ambrogio, Mercato Sant’Ambrogio (mercatosantambrogio.it), which has stalls both inside and outside the covered market. Excellent meat and cheese stalls inside and outside, they have great produce like fruit, vegetables, flowers, macaroni and cheese. And – top tip – there’s also a trattoria area inside that you can sit in.
For food, also check out local supermarkets like Carrefour; They are cheaper than specialist dealers.
Florentine paper is famous. For expensive but beautiful handmade papers like Il Papiro (ilpapirofirenze.com) near the cathedral, you can expect to pay 12€ for a sheet of marbling or hand-printed paper and around 35€ for a journal. For cheaper printed papers with distinctive Florentine designs, you can buy cover notebooks for €5 or sheets for around €6. Beware of photocopiers selling stationery; They are cheaper than specialist shops.
The famous pharmacy near the beautiful Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella used to be run by monks; not anymore, but they have an amazing range of soaps and fragrances. They have outlets all over the city and… They also have a branch in Piccadilly.
Ignore street stalls for leather. If you can afford it, head to Scuola Cuoio (scuoladelcuoio.it), a converted convent leather school down the street next to Santa Croce (an outstanding church) for beautiful pieces and excellent craftsmanship.