If you're thinking about studying abroad sometime in the future but you're not quite sure where, check out this blog post to learn more about why Florence would be a great choice!
Italy’s food, culture, history, art, and beautiful landscapes have long drawn students from across the globe to study abroad, and it comes as no surprise that GoOverseas has named the country one of the most popular study abroad destinations for Americans again in 2020. We have no doubt that CAPA Florence alumni would likely agree.
So, why study abroad in Florence? Let’s dive in…
Study abroad in Florence because:
1. FLORENCE HAS THE MOST INCREDIBLE FOOD.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italy? If you’re anything like us, it’s probably food.
First things first: coffee, right? A standard coffee in Florence is espresso, so ask specifically if you want something different. And there are “rules” (or, rather, deeply engrained cultural norms and expectations) in cafe culture here. Do some research before you travel. Whether you’re planning to drink your coffee standing at the bar like a local or you prefer sitting down, Culture Trip has cafe recommendations on the best bars (aka cafes) around.
When it comes to eating, you’ll be pleased to hear that Florence has some of the most typical, traditional, and oldest cuisines in the country. One of the most famous dishes to try is Bistecca alla Fiorentina: Florentine steak. Pasta and pizza are obvious additions to your list. And add Robollita too, a popular Tuscan bean soup. Feeling brave? Give the local favorite Lampredotto a try. That’s meat from the fourth stomach of a cow, a treat often enjoyed from Florence’s street food stalls. We love this blog post sharing local blogger Girl in Florence’s restaurant recommendations.
And of course there’s the biggest temptation for most of us when we visit Florence: gelato. Yes, you will probably want to eat gelato every day. We’re not telling. There’s sub-par gelato and there’s real gelato, so make sure to choose the real thing. CAPA staff will happily recommend their favorites; just ask.
While we’re on the subject of food, markets are the perfect places to stock up on fresh, local ingredients to cook with in your apartment. This will help you save money too. Start with Mercato Centrale and Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio, but there are many others.
Also, don’t miss the pasta-making class that’s part of CAPA’s My Global City calendar!
2. FLORENCE HAS A BUZZING ARTS AND CULTURE SCENE.
The Uffizi Gallery is one of Italy’s oldest and most important museums and one of the country’s most visited. Inside, you’ll find Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”, and major works by Raphael, Caravaggio, and many artists. In galleries across Florence, you’ll find artwork by many of the Renaissance geniuses (Giotto, Brunelleschi, Leonardo, Della Robbia, Donatello, and Michelangelo, just to name a few).
Florence also has its share of contemporary art exhibition spaces. And if you walk around outdoors, you’ll catch chalk artists drawing in the streets, stumble upon famous sculptures, spot street art on the walls, and many of local artist Clet’s creatively altered street signs.
If you love live performances, keep an eye on Teatro Niccolini (the oldest theater in Florence), Opera di Firenze (the newest big theater in Florence), Teatro della Pergola (which has a stunning interior), and Teatro Verdi (constructed on a 14th century prison). The city hosts a comprehensive calendar of events spanning opera, drama, orchestra, ballet, live music, and much more.
In the world of sports, Florentines love to support their local purple-clad soccer team, Fiorentina, and in November, the city hosts the annual popular Florence Marathon.
3. FLORENCE IS A SMALL GLOBAL CITY AND EASY TO NAVIGATE.
Yes, Florence is a bustling global city, and popular with tourists, but—especially compared to some of the larger global cities—it feels manageable for students. If you come from a small town and haven’t experienced life in bigger cities, Florence might be the perfect choice for you.
You’ll find plenty of excitement here, lots to explore, and all of the elements that shape it into a global city, but Florence has a relatively compact historical center. It’s easy to navigate and has a small town feel. Large traffic-free squares are dotted throughout the city; there are romantic cobbled streets and intimate walkways to wander; and you’ll find other pedestrianized areas where you can relax, have lunch, listen to the buskers’ music, and watch the world go by for a while.
For size comparison, Shanghai’s population exceeds a whopping 26,000,000 while, when you choose to study abroad in Florence, you’ll be among a mere 707,000 residents. It’s the smallest of CAPA’s locations.
4. FLORENCE HAS BEAUTIFUL GREEN SPACES.
Alongside the picturesque frescoed basilicas and charming old bridges, Florence is home to some lovely parks and gardens.
One of the biggest green spaces is Giardino di Boboli, commissioned by the Medici family (a name you’ll become very familiar with when you study abroad in Florence). Look for the centuries-old cypress trees, Artichoke Fountain, Buontalenti Grotto which was handmade, and the Museum of Porcelain within the grounds.
Wander over to Giardino Bardini and take a 15-minute uphill hike (worth it!) for fruit orchards surrounded by medieval walls, an Italian garden, and English woods. There’s also a restaurant where you can stop for lunch.
Many of our favorite green spaces are clustered south of the River Arno near San Niccolò. Giardino delle Rose, the rose garden where more than 30 types of roses bloom alongside lemon trees and a Japanese garden, is right near the famous Piazzale Michelangelo and offers some incredible views over the city. You’ll also find sculptures by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon. At the other end of Piazzale Michelangelo, there’s a stunning, tranquil garden full of irises (the emblem of Florence) where 250 endangered species of irises are planted. It’s only open a few weeks of the year though; the best time to visit is in May.
North of the river, visit San Marco’s Giardino della Gherardesca within the grounds of the Four Seasons Hotel. Its manicured pathways and trees (including the city’s first ever mandarin orange trees) were planted here in the 15th century.
5. FLORENCE IS A FASHION TRENDSETTER.
Vogue called Florence the world’s fifth fashion capital after New York, London, Milan, and Paris and pointed out that Florence is the birthplace of several luxury powerhouses including Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, Ermanno Scervino, and Salvatore Ferragamo. The Florentine "soirées" of the early 1950s, organized by Giovanni Battista Giorgini, were events where several now-famous Italian designers participated in group shows and first garnered international attention. It’s also home to the biannual Pitti Imamagine Uomo, the renowned international trade fair for men’s clothing and accessories, which began in 1972. Now, there’s also Florence Fashion Week in April.
Traditional craft has been kept alive by local artisans, and you can visit some of their workshops. Laudato is run by four brothers who make traditional Florentine-style leather sandals and clogs. Noi Gioielli makes contemporary jewelry in his San Niccolo workshop. Nearby is Argentiere Pagliai, a silversmith from a third generation family owned business. La Bottega degli Orafi makes jewelry from gold, silver, and iron, decorated with stones and enamel using the traditional Florentine techniques. Antico Setificio Fiorentino still uses original looms to produce silks. Those are only a few examples.
Florence is something of a hotbed for new and upcoming designers, independent boutiques, and concept stores. There’s a good selection of vintage to browse too. More than 600 luxury retailers can be found near the San Lorenzo street market as well as on Via Tornabuoni, and more affordable fashion chains are clustered in the streets around Piazza Repubblica. You can also visit the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, where there’s a collection of 10,000 shows on display dating back to the 1920s.
6. FLORENCE HAS A RICH HISTORY TO EXPLORE.
Florence is bursting with history to experience. When you study abroad, you can start your exploration with the CAPA center itself, which is inside of Palazzo Galli-Tassi, a 15th century palace in the Santa Croce neighborhood. In some of the classrooms, you’ll even study beneath stunning frescoes painted on the ceilings.
The center of Florence itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll find traces of the Renaissance everywhere. Visit the plaza Duomo, where you’ll find the iconic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Giotto’s famous bell tower. Palazzo Medici Riccardi has Florence’s first Renaissance building, and not far away, you can see the Basilica of San Lorenzo. Be sure to spend some time in the Academia Gallery, which is home to Michelangelo’s David and many other important historical works of art.
Over by via dei Calzaiuoli, you’ll find the city’s historical political center, piazza della Signoria, where Palazzo Vecchio is located, and the Uffizi Gallery (which we mentioned above) just around the corner.
Other historical sites in Florence that you won’t want to miss are the Basilica of Santa Croce, Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Pitti, Santa Maria Novella, Pizzale Michelangelo, and a slow walk across the Ponte Vecchio to the Oltrarno area where you’ll spot many of those traditional artisan shops and workshops.
7. FLORENCE IS THE PERFECT LOCATION TO LEARN THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE.
When you choose to study abroad with CAPA in Florence, you’ll have many opportunities to learn and practice the Italian language. It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete beginner, or if you have some experience in the language already.
Learning may start in the classroom and reach far beyond its walls. Take beginner’s level language courses if you’re starting from scratch or, if you're an Italian language major or have a high level of competency in Italian, enrol on our Advanced Italian Track. For this, we’ve partnered up with the University of Florence’s Cultural Centre for Foreigners and you’ll take language, history, literature, and art history courses—all taught in Italian.
Internships are available for students who have completed at least four semesters of Italian language. This will help you connect with locals and understand the work culture of Florence while you practice your language skills, develop important professional skills for your future career, and build your resume. Other students may enjoy volunteering.
All students are welcome to choose to live in a homestay with a local family. This will introduce you to life in Florence through a truly authentic lens; you’ll be offered breakfasts and dinners daily, so you’ll eat like a Florentine; and you’ll be able to spend time getting to know your host family and speaking with them too.
The best way to learn a new language is immersion, and just being out and about in Florence, exploring, ordering meals, sitting in cafes, shopping, and taking in the many cultural attractions will give you many levels of exposure to the language. You’ll find yourself picking up new words and phrases daily and your confidence will grow exponentially by the end of your program.
8. FLORENCE OFFERS SOME UNBEATABLE VIEWS.
Heading up to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo should be on your busked list when you study abroad in Florence. The views are incredible, and so are the sunsets.
In fact, there are quite a few places in Florence where you can find those stunning panoramic views over the city.
Campanile di Giotto is another one. You’ll have amazing views with a snippet of Brunelleschi’s Dome in your photos. Go early to avoid long lines and consider the climb to the top a morning workout. You can also climb to the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome itself, which is probably the most popular viewpoint in the city. It’s 463 steps to the top!
Palazzo Vecchio, where you’ll find a copy of Michelangelo’s David, also has a bell tower that you can climb, and it stays open late in the summer which means it’s possible to catch a sunset glow over the city.
The Uffizi also has more to offer than the collection of art inside its walls; head to the top, river-side, and you’ll find the most breathtaking views along the Arno, including the famous Ponte Vecchio below.
And studying doesn’t mean you don’t have to sacrifice the city’s views; find yourself a spot at the Oblate Library where there’s a cafe on the second floor overlooking the Duomo.
Many of the gardens we mentioned above have beautiful views too!
9. FLORENCE VALUES DIVERSITY.
Although the majority of people living in Florence are native Italians, recent years have seen an increasing number of expats moving in and enjoying the Italian lifestyle in this beautiful city. The most well-represented ethnicities here are East Asians, especially Chinese; those who come from nearby European countries, especially Romania and Armenia; and Americans, who now make up 1.4% of the population.
When it comes to religion, 12% of the population don’t practice a religion, but of those who do, the majority are Muslim (21%), followed by Roman Catholic (17%), Hindu (13%), Protestant (12%), and Buddhist (6%). There are also significant communities of Anglicans, Sikhs, Jews, and Baha’is.
Though it can be a conservative place, the LGBTQIA community is quietly strong in Florence and make a vital contribution to the city’s creative and social fabric. Public opinion on LGBTQIA rights is increasingly liberal and Florence is generally very same-sex relationship friendly. While it doesn’t focus specifically on Florence, the Gay Friendly Italy Guide is a great resource to bookmark.
10. FLORENCE IS SET IN A CONVENIENT GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION.
If you’re interested in exploring more of Italy, and other countries in Europe, Florence is a fantastic base.
Outside of the city, you’ll be surrounded by the rolling hills of Tuscany, and there’s the coast with its sandy beaches and rocky cliffs, medieval villages, historical towns with castles, country churches, the Apuan Alps, and spas dotted throughout the region.
Some fun day trips include Pisa (of Leaning Tower fame); the ancient city of Siena where the entire town center is a UNESCO World Heritage site; San Gimignano, a picturesque village accessed by roads that wind through vineyards, ancient, rustic farms on hillsides, and olive groves; the charming Chianti region which produces some of the word’s best wines; and many other places. We love Culture Trip’s round up.
Head south along the coast to visit Rome, and Naples, or north for Milan and Venice. Italy has an excellent network of trains which make travel within the country convenient and relatively inexpensive.
Hop on a plane for a short trip on a weekend or during break week to explore other parts of Europe; Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Croatia, and the Czech Republic are excellent choices.
Why study abroad in Florence, you ask? Why not, we answer!