9 Less-Obvious Must-Do's for a Semester in Florence

Dec 27, 2018 9:23:00 AM / by Payton Meyer

In this week's post, Payton has rounded up the 9 things you must do to get the most out of Florence. Wondering which spots to visit and study in, as well as the best views to enjoy and activities to try just like a local? Read on to see what Payton has suggested—from rollerblading to trying the tastiest gelato!

1. Listen to Street Performers in Piazza della Repubblica

The number one thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that, chances are, I’ll probably be able to catch some sweet live music on my walk to class. As I’ve mentioned before, Piazza della Repubblica is one of my favorite squares in the city, because of the street performers, the carousel, and, right now, one of the buildings in the square is completely covered in Christmas lights! It’s common to see a whole band of local street performers in front of the carousel that play and sing anything ranging from contemporary American music, to old Italian classics, with huge smiles plastered across their faces the whole time. Happy crowds gather fast, and, when the sun is shining, will stick around for a whole set. Don’t leave Florence without giving some of these guys a listen—they’ve really set the tone of my time here this semester.

2. Learn About the More Modern Happenings in Florence at Gucci Garden

Gucci Garden in Piazza Della SignoriaGucci Garden in Piazza Della Signoria.

Big name designer brands are hard to ignore in this city, as much as I need to as a broke college student. Whether they’re on the glittery storefronts or the gotta-have-em shoes, labels sporting names like Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, and Cartier catch your eye on every block, as high style is a big part of the culture here. The luxury brand that stands out the most in Florence, however, is Gucci. With several stores, an outlet, a museum, and even their own restaurant/cafe, Gucci dominates the fashion scene in Florence, and rightfully so, as it’s a Florentine brand. If you’re at all interested in fashion and the creative process behind it, then you’ve got to check out Gucci Garden in Piazza della Signoria. The museum features rotating exhibits of past Gucci collections, projects, marketing and iconography, and even it’s own line of Gucci products, and entry is free for students! If you want, you can even grab something to eat from the Gucci cafe when you’re done, but it’ll cost you—brand name food = brand name price. Regardless, it’s a great place to take a break from Renaissance art museums and peruse the new and now.

3. Bite into Some Coccoli

My favorite Florentine snack!My favorite Florentine snack!

One of my favorite Florentine snacks is a warm, fried ball of dough, called a coccolo, lathered in stracchino cheese, and wrapped in freshly sliced prosciutto. It’s heaven served in a paper cone. My favorite place to get it is also conveniently along my daily walk to CAPA, at a little hole in the wall eatery down the same alley that Museo Casa di Dante is located in. They’re only €1 a piece, and you can even get coccoli with nutella or truffle as well! They also serve delicious paninis, and, if you’re feeling ambitious, lampredotto (that’s the 4th stomach of the cow, remember?)

4. Rollerblade at Le Cascine

Rollerblading in the park at sunset!Rollerblading in the park at sunset.

A quick bus ride away from the train station, Le Cascine is a pretty park along the river that’s perfect for picnics, playing soccer, and even rollerblading! The Firenze Roller club, a group of locals that love to rollerblade and want everyone to be able to try it out for themselves rents out rollerblades in the park for €5 a pop! They’ll even help you learn if you’re a bit wobbly. When my friends and I tried this we had a blast, and wish we had found out about it sooner! It’s a great excuse to get out of the city center and spend some time in nature, even just for a bit, and see what the locals do in their free time. The park is bustling with families playing and people taking their Sunday night strolls. Happy rolling!

5. Attend Sunday Mass at Santa Croce

Santa Croce is one of the most beautiful buildings in Florence, inside and out. The cathedral, dating back to the early 14th century, now functions as a museum, but still holds mass on weekdays at 6pm, and Sunday mornings at 11am and 12pm that’s free and open to the public. The weekday mass is held in a small room to the side of the main altar, with an intimate crowd of local churchgoers. The Sunday mass, however, is held in front of the main altar and draws larger crowds. The service is entirely in Italian, but you can grab a program and follow along! Attending mass is a great way to see the church if you don’t want to buy a museum ticket, although they won’t allow you to take photos on a mass visit. It’s also an opportunity to participate in Florentine culture, and do as the locals do, and have been doing for hundreds of years! Even if you’re not religious, I highly recommend going. You can really feel the historical implications of this place in there.

6. Explore the Boboli Gardens

The view from the Boboli Gardens!The view from the Boboli Gardens.

Of course, you absolutely have to go to Palazzo Pitti, where the Medici used to reside, but make sure you leave yourself some time to visit the gardens behind it. Also across the river, The Boboli Gardens, a huge garden that ascends up a hill just beyond the palace, are a perfect place to enjoy a sunny day in Florence. The gardens offer many different viewpoints of the city, more of Florence’s staple white marble sculptures, and countless tree-lined pathways to get lost in. Plus, it’s on the other side of the river known as the Oltrarno, which is generally considered a bit more authentic and less touristy, so it’s always a treat to make your way over there. Next time you need a little dose of nature, or want to relax outside after spending hours looking at all the incredible art inside the palace, get yourself to the gardens!

7. Get Your Study On at L’appartamento

My cozy corner in L’appartamentoMy cozy corner in L’appartamento!

Although you can find a cafe just about every 100 feet in Florence, many of them are great for an espresso and a pastry, but not so good for a study sesh. Many of them are quite small, some don’t have wifi, and are just overall meant to be enjoyed more as social spaces than productive ones. That being said, however, I’ve found a few places that are perfect for getting some work done. My favorite is L’appartamento which is just a 2-minute walk from CAPA! Not only does this place have the perfect balance of cozy but modern decor inside, it also has some board games and other activities for when you need a study break, and even a tiny little plant-filled terrace! The coolest aspect, though, is that, as the name suggests, the cafe exists within an apartment building. There’s no welcoming storefront, and you have to ring the doorbell to be let inside, so it’s kind of an “if you know, you know” sort of thing. Don’t be put off by this—they’ll always let you in, and after you walk down a little hallway and up a few stairs into the cafe, you’ll be greeted with a smile and a “ciao!” just like at any other place. The only downside is that they don’t open until 2pm, but don’t close until midnight, so come here for more of an afternoon-late night study atmosphere, you’ll be so glad you found this place!

8. Get Your Fix at Gelateria Dei Neri

My favorite gelateria in Florence is Gelateria Dei Neri on Via Dei Neri, one of the cutest little streets in town, as there’re usually little pink flags strung up between the buildings that line the sidewalks. The street is also home to All’antico Vinaio, one of my favorite panini places, and Cecilia, a cozy health food cafe, where I like to sip smoothies and study. The gelateria usually has a line, but it moves quickly, and has some of the best flavors I’ve ever tasted. My personal favorites are gelato al riso (like a rice pudding, but ice cream!), ricotta e fichi (ricotta and fig) and ricotta e pistacchio. As you can see, I’m a sucker for ricotta gelato, something I would have never dreamed of trying before coming here. Best of all, the smallest size is only €1.80! Italian gelato is to die for, and I can confidently say that this place is the best in town. But watch out, you’ll never be able to go back to American ice cream!

9. Catch the Sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo

Climbing the steps to this Piazza that overlooks the city is one of the first things I did upon my arrival in Florence with CAPA, and again the following weekend for the international gelato festival. Also across the river, the piazza itself isn’t much to write home about, but the view below is breathtaking. You can see where the city starts to turn into the countryside, and all of the fantastic architecture, like the Duomo, the bell tower, Santa Croce, and the Ponte Vecchio all in one glance (check out my last blog post to see for yourself!) The walk up to it is a bit of a hike as it sits above the rest of the city, (burn those gelato calories!), but worth every step. This is a must-do for a picture-perfect Florentine sunset!

Thanks, Payton!

Payton Meyer

Payton Meyer is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Strategic Communication major at  University of Colorado Boulder, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

Payton's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.

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Topics: Florence, Italy, Local Culture