Italy Perfect and our Vacation Perfect family were inspired by the Byrne sisters’ love of travel and experiences growing up overseas in a large Air Force family. Italy Perfect founder, Lisa Byrne, is the youngest of the six (yes, six!) sisters and, together with Pat Byrne, has spent nearly 20 years hand-picking the best vacation rental properties across Italy. We recently sat down with Lisa as she shared her insights and go-to list of Florence favorites. We know you’ll enjoy these tips as you plan a perfect holiday in Florence!
What are your favorite lesser-known museums?
As far as Florence favorites go, there are so many hidden gems and small museums that we’ve shared about on our blog. For no crowds and no reservations required I like the Bardini Museum combined with a visit to the Bardini Gardens. The views are spectacular.
To get a glimpse of what life might have been like in a historic palazzo, visit the Museo di Palazzo Davanzati, a wonderfully preserved home that gives you insights into the life of a Renaissance-era wealthy wool merchant.
A delight for me is the National Archeological Museum of Florence. I wandered into it last year on a wintry day because of a poster I noticed about an Etruscan exhibit. The modest entry and unimpressive front display hall didn’t prepare me for the wonders this wandering museum holds – filled with Etruscan treasures and Roman statues. In my opinion, the Egyptian artifacts and mummies section is even more extensive than London’s British Museum and without the crowds.
Where do eat when you’re in Florence?
I tend to overdo the carbs when I’m in Florence since I’m usually on the go so often make do with simple, quick meals of a slice of takeaway pizza or a panino (sandwich). However, there are so many excellent restaurants in Florence and I do have several favorites when I want something casual with friendly service and that won’t break the bank.
- 4 Leoni: A well-known foodie-favorite restaurant, so be sure to make reservations in advance. The food is excellent and the prices are not astronomical for the very high quality.
- Il Santo Bevitore: A higher caliber of Tuscan fare and the cool atmosphere under the vaulted rooms is nice.
- La Bussola: If you visit Museo di Palazzo Davanzati, it is directly across the street so a handy place for lunch. They have a full menu of pizza, pasta, meat but their pizza is always my favorite choice.
- Trattoria La Casalinga: Traditional Tuscan menu, this restaurant is popular with both locals and tourists alike.
- Ristorante Pensavo Peggio (Via del Moro, 51 r): Tucked away on a small street near the chic via Tornabuoni, I have been going there for years for lunch because of its handy location when I’m dashing between appointments. In the past it was usually just local businesspeople, but it seems to have been discovered by the TripAdvisor crowd. It isn’t gourmet dining but perfectly good Tuscan fare and a cute atmosphere. I am always charmed by the name “Pensavo Peggio” which translates to “I thought it would be worse.”
- Tamerò: Set on charming Piazza Santo Spirito lined with several good restaurants I go back to Tamerò again and again and am never disappointed in the food. The place has zero atmosphere and the service is unpredictable, but the food is good. On my last visit the waiter didn’t know the menu, didn’t speak Italian and forgot one of the entrees we ordered so set your expectations low because the waitstaff seems to turn over constantly but the magic happens behind the counter in the tiny kitchen which turns out delicious pasta, pizzas and my favorite grilled octopus.
- L’Osteria di Giovanni: This is a long time favorite spot. Giovanni, the owner for over 60 years, still presides over the dining room.
Where would you go for a special meal off the beaten path?
Head to La Reggia degli Etruschi in Fiesole for a leisurely lunch just outside of Florence. It is a short taxi ride or about a 25-minute easy public bus ride that will give you a chance to see the gorgeous hills outside of Florence. The food and the views are fabulous.
La Terrazza del Principe is a reasonable walk from the city center about halfway up to Piazza Michelangelo. It is a lovely retreat from the bustling streets of Florence and has impressive views over the city.
Florence Favorites: Where to Shop
Florence is a shopping mecca and you’ll find all the major designers and fast fashion retailers in the city center. I’m not a designer fashion shopper and prefer the smaller boutiques. My recommendations are to head to the trendy Borgo San Jacopo in the Oltrarno neighborhood. There you’ll find Ortigia for fragrance & candles, Ismerelda for luxury linen clothes and several leather goods stores. Via della Vigna Nuova has some interesting small boutiques and leather goods stores. Ottino on Via Porta Rossa for purses. Bojola on Via dei Rondinelli for sporty leather purses, travel bags, backpacks. G.B. Frugone 1885 on Via delle Belle Donne for cashmere. Faliero Sarti for gorgeous, ethereal cashmere scarves. On Via dei Fossi is Epoca Vintage clothing boutique that has some beautiful vintage clothes, especially leather and suede coats. Across the street on Via dei Fossi is enchanting Julia B. Handmade Linens and Tableware, and it is a beautiful store.
What’s something first time visitors to Florence should know?
Florence is small! You don’t need a car as you can walk everywhere. There’s no need for taxis except on arrival to get to your accommodations. Brisk walks are one of my favorite activities (helpful to work off pasta & gelato indulgences!), especially early mornings before the city comes to life. If I have time and the weather is good, I do a big loop up through the San Niccolo area or up by Forte di Belvedere, into the hills up to San Miniato and then meander down through the Bobolino area behind the Boboli Gardens towards Piazza Porta Romana. It is amazing that you can feel like you’re in the countryside up in these hills just at the edge of Florence. Just follow our Florence walking tour with beautiful views to experience it for yourself!
Any other special tips that you’d like to share?
Florence has many excellent supermarkets, and although they’re compact the quality of ingredients is high. I enjoy apartment living in Florence, which means the convenience of having a kitchen and having the option of not having to eat out three meals a day. Too much dining out stops feeling special to me so I eat breakfast at “home” and one meal out and one meal back at the apartment. I rely on wonderful prepared foods from the local supermarkets for light meals such as a quick insalata caprese I can throw together myself with some fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and good olive oil. Other favorites for easy no-cook meals are pre-washed salad mix (I love the bags of valerianella, known a mache in English) on top of prosciutto or bresaola (cured dried salted beef) with a bit of olive oil & a squeeze of lemon. The prepared minestrone soups in the refrigerator or freezer section are top quality but usually need a bit of seasoning with some salt, parmigiano cheese and olive oil. For snacks, check out the unusual varieties of potato chips like lime and pink pepper. For my sweet tooth, I can’t resist picking up a bag of Pan di Stelle or Il Mulino Taralluci cookies.
Share your Florence favorites with us and book a stay in one of our Italy Perfect Florence vacation rentals to have fun finding your own!