Studying abroad in Florence? Get a crash course in how to make the most of time in Italy with Her Campus’ abroad guide. We spoke to collegiettes who studied in the city, who shared their tips on everything from getting around, to staying safe to enhancing your time in this new city!
What must you see while you’re living in Florence?
Make sure to check out Piazzale Michelangelo, but be aware, “getting to the top is a very tough and steep climb up countless stairs, unless you take a cab of course, but once you get to the top, preferably around sunset, they usually will have live music playing and you have a gorgeous view of the entire city.” Another climb worth it? The Duomo which at the top has “the most beautiful views of the city” so “don’t be lazy, climb all the way to the top.” As many know, Florence is the place to buy leather, so shop at The Leather Market/Central Marketwhich is “a giant open room with different food vendors, it's always fun to go around and sample it all! Right outside is the leather market which is fun to look around in and haggle prices for a new leather bag.”
Cross Ponte Vecchio, “the famous bridge connecting the more residential side and the touristy side. There are cute shops along the bridge, but it is cooler to go to one of the bridges next to it so you can see the Ponte Vecchio in its full.” Once you cross the bridge, walk through Boboli Gardens. “They are huge and beautiful and you can take hours exploring their entirety. It is the perfect place to picnic or do homework on a nice day.” Another great place to hang is “Santa Croce, an open piazza where people come to hang out, drink, and eat panini and gelato.”
In terms of tours, “take the secret passageways tour in Palazzo Vecchio.”
Which tourist sites are skippable?
“Riding the Carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica is not a necessary experience; just go look at it.” Some believe that the famous museums (“like the Uffizi”) simply “weren’t worth it. Plus the wait time to get in is always hours long.” At the Galleria dell'Accademia, collegiettes noted “David is overrated” but admitted “if you live there, you’ll inevitably see it.”
For day trips, “skip The Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is an absolute dump and waste of time. You can see it from the cab on the way to the airport if you are so inclined.”
Where can I get souvenirs?
“Anywhere around The Duomo” is a surefire place to find souvenirs. Not far from there, you can always find takeaways from “the leather market.” But some students advise: “Don't buy souvenirs, buy local artisanal crafts, wine, and whatever unique things you can get your hands on. You can buy the same tiny statue of David at home.”
Best places to buy clothes?
“If you go toPiazza della Repubblica there are amazing stores surround the entire area. Specific stores I enjoyed wereTezenis, COIN and Zara!” A more specifically Italian place to shop is “Dixie, it’s very cute.” The quintessential Florence clothing purchase is a leather jacket and “everyone goes to the leather market to buy one.”
What’s the best way to get around?
“By foot. Florence is so walkable that public transportation is a waste of money” however “a bike could be a good move, depending on the time of year.”
Where should I go with my parents?
So many delicious options in Florence! “La Giostra has a wonderful atmosphere and pear ravioli that is to die for.” Pear ravioli can also be found at Trattoria 4 Leoniwhich “is good for holidays and has great pumpkin ravioli as well!” ZaZa's “was one place my family really enjoyed They have a neat atmosphere and delicious wine and food, it is a must.” Mario’sis “worth the 50 euro. It's family style and there are two eating times — you show up for whichever time you choose and hopefully get seated at a table! They bring out endless food and wine, aka a true Italian experience.” Trattoria Gargani has “unique, exquisite dishes that will knock your socks off. Try the citrus pasta. It is by far the greatest thing I ate during my study abroad semester.” Ristorante Natalinohas a “wide spread of great, traditional dishes, with some standouts like pistachio pesto and the pear gorgonzola pasta. Sit outside at dusk and drink a glass of white wine as you enjoy the cool night air and a gorgeous sunset.”
Any great dinner recommendations?
“Trattoria Anita is one of my favorite places in the city — it was one of the restaurants we could use our meal vouchers, so I was there at least once a week. The food is amazing and cheap, with tons of options that will suit every taste. Every pasta dish is spectacular and well worth trying.” Trattoria Sostanza“makes a butter chicken so good it could make your momma cry.” For mouthwatering truffle gnocchi” look no further than Osteria Santo Spirito. “It’s a splurge but Il Profeta. The John Travolta pasta is worth the hype.” And for a great night out with friends, “Acqua Al 2has big portions easy to share, it’s not too pricey and caters to a younger atmosphere.”
Where can I get authentic Italian food?
For pizza, “Gusta Pizza is delicious, cheap, and their pizzas are in the shape of hearts” or I Bastioni di San Niccolò Trattoria & Pizzeria for what one collegiette calls “the best pizza I’ve ever had.” In terms of pasta, “Santo Spiritohas amazing sizzling gnocchi.” While “you can find homemade pasta in a lot of different places and it is amazing, I have to call out Yellow Bar where they make the pasta as you order it."
“Fiorentina steak is a must, get it at Trattoria ZaZa.”
“Secret Bakery. Everyone in the city knows about them. They are bakeries that are open from 1-3am baking for the next mornings pastry shops. You have to be super quiet around them or they won't serve you. You knock on the "sketchy" back door and someone will answer, you tell them what you want and it usually is only one euro for a fresh out of the oven pastry. You're not supposed to ask where they are, but find it yourself and let your nose find it. HINT: You can find one near Red Garter.”
Where should I go for an authentic night on the town?
“For a fun night, go to Kikuya and ask for Dragoon with a lollipop, but limit yourself to one as they are very strong!” Wine lovers should go to Dante’s which has “free wine for students; need I say more?” For live music “Salamanca is a great place to start off a crazy night” and Super Fox boasts both tunes and “little games on each bar table for you to play. The Italians taught us how to play them and were super friendly, and not creepy like you would find in a big club.”
For a night out with food and drink, “Il Gatto E La Volpe has all you can eat dinner/wine for 20 euro a person!! SO fun and amazing pasta.” It’s also “not super fancy” so you can “go often!”
While “most clubs are flooded with abroad students” Blue Velvet“tends to be a little more attractive to locals.
Where do Americans go out?
“Since there are so many study abroad institutes in Florence, Italy you will always see American students for the most part. The Lion's Fountain is usually solely Americans and is meant for study abroad students. They even have nights where they accept U.S. dollars.” Other students mentioned Red Garter, Space Club, YAB (“on a Monday night”), and Club 21 (“on a Wednesday”).”
What are good grab-and-go spots?
News Café has “cheap cappuccinos, with foam art.” For healthy food, “Shake Café, plus they have a cute atmosphere.” For friendly service, and a delicious Panini, “Pino’s is the spot, and better than the extremely popular All'Antico Vinaio.”
What are must-eat and must-drink items in Florence?
“Wine! Wine, wine, wine. Buy it at the grocery store and drink it while doing homework, drink it at dinner with friends, stop in a wine bar on the way home and have a glass as the sun goes down. Italian drinking culture is different than American drinking culture, which was one of my favorite parts of studying abroad. Some of my best memories involve a group of friends, a beautiful setting, and a glass of wine in my hand. The wine is just as memorable as the people.” Being that Florence is in the Tuscan region the wine is “to die for” and “pretty fairly priced.” In fact, one abroad alum said “all I drank was wine since it’s cheaper than water!”
If you’re looking to branch out from wine, Dragoons andlimoncello shots (“their go-to shot-like drink”) are recommended.
For food, “anything with truffle, as much pasta as you can, carbonara with truffle, and different panini with a wide variety of meats and cheeses.” Meat eaters should seek out “bistecca fiorentina, a specialty steak that... well, honestly, is the best thing I ever tasted. Most of the restaurants I listed have a great bistecca, so either Trattoria Anita, Ristorante Natalino, or Trattoria Gargani.”
I want to make the most of my time in Florence, what should I do?
“Go exploring every day. Start at the Duomo, pick a street, and start walking. You can see the Duomo from almost anywhere in the city, so you don't need to be afraid about getting lost during the day.” But make sure to end one say with a “sunset visit to Piazza Michelangelo.”
Another collegiette highly recommended “hiking to Fiesole. It's a small town on a giant hill right on the outskirts of the city. The climb is steep and can be a little tough but the views and experiences are definitely worth it. There are some good restaurants and cute little shops up there as well. You can take a city bus up, but hiking up is a better experience.”
Any great day trips in the area?
“Find a way to get out into the Tuscan countryside. Whether it's a vespa tour, or a wine tour, or just renting a car and driving through the hills, it will probably be your best memory of Florence. I know it's mine. I did a Vespa tour and ended up riding with the guide (because I am terrified of two-wheeled vehicles), and I found myself almost in tears the entire time. It was breathtakingly beautiful.”
Other day trips that got called out wereSan Gimignano,Pisa, Siena, Cinque Terre, Fiesole, Forte De Mami (“awesome Sunday markets”) andLucca, “a beautiful walled in town that is a music hub so a lot of great performers go there. You must bike around the walls!”
How will my phone work?!
“Get an international data plan from your current provider and use wifi around town. PicCellis a scam.”
“I personally decided not to get an Italian cell phone. This means that I didn't have data for 4 months and had to rely on wifi. I really enjoyed this route because instead of relying on Google constantly, I learned how to get around the city by myself and I found myself on my phone less often than I would if I had data. And you don't want to be on your phone too much when you're abroad!” Others agreed, saying “a phone isn’t something that’s necessary” or Italian-only data with an Italian number worked “perfectly” and was great for “not being too connected.”
What can I not forget to pack?
Although the food is phenomenal, “bring any foods you will miss, like mac and cheese, cheese its, or goldfish” because “yellow cheddar is not allowed.” Also make sure to bring bug spray (“the mosquitos are killer”), ear plugs (“the walls and windows are thin”) and a raincoat.
Any tips on staying safe?
“Never walk alone anywhere. Florence is generally safe, so just stick to the obvious safety tips” like “keep track of your friends at clubs,” “walk quickly and with confidence” and “watch out for child pickpocketers.”
Any tips on the abroad programs?
“I studied atLorenzo de Medici – it was a very interactive class experience. But be aware: they take the attendance policy very seriously, so do not skip classes willy-nilly. Save your skips for the end so that you can spend more time traveling and less time stressed about grades!”
“Learn Italian before you go if you have to take a language so that you can take a second or third level Italian as opposed to intro.”
“I studied through University of Connecticut in Florence. In one class I even got to manage a Tuscan vineyard's social media accounts! Taking an Italian class in Italy was an extremely helpful course. The class not only taught you how to speak basic Italian, but also how to actually live in Italy on your own for four months.”
“Take History/Story of the City at ISI Palazzo Rucellai; the professor is an extremely knowledgeable and quirky British man and you literally tour interesting points of the city while simultaneously learning about the culture.”
“Take Italian! It was a requirement from my university in the U.S., but even if it wasn't, I would have taken Italian anyway. I love the language and it helps knowing the language so you can communicate with locals and show off what you know. Also, take classes that step outside of the classroom. Museum study and art classes take you to all of the museums in the city for free!”
“I studied through FSU International Program. FSU's meal ticket program was a huge help with costs while abroad. The price tag is relatively small compared to other programs, and they made sure we had no Friday classes so we always had plenty of time to travel.”
“Take an art history class. The Florentine Renaissance is one of the most important eras in history, so you will not only be looking at some of the most influential and famous works of art in the world, you will be learning about a cultural movement that shaped the city you're living in. Florence is still very much a Renaissance city, and in some parts of the city, it does not look much different than it would have in the 15th and 16th centuries. You will have a deeper and more localized appreciation for the unique beauty of your city by learning its history.”
“ISI Palazzo Rucellaiwas almost all students from Penn State who ran in close knit circles which they were not willing to expand. It wasn’t a great experience. I wanted to not know anyone else in the program, but that approach sucks when everyone else knows everyone.”
Where should people stay when they visit me?
“My family stayed in an Airbnb when they visited and loved it because it had a living room and kitchen. It allowed them more freedom than a hotel would.”
Did you study abroad in Florence (or another city) and want to share your experiences? Contribute to the Her Campus Abroad guides HERE!