The one issue with traveling to a city renowned for having some of the best food in the world? Knowing where to even begin.
In a place like Florence, where everything is superlative, how do you decide on which pastry shop to stop at? Or which restaurant has the best gnocchi? Or where to find the finest bottles of wine?
Or, god forbid, what if someone asks you what your favorite food from your trip was — what can you possibly say?
There will never be a solution to the food FOMO that a place like Florence inspires. But with this guide to the best of the best, from markets selling fine charcuterie to restaurants serving delectable homemade pasta, it is possible to feel a little less overwhelmed.
The first time I experienced this amazing hidden rooftop at la Rinascente department store in Piazza della Repubblica was with my family, at the end of a summer study abroad term in Florence. When I later returned with my husband for our honeymoon, I was captured by its magic yet again.
You'd never know from perusing the street-level department store, stocked with rows of designer handbags and fragrances, that this space housed a striking rooftop restaurant with superlative food; part of the charm of Le Terrazze is this element of surprise.
The bites here are simple but made with fine ingredients and the utmost of care — standouts include classic Caprese and Nicoise salads — and you'll want to allow plenty of time to soak up the incredible views. You’ll be close enough to the Duomo, Florence's formidable cathedral, to see people touring the catwalks and bell tower.
This extensive market filled with restaurants, food stalls and vendors selling everything from balsamic vinegar to handmade pasta is deceptively inconspicuous; from the outside, it looks like an abandoned train station.
Inside, though, it boasts da Nerbone, a locally beloved spot for Tuscan fare, on the ground floor, and an extensive food court on the top floor — perfect for a midday snack of wood-fired pizza.
Make sure to check the hours before you go, though; they can vary quite a bit.
Like many looking to avoid a tourist-trap experience, I stayed away from this spot — an international chain known to cater to Americans — for a long time. Why go somewhere filled with fanny-pack-wearing, map-brandishing travelers taking selfies with bottles of olive oil, when there are so many wonderful local establishments to enjoy instead?
I was wrong.
Eataly first opened in 2007 in Turin, Italy, and in fact touts a wonderful array of authentic local fare, from freshly baked breads to handcrafted chocolates to fine wines. And its collection of onsite restaurants rival many of the city’s best.
Think of this as a grocery store and Italian food university all in one. Don’t be fooled; this is well worth a visit.
Enoteca Fuori Porta
Italy is a country where locals are so devoted to quality time with their food, they will scold those who try to rush through a meal. So it only makes sense that locals love the tradition of aperitivo, a drink and light meal that serves as a warm-up to dinner.
Among the many spots throughout Florence that make for an excellent aperitivo spot, Fuoriporta Enoteca stands out. This classy establishment near Piazzale Michelangelo (more on that later) pours fine wines and has one of the best appetizer menus in the city. Don’t miss the potato gnocchi with Gorgonzola and saffron cream and the pappa al pomodoro, a hearty Tuscan bread soup.
Empireo Rooftop Bar
If you’re looking for another rooftop spot with stellar views of Florence, this bar next to Plaza Hotel Lucchesi is the place to go. Since the property sits right on the Arno river, there are abundant stunning sights to take in – including the Duomo and city center to the north, and the hills and Piazzale Michelangelo to the south.
Simple fare is served buffet-style, but Empireo is most frequently enjoyed as a place to drink, thanks to its assortment of high-quality wines and seasonal craft cocktails. While run by the hotel, entrance is permitted to non-guests after 7:30 p.m. with reservations. But it’s only open when the weather is warm.
Seeing as how this little coffee shop is directly off of Piazza del Duomo, it can get a bit crowded during peak times. But the cafe's elaborate pastry/dessert assortment, including Italian classics like tiramisu, still makes it worth ducking into for a midday pick-me-up. I recommend the lemon tart, which has just the right amount of citrus bite.
As to be expected, the pastries pair particularly well with a foamy cappuccino.
The owner of this quaint and history-rich eatery, Stefano Bondi, has been sharing his culinary passions with Florence since 1977. This includes not only cooking, but antiques; many of his finds are featured in the ornately decorated dining room. Prefer to people-watch instead? Snag an alfresco seat on the expansive patio.
Many frequent ZaZa for its assortment of charbroiled and grilled meats, but my personal favorite dish is gnocchi layered with Gorgonzola cheese and fresh truffles.
La Cucina del Garga
Situated away from the touristy part of the city, but not so far that you can’t easily walk there from the main city center, this restaurant is a must-visit.
Not only is the food superb, but the service will make you feel like royalty; the restaurant even offers complimentary appetizers. Dishes incorporate fresh produce and have a more contemporary flair than some of the more traditional spots in the city that focus on classic pastas and meats. Bold offerings include burrata cheese with grilled zucchini and roasted bell peppers and, for dessert, a gluten-free chocolate cake with fresh rosemary and coarse salt.
In addition to the fine cuisine and service here, the atmosphere — marked by eclectic decor, bright colors and abundant artwork — is delightful.
Pasticceria Vinci & Bongini
Florence is rife with what are known, enticingly, as “secret bakeries” — spots that sell wholesale to local cafes, but also open after-hours to serve treats like Nutella-filled croissants and mini calzones to consumers.
Near the Piazza di Santa Croce, on Via del Canto Rivolto, Pasticceria Vinci & Bongini is one such hidden haunt. Take care to be quiet, though; the bakery won’t serve anyone if the crowd gets too loud or rowdy.
Istanbul Doner Kebab
After walking all day and experiencing the nightlife the city has to offer, there’s no better way to refuel than with a late-night Mediterranean-inspired shawarma burrito stuffed with fries.
This decadent find is served at Istanbul Doner Kebab, near the karaoke bar Red Garter. This Turkish haunt is the ideal place to go when (heaven forbid) you’ve had your fill of pizza, pasta and gelato. Other must-try dishes include falafels and kebabs.
Wine, Baguette and Cheese on the Steps of Piazzale Michelangelo
This isn’t a restaurant, but a DIY suggestion.
Piazzale Michelangelo, a public square with sweeping views of the city, the Duomo and the rolling Italian countryside, is a wonderful spot to bring a picnic. Pack a bottle of wine, a baguette, and local cheeses and meats, and make space on the steps leading down from the main piazza. Time it right (it’s about a 20-30 minute walk from the main road along the Arno river at the base of the hill to the top) and you can toast to the sunset.
Sometimes the best meals are the simplest.