Florence Is the Magical Escape You’ve Been Waiting For

Here are all the spellbinding adventures to have now.

There’s something dreamy about Florence’s aristocratic palazzos, the medieval streets lined with artisan boutiques, loggia arches and columns on buildings, and belvedere spots overlooking the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Just strolling around the city makes visitors feel like the hero of a Renaissance tale… or a protagonist of The Medici TV series… or a character in a Dan Brown book. Pick your fictional poison. With old stories of plotting and conspiracy befitting the city of Machiavelli, Florence is spellbinding.

But Tuscany’s cultural heart is more than just a lovely walk. Beyond the Duomo and the Uffizi galleries, less trod paths offer unique experiences that will make you feel like a real Florentine. You could sleep in Machiavelli’s lavish family villa, paddle-board along the Arno River at sunset, treat yourself to platefuls of pici pasta, and get the chills by staring at ancient paintings of satan feasting on damned souls.

Plus, what with this being Tuscany, the day trip options from Florence are #travelgoals. Near the city lies a maze of picturesque medieval hilltop towns surrounded by green rolling hills and pristine meadows dotted with fortresses. Or the Val d’Orcia valley will mesmerize you with its neat country roads lined with cypress trees, premium vineyards, and unexpected silence.

Whether you venture further afield or spend all your time in the city roaming its narrow, crooked streets, an Italian adventure is calling. From the classics to the new releases, here are all the twisty plots you can find yourself in while in Florence.

View of Brunelleschi Dome and the city
Francesco Riccardo Iacomino/Moment/Getty Images

Soak in some Renaissance beauty

Going to Florence and skipping the art is a no no, even if museums aren’t really your thing because you’re more of an adventurous or foodie or lounging or fill-in-the-blank type.

So first stop is the Duomo cathedral and the climb up to its panoramic loggia for an expansive city view. Right out front, check out the octagonal Baptistery basilica for its engraved bronze doors and green-white marble walls. Next, hiking up Giotto’s campanile (bell tower) is great for stretching muscles.

Then prepare to get lost at the Uffizi gallery, your head spinning with so many masterpieces, including Botticelli’s the Birth of Venus, which will give you an idea of the Renaissance ideal of female perfection. To get a glimpse of what the sexy male prototype was like, Michelangelo’s Davide at the Galleria dell’Accademia will leave you breathless. His abs, and even his veins, are perfectly sculpted.

Florence Square and the Basilica of Santa Croce

Stare at the devil and rub shoulders with legendary ghosts

Get ready for some gore. If you want to actually see Dante's Inferno and stare at the most imaginative depiction of Lucifer, head to the refectory of Santa Croce church. There you’ll find the frescoes of The Triumph of Death by 1300’s painter Orcagna. A bloated three-faced Satan is shown devouring souls, their legs sticking out of his many mouths, while demons torture others along the sides. It’s a hoot.

If being in the company of majestic spirits inspires you, Santa Croce is also an indoor cemetery with many an impressive tomb. You’ll find the final resting place of astrologer Galileo Galilei, who was the first on record to claim the Earth was round and rotated upon itself; the revered artists Michelangelo; and the mischievous Niccolò Machiavelli, supporter of the doctrine “the means justify the ends.”

Slabs of thick and raw steak
Trattoria baldini

Eat handmade pasta and rare beef like a real Florentine

Escape the touristy eateries charging you an arm and leg for limp pasta and head instead to I Due Fratellini. This minuscule shop has been open since 1875 and offers some excellent street food to go: panini sandwiches with premium Colonado lard, fried cow tripe, and Siena pecorino sheep cheese. Gulp it all down with heady Montepulciano red wine.

As Florentines are addicted to chianina—a huge, thick steak from local beef, usually eaten by two people and served rare—one favorite spot is Perseus, just outside the city walls. Don’t be shy about the plate of meat you’ll get served here.

But if you crave for traditional ‘granny’ recipes, historical tavern Parione serves typical antipasto with crostini neri ai fegatini (crispy bread topped with chicken liver paste), short handmade pasta called pici, and ossobuco (oxtail).

Just a few blocks north, Trattoria Baldini is a temple for iconic ribollita soup, made with bread, white cannellini beans, and vegetable leftovers.

Ivy-covered restaurant and patio
Villa Machiavelli - Ristorante Albergaccio dal 1450

Visit Machiavelli’s unknown lair

There’s a secret spot in Florence few people know about: the hidden retreat of Machiavelli. It’s said that in this house, located on the Florentine hills, the statesman found inspiration for his infamous book The Prince. What was once his humble home is now the Villa Machiavelli museum, where you can see his bed and kitchen table—and an underground passage that connects to an old tavern. Old Nick used the dark tunnel to sneak away unseen from his lodgings to gamble and go hang out with women of the night.

On the opposite hillside, his rich family built a lavish frescoed mansion called Villa Mangiacane, today a luxury resort and exclusive wedding venue, which is said to have been partly designed by Michelangelo.

Bridge over River Arno
Westend61/Royalty-free/Getty Images

Sail or paddle-board along the Arno River

Here’s an alternative, less crowded, but way more entertaining way to explore Florence: on a traditional painted wooden boat along the Arno River.

Local canoe guides from The Renaioli will be eager to share their story about how a group of friends brought new life to these vessels previously damaged by floods. You can book exclusive day and sunset boat trips with live music and aperitivo evening drinks featuring Florence’s iconic Negroni cocktail, made with gin, aromatized Vermouth wine and Campari.

If you want more action and a solo thrill, opt for paddle-board tours and glide right beneath the crowded Ponte Vecchio—during the day or at night under a starry sky.

People walking on Ponte Vecchio
Guido Cozzi/Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Go on a leather and jewelry hunt

At each street corner in Florence, you’ll find stands and boutiques selling premium leather jackets, belts, and bags of all kinds. Leather artisans are a trademark of Florence and it’s impossible to suggest any one in particular. So just feel at ease browsing around, cause you’re sure to find some of the best.

Same goes for the many Ponte Vecchio jewelers who have been selling their superb gold and precious stones creations for centuries, locked behind the small doors of tiny, historical wooden boutiques. All you need to do is stroll around and stop when you see the best deal. If you want to feel like a true local, give it a shot at negotiating the price.

Large house surrounded by grass
Villa Cora

Sleep like a Medici lord

If you want to be far from the madding crowd but a few minutes from the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge, stay at the Villa Tolomei Hotel & Resort. What was once an abandoned convent has been turned into a luxury resort. The hotel is in Florence, though it might not look like it at first glance—surrounded by rolling hills and olive trees, Villa Tolomei is a 10 minute drive from the city center and offers gorgeous views of where the Tuscan countryside meets the old city. Find yourself strolling amid frescoed suites with marble walls and a panoramic pool.

Villa Cora hotel is also on the city outskirts. This lavish villa from the 1800s is like a country home meets luxurious mansion. Many of the ornate rooms have regal four-poster beds and way more interesting ceilings than found in, say, the US. Roam the gardens where you’ll find balconies and sphinx statues, and don’t miss the heated pool or spa.

And if you want to sleep like a real Medici, stay at the aristocratic,1500’s Palazzo di Camugliano. Owned by a marquis, it has parquet floors, just 10 frescoed rooms, and beautifully antique furniture. Best part? It’s about a five minute walk from the Piazza del Duomo.

Panoramic view of the hills of the Val D'Orcia valley

Visit the surrounding Tuscan countryside

Florence is surrounded by adorable villages worth a day trip. Car-free Certaldo di Castro is one of them, made up of a maze of reddish alleys and low dwellings enclosed by medieval walls. It’s also the hometown of epicurean poet Boccaccio, author of the Decamerone tales (he’s a bit of an Italian Chaucer). His family home-turned-museum, Casa Boccaccio, is not only a beautiful house with a verdant courtyard, it also showcases everything from Boccaccio’s slippers, pajamas, and even his toilet pots.

Craving utter bucolic silence? Tiny Rocca d’Orcia village is the jewel of the pristine D’Orcia Valley. There’s just one Renaissance tower and a bunch of houses where 34 people live, overlooking a nearly-fluorescent green sea of meadows.

If you’re a fan of old furniture shops, the quaint village of Anghiari, stage of a bloody battle in the middle ages between Florence and Milan, boasts an impressive castle worth oohing and aahing.

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Silvia Marchetti is a contributor for Thrillist.