Disembarking the train at Florence’s Stazione di Santa Maria Novella, I resolve to make the most of my just three days in Florence to get my “Eat Pray Love” groove on—preferably without busting my budget.
After a lovely week of hiking The Veneto, the Italian countryside north of Venice, reaching Florence feels like sweet relief. Sure, I can heft a backpack with the best of them and by now my Timberland hiking boots are respectably worn. Still, I am a city girl at my core, one who calls Manhattan home. After seven bucolic days of dodging dung and exclaiming over yet another olive tree, I’m beyond ready to see a tall building that isn’t necessarily a church.
Day One commences with…Eating!
Eating in Florence
Unless you’re planning to make meals out of gelato, an impractical if lovely thought, eating well in Florence on a budget calls for creativity as well as the flexibility to occasionally step off the tourist trail. Steer clear of restaurants in the hotel areas where, barring the serving staff, nary an Italian is to be found. Also, many restaurants charge a seating fee, anywhere from 1.50 to 5 Euros per person. Do be on the lookout for restaurants offering “Aperitivo Con Buffet.” For the price of a glass of wine (10 Euros) or cocktail (11-14 Euros), you can more than make a full meal of the hearty (and often excellent) complimentary buffet.
Nuvoli (no Website)
This charming little storefront osteria with table seating in the wine cellar is a locals’ place at any time of the day and yet so friendly and hospitable that you’ll feel immediately drawn in. Show a glimmer of interest, and the husband and wife proprietors will take down the wall-framed newspaper article on his “nonno,” (grandfather), a semi-famous photographer in the 1940’s. I spend a highly entertaining hour nursing a glass of wine and chatting up the well-lubricated locals via a mad mix of Italian, French, English, and copious hand gesturing that works amazingly well. Fending off the over-friendliness of a blitzed out Brazilian tour guide, I settle in on a low stool with a retired Spanish lawyer on holiday. Abetted by napkin and pen, he maps out a full itinerary for my next vacation—to Spain, of course. Closes by 9PM.
Piazza dell’ Olio, 15/r
Tel: 055 2396616
I’m convinced this gem of a trattoria tucked away on a side street near the Ponte Vecchio makes itself deliberately hard to find. But I persevere, squinting at my tourist map in any number of dark doorways. Sleuthing out the coordinates proves imminently worthwhile. Dinner here is one of my most memorable meals in Florence, neither inexpensive nor a budget-buster. I arrive with my heart set on the Steak Florentine, but my server kindly talks me out of it, warning that even the smallest portion—22 kilograms—is gigantico. Closing in on two weeks in Italy, I am feeling fairly gigantico myself, so I forego both the steak and the Italian custom of ordering multiple courses. Instead I order only one dish, the pasta of the day: ricotta-stuffed ravioli in a mushroom-truffle sauce. It is divine! With table bread to sop up the sauce—ah, the joys of eating solo among strangers—it makes the perfect single girl meal, leaving me just enough stomach space for a scoop of gelato on my walk back to the hotel. Gluten-free dishes available upon request. Closed Sundays.
Tel: 055 288975
I Due Fratellini Wine Bar
My all time favorite Florentine cheap eats place, I Due Fratellini (literally, Brothers’ Wine Bar) has served up great sandwiches and wine from its standing-only storefront stall since 1875. Choose your sandwich (2.50-3 Euros) from among the twenty-nine varieties listed on the menu board and wash it down with wine served in a traditional stem-less glass. Open 9:00AM-7PM daily.
Via dei Cimatore 38/r
Tel: 39 055 239 6096
I have an instant soft spot for any restaurant that claims as its slogan, “Make food not war.” Tramping back from my morning of being herded through The Academia, I am feeling not only shell-shocked but hungry. I order the caprese “on a bun” for 7.50 Euros and a glass of chianti for another 3.00. What comes looks like a pizza to me, not that I care to quibble. The tomatoes are succulently ripe but not overripe, the mozzarella melt-in-your mouth creamy. Daily lunch specials at 10 Euros include bread, pasta dish, a meat dish, and a glass of house wine. No seating fee.
Via Ricasoli 5-7r
Tel: 39 055 292 124
Bar Due Ponti (no Website)
Bar Due Ponti (Bar Two Bridges) had me at “Free Wi-Fi,” but the budget-friendly pricing, charming side patio sans seating fee, and head on view of the Arno has me lingering longer than the half hour it takes to keep my email inbox from imploding. Five Euros buys me a delicious, filling piadina with mozzarella and tomato. “American breakfast” served daily.
Di Golabian N. Lung
No. Acciaiuoli 34r
Tel: 055 294625
From the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio, stroll along Lungarno Acciaiuoli, then Lungarno Corsini to Harry’s Bar. The home of the Bellini cocktail, the original Harry’s is in Venice. Still, if you’re on a first trip to Florence, Harry’s, founded in 1953, is a must-stop landmark. The Bellini I ordered at a pricey if not precisely outrageous 12 Euros did not disappoint. Fresh peach juice does indeed make all the difference. White-jacketed waiters, a 1930’s explorers’ club vibe, and complimentary canapés that go beyond the ubiquitous peanuts, olives and potato chips, make the pilgrimage worthwhile.
Lungarno A. Vespucci, 22/r
Tel: 39 055 239 670
Divina Commedia (no Website)
Owing to its proximity to the nearby Dante tourist attractions of Casa di Dante and Chiesa di Dante Casa, Divina Commedia is a tourist haunt by day but draws a mostly local crowd by night. Five to six Euros buys a very good pizza. More substantive fare is offered as well, including a seafood risotto, which I really rather liked. The service, however, runs on two tracks: that for locals and the other for tourists. If you fall into the latter camp, be prepared to wait…a while. The single server has regular customers to greet and tables to buss and cigarettes to smoke. My advice: order a glass of chianti (3 Euros), turn off your device, and let the piped out music carry you back to a slower, gentler time. Free WiFi.
Via De Cimatori 7/r
Tel: 39 055 215369
At first I was skeptical. That line! With gelateria glutting every city block, did I really need to stop at this one? Still, GROM came recommended to me by a Florentine friend who swears it serves the best gelato in the city and that’s saying a lot. Happily GROM does indeed stand out from the pack. A local leader in the slow food movement, it’s worth the wait—even the granita is great—and the line goes surprisingly fast.
Via del Campanile (Corner of Via Delle Oche)
Tel: 055 216158
Well sated—okay, stuffed—I’m now ready to turn my attention to the sacred. Look for Florence’s Sacred Sites, the second installment in my Eat Pray Love…Florence series.
Written by Hope Tarr for EuropeUpClose.com
Follow in the intrepid footsteps of writer Hope Tarr, and learn how to eat, pray and love your way through Florence in just three days and on budget. Day One: Eat! (The first of a three-part series.)