Georgette Jupe knows Florence like few others. A digital media consultant, content editor for ItalyMagazine.com, and writer for top publications like National Geographic Traveler, Jupe has lived in Florence for 11 years and writes about the city from the unique perspective of being a long-time resident and also an expat (Jupe is American).
In her very popular and much-cited blog, GirlinFlorence.com, she shares not only personal finds in Florence and around Italy, but also her experiences living and working abroad.
“Florence has been popular since the time of the Grand Tour, but I definitely feel the number of tourists has climbed since I arrived,” says Jupe. Despite the challenges of overtourism facing the city, she says there are still plenty of places to enjoy away from the crowds, where you can eat, shop, and hang out the way the Florentines do. Here are her tips and strategies for making the most of your next visit to Florence.
There really is no season when tourists aren’t in town. “The key is not to expect to be alone, ever. There’s less mayhem after the second week of January and generally in mid-November, which is my favorite time in the city. In fact I got married in late November on purpose, to show my visiting family another side to the city, as the days typically are warmer than you might think and crowds are certainly less, even if it comes with a rain shower or two.”
The peak tourist season is lasting longer. “It starts around Easter when the first big groups of visitors overtake the city. People also like the harvest season of September and October, which can even compete with the summer months in terms of popularity.”
How Florentines deal with all the tourists. “My approach is to find paths to places I love that don’t include the main drags. For example, instead of walking straight down Via Por Santa Maria from the Ponte Vecchio to the Duomo, I often detour to Via dei Girolami, pausing to drool over the freshly-made panini at Ino (Via dei Georgofili) before crossing into the Piazzale degli Uffizi. There are many small streets where crowds don’t tend to congregate, and even if it means I need a little more time to get to my destination, it’s worth it.
“Also, time of day is important, especially in the summer, when it’s not only crowded, but insufferably hot. Waking up early to go on a leisurely walk before work always puts me in a good mood, and avoiding the hottest and most crowded hours of 11-5 PM is a must.”
How to beat the crowds at the Uffizi. “Besides visiting in January and February, or late November, I suggest arriving super early, before the first crowds roll in at around 10 AM. Or visit an hour and a half before closing time, say 4:30 or 5 PM. The Uffizi is introducing a new system (still in the testing phases) aimed at reducing wait times. Those who want to buy tickets at the Uffizi will do so from one of seven machines, which will assign a visiting time to reduce waiting and crowds.”
Head to restaurants that Florentines also like. “Trattoria Sabatino in San Frediano is a local institution with tasty rustic fare run by several generations of the same family. Near the Boboli Gardens is Osteria della Enoteca, the place to try a Florentine steak, with superb wines. The formidable Trattoria Sergio Gozzi in San Lorenzo is one of my favorite places to bring friends, or out-of-town colleagues. I always get the mouth-watering polpette fritte and house wine.
“For those seeking a true, old-school experience, head to the historical Trattoria Da Burde restaurant run by the Gori family. Located near the airport, it is more than worth the bus or taxi ride. Here you can find such classic Tuscan favorites as ribollita, carabaccia (a kind of onion soup), roasted pork liver and bistecca.”
Go on a food tour: “If you want to get a hang of how and what to eat in the city, Curious Appetite’s team of experts has you covered.”
Check out boutique hotels run by Florentines: “When it comes to family-run places, Velona’s Jungle Luxury Suites in Florence is a surprising find that gives you the feeling of staying in a luxury Florentine apartment, ornately decorated in a jungle theme, and run by the lovely Veronica. (Gourmet B&B) Villa Landucci near Piazza Alberti is a really nice and affordable option with rooms named after popular wines and a great breakfast run by Debora and Matteo. For something a little farther from the center but definitely worth the 15-minute ride, Valdirose offers six charming rooms in a family home that is essentially an Instagrammer’s dream.”
Caffès where Florentines hang out. “Caffè degli Artigiani, Ditta Artiginale and, of course, the elegant and reliable Cibrèo Caffè. Otherwise La Cité/Libreria Caffè on Borgo San Frediano, Caffè Notte, and on Via Gioberti you have the great Caffè Piansa with Caffè Pasticceria Serafini on the same street.”
Buzzy bars that locals like. “Caffè Sant’Ambrogio, Mad Souls & Spirits and Le Murate Caffè Letterario for the outside piazza and events, Diorama for excellent craft beer, and for late nights, Rasputin and Gurdulu are great options. Naturally there are certain places that remain institutions like Sabor Cubano, Rex and Rifrullo, all of which get super crowded with locals on weekends.”
For authentic pastry shops: “Pasticceria Buonamici in San Frediano, a family-run place specializing in handmade cantucci, twice-baked almond biscotti that are native to Tuscany and often dunked in small glasses of vin santo (the local dessert wine). In the fall you’ll want to keep an eye out for the schiacciata con l’uva, a sticky-sweet version of a typically salty and oily flat bread that’s bursting with grapes. I buy it at Pasticceria Nencioni or Antico Forno in San Lorenzo.”
Shopping for products made in Florence: “For those who don’t have time to visit a ton of individual shops, go to Mio Concept Store (near the train station) where owner Antje d’Almeida is passionate about supporting independent artisans. You can find a variety of great accessories here. The Florence Factory on Via dei Neri has a lovely selection of contemporary gifts and accessories by local artisans.
“Florence has a long history of book-binding. For this my favorite stops include Erin Ciulla’s shop Il Torchio on Via de’ Bardi. It’s a paper-lover’s paradise, where you’ll find leather-bound notebooks—all of which can be customized—and marbled Florentine paper. Atelier Giannini & Kuwata on Borgo San Frediano specializes in high-end restoration and bookbinding. They also have my favorite gift—custom leather business-card holders. Just down the street is the oldest candy shop in Florence, Dolce Emporio, run by the affable Alfredo Cozzi, who sells a variety of sweets and gourmet specialty items, including cookies by the “Nonne di San Frediano,” made from unique recipes from grandmothers in the neighborhood.
“Not all leather is made equal when it comes to jackets, shoes and belts. I would avoid the markets, however tempting, and head to a made-in-Tuscany manufacturer like Benheart whose leather accessories are as cool as they are durable.”
Bookstores to visit: “I started a series on my blog covering independent bookstores. My hope is to keep these precious places alive. While not all have succeeded a few of my favorites include Todo Modo, run by a lovely couple who are dedicated to having an eclectic array of books with a great café where they often host events and serve light lunches. Other favorites include Black Spring on Via di Camaldoli and the Paperback Exchange on Via delle Oche.”
Cultural stops not teaming with tourists. “The baroque Church of the Ognissanti (All Saints) is a landmark in the pretty square housing two luxury hotels. It is home to a superb Last Supper fresco by Ghirlandaio and a restored crucifix by Giotto. You’ll find some famous names buried here, like the Renaissance artist Botticelli; there’s also the family tomb of Amerigo Vespucci (explorer of the New World).
“The 1,000-year-old San Miniato al Monte church is a fabulous place to take in one of the best views of the city as it located high up a hill. A favorite place for quiet solace is San Frediano in Cestello, located in San Frediano, with three chapels decorated with frescoes by Alessandro Gherardini, Matteo Bonechi and Antonio Puglieschi.
“I would recommend the Innocenti Museum in Piazza SS. Annunziata, in the building of the first institute taking care of orphaned children in Europe. There is a great caffè on the top terrace overlooking the city.
“Nearby the San Marco Museum in Piazza San Marco gives a look at monastic life and houses superb paintings by Fra Angelico, who lived here, as did the infamous Girolamo Savonarola. It is also home to the first public library in the western world designed by Michelozzo.
“For modern art visit the new Roberto Casamonti museum with the personal collection of Roberto Casamonti, a well-known art collector and owner of Tornabuoni Arte gallery.”
Neighborhoods not overrun by crowds. “I personally love to walk around the area of Bellosguardo, which has long been an inspiration for artists, featuring picture-perfect views of the city and quiet stone lanes, ideal for an urban hike. The neighborhoods closest to the historic center [where you typically won’t find crowds] include San Frediano [in a piece written by Jupe, Lonely Planet dubbed it as one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world] and Piazza Beccaria with the nearby Via Gioberti and its many shops. There are other neighborhoods, too; while not all are very scenic, for longer-termed stays they make for a great break from the chaos you’ll often find in the center.
“Fiesole is quite popular with day-trippers who want to see the Roman amphitheater and for superb views of Florence. For something a little more off-the-beaten path check out Settignano, a lovely hilltop village once inhabited by Michelangelo, with great walking paths and charming places to eat. It is reachable by bus from Florence.”