Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Sat October 10 2015

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | October 10, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    Florence: Up a Pants Size and No Regrets

    Florence: Up a Pants Size and No Regrets

    PHOTO: You can’t help but stand in awe at every intricate detail at the front of Basilica di Santa Croce. (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    All of my life I had told myself that at one point or another, I would live in Italy.

    It sounded like a pipe dream, considering my bank account would evaporate in a month of living there. But if you want something bad enough, I have found that you’ll find a way around it.

    Besides having one of the most romantic languages in the world, being a top fashion hub, having the best pizza, gelato, espresso, wine and landscape — why would you want to live anywhere else?

    That said, I made the executive decision to live in Florence for a month and a half, checking it off my bucket list.

    It was everything I could have asked for, and more.

    I lived in the quaint town of Sesto — only 10 minutes by train from Florence — as an au pair, living in my own apartment, experiencing Italy like a local.

    By the time I left, I knew the city like the back of my hand, spending my days off exploring adjacent towns, reuniting with friends passing through or stuffing my face with an obscene amount of pizza, the best wine from Tuscany and hands down, the best gelato I’ve eaten in my life.

    I may have gone up a pants size but I have no regrets. Below is the insider’s guide to Florence and its many local food gems:

    Accommodation: Airbnb is by far your best bet for a cheaper stay. Most hostels cost around €25 to €35 a night, but if you are willing to take a quick train away, you can easily pay half and spend the rest on what really matters: gelato.

    Main Train Station: Santa Maria Novella

    Transit App: Pronto Trento

    Regional Train Cost: €1.50/one way

    Local bus cost: €1.50 at a bar or €2 on the bus

    Note: Always validate your ticket (they always check — the fine is €50 if you get caught)

    Budget tour group: Italy on a Budget Tours


    Best hidden food gem in Florence:

    “Aperitivo”: Technically, you have an aperitivo before you have dinner, but for those of us on a budget, or as many locals do — In Florence, around 8 p.m., head to cafes that turn into an all-you-can-eat style buffet full of fresh appetizers which includes a drink of your choice (wine, beer, etc.). The best part? It only costs between €5 and €7.

    The best place in Florence is I Ghibellini. They have a wide range of dishes and the quality is suburb.

    Best Pizza

    • Gusta Pizza: Every pizza they have is incredible.

    PHOTO: Some of the many freshly made mouthwatering pies at Gusta Pizza! 

    For Indecisive foodies

    • Mercado Central/Sant’ Ambrogio Market: Both have a great selection of fresh produce for reasonable prices.

    Best Gelaterias: (Around €2.50-€3 for 3 flavors)

    • Gelateria Dei Neri: Literally, everything here is incredible. My favorites include Butter Salted Carmel, Pistachio,

    • Strawberry Cake and Mango.

    • Gelateria La Carraia: After Eight and Salted Peanut are the best.

    • Cantina del Gelato: Cheesecake is the best and has real chunks in it.

    • Ara: Pistachio, Chocolate and Coffee are unreal.

    • Grom: Apricot and Raspberry are the best — made with real, fresh fruit that day.

    Best Local Cafes

    • Quelo: Great food, drinks and fast Wi-Fi.

    • La Rinascente – Lovely rooftop terrace with great coffee overlooking the dome.

    Best Local Bar

    • Volume

    Best Local Restaurants

    • Osteria Vecchi Sapori

    • La Trippa

    • Procacci: Unique truffle sandwiches

    • Acqua Al 2

    • Macelleria Falorni: All the produce comes from their farm in the Chianti Region.


    • Florence Scoppio del Carro — fireworks

    • Maggio Musicale — concerts

    • Montalcino’s Sagra del Torodo — food festival


    • Wander through the many romantic, medieval streets of Florence.

    • Stuff your face at Gusta Pizza.

    • Take advantage of the best gelato Italy has to offer and head to Gelateria Dei Neri.

    • Take a day trip to the many incredible cities around Florence.

    • Skip Piazzale Michelangelo and head to San Miniato al Monte church for an incredible sunset.

    • Florence is known for their leather — get a pair of handmade leather shoes made!

    • Visit Forte di Belvedere.

    • Wander through Boboli Gardens.

    • Marvel at the Basilica di Santa Croce Church.

    • Head to Ponte Vecchio at night and sit along the river on the bridge with your gelato, wine or a picnic.

    PHOTO: Every day I had off of work, I headed straight to San Miniato al Monte church with a bottle of wine to watch the sun set over Florence. I have watched it over a dozen times and it never got old.

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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