Florence | Chianti | Cinque Terre
Florence is considered one of the major historical art capitals of Italy. It’s importance during the Renaissance age has left a significant cultural mark on the city capital of Tuscany and it’s surroundings. You can’t miss the famous Duomo landmark. People from all over the world come here to experience the historical architecture, wine, and fashion. Close to the Chianti wine and Liguria regions (Cinque Terre), Florence makes for a perfect home base during your Tuscan travel. Enlighten your senses with works from the great Da Vinci and Michelangelo, sip on vino from the outskirts of Tuscany, or walk along the cobbled streets for some luxurious window shopping. With all that Florence has to offer, you are sure to be entertained. Dive into the Renaissance culture and fall in love with Florence.
Not being huge art fans, we weren’t completely interested in adding Florence to our list of Italian cities to visit. Honestly, we originally weren’t going to go at all, except we wanted to visit the Chianti region and Liguria. We can’t imagine what our trip would have been like if we didn’t decide to make Florence our home base. To our surprise, it ended up being our favorite Italian city. The city itself was unique in so many aspects. The Renaissance-style architecture was beautiful, the Florentine people were welcoming, and the cuisine was delicious. We loved getting lost in the streets among the designer shops and restaurants. The river Arno runs through the city and makes for a scenic stroll. When the city streets light up at night, the crowds fade and you can hear your own echos. This was our favorite time to enjoy the city. We felt as though we were the only ones in it.
We had a few Viator tours booked prior to arrival: a cooking class, a wine tour, and a Cinque Terre hike. Unfortunately, our Vueling flight leaving from Sicily was overbooked and we had to hop on a flight to Rome then take the train into Florence. We arrived late and missed our cooking class. Luckily, we still made it to Florence and had an amazing time on our two other tours. We stayed in the cutest Airbnb on the other side of the Arno river. It was within walking distance to everywhere we went. The apartment was about a 15 minute walk to the train station (Firenze S.M.N.) and central Florence. In the future, if we have a more allowing budget, we would prefer to stay a little closer to the central city and maybe on the other side of the river. However, the apartment had everything we needed and we were only there to sleep. The check in process was smooth and simple. The place had AC, an espresso machine, and even a bottle of wine! Bacci was definitely a Super Host!
The best way to get to Florence will depend on where you’re coming from. Usually flying into either Florence airport, Peretola or Pisa International Airport is sufficient. If you’re in a relatively nearby city, you can take the Trenitalia train into the Firenze Santa Maria Novella (S.M.N.) station located in central Florence. Trains are always a nice option as they’re usually more comfortable than flights and some even have WiFi. Typically, you will save money by purchasing train tickets. Occasionally, European flights are very cheap as well. This will be something you need to compare depending on your travel route.
Once in Florence, walking or taxi are the most common forms of transportation. We walked pretty much every where. There are two bus line options, but we never used it. You can find more info on bus routes and tickets here.
Things To Do & See
- Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (famous Duomo)
- Uffizi gallery
- Michelangelo’s David (Galleria dell’Accademia)
- Palazzo Vecchio
- Ponte Vecchio
- Museo Galileo
- Basilica di San Lorenzo
- Walk along the Arno river
- Shop on Via de’ Tornabuoni street
- More gelato and pizza!
We spent our first day walking around and exploring the city. We headed straight for the Duomo and listened to Rick Steve’s audio walking tour. It was perfect. We didn’t need to buy tickets to a big group tour. We just put our headphones in and listened to his tour guide. He gave us directions around the city and included historical facts during the walk. It was a great way to see and learn about the city. Not to mention, it was free!
Aside from the architecture of the city, our favorite part was the quality of unique restaurants and bars that we tried. The gelato was amazing, the steak was savory, and the espresso drinks were to die for.
Food & Drink
GROM – Il Gelato come una Volta ($$)
The first thing Gregg did after arriving to Florence was purchase gelato! It was the largest cone we had seen in Europe. GROM, an italian gelato shop, is perfectly located right outside the duomo. It was some of the best tasting gelato we had in Italy. We bought our delicious multi-scoop cones and began our Rick Steve’s audio walking tour. There’s nothing better than an ice cold gelato under the hot tuscan sun!
Caffé Letterario Le Murate ($$)
There’s no other way to describe an affogato, but heavenly. Gelato in espresso is pure genius. We obviously couldn’t leave Italy without trying one of these bad boys. Caffé Letterario Le Murate was the perfect hip cafe located within the Basilica of Santa Croce vicinity. We stopped to grab our treat here before continuing our venture around the city. It was the best option for when we needed a quick pick-me-up, but also had a sweet tooth.
SE·STO on Arno ($$$$)
If you’re into rooftop bars that overlook the city, then look no further than SE·STO on Arno. Located on top of the Westin hotel, along the Arno river, is a modern, chic bar with phenomenal views of Florence. The menu is full of handcrafted cocktails, fine wines, and craft beers. There is also a list of creative appetizers and hors d’oeuvres for after hours (1030 pm to midnight). The restaurant is open during normal hours for lunch and dinner. We suggest going after dinner for a nice cocktail and apps. We loved watching the hustle and bustle of the city die down as the night grew later. The atmosphere was lively and upbeat until 2 am. We had a blast enjoying the nightlife from above the skyline.
La Buchetta Food & Wine ($$)
Unfortunately, we don’t have the pictures to prove it, but this restaurant was amazing! La Buchetta is a small, Tuscan restaurant within close proximity to the Uffizi Gallery. We tried the Florentine steak and paired it with a nice glass of Chianti. The restaurant was filled with wine cork decor along the walls. It made us feel like we were in a wine cellar. We loved it! The service was great and the food and drinks were delicious.
La Giostra ($$$)
One of our favorite memories was the night of our Cinque Terre hiking tour. Afterwards, we headed back to Florence and went out to dinner with our tour guides and a couple other tourists we made friendly with. The guides took us to their favorite restaurant, La Giostra, and ordered us champagne and wine. The night was honestly a little bit of a blur (no thanks to the wine!), but we had a blast. The service was wonderful and the food was great. It was such an amazing experience being able to hang out with our guides! La Giostra was a quaint, Italian restaurant. The atmosphere had a candle-lit, romantic, yet rustic look. There were only about 10 or 12 tables, so it felt like more of a locals spot. The menu features smaller, gourmet style plates, but the quality is high. It is pricey, but worth the splurge!
La Loggia del Piazzale Michelangelo ($$$)
La Loggia del Piazzale Michelangelo is a lovely cafe and restaurant with outdoor seating that is slightly elevated and overlooks the city of Florence. You can see the duomo amongst the skyline view. It is quite incredible. This location is an absolute must for a photo spot (see first photo of post). Here, we grabbed some coffee and a light breakfast to enjoy the view. We would highly recommend this cafe if you enjoy a scenic dining experience.
Our last night, we met up with some friends we made on our Cinque Terre hike. The couple was from Australia and the solo girl was from South Carolina. They were such fascinating people with a love for travel that matched our own. We spent the night bar hopping with them until three in the morning. We can’t remember the names of the pubs we visited, but we had to post this picture for the great memories. To this day, we still are facebook friends and get to enjoy seeing all of their amazing adventures. It was absolutely the highlight of our time in Florence. We could not be more grateful to have met such awesome people who made such a special impact on our travels! ❤️
The Chianti region, located in Central Tuscany, is home to some of the finest wines in the world. The vineyards here are known for their use of the sangiovese grape that produce the famous Chianti and Chianti Classico. Indulge in your Italian fantasy as you wine and dine in the rolling hills of Tuscany. Enjoy one of the many vineyard tours out of Florence or stay in a castle within the Chianti region. Whichever you chose, you can’t go wrong. Escape from reality while you relax and enjoy some of the best vino in the world.
The half-day Chianti wine tour we booked was through Viator once again. The tour guide picked us and the other group members up from central Florence and we headed into the Tuscan hills. The drive was about an hour long, but it was scenic and peaceful. The first vineyard we were taken to was Castello Vicchiomaggio. The castle was located in Greve (Chianti region) and was on acres upon acres of vineyards. It was passed down by multiple family generations. The castle had magnificent views from the hilltop. The castle was made of bricks and stone and felt like something from the movies. We couldn’t believe this was our first vineyard experience. Sorry Napa, but you may disappoint after this trip!
Our first tasting was amazing! We loved the Chianti Riserva wine. It had been aged slightly longer than the Chianti Classico and we thought it was a bit sweeter. We bought a couple bottles to take back home. It was a delightful wine. The connoisseur at the vineyard spoke to us about all the different types of Chianti wines they had and their aging process. The description of how they make their wines and the process from grape to barrel was intriguing. The workers were all very friendly and informative. They took us outside to enjoy our vino and the view. After tasting a few different variations, they took us down into the cellar. We had a little too much fun here 😉
After our cellar fun and a couple extra glasses of wine (thank you pregnant lady for sharing), we were off to our next vineyard!
Unfortunately, we don’t recall the name of the second vineyard. The wines were decent and the cellar was nice, but it wasn’t nearly as beautiful as Castello Vicchiomaggio. So, we can’t brag about it, but we got a good picture!
Castello San Polo
Our last stop was at Castello San Polo in Rosso where we enjoyed lunch outside overlooking the Tuscan hills. It was another beautiful castle with a small dining area. We had wine, of course, with our meal. The servers brought us multiple shareable platters for the table. We had salads, charcuterie style dishes, tons of bread and their delicious truffle oil for dipping. We couldn’t help but take one of these bottles of truffle oil home. Just a drop was enough to send your taste buds to the moon! We dined with our fellow tourists and spoke of our travels. Everyone was super friendly, which made the experience more enjoyable. We were crazy about the food and drinks at this vineyard. It was such a great time!
Cinque Terre, located outside of Tuscany in the Liguria area, is a cliffside region composed of five villages on the west coast of Northern Italy. The five colorful towns are Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore. Manarola is probably the most well-recognized of the villages with it’s brightly-colored buildings on the peninsular end of the elevated town. Each of the villages have their own unique qualities and are worth a visit. Depending on what you’re looking for in a vacation, you may prefer one over the others. Get lost in these romantic Italian villages, hike the Cinque Terre National Park, or leisurely soak up the sun on the beaches of Monterosso al Mare.
Another experience of a lifetime was our Cinque Terre tour form Florence. We once again, went through Viator for our booking. The 12-hour tour did not let us down! We were able to visit each of the Cinque Terre villages. Our tour guide, Chris (we believe) was incredible. We learned so much about the land and culture. The tour was long, but worth every minute. We began with a drive from Florence to La Spezia train station. We took the train into Manarola. This was our home base for the tour. The main part of the tour was the national park hike in Corniglia. We got to see the vineyards of Manarola, lie on the beaches of Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza, and jump off the cliffs of Riomaggiore. Each was a unique experience and we loved every second of it!
Manarola was our first stop in Cinque Terre. Our train stopped right on the side of the cliff. Below us was the bright blue sea crashing into the land. It was picture perfect. We walked around the cute town, checked out the hilly streets, and observed the workers on the hillside vineyard. From here, we split into two groups and began our hike through the Cinque Terre national park and made our way into Corniglia.
The hike through the national park was moderately difficult. At one point, we climbed up one thousand steps. When we got to the top, we were rewarded with the most incredible views. Panoramic views of the ocean as far as the eye could see. We couldn’t get enough pictures! Shortly after we began our descent, we stopped at a bar along the path that served famous local lemon slushees. It hit the spot after our mid-day summer hike. We enjoyed our slushees and began heading down the mountain into Vernazza.
At the bottom of the hike through the national park was the town Vernazza. This beach town was not as elevated as the rest. We were all hot and sweaty by the end of our hike and we thrilled to jump into the cool, refreshing Ligurian sea. We were given plenty of time to grab a bite to eat, hit up the beach, or roam around the town. We did all of the above. We fell in love with the little beach town! After our adventure in Vernazza, we all met back up and took the train into Monterosso al Mare.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al mare was probably our favorite of the Cinque Terre villages. This luxurious beach town had the prettiest blue water and resorts close to the ocean. There were plenty of shops and restaurants in the vicinity. Being beach people, I think that’s what won us over. We couldn’t stop taking photos with the beautiful waves crashing upon the rocky shore. The majority of our time was spent soaking up the rays and splashing around in the water. We didn’t bring swimsuits for the tour, but luckily we were able to pick up some in Manarola. Be sure to bring one to change into if you’re planning on jumping in the water.
After our time was up in Monterosso, we headed to a boat which took us to our last stop, Riomaggiore. The view as we approached the town was amazing. The buildings within the cliffside looked enchanting from the water. The hills in the backdrop added even more beauty to the scenery. The wind blowing across our faces as we pulled up to Riomaggiore was refreshing. The group split up once again. Half of us were interested in jumping off the cliff into the water and the other half chose to explore the town. We decided to get a little buzz and skip the daredevil jump. We were glad we did because we met our awesome Australian friends at this point! We ended up splitting a bottle of wine with the newlywed couple at a cute outdoor restaurant. We walked around the town after a couple drinks. We tried fried anchovies (yuck!) and enjoyed each other’s company. When it was time to leave, we headed back to Manarola where we took the train back into La Spezia. Sadly, the tour was over and we had to return to Florence. Luckily, we didn’t let the fun end and we met up with our friends that night and took on the town!
The experience we had in Cinque Terre was wonderful. We would love to return someday and stay in one of the seaside towns. For a first timer, we would definitely recommend the tour out of Florence. It was an advantage that we could see so much of the Tuscany and Liguria regions by making Florence our home base. Tuscany and Cinque Terre are two of the most beautiful places in the world. We enjoyed every minute of our voyage and would recommend this trip and our tours to anyone!