There’s always the Ponte Vecchio, the David, and the Duomo, but these 10 tidbits are best enjoyed or only available when it’s cold outside.
1. Hot Chocolate
I know. Hot Chocolate. What a cool, new thing you’ve never tried before, right? WRONG. First of all, if you’ve never been to Italy, you probably think hot chocolate is a liquid. But in this ingenious country, it’s not. What Italians call hot chocolate (you know, besides “cioccolato caldo”) is a thick, velvety rich drink that’s almost a pudding but not quite. It’s served with a spoon, so, you decide. For the absolute best hot chocolate in Florence, cross the Arno and find your way to “Hemingway.” Their menu includes creations from the world champion of artistic chocolate-making. A valid reason for the café being a little pricey? I’d say so. Savor a creamy, white hot chocolate with ginger, and try not to feel bad for those silly people who come to Florence in the summer.
Piazza Piattellina, 9
50124 Florence, Italy
Hours: Mon to Thu 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.,
Fri and Sat 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.,
Sun 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.
2. Winter-Friendly Gelato
Ahhhhhhh, crisp winter air and ice-cold gelato. Dang it! You overlooked that little detail when you planned this trip, didn’t you? Not to worry; you can have your gelato and in the winter, too! Just go to “Vestri.” This chocolatier offers delights straight from the beans of their cocoa plantation in Santo Domingo, and also serves up incredible homemade ice cream in a variety of daily flavors. Once you’ve picked your scoops, you can have them dropped right into a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Gelato, winterized. Keep it simple with classic flavors like crema (egg custard) or fior di latte (cream), and you’ll have everyone shivering through their regular gelati jealous in no time.
Borgo degli Albizi, 11
Hours: open everyday
3. Chocolate Fair and Florence Carnival
Now that you’ve refined your palette with numbers 1 and 2, you’re ready for the real deal. Put on your connoisseur hat and head over to Piazza della Repubblica, the new home to Florence’s “Fiera del Cioccolato Artiginale” (Artisan Chocolate Fair), held every year in February (7th-16th in 2014). As if sampling delicacies from 40 artisan chocolate makers isn’t cause enough for a celebration, you’ll also have the chance to participate in traditional Italian Carnival festivities. Not to mention this piazza is the one with a multicolored working carousel. That’s right; the dream combination of eating chocolate in a Mardi Gras mask on revolving horseback will actually be possible. That’s a travel photo people will want to see.
Piazza della Repubblica
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
4. Ice Skating
Nothing screams, “take that, summer vacation!” like open-air ice skating against a Renaissance backdrop. For just 6€ per hour shift*, you can rent skates and glide among locals at the “Parterre” (from November 30th – January 6th in 2013/14). From the city center, walk through both sets of arches in picturesque Piazza della Libertà, cross the street and continue up the stairs. On a rink that holds up to 200 skaters, you’ll have 199 chances to “bump into” the start of your Italian love story. 🙂
Via della Madonna della Tosse, 9
50129 Florence, Italy (closest address)
*Hours: Daily hour shifts start at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 6:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 9 p.m., 10:00 p.m., 10:30 p.m., and 11:30 p.m.
Fri, Sat, Sun and holidays also have midnight and 1:00 a.m. shifts!
5. Christmas Market
Every holiday season in Piazza di Santa Croce (from the November 26th to December 23rd in 2013), Florence hosts an authentic German-style Christmas market that will have you believing you boarded the wrong flight. Forty wooden stalls twinkling under their candy-striped roofs and boughs of evergreen await. You can easily spend a few hours following your nose through rows of homemade lavender soaps, roasting meats and sugary-sweet pastries. If you can’t stomach an entire 2 lb. stinco di maiale (pork shank) try a flame-grilled wurstel (bratwurst) with kraut and spicy mustard. Wash it all down with an artiginal beer or a toasty cup of Vin Brulè (hot, spiced wine, or called by its other name: Why You Are a Genius for Visiting Florence in the Winter). In addition to all the food, you’ll find everything from sheepskin slippers to hand-carved ornaments, perfect gifts for friends and family eagerly awaiting the return of Italian Santa Claus (you). And don’t miss the giant carousel turned bar, at night! Thankfully it doesn’t spin, but it sure does look gorgeous all lit up as you eat and drink yourself into holiday paradise.
Piazza di Santa Croce
Hours: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily
If you want to warm up after a long day like a real Italian, order a glass of ponch. Italian punch comes in two varieties that couldn’t be farther from the high school dance cocktail. Ponch al Mandarino is pure, orange-flavored liqueur with an aroma so spicy and intense, it will literally tickle your nostrils. Ponch alla Livornese is a powerful kick of rum, coffee, lemon, cinnamon and sugar. Both are served piping hot in little glass mugs. Being a common cold-weather beverage, you can order a ponch in most bars. For a non-touristic adventure, try one at “Caffè Sant’Ambrogio,” where it seems every Italian in Florence hangs out sipping drinks in the adjacent piazza no matter what the temperature.
Piazza di Sant’Ambrogio, 7
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. daily
It’s hard to find good things for cheap prices in Florence. Luxury items come with matching luxury prices, and inexpensive stores sell merchandise that’s 1) definitely not made in Italy and 2) not going to last more than a month. You pretty much get what you pay for…except in the winter! For two glorious months (Jan 5 – Mar 5 in 2013) almost every store in Florence goes on sale. Use this as an excuse to take home famous leather goods from the San Lorenzo market, or bit of everything from store-lined streets like: Via dei Calzaioli, Via Roma, Via Del Corso and Via dei Banchi/Via de’ Cerretani. If you’re into designer brands, walk down Via Tournabuoni to shop Prada, Versace and Ferragamo, among others. If you’re into designer brands but your wallet’s not, take a 1-hr, under 5€ bus trip* to “The Mall,” that really isn’t even a mall at all, but a designer outlet boasting names like Fendi, Armani and Valentino. Whatever your taste, you’ll leave Florence with more, having spent less. Winter = WIN.
“The Mall” website:
*Click “visit,” “how to get here” for transportation options and departure times
8. Babylon Nightclub
One of Florence’s best clubs (in my opinion, the best) is closed in the summer. So, give yourself another high five, cold-weather traveler! Because you can experience Babylon’s underground coolness all winter long. You’ll have to pay around 10€ to get in, but with a free drink token included, the price isn’t half bad. The average age is 20-35 and Italian, rather than the 16-25 tourist norm of most Florentine clubs. Two dance floors offer up two very different kinds of music: one hosts house, electronic and alternative DJ’s from around the world; the other plays American and Italian hits from the ’50s to today. If all this sounds like your kind of fun, you have to heat up and get down on a cold winter’s night at Babylon.
Via Pandolfini 26r
Hours: Thu, Fri and Sat from 11 p.m.
Probably the best thing about visiting Florence in the winter? The other visitors aren’t here! While summer sees museum lines wrapped around buildings and down the streets, off-season means you’ll spend a lot less of your precious time waiting in queue. So take advantage of shorter wait times to see all the Renaissance wonders your little heart desires. But, only buy a “Firenze Card”* if you really plan on going museum-crazy. This admission card sounds like a great deal; €72 gets you 72 hours of free public transportation and entrance to 50 museums in Florence. In “main museums,” there’s even a special line for cardholders. The downsides are: 1) Florence is small; it takes less time to walk to most museums than to take the bus or tram, 2) The average cost of Florence museum admission is around 6€; unless you plan on actually visiting more than 8 museums in 3 days, it might be better to pay individual entrance fees 3) If you come to Florence in the low-season, there aren’t long lines, anyway. So, weigh your options, and get to seeing more masterpieces than all the summer tourists combined.
“Firenze Card” website:
10. Tuscan soups
I know what you’re thinking, I ran out of ideas so I threw “soup” in there to make a perfect ten. Not true. Florentine peasants have been warming up with a hot bowls of Minestra (vegetable soup), Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato and bread soup) and Ribollita (vegetable and bread soup) since the 1200s. If the same recipes have lasted from the Middle Ages, you’d better believe they’re something special. Put them to the test at any typical Italian ristorante. We like “Il Latini” for its boisterous atmosphere, spoken menu and food so good it’s best to make a reservation. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed sitting at the communal tables amongst the natives, drizzle a little olive oil over your soup of choice and you’ll fit right in.
Via dei Palchetti, 6/r
Hours: Tues – Sun: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
(Article by Whitney Richelle)