Saturday, February 4, 2012

Florence, Italy (Accommodation, Dining, and Nightlife)

We spent three nights in Florence during September 2011.


When I traveled to Florence the first time five years prior, I stayed in a small bed and breakfast called Althea Rooms in the Santo Spirito neighborhood near the Pitti Palace. The rooms were simple and fine but I hated the fact that it was such a long walk to the center of Florence. On my second trip I wanted to stay some place more centrally located but had a difficult time doing so without spending at least 200 Euro per night. I ended up selecting Alla Dimora based on its decent reviews on Trip Advisor, its 80 Euro per night price tag, and the fact that its website stated it was a five minute walk from the city center and a few steps away from the train station. Unfortunately, upon our arrival, we quickly figured out neither of those location statements were true. The B & B was a good 15 minutes walk from the city center and about a 10 minute walk from the train station, which was exactly what I hadn't wanted. The only redeeming quality of the B & B was that it had a great rooftop terrace with a great view of the historic core of Florence off in the distance. In hindsight, we should have done what we did in Rome and rented a private apartment in the heart of Florence.
Alla Dimora Altea B & B
Alla Dimora Altea B & B


Ristorante Self-Service Leonardo:
This cafeteria-style restaurant, located just a block from the Duomo, had glowing reviews from both Rick Steves and Trip Advisor. I was hesitant to eat here since it was a cafeteria but since it was rated the 121st highest restaurant of 1028 restaurants on Trip Advisor in Florence, I figured it must be decent. Unfortunately, our personal experience with the restaurant was nothing like the reviews stated it would be. Yes, it was definitely cheap (I think we walked out paying around 20 Euro for a tortellini dish, lasagna, chicken florentine, and two plates of dessert) but the quality was terrible. The flavor and texture of the lasagna reminded me of frozen lasagna. The chicken in the chicken florentine was the only decent part of the meal although the mushrooms in the dish were definitely not fresh and of the canned variety. The desserts weren't tasty either! Even if you are low on funds, I wouldn't recommend a stop here. Grab some pizza or a panni to go instead. Maybe we visited on an off-night, but it definitely wasn't deserving of its high ratings during our meal.
Tortellini dish from Ristorante Self-Service Leonardo

Il Portale:
This restaurant is located outside of the main tourist area close to the Santa Maria Novella train station. We had passed it several times on our way from the B & B to the city and thought it looked like a good place with decent prices. When we arrived around 20:30 on a Friday evening the restaurant was packed with both locals and tourists. For an appetizer I selected L'Insalata Toscana (Tuscan salad with tuna fish, white beans, and onions) and we both ordered a pasta dish, which I honestly can't remember nor did I take a photo of. The salad was definitely something very different but is a traditional salad from Florence and the flavors of the white beans, onions, and tuna fish actually melded together quite well. Considering I can't even remember what pasta dishes we ordered, they certainly didn't blow us away. Overall, it was a decent restaurant with average food and easy prices. However, unless you are staying near the train station, I wouldn't make the trip out.
L'Insalata Toscana from It Portale.

Pizzeria del Duomo:
When visiting Florence five years earlier I distinctly remembered eating at a tiny to-go pizza place directly across from the Bapistery that sold delicious pizza by weight. As soon as we got to Florence I told Shyawn that I wanted to see if the same place still existed. Low and behold, it did and was still serving the same thick crust pizza that I had eaten so many years prior. They have at least six types of pizza to choose from but the best part is that you can select the size of pizza slice you want. This would work well for families with small children or even for adults with a smaller appetite.
Delicious pizza from Pizzeria del Duomo.
Interior of Pizzeria del Duomo.

I Tarocchi (Via dei Renai):
Prior to spending some time at Negroni and Zoe Bar (see below) we needed to find a place to eat. This restaurant happened to be located on the other side of the street from these places and appeared to be filled with locals so we took a chance. I ordered the risotto with pumpkin flowers while Shyawn had a pasta dish with a medley of different seafood (clams, shrimp, scallops). Both were delicious and probably the best things we ate while in Florence. After our visit I learned that the restaurant is most well-known for its pizza which makes sense as most of the locals there had pizza in front of them. The restaurant is located across the Arno River about a 15 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio in the San Niccolo neighborhood; it's definitely not in the tourist zone but for those willing to make the trek I don't think you will be disappointed! Unfortunately I did not take any photos during our visit.


While researching nightlife in Florence, Shyawn had read that Negroni was a small bar frequented by locals made famous by being the birthplace of the Florentine cocktail called Negroni. The bar also offers a small food buffet with pastas and salads but by the time we arrived around 20:00 had mostly been picked over. We didn't stay long here as there wasn't a place to sit. Additionally, I had read that it was recommended to make reservations in advance if you were planning on bringing a group of people.
Interior of Negroni, courtesy of Lonely Planet.

Zoe Bar:
From Negroni, we headed straight next door to the trendy Zoe Bar which although had dozens of people packed outside its doors was rather empty on the inside. The interior of the bar had a modern feel with lots of white and black coloring and great lighting. There was a DJ providing tunes near the entrance of the bar so this wouldn't be the place for people who don't like loud music. The bar offers a lovely cocktail menu in both Italian and English so we both had fun picking a few cocktails to drink.
Interior of Zoe Bar, courtesy of
Enjoying our time at Zoe Bar.


  1. Thank you for your honest advice. We are thinking of making the trip to Italy next year and will be visiting Florence. You mentioned that you'd recommend finding a place in the "heart of Florence". Do you know near where that would be?

    We are looking at both hotels and B&Bs and would like to stay near attractions as well.


    1. Hi Sara!

      In my opinion, if I were to do it over again, I would rent an apartment on or near Piazza della Signoria, Piazza del Duomo, or Piazza della Repubblica (in that order). All of these piazzas are in what I consider to be the "heart of Florence".


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