I spent my spring semester junior year studying abroad in Florence, Itay, and let me tell you (as I’m sure you’ve heard from eeeevery single basic bitch you know), it was literally the best experience of my life!
I know it’s hard to believe every aspect of being abroad was great, but even bad moments didn’t faze me, because at least I was experiencing them in Italy. I was also lucky enough to travel with an amazing group of people who made the experience even better. Obviously, studying abroad is about indulging yourself in, learning about, and adapting to another culture. However, if the people you study abroad with are all douchebags, fake, or unadventurous, you may as well prepare for a bad time.
During my four months in Florence, I ate my weight in carbs, danced on more elevated surfaces than is socially acceptable, walked more than I have in my entire life, went out almost every night, and still managed to get straight As. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to fit every single club, museum, bar, gelateria, store, and restaurant, on top of traveling to other places, into just one semester. My time in Florence was so incredible, I still preface a disgusting amount of stories with, “when I was abroad…” as though I just got back last week.
For those of you planning to or considering studying abroad in Florence, think of this as your bible. Like I said, I obviously can’t include every establishment and/or attraction in the city, but here’s a compilation of some of my favorite places Firenze has to offer. Prego! (Translation: you’re welcome! Did I mention I studied abroad in Italy once?)
While many study abroad programs don’t give you the option of choosing your accommodations for the semester, there are a few things you should expect to be different than how you’re (probably) living at home, especially if you’re from the U.S.
For starters, when you first arrive in your Italian home, everything looks like it’s been put on a miniature setting. The beds are juuuuust big enough for you to comfortably sleep in, there aren’t any oversized sinks or showers, there’s a bidet in almost every bathroom, washing machines are compact, and dryers in homes are a rarity.
Grocery stores are just that: grocery stores. There’s no Italian equivalent to a Costco, Wal-Mart, Target, or even CVS, where you have access to food, hygiene products, medicine, and even clothing under one roof. If you want food and/or wine and a small selection of hard liquor, you can hit up the closest Conad. I found that having to carry my groceries back to my apartment and not being tempted by other things in the store helped me both stay on budget and not binge.
To dry your clothes, you’ll need to either use a hanging rack or locate a laundromat (which is pretty much your only shot at finding a functioning dryer). Hit up any pharmacy or farmacia (they have a big green plus sign out front) for medicine and hygiene products. Any other miscellaneous needs (and the spot to pay your international phone bill) is a tobacco shop.
At first this is all a pain in the ass, but it’s a quick adjustment and a refreshingly efficient way to live. Something I found helpful was bringing some of my own supplies from home, since I knew the exact time frame I’d be in Florence. It was easy for me to predict how much of my prescription medicine*, tampons, emergency cold medicine, etc. I’d need for the semester.
Regarding food, I recommend finding a balance between cooking and eating out. This way, you can take part in the truly life-changing experience of freshly-made Italian food without going completely bankrupt.
If you’re someone who can’t go anywhere without hot hair styling tools, I suggest purchasing an inexpensive straightener, curling iron, etc. once you’re in Florence. Sure, there are a couple of U.S. brands who claim you won’t have any issue using their products with international adaptors, and that very well may be true! However, almost everyone I know who has tried to use their beloved straightener from home in another country has either blown a fuse or completely ruined the plug and/or overall function of their straightener. If you buy tools with the European plug already built in, there’s no worry about wattage conversions or
looking like a sewer rat having messy hair because you ruined your straightener.
Living in Florence also made me realize how f*cking spoiled and materialistic we are as Americans! Truthfully, it’s not necessary for one person to be sleeping in a king-size bed alone. I mean, if you’ve got it like that, more power to you, but it was really nice to live in a culture where they only use and invest in things they actually need to live comfortably.
*Tip: If you’re taking birth control, antidepressants, or any other kind of prescription meds, be sure to bring enough with you to last your whole trip. It can be difficult for you to access certain medicines overseas.
Restaurants and Gelaterias
Arguably more important than where you live is what you eat. Out-of-body doesn’t even begin to describe my experience eating at Italian restaurants. I’m a self-proclaimed pasta snob, so needless to say my restaurant recs have at least six pasta dish options. I’ve broken down my favorite spots based on what meal/time is best to eat there.
Italians aren’t huge on having a big breakfast, rather a coffee and pastry or small sandwich. That being said, there are tons of cafes sprinkled throughout the city, so you’re bound to pass at least one on your way to class. If you’re looking for a breakfast with a bit more sustenance, here are a few places I turned to for a more ~Americanesque~ dining experience.
Shake Café: Great spot for smoothies, açaí bowls, and pretty much every other health trend you can think of. They also serve eggs any style, breakfast potatoes, and other savory options.
Mama’s Bakery: Cute restaurant with indoor and garden spaces. They sell baked goods and other typical cafe items. On Sundays they sell French toast with fresh fruit, making it my go-to spot for studying on the weekend.
La Milkeria: With a menu consisting of cafe items, waffles, crepes, pancakes, and gelato, La Milkeria is the perfect place for someone who prefers a sweet breakfast.
Ditta Artigianale: Check them out if you’re searching for a more ~hipster~ cafe vibe. They serve a variety of cocktails, sweet and savory bakery items, and lattes with sick foam artwork.
The following are either popular study abroad staples or internationally known lunch spots. Considering you’re in Florence to “take classes,” you likely won’t have time for a full sit-down lunch, making these options perfect for a grab-and-go meal.
Gustapizza: I was lucky enough to live in Santo Spirito (which is where Gustapizza is), so needless to say I was a regular. You can get a personal pizza prepared right in front of you, and they’ll even bake it into a heart if you ask.
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Pino’s Sandwiches: Pino’s is a study abroad staple. He has the restaurant decorated with flags from schools across America and is one of the nicest guys in Florence. Pino’s has a selection of paninis as well as pre-made dishes every day. Either option is super affordable, so you have more money to spend on wine.
Los Chicos: If you’re obsessed with Tex-Mex food, Los Chicos will be your go-to. It’s kind of a hole in the wall, but they serve amazing food. I once ordered nachos to go and got a 12×6” tray full of them. Need I say more?
Queen’s Chips Amsterdam: This is one of the most simple yet delicious fast food chains in the city. They serve you fries in a portable cone and smother them in a sauce of your choosing.
All’Antico Vinaio: If you’ve never heard of All’Antico, it’s a small, world-famous panini shop. It’s so popular they even opened a pop-up in NYC this summer. If you’re trying to get a taste of their fresh sandwiches in Florence, make sure you block out a decent amount of time. You can pretty much always expect the line for All’Antico to stretch down the street. Godspeed.
If you’ve ever been to a real Italian restaurant (aka not Olive Garden), you know Italians typically have multiple courses for dinner. Aperitivo, antipasto, primo, segundo e contorno, insalata, formaggi e frutta, dolce, and digestivo con caffe. While this may seem overwhelming, Italy (and the majority of Europe for that matter) actually has normally-sized portions, unlike America. Rather than getting a single plate overflowing with food and sides, you’re getting a series of smaller plates spread out to make up a long dinner.
Another major contrast is that there’s rarely pressure from waitstaff about the length of your meal. This means you won’t break a sweat when they come by and you still don’t know what you want off the menu. There were times when my friends and I were at dinner for literal hours without issue.
Spoiler alert for those of you who live and die for dishes like penne alla vodka and chicken parm: those aren’t “real” Italian dishes. That means they’re nearly impossible to find in Florence. RIP.
Ristorante Trattoria Dante: Depending on the night, Dante’s has a nice and lovely waitstaff, which is a nice compliment to the dimly-lit atmosphere. More importantly, they have a deal for students for unlimited wine with the purchase of a meal. You can thank me later.
Osteria del Gato e la Volpe: A great place if you want to indulge in a family-style meal. Moderate space and delicious food.
Osteria Santo Spirito: As I mentioned, I lived in Santo Spirito, so this osteria was only four minutes from my apartment. The restaurant itself was relatively small, but very colorful and has outdoor seating year-round. I recommend the fresh spaghetti with pomodoro (tomato) or their famous truffle gnocchi.
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Trattoria Zá Zá: They are known for their freshly made pasta (made right in the restaurant), and it is TO DIE FOR. Seriously, this was easily one of the best dinners I had. My friend and I split a meal, and they brought us the skillet in which they made our dish right to the table so we could self-serve. The restaurant itself is really popular, so definitely make a reservation.
Trattoria 4 Leoni: This restaurant is located more on the outskirts of the city center, making it a cute and quiet option. They serve pear ravioli, which I didn’t love, but it may just be an acquired taste.
La Spada: One of the only restaurants with a little section for takeout. The waitstaff was super friendly and they had a good (discounted) deal for five-course dinners for large parties.
To be on the safe side, I would call to make a reservation ahead of time for all of these places. It saved me potential hours of hanger and waiting.
No explanation necessary. I recommend going to gelaterias where there aren’t highly-stacked mounds of gelato, because it may not be fresh.
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Gelateria la Carraia: Aka the best gelato in Florence. I found their gelato was the most flavorful and extremely affordable. Its location along the Arno River makes for beautiful views while you eat.
Gelateria dei Neri: Also good gelato, buuuut it’s no la Carraia. If you’ve been to Florence and think I’m psycho for this stance, please just put the pitchforks away. Gelato’s a peaceful dessert.
Another exciting part about studying abroad in Europe (for those of you who drink) is that the legal drinking age is 18! You can leave your fake ID at home and hit up as many local bars as you want. The list below is a miniscule amount, but these bars were my regular spots throughout the semester. For the most part, each bar carries a totally different vibe. However, they’re all great for either a chill night out or a pregame spot before the club.
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Red Garter: One word: karaoke. There’s a large back room solely dedicated t0 karaoke and it’s a riot. The first room in the bar is a small, club-like dance and bar area, and on the side is a room set up as a sports bar. They have the best wings in the city and often have discounted deals for people to come eat, drink, and watch popular American sporting events.
Uncle Jimmy’s: For €1, you can purchase a wristband which gets you a free shot every time you buy a drink. It’s bottom-shelf liquor, of course, but it’s a study abroad student’s dream! If you’re from the East Coast and have ever gone to Brother Jimmy’s, the vibe here is exactly like that, only somehow better…because it’s Italian.
The Lion’s Fountain: The “Brother” bar to Uncle Jimmy’s. Has the same wristband deal. Additionally, for the bold and (likely) blacked out, if you flash the bartender for 10 seconds, your drink is free. Otherwise, it’s the same vibe as Uncle Jimmy’s.
The Michael Collins Pub: They basically sell drinks in tall containers that you’d typically get a to-go order of soup in. Two levels with live music in the basement. Overall chill vibe in an Irish pub setting.
Beer House Club: You can find people here pretty much all day and night. They have a variety of meal options and a massive selection of beer on tap. Both the indoor and patio area are full of tables and chairs, so even though they play hip hop/dance/club music at night, there isn’t much space to move.
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Kikuya English Pub: Full disclosure, I don’t remember too much about this bar other than the fact that my friend Hannah and I got fake engaged here. As the name of the bar implies, it’s an English pub and the inside is very dark and decorated with fairy lights everywhere. Their drinks were both really delicious and strong. Win win!
I’Margaritatio Cantina Messicana – Cocktail Bar: Great happy hour with the best and biggest frozen margaritas I’ve ever had. It’s a small, underground place that projects music videos on mute that do not sync up with the songs they’re playing on the speakers. Yeah, idk.
Shot Cafe: TBH, there wasn’t anything particularly spectacular about Shot Cafe. They served pitchers of drinks with 3-foot straws, which was more Instagrammable than functional. Otherwise, I was usually only here for five minutes max to buy a shot so I could get a stamp for free cover at the club.
Green Street Bar: This bar definitely has more of a cafe vibe. It’s not that big of a space and it’s open all day serving coffee and other cafe items and turns into a bar in the evening. The bartenders were all really cool and friendly, but this was another free stamp location for me.
While dealing with promoters is a serious pain in the ass, they were truly my saving grace in Florence. It can be super sketchy to interact with them initially (you absolutely need to make sure they’re legit first), but after a while you’ll have a go-to guy for the best deals.
My promoter always knew which bars were giving out stamps for free entry into the club, got us discounts on event and concert tickets, and because I’d become such a frequent flyer at the club(s), my friends and I never waited in line (*cue eye roll,* but whatever it’s true).
Several clubs have either a reduced or completely free cover charge for study abroad students. Just bring your student ID (or school name card) from the school you’re studying abroad at, not from your actual four-year college/university. As with everything listed above, this is just a handful of the club options in Florence. However, if you like a playlist of both remixes and actual songs with lyrics, dancing on elevated surfaces, and sneaking into VIP, I guarantee you’ll have an amazing time.
YAB: YAB is like the club equivalent to a frat basement. Aside from the fact that it’s literally underground, it’s full of skeezy men and poorly ventilated, yet I keep going back. In all seriousness, YAB is a lot of fun and I was dropping it low there every Monday. Hoooweverrrr, you need to be ESPECIALLY conscious of your belongings. Since everyone is usually packed like sardines, it’s a pickpocket’s paradise.
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Space Club Firenze: there isn’t enough space on this website for me to gush about Space. This place is a one-stop shop. On the lower level (before the night really pops off), they have karaoke, a small bar, and lounge areas. On the upper level, there’s a massive dance floor, VIP area, bar, and upper level where strippers/dancers would randomly appear throughout the night. Saying I thrived here doesn’t even do my experience justice. I was on a new level any time I set foot in Space. There was a different theme and decor most nights, and sometimes they gave away free stuff, which made it even more fun.
Blue Velvet: The bouncers at Blue velvet were the rudest I came across the whole semester. They had a serious sense of entitlement just because they controlled who could and couldn’t get into the club. The decor of the club was a little 50 Shades of Grey. Velvet curtains and booths everywhere and the layout itself was awkward. On the bright side, music was decent and there was good airflow, which can be hard to come by in clubs.
Bamboo Lounge & Club: Bamboo is like the club you choose to go to when all the other ones are at capacity. It’s an ok amount of fun (obviously depending on who you go with) because most people stand around and drink rather than dance. The front half is a standard bar area where you’re bound to find your standard Italian f*ckboys.
Sights, Gardens, Museums, and Churches
If the beautiful architecture of Florence isn’t enough for you, the city is also home to some of the most beautiful attractions I’ve experienced to date. Thankfully, all of you broke betches out there like me won’t have to worry about sacrificing an experience because you can’t afford it! None of the museums/gardens are too expensive, and your program will probably have some excursions included in the lesson plan.
Many of the churches are free to enter, and some of the statues are outside in the varying piazzas (squares), so it’s super convenient to take a day to walk around and see what you come across. Every piazza can be thought of like a “neighborhood” of Florence, and there’s usually a church which the piazza is named after. I mainly spent time in the below piazzas, museums, and gardens.
Piazalle Michelangelo: Reaching Piazalle Michelangelo can be a trek, but the view overseeing the city is worth it. This is the perfect place to bring a wine and cheese plate or small dinner and catch the sunset with your friends.
Palazzo Vecchio: This is the city hall of Florence, located in Piazza della Signoria. You can purchase tickets to check out the inside of the hall, but the piazza is one that houses many outdoor statues, so it’s always flooded with tourists.
Uffizi Gallery: Florence’s most famous art gallery. It’s located close to Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria and is full of rooms and rooms of famous portraits, statues, and great architecture.
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace): This is a Renaissance palace that is beyond gaudy. You have a ton of different options on what you can tour (just the entrance, the gallery, the Boboli Gardens, etc.). Depending on what you’re interested in seeing, this stop alone can take up hours of your day.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and il Duomo: This is the cathedral the Duomo is attached to. If you’re not claustrophobic and don’t have a fear of heights, you can pay to climb the tower and get a sick view of the city.
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Bardini Gardens: These gardens aren’t as big as the Boboli gardens, but still a quaint spot. My favorite part is the lavender path, where the flowers are interwoven into a metal arch structure. You can also find great city views here. It’s all about the gram after all, right? I mean, how else will people know you’re abroad?
Gucci Museum: All the expensive clothes and items you’ll never be able to afford conveniently displayed in one place!
Galleria dell’Academia: Statue of David lives here.There are other beautiful paintings and sculptures as well, but David is enormous and takes the cake. I ate sh*t and busted my knee on the way to see the statue of David but was so determined, I still waited an hour to get into the gallery. If you’re looking to go here on the weekend, I would go as early as possible to beat the crowd.
Piazza della Repubblica: One of the most populated/the main square of the city. If you’ve ever seen photos or videos of street performers and a merry-go-round in Florence, this is it. It’s a great landmark to remember to help you navigate day-to-day. There are also soooo many good shopping spots and restaurants around this piazza, so it’s easy to spend a full afternoon here.
Giardini di Boboli (Boboli Gardens): If you go to Florence in the Spring or Summer you cannot skip going here. The grounds are enormous and I spent hours exploring every time I went there. There are miles of greenery, flowers, open fields, fountains, sculptures, and killer views of both the city and surrounding areas.
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Ponte Vecchio: one of the bridges (ponte = bridge) along the Arno. Home to a lot of cute booths and small shops. MAJOR tourist attraction, so I’d try to go during off-peak hours (you’ll know what I mean when you get there) to avoid the rush.
Santa Maria Novella: Another architecturally gorgeous church in the city and a great landmark to help you navigate toward the bus and train station. It’s relatively small by comparison to some of the other churches in the city,
Santa Croce & Piazza Santa Croce: You guessed it, this is another church in Florence and yes, it’s gorgeous. The square in front of the church is huge, making it a popular location for vendors, and Calcio Fiorentino a.k.a. historic soccer.
Piazza Santo Spirito: My home away from home. Santo Spirito is honestly an amazing location to live. It’s located directly on the opposite side of the Arno from all the major tourist attractions, so at night you can pretty much always count on it being quiet. It’s home to Basilica di Santo Spirito, Gustapizza, Mama’s Bakery, Osteria Santo Spirito, and cute farmers markets and pop-up vendors every weekend.
Flying: Direct flights to and from Florence are expensive AF. To cut costs, I recommend taking a shuttle to a neighboring city, like Pisa. Ryanair is the European equivalent to Spirit Airlines, and even though your neck will be broken after the flight, a €30 round-trip flight to the U.K. is worth it.
Trains: Buying train tickets once you’re onboard is NOT a thing in Flo, so be sure to order online ahead of time or give yourself a cushion to purchase them at the station.
Buses: I did the majority of my external European trips through a travel/tourism company, which relied on buses to trek us from country to country. While the travel time will be three times as long as a flight, bus tickets are way cheaper. Buses are also a great option for traveling to surrounding cities like Pisa, Siena, and San Gimignano.
Taxis (because Uber’s nonexistent): There’s no such thing as hailing a taxi on the streets of Florence, and unfortunately the same is true for Uber. If you want and/or need a taxi, you have to call ahead of time and schedule a pickup/drop-off. However, taxis are like €15 for a seven-minute ride, so it’s really not worth it. Get off your ass and walk.
TBH I’ve never been into “exercising,” and wasn’t going to spend my precious moments abroad in a gym or fitness studio. As I said earlier, considering the cost of taxis and nonexistent ride share apps (combined with the fact that my Italian wasn’t nearly fluent enough to get me out of a crisis) I relied on walking to get me everywhere. Whether I was walking to class, going to the club, or walking to the opposite side of the city for a museum visit, I averaged well over the recommended 10,000 steps a day, which kept me in shape.
However, if you are a #fitbitch, there are gyms around the city (as well as yoga and other fitness studios) you can become a short-term member at to assure you still have access to your workout routine.
Unfortunately, as I’ve said many times, I can’t list eveeeery single thing to do in Florence. In this case, however, that’s not a terrible thing. When you’re abroad in Europe, you’re likely going to divide your time between your “host” country and many of the other surrounding countries. I visited to nine in total during the semester, and still felt like I spent ample time home in Firenze. The best of both worlds!
If done right, studying abroad in Florence can be the best time of your life. Try your hardest to get yourself comfortable with getting lost (in a non-dangerous way) so you can discover some new sh*t. Bring your phone with you as a fail-safe, but try and get from one place to another relying strictly on your memory. You’ll be surprised how familiar you actually are with the city and are bound to find some hidden gems, because you’re not zoned in to your screen.
Whether you’re a first-time Flo explorer or a seasoned professional, remember to be conscious of yourself, your surroundings, and your sh*t at all times. Florence is one of the WORST cities in the world for pick-pocketing, and I can attest to that. All but four of my friends got their wallets, phones, or both stolen (two of them in less than 24-hours after landing in Florence), so seriously, beware and be smart.
Otherwise, buona fortuna e fai un buon viaggio (good luck and have a great trip)!
Images: Heidi Kaden / Unsplash; Giphy (2); offcampus (2), bennydrama7, gustapizzafirenze, abbroaadeaatz, eatinggwithemma, beerhousefirenze, yabfirenze, rinniesaus, emilycarrello, isabelwilkinson, fatcarriebradshaw / Instagram