Once the center of the Roman empire and forever intriguing visitors with its history and culture, when it comes to visiting Europe, Italy is often first on the list of countries to explore. Several of its cities are renowned for their fashion, food or historical interest – but one of the best locations for a weekend break where all of these things harmoniously come together is Florence.
Thanks to its superb architecture and the expansive collections of Renaissance artworks found here, Florence city center was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Nowadays, the Tuscan capital offers visitors everything from culture and history to Michelin-starred dining and high-end, designer fashion. No matter your reason for travel, there is something to fall in love with in Florence.
Here at Elite Traveler, we’ve scoured the city to find the best hotels, eateries and activities for you to enjoy while spending a long weekend in Florence. Whether you want to be living and breathing the city, soaking up the Tuscan sun at a vineyard in the nearby hills or tasting one of the region’s traditional dishes, we’ve got you covered. For the best experience in Florence, choose to avoid the peak summer season – late spring or early fall offer fewer crowds and a more comfortable temperature.
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Where to Stay
Villa La Massa
Situated four miles east of Florence’s city center, Villa La Massa is the ideal hotel for those looking to make the most of a long weekend in Tuscany. Set across extensive grounds and giving the feeling of a country estate, the hotel offers the best of both worlds; guests can spend the day exploring the city before escaping to the countryside to lounge by the pool or enjoy an alfresco dinner beside the Arno River.
Villa La Massa’s country estate feeling is intensified by the fact the hotel occupies a 16th-century Medici villa and its various outbuildings, including The Mill and La Limonata (where lemons were stored for winter). Each of the 51 rooms and suites are individually styled, with its own character and original features including frescoes on many of the ceilings. The interiors work in harmony with the hotel’s heritage, exuding classic Florentine luxury combined with 21st-century amenities.
The hotel has a range of five-star facilities including a riverside restaurant, Il Verrocchio, which changes throughout the day to offer everything from light lunches to a six-course dinner tasting menu. There is also a second pool-side restaurant for outdoor dining, a charming bar in the main house, a basement gym and an indulgent spa. With everything Villa La Massa has to offer, it would be easy to forgo visiting Florence entirely – but the hotel offers regular shuttles and private transfers, making the 15-minute trip into town a breeze.
If you’re looking for the heart of the action, the Hotel Savoy is the place to stay during a long weekend in Florence. The city-center hotel overlooks the famous Piazza della Repubblica and is only moments away from other attractions, including Florence’s prime retail street – Via Tornabuoni – which is lined with designer stores. As a Rocco Forte Hotel, Hotel Savoy has a natural grandeur to it; its interiors are a collaboration between Laudemia Pucci (daughter of Emilio Pucci) and Rocco Forte Hotel’s director of design, Olga Polizzi.
Hotel Savoy features a delightful restaurant and a large underground gym for guests to use although it lacks a spa or any kind of communal guest lounge. Instead, the designers have opted to put more space into the 60 guest rooms, which – even at entry-level – have room for at least a sofa or armchair. Opt for the enormous Presidential Suite or choose one of the Grand View suites for your stay. Situated on the fourth floor, these suites have their own sitting rooms and panoramic views across the city with the Duomo as a neighbor.
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Belmond Villa San Michele
Offering sweeping views of Florence and the surrounding countryside, Belmond Villa San Michele can be found nestled on a wooded hillside five miles north of central Florence. Despite being further away from the main sights of the city (it’s a 20-minute drive) the hotel’s location means that the summer temperatures are more palatable than in Florence itself. The main hotel building was formerly a monastery originally dating from the 1500s and many of the original features have been preserved, becoming part of the hotel’s charm.
Villa San Michele features a total of 45 guest rooms split between the main house and the garden annexes, each with its own character and charm. Other facilities at the hotel include the pool and immaculate gardens, a small gym, a wellness suite for spa treatments, an elegant bar and two restaurants. Guests are also able to enjoy a range of experiences at Villa San Michele including cocktail making and wine tastings, rafting down the Arno River or private visits to the city’s museums.
Set in a prime location on the north bank of the Arno River, the five-star Portrait Firenze is only moments away from the Ponte Vecchio and several of Florence’s other iconic buildings and galleries. A member of the Lungarno Collection of luxury Italian hotels, Portrait Firenze exudes a feeling of modest sophistication; its modern-classic interiors were designed by local Florentine designer Michele Bonan and inspired by the city’s fashionable 50s and 60s.
Despite its city center location, Portrait Firenze offers guests a private, boutique experience that ensures comfort at every step – from the discreet entrance and the sitting-room reception area to the pre-arrival form enquiring about guests’ preferred flowers, newspapers, breakfasts and pillows. The majority of the hotel’s 37 guest suites have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river and are generously sized, which makes up for the fact that the Portrait Firenze’s public areas are limited to the reception room and restaurant.
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What to Do
Safari Wine Tour and Wine Tasting
The rolling hills of Tuscany are renowned for their wines, with perfect conditions for endless vineyards of both red and white grape varieties. As the capital city of the region, whether you’re after a Chianti or a Chardonnay, Florence is a perfect base from which to explore the variety of wineries that the surrounding countryside has to offer. For something a little different to the usual wine tour and tasting, opt for a visit to Valle Picciola.
A working winery set within the Chianti Classico region, Valle Picciola is an hour’s drive from Florence or ten minutes from the smaller city of Siena. The modern winery estate has taken tours to the next level with its option of a Wine Safari Experience. Step aboard the estate’s open-top Jeep for a 30-minute tour of the Vallepicciola vineyards with your own personal driver and guide. The experience also includes a tour of the winery’s cellars and a private tasting of seven estate red wines, coupled with local cheeses and charcuterie.
If staying at Villa La Massa, this trip can be organized by the concierge team.
Art Experiences with Studio Iguarnieri
Said to have been the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence has had a major influence on the art world for centuries with countless artists having called the city home – including the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello and Michelangelo.
There is a plethora of art galleries across Florence that are worth a visit on your next weekend break, including the Uffizi Gallery (home to a vast collection of Renaissance pieces such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus) and Academia Gallery (where you can find Michelangelo’s David).
If pursuing the city’s art galleries sparks your imagination, head over to Studio Iguarnieri to find a creative outlet. Situated moments away from the city center in a beautiful townhouse beside the Arno River, Studio Iguarnieri is one of the best spots for discovering local Florentine art and also offers a range of Art Experiences.
These include lessons on alfresco painting, working with watercolors to one-hour taster sessions at a location of your choice (our session took place in the beautiful gardens at Villa la Massa). True art lovers will enjoy ‘A Day with the Master’, which includes lessons, lunch and visits to the city’s galleries guided by one of the studio’s resident artists.
If staying at Villa La Massa, these art experiences can be organized by the concierge team and the taster session can take place on-site at the hotel.
Sightseeing in Florence
As one of the world’s centers of art and culture, it’s impossible to visit Florence without making time to discover the sights the city has to offer. We have already mentioned two of the major art galleries but other landmarks worth visiting on a weekend trip include Florence’s famous cathedral, the Duomo, the Piazza della Signoria, the beautiful Boboli Gardens and the Ponte Vecchio, the city’s legendary old bridge that connects the Uffizi to Palazzo Pitti. Florence also provides a wealth of alternative sights to visit if you prefer to avoid the crowds that can always be found at these top attractions.
Though the Duomo features the iconic dome that can be seen across the city, the smaller Cappelle Medicee – Medici Chapel – features a similar structure and is a celebration of the Medici family, who were once Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The Bardini Gardens or the Iris Gardens feature an abundance of beautiful plants without the heavy footfall that the Boboli Gardens is accustomed to.
Or if it’s views over the city you’re looking for, ignore the guides that suggest Piazzale Michaelangelo. Instead, head slightly further up the hill to Dan Miniato Church for better views and the chance to explore the church itself.
If staying at the hotel, the concierge team at Villa La Massa can arrange any private tours of Florence’s attractions, including travel to and from the city.
What to Eat
Whether you’re looking for a fine dining experience at one of Florence’s seven Michelin-starred restaurants or in the mood for an authentic or traditional Florentine dish, dining in the city has never been better than it is now. With a varied, dynamic food scene thanks to an influx of international chefs and restaurateurs, Florence has become a hub for foodies as well as those interested in history and culture.
For Florence’s signature meat dish, Bistecca al Fiorentina, head to Regina Bistecca. Set to the north of the Duomo, the restaurant features high ceilings and modern finishes – and offers T-bone steak priced by weight. At the understated, elegant Michelin-starred La Bottega del Buon Caffè, expect seasonal farm-to-table dishes paired with a curated wine list and views from the floor-to-ceiling windows out towards the Arno. For other traditional Tuscan fare with views across the river, we love Trattoria Cammillo, which has been owned and run by the same family since 1945.