Birthplace of the Renaissance and the largest city in Tuscany, Florence (Firenze in Italian) offers an embarrassment of famous Renaissance art, by masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael...and, yes, Donatello, to round out the last of the Ninja Turtles. With a bustling tourist trade and lots of foreign students, there is also a hopping night scene, even for English speakers. Florence also makes a good "home base" before exploring the smaller hill towns of Tuscany. If you can, avoid the city during the summer, when long lines of tourists will remind you of Disney World (or at least book your tickets ahead of time).
Various guidebooks can tell you about the must-see sights (e.g. Michelangelo's David, Duomo, Uffizi Galleries); my favorite is Rick Steves for getting the highlights
Rick Steves also has a set of free audio tours of the major sights in Florence—download them before you leave (or when you're on hotel wifi) and then pop in your earphones when you get there!
Historian Ada Palmer also does a great job of explaining what Renaissance Florence was like & why it's laid out the way it is in this brilliant blogpost ...she also has a great introduction to Florence's museums and churches & monuments
Trattoria Cibrèo - via de' Macci 122r, good although crowded by many Americans, a fun "show" with a gregarious chef/owner, off P. S. Ambrogio, rec'd by Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016), Frommer's, Fodor's, Eater (in 2018). (not to be confused with the more expensive Ristorante Cibrèo)
Trattoria la Casalinga - via del Michelozzi 9, as the name implies this is "home-style" food at a family-run place, in Otrarno (near Santo Spirito basilica, just SW of Ponte Vecchio), home cooking, locals, rec'd by 2 CHs, cheap, rec'd by Fodor's, Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016)
Trattoria Mario - via Rosina 2r, San Lorenzo district, 055-218-550, hole-in-the-wall family-run trattoria, inexpensive, rec'd by chowhounds, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016), Eater (in 2018)
Buca Mario - different place on piazza degli Ottaviani 16r, rec'd Michelin,055-214-179, old school trattoria just south of the SMN train station; known for bistecca fiorentina
Del Fagioli - Corso de' Tintori 47r, just S of Piazza Santa Croce, closed Sat/Sun, very old place, rec'd by Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016), Elizabeth Minchilli, Lonely Planet, Eater (in 2018)
(Trattoria) Sabatino - Via Pisana 2r, S of SMN train station in Oltrarno, rec'd Eater (in 2018), Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016) for "simple and accommodating" family-run place that's a blast from the past, menu changes each day based on what's fresh, simple presentations of traditional dishes
Trattoria da Sergio Gozzi - Piazza San Lorenzo 8r, just E of SMN train station in San Lorenzo district, rec'd Eater (in 2018), Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016) for traditional Tuscan food at good prices, more info in The Florentine
Il Magazzino - Piazza della Passera 2-3r, Oltrarno just SW of Ponte Vecchio, open every day, rec'd by Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016), Eater (in 2018), famous for organ meats like lampredotto (but they have other stuff too)
Ai Tranvai - Piazza Torquato Tasso 14r, in the Oltrarno nearly a mile S of the Arno, features parts of old streetcars, classic traditional dishes, rec'd in Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016)
B.O.r.G.O. - Borgo San Frediano 145a (don't confuse it with several other places named "Borgo"), dinner only, closed Mon, rec'd Lonely Planet and Bruno, very good TripAdvisor ratings
La Ménagère - a "concept restaurant" (opened in 2015) that's also a bakery/cafe/flower shop, rec'd Travel & Leisure, Lonely Planet, an instagram-able place popular with the "hip" crowd
Osteria dell'Enoteca - in Oltrarno near the Boboli Gardens, rec'd Eater (in 2018) especially for its wines, CN Traveler, Girl in Florence, Lonely Planet, tradition with a modern twist, seems very nice!
I’Brindellone - relatively rustic spot in Oltrarno, known for bistecca (rec'd by these folks) and other classic dishes, good TA/Google reviews
Brac - interesting vegetarian/vegan/organic place (that's also a bookstore) with Italian/Tuscan food mixed with flavors from around the world, rec'd Eater (in 2018)
other bistecca places: Buca Lapi, Il Latini, Antica Osteria Nandone, and others here (Food Insider likes Trattoria dall'Oste)
Gustarium - pizza al taglio (by the slice) place with various interesting toppings, very popular on TA/Google
Osteria Vecchio Cancello - popular on TA/Google...
Senz'Altro Bistrot Firenze - popular on TA/Google, new in 2018
Ristorante Vetreria Pizzeria Boutique - popular on TA/Google
Osteria Antica Casa Torre - popular on TA/Google
Osteria Buongustai - rec'd Lonely Planet
Irene - rec'd Lonely Planet
Regina Bistecca - rec'd Lonely Planet
Terrrazza Menoni - km0 rec'd Lonely Planet
#Raw - freshly-made/raw stuff with biodynamic ingredients, rec'd Lonely Planet
Culinaria De Gustibus Bistrot - popular on TA/Google, rec'd Eater (in 2018), includes French & Moroccan influences
Ristorante il Guscio - rustic Oltrarno spot rec'd Eater (in 2018) for good food & extensive wine list (including biodynamic wines), CN Traveler who say the new generation has updated an old-school place popular with locals at lunch, Dissapore (in 2020), TCI
Trattoria da Rocco - informal, inexpensive, fast trattoria rec'd Eater (in 2018), Fodors, only open for lunch, good Google/TA reviews
Essenziale - more experimental/fancy/haute cuisine, rec'd Eater (in 2018), Lonely Planet
Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori - off P. della Signorina, good home cooking, no frills but fresh, rec'd Eater (in 2018) and chowhounds
Club culinario toscano da Osvaldo - place rec'd Eater (in 2018), mix of Umbrian and Tuscan food, more on this blog
Not sure about these places (were all at least allegedly good in ~2010):
Trattoria Quattro Leoni - This no-nonsense trattoria is in the Oltrarno ("over the Arno") district, a less busy, more Italian neighborhood not far from the Ponte Vecchio. They offer a number of Florentine specialties (including supposedly the best bistecca fiorentina in town) as well as fiocchetti alle pere, a delicious pasta with pear filling. Rec'd by Fodor's.
Sostanza (Il Troia) - via della Porcellana 25 (S of S.M.N. Train Station), 055-212-691, closed Sat/Sun, a hole in wall but great steak (more than one reader says it's the best bistecca fiorentina in town, also good chicken in butter sauce), get reservations early, praised by SF Chronicle and Frommer's. Also see this blog post.
Antico Noe - volta di San Piero 6r, near Santa Croce, 055-234-0838, good quality/price, rec'd by Fodor's. Tiny restaurant but great meals!
Haveli Ristoranti Indiano - Indian in Firenze? Of course. If you're looking for a break from the monotonous pizza/pasta/seafood combos that every Neapolitan restaurant serves, head northeast of Firenze SNM train station for a small ethnic feast. Call ahead, though, for reservations. With only a few tables, the most common complaint on tripadvisor is long waits! +39-055-355-695
Osteria de' Benci - via dei Benci 13, 055-234-4923, 12:30-3:30, 7:30-11, phone reservations only, near Santa Croce, a slightly fancier take on Italian specialties, highly recommended by chowhounds, Frommer's and Fodor's.
Antico Fattore - good truffle dishes; print out website coupon first!
Osteria delle Belle Donne - via delle Belle Donne 16r, near S.M.N. train station, 055-238-2609, rec'd by Fodor's.
Coco Lezzone - Via Parioncino 26r, S of SMN train station, Paoli family has run since the 70s, classic traditional dishes, rec'd in 2014 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (not anymore in 2016)
Pallottino - via Isola delle Stinche 1r, 055-289-573, Fodor's rec's this simple trattoria.
Benevenuto - via della Mosca 16r, E of Uffizi, 055-214-833, rec'd by Fodor's.
Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò - via San Niccolò 60r, in Oltrarno, rec'd by Fodor's.
Il Santo Bevitore - Borgo Santo Spirito 64/66, also in Oltrarno, rec'd by Fodor's, Lonely Planet
Tripe Specialists - one of Florence's traditional dishes is tripe (animal stomach), especially in the "lampredotto" sandwich
Nerbone (at the Mercato Centrale) - like a tavola calda, you can get fresh sandwiches with delicious tripe (!), highly recommended by many including Frommer's, Fodor's, and 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia; they also have a trattoria (Alla Vecchia Bettola) in Oltrarno
Orazio Nencioni - Loggia del Porcellino, fin the heart of the centro storico, clsoed Sun but otherwise open 10-7, rec'd 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Mario Tato - Piazza Alberti (way East near Firenze Campo Marte train station)
Il Trippaio di San Frediano - Piazza dei Nerli (in Oltrarno, S of Amerigo Vespuci bridge / SMN train station), rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Il Trippaio di Sant'Ambrogio - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
La Tripperia delle Cure - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Mario Albergucci - Piazzale di Porta Romana, W of Piazzale Michelangelo, rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Marco Bolognesi - on the east end of the centro storico, rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Lupen e Margò - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Sergio (e Piero Paolo) Pollini - on the east end of the centro storico, rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Leonardo Torrini - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
La Tripperia delle Cure - N of the centro storico, rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Le Trippaie - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia, a bit NW of centro storico
Il Lampredottore - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia, outside of centro storico
Bambi Trippa e Lampredotto - Mercato Centrale, popular TA/Google
Wine Bars/Enotecas - serve lighter dishes along with drinks
Enoteca Pane e Vino - Piazza di Cestello 3R, in Oltrarno, mix of traditional and creative food, rec'd by Zagat and Michelin (and Cristina Tcheyan)
I (Due) Fratellini - Via de'Cimatori 38R, S of the Duomo, rec'd in Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016) for sandwiches, crostini, and a glass of wine
Le Volpi e L'Uva - Piazza de'Rossi 1R, just S of Ponte Vecchio, rec'd Eater (in 2018), Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016) for wine, cheese, crostini
Zanobini - Via Sant'Antonino 47, E of SMN train station, rec'd in Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016)
Il Santino - Via Santo Spirito 60R, Oltrarno, rec'd in Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016)
also has an associated, fancier restaurant Il Santo Bevitore, next door
All'antico Vinaio - rec'd in Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016), Food Insider says (in 2019) that they have "the most epic sandwiches" (they definitely have the best marketing)
Casa del Vino - rec'd in Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016), Eater (in 2018)
Amornio...Panino e Vino - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Enoteca Bellini - rec'd Eater (in 2018)
Enoteca Alessi - rec'd Eater (in 2018)
UqBar - rec'd Lonely Planet fo r"slow food" lunch
Outside Centro Storico
Da Burde - via Pistoiese 154, ~15 min W by car (~20-30 min by bus) from historic center, store/restaurant has been serving food since 1927, rec'd in Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016), Michelin Bib Gourmand, Elizabeth Minchilli, Eater (in 2018)
(Trattoria) Ruggero - via Senese 89r, ~7 min S by car (~15 min by bus, ~30 min walk, SW of Pizzale Michelangelo) from historic center in Oltrarno, rec'd in Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (still in 2016)
Trattoria Tre Soldi - Via Gabriele D'Annunzio 4, ~20-30 min E, rec'd in 2014 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia (not anymore in 2016)
Tullio - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Aurelio - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Bistrot del Mondo Da Bobo all' Acciaiolo - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Dino - rec'd by 2016 Slow Food Osterie d'Italia
Also recommended by chowhounds:
Osteria Santo Spirito - good antipasti, pasta (truffle gnocchi, rigatoni...), but another reader disappointed
I Latini - recommended by some but another says "has throngs of American lining up for mediocre food", rec'd by Frommer's and Fodor's.
Le Mossacce - more local
Acqua al Due
Croce al Trebbio (via dele Donne near SMN train station)
Il Ritrovo - a couple readers rec'd
Trattoria il Contadino - via Palazzuolo 69, cheap fixed price, great value
Traverna del Bronzino - good bistecca fiorentina, rec'd by a few people
Vecchia Bettola - popular with locals
Teatro del Sale - also has a "show" but is good food, same owner as Cibreo, rec'd Lonely Planet
Hosteria del Birccio - in San Niccolo, recommended by a couple folks as authentic fiorentina
Golden View Open Bar - nice, you're mostly paying for view of Ponte Vecchio, good but not great food
Fiesole - nice town just north of Florence, with good views of the city
Florence has a number of good gelaterie:
Antica Gelateria Fiorentina - via Faenza 2a (near the San Lorenzo church, not far from the Duomo or S.M.N. Train Station), 388-058-0399, gelato magician Francesco Sini serves up the best strawberry you'll ever have, plus amazing creations like Ambrosia (yogurt, honey, and cinnamon) and Persian (pistacchio, rosewater, and saffron).
Edoardo - Piazza del Duomo 45/r, organic ingredients, open every day 11-11:30, rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015
Vivoli - via dell'Isola delle Stinche 7r (between Piazza della Signoria & Santa Croce), 055-292-334, closed Mon, traditionally the "best" gelateria in Florence, but there's lots of competition now, see this detailed blog post, rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015 for chocolate (and cream), Dissapore in 2015, on Dissapore's 2016 list of top gelaterie in Italy
Marco Ottaviano ("Il Gelato Gourmet") - Via Palmieri 34/r (E of Duomo), rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015 for flavors like peanut, "Duke's cream", and espresso, Dissapore in 2015 also rec's "Duke's cream" and the "white coffee", also on their 2016 list of top gelaterie in Italy
Carapina - Via Lambertesca 18/r (near Uffizi/Ponte Vecchio...also a branch further NE at Piazza Oberdan), rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015, also a branch in Rome, also on Dissapore's 2016 list of top gelaterie in Italy (alas their Roman branch closed a while ago)
Gelateria della Passera - via Toscanella 15/r (Oltrarno, just S of Ponte Vecchio), rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015, Dissapore in 2015 (also #32 on their 2016 list of top gelaterie in Italy for flavors like "Cream with 7 Tastes", "Monna Lisa" and "Tastes of the Orient", and again in 2017)
La Sorbettiera - Piazza Torquato Tasso 11 (Oltrarno, 15 min walk SW of Ponte Vecchio), rec'd Dissapore in 2015, also on their 2016 list of top gelaterie in Italy, especially rec'd for seasonal fruit flavors but also other stuff
Grom - corner of via del Campanile and via delle Oche (just S of Duomo), 055-216-158, open every day 10:30-11 (midnight in summer)...it's a chain, but it's a good chain, with good, fresh gelato flavors
My Sugar - rec'd Eater (in 2018)
Carabé - via Ricasoli 60/r (near the Accademia), rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015, sicilian style with flavors like yogurt & cinnamon, as well as granita
Arà - via degli Alfani 127/r (near the Accademia), rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015, Sicilian style
Il Procopio - via Pietrapiana 60 (a bit N of the Santa Croce Basilica), rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015 for Sicilian specialities including cassata
Outside main touristy areas:
Gelateria de’ Medici - via dello Statuto 3 (a ways north of SMN train station), rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015 for interesting, inventive flavors that bring back childhood memories
Badiani - viale dei Mille 20r (N of Firenze Campo di Marte train station), 055-578-682, closed Tues, very good (many claim it's better than Vivoli) but not central, rec'd Scatti di Gusto in 2015
were good in ~2010 but not sure now:
Gelateria dei Neri - via dei Neri 26 (E of Uffizi), 055-210-034, high-quality, popular gelateria, lots of fans on chowhound; also see this blogpost; Dissapore in 2015 says they're over-rated
Vestri - Borgo degli Albizi 11 (E of Duomo), 055-234-0374, another recommended gelateria which is also chcocolate shop, see this blog post about their gelato & hot chocolate
Perchè No - via dei Tavolini 19r, 055-239-8969, between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, "why not" try their great gelato? Also lots of fans on chowhound.
La Carraia - Dissapore in 2015 says they're over-rated
Bakeries, Pastries, Food Shops, etc
S.forno - hip bakery in Oltrarno at via Santa Monica 3r, big sign above just says "Panificio", same group that runs Il Santino wine bar (see above), rec'd Eater (in 2018)
Cantinetta dei Verrazzano - fancy spot for small plates and various baked goods, associated with the Verrazzano winery (and agriturismo) in Greve in Chianti
Pastificio artigianale San Michele aka Fattoria San Michele a Torri - via dei Rustici 6r fresh pasta, wine & olive oil from their organic farm outside town...also run a store "Punto Vendita San Michele a Torri Firenze" at via dell'Angolo 101
[as of 2021 it looks like their restaurant, San Michele All'Arco, is closed]
Antico Salumificio Anzuini Macelleria - butcher shop specializing in cured meats, many of which are made in house; via dei Neri 84r is their shop in the historic center, with a larger production facility/shop halfway to Fiesole on via Faentina 93
SandwiChic - rec'd Eater (in 2018), popular on TA/Google
Arà: è Sicilia - Sicilian specialties like cannoli and arancini (rice balls)
Semel Street Food - sandwiches (with unusual ingredients) and more near Sant'Ambrogio market, rec'd Eater (in 2018), Gambero Rosso, Lonely Planet, Goop, Girl in Florence, Elizabeth Minchilli, Saveur, good TA/Google reviews
Dolci e Dolcezze - nice pastry shop rec'd Eater (in 2018)
Thanks to its large population of expat students, Florence has a great party atmosphere. Lonely Planet has a nice guide, Culture Trip has a list of nightclubs, and JetSet Times also has a nice guide from 2017
Like many Italian cities, the cheapest place to hang out is in piazzas, where many young people congregate at night. Piazza Santa Croce and Piazzale Michelangelo are two popular piazzas.
Also consider the Aperitivo or "Aperi-cena", a light ~free meal (if you buy a drink) at many bars...go early for many of these; Visit Florence has a nice page describing some places...Puntarella Rossa also has a list (in Italian) from 2015
Girl in Florence has a nice guide to bars in Florence from 2012
Hotel Orchidea - via Borgo degli Albizi 11, 055-248-0346, Cheap but beautiful rooms (singles €55!) and great location just E of the Duomo...the only disadvantage is that you share a bathroom down the hall.
First of Florence Aparthotel - Group-size apartments with the service (and breakfast) of a hotel. Less than a 5 min walk to the Duomo & right around the corner from the Academia (where the David lives). 10-15 minute walk to Firenze SMN station.
Hotel Medici Florence - relatively cheap hotel with nice views of the Duomo, apparently has good aperitivo