But the people you see on your trip are not just scenery — they are the most important part of the whole experience.
So when your life takes you to the capital of Tuscany, Florence, here are seven places to interact with the locals, and hopefully make a few new friends.
With a rotating selection of craft beers on tap, a big screen TV usually showing Fiorentina football and the likes of AC/DC and Black Sabbath coming through its speakers, Archea Brewery is one of the best spots to have a beer with your friends in Florence. Make sure you try the Doppelbock from Archea’s own brewery for a refreshing yet strong draft.
But for all of Archea’s charms, the nicest will be the complete lack of English — except by the friendly bartenders, if necessary. Located near Santo Spirito, Archea avoids the glut of students and tourists that befall bars in the more touristy parts of Florence, making this hidden gem buzz with Italian. So pound another brew, challenge some locals to a game of darts, and then maybe step outside for some air under the long overhang with your new found friends.
A stroll — or sit — along the Arno
Photo: Bryce Edwards/Flickr Creative Commons
The Arno in its murky brown glory is still a beautiful site. Crossed by many beautiful bridges, and with roads, paths or small tree-filled parks bordering it throughout the city, a beautiful sunny day is just asking you to go out and watch the surprisingly rapid river that the likes of Michelangelo, Dante and the Medicis would have walked along.
As Italians are consummate joggers, join an exercise group to meet some locals with a similar interest. Or, you can sit by the river and wait for the next Italian walking their beloved dog to appear, and use their furry friend to try and make a human one.
The lauded aperitivo is one of Italy’s finest traditions for the money-tight traveller — one drink order gives you access to a buffet of food. As the name implies, they aren’t meant to replace a meal, rather prepare you for a bigger one. But when you arrive at the Golden View and order your drink, you might as well get your money’s worth.
Located on Via dei Bardi, on the Arno, and a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio, the Golden View’s location is second to none. A modern interior greets you, as well as an expensive cocktail list — about €12 each. But all the listed cocktail are well worth the price — big and full of top-shelf liquor. Likewise, the aperitivo likewise is top notch. Unlike some places, which put out lukewarm over-processed food with their pre-dinner drinks, Golden View has a constant stream of hot and tasty plates, including the usual salami but also pizzas, risotto and pasta.
With live jazz on Friday, Saturday and Monday and many long, open tables, take a seat anywhere, grab a plate of finger food, and prepare to practice your Italian with your neighbours.
Opening late and staying open later, Jazz Club features a wide variety of music, but it's always live. Swing, Blues, Latin, and R & B can greet you when you enter the small basement venue, as well as a crowd of people, usually all locals. A dance floor gives you a great opportunity to bust a few moves — or just try to feel the beat — and make new friends. Tables are also present in a small adjoining room, to focus more on conversation while enjoying the music from afar.
Jazz Club isn’t marked by an obvious sign — only a few green glowing window panes and a crowd of people smoking and chatting. A small metal door leads into bar, with a bouncer occasionally present on busier weekend nights. If it’s your first time, indicate such and they’ll let you in and direct you to a small desk by the door. There you will pay a small cover charge of €6, get a coupon for a free drink, and a membership card. For any subsequent visits, no cover is required — just show your card.
Photo: Jana Reifegerste/Flickr
Like Archea, James Joyce sits on the Arno’s south bank. Don’t let the name fool you though — the name only refers to the Irish beer served, not the customers. Italian wafts out from its gated and spacious patio as guests drink Guinness, Kilkenny, Dragoon and other drafts from Albion and the Emerald Isle. A long selection of bottled craft beers also greets you on a large chalk board.
The bartenders are very friendly, and always willing to have a conversation on a slow night, but James Joyce will usually be popping on weekends — especially if Fiorentina is playing. Just scooch in next to a group of Florentines enjoying their boys in purple and you’ll be bound to make a new friend.
Located a short tram ride away from Santa Marie Novella, Cascine Park is a beautiful green space in a city that can become grey and suffocating at times with its tight streets and towering renaissance apartments. A large open green space usually has multiple games going on, from football to cricket to volleyball, and a pair of tennis shoes and smile could get you into one.
An open air market is also held in the park every Tuesday, from 8am to 2pm, housing everything from groceries to antiques to everyday items. Bring your haggling game face and try to find a worthy prize for your efforts, or talk to the food vendors for their suggestion on what’s the freshest food they have.
Piazza Santo Spirito
Photo: David Jones/Flickr Creative Commons
Located in front of the beautiful Basilica Santo Spirito, Piazza Santo Spirito is bordered by multiple bars, restaurants, and cafes, with many open late into the night. Crowds from all the combined nightlife spots spill into the square, under small patios and out to the central fountain, newly restored by the city.
Get dinner at the Osteria Santo Spirito at the southwestern corner of the square, then go and grab a drink and listen to some Dixieland jazz at Volume, located at the northeastern corner of the square. You’ll be bombarded by Italian the whole way through, and if you decide to practice your own, you may end up with a new friend.
By Stephen Caruso