Things to do in Florence, Italy: Expert expat Susan Wright's tips

THE EXPAT

Susan Wright, Florence. After growing up on a cattle and cane farm in Giru, south of Townsville, the travel and lifestyle photographer quit her Sydney job, sold her house and moved to Rome 15 years ago, before relocating to Florence in 2019. "For an artist, it's the best place in the world." See susanwrightphoto.com

SEE

The Oltrarno district of Florence – the left side of the River Arno – is where locals go for shopping, dining and entertainment. You'll find the best artisan workshops from jewellery designers, leather craftsmen, tailors, artist galleries, ceramics, crystal and glass workshops and spectacular gardens. From spring to autumn, Giardino Torrigiani has a whimsical secret garden-bistrot called Serre Torrigiani, perfect for an intimate aperitivo or light lunch, a favourite with the fashionable Florentine crowd.

DO

People line up for hours to see David or the Uffizi gallery, but to appreciate the captivating beauty of the city itself. Head to the Florentine hills for breathtaking views of the Renaissance skyline. A loop track starts at the Ponte Vecchio to Piazzale Michelangelo, past the spectacular Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte, also called Haec est Porta Coeli (the Doorway to Heaven). Continue to the town of Arcetri and back down to Porta Romana, a five-minute walk from Palazzo Pitti. It takes about 1½ hours on foot or 30 minutes on a hired e-bike.

EAT

Everyone eats around large tables at Alla Vecchia Bettola. The menu is casalinga, which means it's good wholesome food just like what your mamma or nonna would make, and it feels like a big family gathering with great food, wine and conversation. The menu changes according to the seasonal produce, so ask the locals or the waitstaff for advice. And be sure to wash down with a good local chianti wine, Viale Vasco Pratolini, 3/5/7.

DRINK

Cool off in the late afternoon with a refreshing aperitivo in the charming Piazza Santo Spirito. Locals meet here in a variety of bars and trattorias to enjoy the relaxed, hip vibe of this pretty piazza, set with the backdrop of the spectacular 15th-century Basilica di Santo Spirito. Try a Florentine artisanal beer such as Birrificio Fiorentino.

AVOID

Don't buy cheap imported souvenirs from tourist stalls; support local artisans instead. Many ateliers closed during the pandemic, but the local community can thrive again with tourists' support. Look for artisan workshops in the San Niccolo, Santo Spirito and San Frediano districts.

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THRIVE

Fare una passeggiata! (Go for a walk!) Italians take a very slow walk after lunch or dinner to relax, slow down, appreciate the beautiful scenery and help their digestion. When I first arrived in Italy, it drove me crazy how slow they would walk; now I'm doing the same, and I definitely feel the benefits. The contradiction is that once Italians get behind the wheel of a car or on a scooter, it appears to be the opposite mentality; the faster and more obnoxious, the better.

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