Posts Tagged‘Local tips’

Locals’ Tips: Florence for first timers

Florence! Arguably the world’s top destination: Florence is tiny, but hits above its weight. It is often called the “Birthplace of the Renaissance,” and even a quick glance at its history shows why. It’s bursting with art and culture on every corner. Despite its history, the city is very much alive with its buzzing restaurants and crowded colorful markets. Here are some locals’ tips on how to get the most out of your time.

1. Eat – bistecca fiorentina

Not for the faint hearted: this is a Renaissance for your taste buds and the essential Florentine dish.

Simple, rustic, and Tuscan – it’s an Italian T-bone steak that comes al sangue, or bloody rare. For the real deal, head over to Trattoria Marione. This charming two-floor restaurant dishes up simple home-style meals for tourists and locals alike, giving any visitor a chance to sample some of the typical hectic, yet charming Tuscan attitude too!

Trattoria Marione: Via della Spada, 27. Open Mo – Sun, 12 – 5PM, 7-11PM

2. Buy – leather goods

Florence is famous for leather. The trade goes back centuries to the Middle Ages and continues to this day.

To start, head to the San Lorenzo market and marvel at the dazzling array of purses, wallets, and shoes. This is a great place sample the range of products for inspiration on what to buy. But make sure it’s the real deal before purchasing – as many vendors carry goods made in China. Check the label first and make sure it says “Made in Italy.” If you’re crafty, you can find some real deals here. But explore a bit and seek out some dedicated leather stores.

If you’re not convinced, just smell it! It shouldn’t smell like chemicals or dyes. Another further test is done by flame – vinyl will melt, leather will not.

Lastly, make sure to haggle; it’s expected!

If you want to learn something about the craft, visit the Scuola del Cuoio – it’s a leather workshop and school inside a monastery which was set up after World War II to give orphans a chance to learn a trade and contribute to society.

Scuola del Cuoio – Via S. Giuseppe 5R. 

Workshop and Showroom: Monday – Friday 9:30AM – 6PM
Showroom only: Saturday 9:30 – 6:00PM and Sunday 10AM – 6PM

Piazza San Lorenzo, Firenze, Italy.

Open Mo – Sun 9AM – 7PM

3. Stay – in Florence’s historic heart

Conveniently compact, you can traverse the entire historic center of Florence in under 30 minutes. So plan on staying there if you are short on time. For nightlife, your best bet is Santa Croce! This lovely area is packed with restaurants and boasts a daily food market called Mercato di Sant’Amborgio where you can sample local produce and specialties. For a real treat, buy your ingredients here and then cook a romantic meal for later that evening together!

Local Tip: Oltrarno has boomed in recent years (its name meaning literally “the other side of the Arno”) and offers a completely different experience if you want to avoid the tourists. It’s bustling with small craft boutiques putting a spin on fine craftworking – like cake sculptures at Marina Calamai – and lively bars inside antique buildings.

How to stay sane at Versailles!

Versailles: the ultimate emblem of extravagance and absurd excess. So no wonder everyone wants to see it! At over 3 million visitors per year (that’s an average of over 8,000 visitors a day) things can get a bit hectic. So here’s some help so you receive some royal treatment on your next visit.

front facade

1. History

Versailles was once just a small, insignificant village outside Paris. The foundations for the palace were laid by Louis XIV – who decided he’d had enough of putrid smelly Paris and needed a break from the metropole. He moved the entire government and the royal family there in 1682. It’s sprawling grounds and massive complexes have hosted some of history’s most important events – from the beginning of the French Revolution to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in its famed Hall of Mirrors. Visiting Versailles is an incredible chance to walk in the footsteps of royals and dignitaries. One can almost hear the arguments at conferences and the explosions of fireworks at royal celebrations.

2. Don’t Miss

Hall of Mirrors

versailles-Hall-of-Mirrors-1112x630

This is where the famous treaty after World War I was signed. It is 73 meters long (239.5 feet) and boasts 17 arched windows each decorated with 21 mirrors. Can you guess what it’s original purpose was? For the king to walk from his private apartment to pray in the chapel Courtiers would stand around and watch, hoping to get invited to one of his house parties. No, we’re serious!

The Royal Chapel
Was the last to be built and is the most spectacular. Marie Antoinette was married here.

The Grand Apartments
These apartments are where the King spent his private hours. It’s incredible to imagine yourself sleeping, dining, and playing in such a lavishly decorated environment!

The Clock Room
The main attraction here is a 250-year-old clock which is capable of showing the time, date, and phases of the moon. To crown it all off, it even boasts a working model of the solar system.

The Gardens
Are just as stunning as the interior. For celebrations and festivities, Louis XIV installed a Grand Canal and two parterres. He used to sail small craft on it such as gondolas. There’s also 11 main fountains that feature designs from Greek and Roman mythology for beautiful and dramatic effect!

gardens

3. Tips for Visiting

Order tickets online
The queue to even buy tickets is daunting even during off-peak seasons. Buy skip-the-line tickets with a guide and avoid the hassle.

Get there early
Plan your day around the excursion! Versailles is massive so it makes sense to get there early around opening time (9AM) to avoid the increasing masses and ensure you have enough time to explore the gardens.

Closed Mondays
Which means you can’t get into the palace. But! If that’s not your thing, the gardens are still open on Mondays, meaning you could explore them relatively deserted at your own leisure, which is an experience in and of itself.

Avoid Sundays and Tuesdays
These are the busiest days as the Louvre and many other Paris museums are closed, drawing larger crowds that would otherwise be in Paris!

Eat Well: pack a picnic
It’s going to be a long day, so best prepare by bringing some food as the options at the palace are quite expensive and often crowded. Here’s a guide to where and how!

What do you think? Do you have any other tips? Share and comment on Facebook with suggestions and tips!

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