Here's the deal: You're about to study abroad and might be feeling both excited and nervous. Maybe it's your first time out of the country or navigating an airport on your own, or you don't know the language very well yet. Don't worry, because I've been there and know all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. Aside from not eating at the restaurants that are total tourist traps, I have a ton of tips for you on how to explore Florence like a local. Take them to heart and this Italian city will quickly feel like home.
You'll be walking around your new city with total confidence, and ordering your espresso in the morning like pro. You'll be casually talking to your classmates while you walk past famous statues in the squares and go to your art history classes at otherworldly museums. Oh, and big spoiler alert: When another traveler asks you for directions to a certain sight or landmark, you'll even be able to tell them where to go.
In that moment, you'll realize the city that was once so new to you is now "home" and a place where you feel comfortable. So, how exactly do you get to that moment? Well, you follow these seven tips I have for exploring Florence and becoming one of the locals, fast.
When I lived in Florence for five months, I quickly learned that going to the grocery store was a great way to make a new city feel like home. It introduces you to the culture and routines of everyday people, all while teaching you about the ingredients and cuisine that goes into their amazing meals.
I would spend about an hour each week, looking through the different cheeses, and learning that you have to pick out your produce with a glove on and pay for a plastic bag. At first, I felt like a fish out of water, but then I felt like a local.
If you asked any of my study abroad friends what my favorite thing about Florence is, they'd probably tell you aperitivo. I'm not sure why I became so obsessed with going to cool bars and restaurants in the city, ordering a drink, and having unlimited access to a buffet of fresh food. But, I did.
I loved this Italian-style happy hour, and found it to be the most ideal way to hang out with my new travel buddies. It made the city feel smaller and like my own, even though I was definitely still a newbie.
Within the first couple weeks of my semester in Florence, I got used to hearing the phrase, "the other side of the river" (or the "other side of the Arno"). It was what my friends, teachers, and the locals on the street used to refer to the less touristy side of the city that's filled with large gardens and cozy neighborhoods.
I also came to find that it's where the authentic and delicious pizza places are. Do yourself a favor and check them out at as much as possible, especially if you're trying to feel like a local. If you're lucky, you may get to talk to the owners or get a pie in the shape of a heart at Gustapizza.
You may already know Florence has tons of well-known museums, like the Uffizi Gallery, and markets that are filled with leather handbags and fresh produce. It's absolutely worth visiting them all and walking through the busy aisles as locals call for fish or peaches.
But to make this artsy city your "home," you should also spend time in the little museums and shops that are off the beaten path. It's where you'll find a jacket or pair of handmade boots you love, and you'll learn about how big-name fashion designers found their first pieces of inspiration.
I know it's a lot to ask in a city that seemingly has an Instagram backdrop wherever you go, but please don't take a picture of everything in Florence if you want to feel like a local. Instead, capture the moments that are truly irreplaceable, like when your friends are singing with gelato in their hands, or when there's a light show going on on the Ponte Vecchio.
It'll make you feel less like you're visiting, and more like you're settling into your home — a place you'll come back and take pictures of for decades and decades to come.
Last but not least, the best way to feel like a local in Florence — or any new destination for that matter — is to leave it. Trust me when I say absence really does make the heart grow fonder. When you return from you weekend trip to somewhere else, like a dreamy Airbnb in Croatia, you'll find that you really missed the quaint balcony in your Italian apartment and the café down the road.
You'll find that this city that was once so new now holds a huge and special piece of your heart and that, without a doubt, you're home.