Style City: Florence

April 29, 2010

Daily Digest, Lifestyle

Style City: Florence

By Claudine McDonagh

Today’s Style City is brought to you by Claudine McDonagh (pictured left) who works for Pauric Sweeney, the renowned Irish handbag designer who is based in Florence.

If you are interested in sharing your own insider tips on your favourite city, please email us with your suggestion to .

Florence is one of the most beautiful and inspirational cities in the world. Florence is where the Italian vernacular language was founded; it is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and of course is home to the famous and oldest bridge in Italy the “Ponte Vecchio”, which is flanked on either side by magnificent, ornate jewellery shops that appeal to every taste.

The city boasts a wide range of art collections, especially those held in the Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti) and the Uffizi Gallery. It is regarded by many as the art capital of Europe. Florence will awaken your creative side with the many artistic treasures this city has to offer and it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982, rendering it a city not to be missed.

Shopping in Florence

Designer shops

Via Tornabuoni is the famous street in Florence where all high end fashion designers from Gucci, Cavalli, Prada, Ferragamo, Pucci, D&G and Hermes can be found. They also have great bi-annual sales in January and July with some serious reductions on a broad range of their merchandise.

Where the end of Via Calzaiuoli meets Via Roma and here you will find beautiful Italian designer shops such as Luisa Via Roma, Miu Miu, Pinko and Le Silla. I am a big fan of Gerard which is located on Via Vacchereccia, just off Via Calzaiuoli.

Salvatore Ferragamo

For all you shoe lovers out there, a visit to the Salvatore Ferragamo shoe and design museum is a must-see and is located in the basement of their flagship store in Palazzo Spini Feroni, at the end of Via Tornabuoni.

Ferragamo was known as the “shoemaker to the stars” and the exhibition showcases shoes worn by Audrey and Katherine Hepburn to Marilyn Monroe (as pictured above).

High Street Shops in Florence

Via Calzaiuoli and the adjacent Via del Corso (which is a short walk from Via Tornabuoni) is home to the high street stores such as H&M, Zara, Calzedonia, Replay, Pollini and La Rinascente, Italy’s equivalent of Brown Thomas. I recommend their roof top bar for a bite to eat and to relish in the panoramic views of the city and the Florentine rooftops.

Italian leather gloves and handbags

Crossing over the beautiful Ponte Vecchio you will come to the Centro Storico (historical centre) and this is home to many artisanal and traditional Italian shops. If you are looking for unique Italian handmade jewellery, leather gloves or bags, antique furniture or clothes with the “Made in Italy” label from less well known designers,  then this is the place to go.

Walk along Borgo San Jacopo all the way to Via Maggio and you will be sure to find original Italian-made crafts and products.

Vintage Shops in Florence

Florence is one of the best places for vintage shops in Italy.  They are widely dispersed over the city and you will find bespoke pieces ranging from the 1800’s right up to the 1980’s.

Many of the vintage shops here have a great selection of designer pieces for a fraction of the original price and in almost perfect condition. Think Jackie O-era Gucci bags and period Ferragamo flats.

Italy is well known for its local markets and there is an abundance of them Florence itself.  The Cascine outdoor market (located in Parco delle Cascine every Tuesday morning) is great for clothes, accessories and traditional Florentine food and wine.

Ciompi Antique Fair (located at Piazza de’ Ciompi, a short walk from the centre) has fantastic finds ranging from antique silver cutlery and crockery right through to designer handbags. This takes place on the last Sunday of every month.

There are also the local street vendors, who set up their stalls along the busy city centre streets selling quality leather handbags and accessories. Make sure to exercise your bargaining skills at these markets!

Outlet Shopping in Florence

I would also recommend a trip to the outlet called The Mall ( which is located in Leccio overlooking the Tuscan hills. It would involve an hour long bus journey but it is definitely worth it as most of the top designers have shops here. It is a very pleasant shopping experience, reminiscent of the Kildare Village Outlet.

There are some great deals to be found here and they also have sales on their already discounted stock in January through to March and again in July. I was lucky enough to find an amazing pair of Alexander McQueen brown leather ankle boots reduced from their outlet price of €300 to €130! They originally retailed at €750.

Eating out in Florence

Eating out in Florence is a culinary delight. Prepare to eat very well and perhaps to over indulge! You will not be able to adhere to strict diet rules when eating out in Italy but……. when in Rome!

Coffee in Florence

For a unique Italian coffee experience I would highly recommend Gilli (established in 1733) situated on the picturesque Piazza della Repubblica. It is the perfect place to relax in the elegant surroundings and exquisite decor, soak up the Florentine atmosphere and of course people watch.

It is more costly to sit down for coffee here but if you stand at the bar (like many of the Italians do as they drink coffee like we drink shots!), you will pay the standard rate of €1 for a caffè macchiato (expresso with a dash of milk), cappuccino etc. Italian pastry delicacies (known as Pasticceria) are unparalleled and Gilli is the perfect place to sample Italian cakes and chocolates.

Lunch in Florence

For lunch options I would highly recommend the many wine and enoteca bars opposite Pitti Palace (Piazza de’ Pitti, historical centre, directly over Ponte Vecchio). You will be able to sit in the outdoor terraces provided, basking in the sunlight and enjoying breathtaking views of the Pitti Palace. Try Wine Bar and Enoteca, Caffè Pitti or the adjoining sandwich bar “Botteghina”.

To eat out Italian style you must go for an aperitivo which starts at 7pm and finishes at 9.30pm. All bars and some restaurants offer aperitivo during these hours. It consists of a pre-dinner drink along with some delicious food bites ranging from ribollita (Tuscan soup of vegetables and beans), crostini toscani (crostini topped with aubergines, courgettes, mozzarella or pesto) to various pasta dishes, all for free!

I would suggest an area called San Niccolò (historical centre) which is lined with bars and restaurants. Many of my visitors were in awe of this tradition and were gobsmacked when I was ushering them on to our next port of call….the restaurant!


For a mouth watering meal combined with a live jazz band (every night from 9pm, bar Tuesday and Thursday), classical decor, and stunning views of the Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery along the River Arno, the Golden View Open Bar” is the restaurant (as seen from top right hand corner of above picture). Advanced booking is required to ensure a table by the window. (Via dei Bardi 58r, Ponte Vecchio).

Santo Bevitore, also on the Centro Storico side of Florence is well known for its Tuscan meat specialities. The menu has limited fish and vegetarian options however it does have an extensive and impressive wine list.

Teatro del Sale is a very unique dining experience as your meal is followed by a live theatrical show. The show usually consists of a comedy sketch through the medium of music including violinists, cellists and pianists. A list of upcoming events and shows can be found online at

It is important to be there on time (7pm) to eat as once the show commences your dinner plates will be cleared. Food is traditionally Italian and it also accommodates for vegetarians. At €30 all inclusive, it really is a great way to spend an evening.

Italian ice cream

Of course not forgetting the famous Italian gelato (ice-cream)! With flavours ranging from frutti di bosco (forest fruit) raspberry, nocciola (hazelnut), stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate pieces), any type of chocolate flavour imaginable, it is hard not to resist a gelato in Italy! I would recommend Gelato della Carraria which is located over the Ponte della Carraria. Fine Italian wines and delicacies are also available on sale here.

History of Art Museums

Florence is world famous for its array of museums and art galleries (including Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo della Signoria) and therefore can be extremely busy; book your tickets in advance online to gain immediate entry and avoid the lengthy queues that form from early in the morning.

For any fashion designer or student who is looking for inspiration from a particular fashion era or period, a visit to the Palazzo Pitti (home of the Medici family from 1549) Costume Gallery is a must. As Italian fashion is synonymous with quality, style and elegance you will be in awe of the costumes and designer pieces on display.

The collection comprises six thousand items (rotated bi-monthly) including costumes dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries. It is the only museum of the history of fashion in Italy and one of the most important in the world. Palazzo Pitti is also where the first Italian haute couture fashion show took place in Italy in 1951.

Hotels in Florence

Lungarno Hotels (including suites and apartments) are an idyllic place to stay when visiting Florence. Establised in 1967 by Salvatore Ferragamo and run now by his son Leonardo, Lungarno Hotels are the epitome of luxury. Both hotels are located opposite each other along the River Arno with incredible views from their rooftop bars. Make sure to book online as they have some good promotional offers. The Lungarno Hotel also has an adjoining restaurant, but it is on the pricey side in comparison to other nearby restaurants of similar quality.

Hotel Annalena (Via Romana, 34) is also a beautiful place for a budget-friendly stay. Old style renaissance decor, art works from the 16th century and views of Giardini di Boboli ensures you will be enveloped in serenity and tranquillity. Booking online is advised to guarantee better rates.

It may seem like an incredible lot to fit in, especially for those with a short itinerary, but it is manageable as nowhere is too far in Florence. Everywhere is within walking distance and it is also an excellent way to really capture a city’s essence while simultaneously burning off those calories from lunch!

The Florentine Magazine

“The Florentine” magazine, which is free and can be found in most tourist spots and local bars, gives a list of upcoming events, concerts, shows and opera performances along with some great articles on the Florentine lifestyle. To plan your trip in advance check their website at

Claudine McDonagh works for Pauric Sweeney, the renowned Irish handbag designer who is based in Florence and has recently completed a Masters in “Marketing Management for Fashion Buying” at Polimoda Fashion University in Florence.

Claudine also runs a blog called “A Vintage Feel of Florence” as she has been mesmerised by the exceptional, bespoke and authentic Italian-made vintage pieces that the city has to offer and wanted to share it with fellow vintage fashion lovers.

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7 Responses to “Style City: Florence”

  1. Imen Says:

    This is a fabulous review….very well informed. Thank you!

  2. orla Says:

    The Mall is amazing and there are fabulous bargains to be found. I have a pair of Alexander McQueen shoes that cost me €90 (reduced from €395) and a pair of Fendi Sunglasses which were a steal (I think they were around €40)
    Another store that is close to Florence is the Prada outlet Levanella Spacceo, Strada Statale 69, Montevarchi.It is difficult to find if you are driving (if you think you must be wrong as you are in an industrial estate, you are probably right) but there are trains to the closest station.
    Well well worth a visit. bring a credit card and a strong man to carry all your purchases!

  3. Annemarie Says:

    Isn’t it just Imen? Well done to Claudine. It’s the kind of thing you could print off for a mini break to Florence and visit all suggestions. I hate being ripped off in cities by doing the “tourist trail” so it’s great to get these insiders tips

  4. Annemarie Says:

    Orla, that’s brilliant. Yes a strong man is a must for these outings!!!

  5. Miriam Says:

    Fantastic review Claudine!

    For the past three years Italy has been my ONLY preference on the holiday destination radar! Having visited Milan, Rome, Sorrento and the beautiful Amalfi Coast, I was undecided about my next destination until I read Claudine’s review. Venice and Florence are my top 2 on the ‘to visit’ list, but based on that report, I most definitely plan to visit Florence in July.

    Many thanks Claudine,


  6. Jean B Says:

    Brava Claudine! Your report makes me want to return there and I thought that your guide to Florence could be included in a “Smooth Guide to Florence” or an “Easy to Find and Friendly Guide to Florence” if such publications exist! I came across another address for an outlet store outside Firenze – Prada outlet store, Strada Statale 69 Levanella Spacceo, Montevarchi. All the best Claudine, Jean


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