Hope this helps with your travels to Florence and maybe just Italy in general. I know I will be following these rules during my time in Florence in a few weeks. Had to give myself a little refresher course in Firenze culture. Comment for any questions and I would be happy to answer. Ciao!
- No cappuccinos after breakfast.
I’ve always been a big believer in, “do what makes you happy.” I love drinking red wine with fish and who doesn’t want extra cheese to top their pasta? But if you want to truly embrace the culture and maybe blend in a little more to the atmosphere of Florence, this is a good start. Italians are obsessed with proper digestive habitats. They eat foods in a certain order, meticulously allow time for adequate digestion before and after a meal, and even have alcoholic beverages after a dinner to aid the process, these are called digestivi. I would advise you to drink a cappuccino only with breakfast and then later in the day try an espresso or macchiato, like the locals do.
- Don’t tip.
Many restaurants in Europe, and specifically Florence, will notify their customers of whether or not they have service charge to be added to the end of their meal total. (This information can usually be found on their menu.) For even just sitting down at a table, most restaurants will charge you between 2 and 3 euros. That money goes directly to the waiter/waitress, so there is really no need to additionally tip, unless you thought the service was out of this world. This goes for bars as well, I never tip at bars in Florence.
- Don’t eat dinner too early. Take advantage of aperitivo.
Between lunch and dinner is aperitivo, an Italian cocktail hour. Some pre-dinner munchies with the purchase of a drink at a café, bar, or restaurant. Be treated to endless appetizers and small snacks. This is a fabulous economical solution to save some money, especially if you are a student. I always used to fill up on snacks during aperitivo and then after I didn’t even need dinner. Aperitivo can range from as low as 3 euro to 7 euro.
- No high heels.
You might be tempted to bring your most stylish high heels along. You probably want to look like all those cute tumblr bloggers, who effortless look beautiful no matter where they go, but I would advise strongly against it. Florence is covered in cobblestones and uneven surfaces, and comfortable shoes will be the key to making the most of your days there. Heels are great if all you’re doing is getting in and out of a taxi, but if that’s what you’re doing in Florence, you’re doing it wrong.
- Don’t buy anything from anyone off the streets.
Don’t even make eye contact with street vendors, don’t even acknowledge them. If you do, they see this as a weakness and will verbally target you. Don’t fall for the “Miss, you dropped something!” or “Ciao Bella” and turn around, as this will only bring frustration that you fell for a sly trick. The best thing to do is ignore most people, and look around at the beautiful architecture.
- Don’t carry anything in your back pockets.
If you think carrying a bag with no zippers is a good idea, think again. Always have a cross-body bag than can zip. And for guys if you are traveling with a lovely chica, put your stuff in their safe cross-body bag or utilize your front pockets – but just be very mindful. Never leave any of your belongings at an unaccompanied table and usually when you are out dining it is always best to keep wearing the cross-body bag, so that is never leaves your persons.
- Don’t sleep in.
You’re in Florence, why would you ever want to sleep in? Even if you wanted to, you can’t, because the ringing of the Duomo’s church bells start at 6am, so unless you’re a sound sleeper… you’ll be waking up. Florence in the early morning is truly one of the most beautiful times in the city. Shop owners are out and about going to Mercato Centrale, the streets have been washed clean from the previous night’s street cleaners, and the sun is softly shining bright.
- Don’t try to hail a cab.
In Florence you have two options for needing a taxi. Calling and making a reservation over the phone, or making you way to a taxi station and waiting in line. (A very popular taxi station is at the Santa Maria Novella Train Station.)
- Don’t buy the piled high gelato. It’s fake.
Never buy the gelato that is pilled sky high in the freezer, it is just merely pumped with air and you will be very disappointed when you realize half of your ice cream isn’t there! A good way to tell if your gelato is high quality is what they serve it out of. If you can see all the flavors and what they look like through the glass of the cooler, it’s questionable. Really good gelato is served out of chilled metal containers built into the gelato counter, where you can’t see what it looks likes. This tells you it was made fresh that day. If you need a good example: Grom uses the metal containers pictured below.
- Don’t settle for food directly around the Duomo.
My first night there I was looking for a late night panino and found this small place right next to the Duomo and it was so awful. Wander into other neighborhoods and don’t be afraid to leave the safety net of the Duomo, you’ll discover some really good food if you do.
- Don’t ask for ice.
I don’t get it, Italians don’t like ice water. I love cold water that quenches my thirst, but knowing Italians… drinking cold water is probably bad for your digestion, so they drink room temperature water. Also you need to distinguish between frizzante and naturale when you order a bottle of water. If you hate fizzy water, like me, there is nothing worse than accidentally ordering frizzante.
- Don’t accept directions from anyone if you look lost, especially in a train station.
If you have no idea where you are going, you need to convince everyone around you that you actually do. If you even have a hint of vulnerability, especially in a public place such as a train station, gypsies will not hesitate to approach you. They will offer their help, guide you to (maybe) the right place and then demand payment for their services. You are better to approach a person in uniform if you are severely lost.
- Don’t look for pepperoni pizza, alfredo, or meatballs on the menu.
If you see this on the menu, you may want to question the restaurant choice.
- Don’t buy anything from the outside vendor markets.
The outdoor markets such as, the San Lorenzo Market, are very tempting when you walk through. You become overwhelmed by the choices, scared that if you take interest in something that someone will approach you (which stresses me out), and are not necessarily confident with your negotiating skills. Well truthfully most of the stuff sold in the markets is super low quality touristy paraphernalia anyway, so I personally would advise against buying anything from the outdoor markets. You want to find something truly unique and made by a local Florentine craftsman, right? Head to the neighborhood of San Niccolo and Santo Spirito in Oltrano, you’ll find some unique jewelry, hand-marbled paper, hand-made hats, shoes, the list goes on.
- Don’t wear any dead giveaways.
Try your best not to wear anything that screams TOURIST. Avoid those class week t-shirts from your university, or the hat you got vacationing in Key West, or the ultimate combo; white socks and white new balance sneakers. Not wearing these items will make you less susceptible to unwanted attention, and allow you to immerse yourself into the culture a little more.
- Don’t use your debit card to pay for things.
If you can help it, do not use your DEBIT card when paying for things at the market, at a restaurant, café, or bar. It is not unheard of for waiters to steal debit card information and access your money. Use your debit card to withdraw money at an ATM (be discreet) and use the cash when you’re out and about. If you would prefer not to carry cash, use your credit card for dinners and purchases, this way no one can get their hands on your physical money. Also don’t carry anything you don’t need.