Expats in Florence – Here's how to live like an Italian

A guide to living like a local in Florence- Learn where the locals live, what they eat or drink and some important unspoken rules.


5 minute read
Updated on 17 Aug 2023

Are you preparing to move to Florence or are an expat living in Florence, Italy? Living in Firenze or Florence can take some time to get used to. To help you settle in and feel at home in fascinating Florence, we’re sharing the top things you should know to live like a local in Florence.

After reading this article, you’ll know exactly what the locals eat and drink, where they go, where they live, and how they navigate the streets. So, let’s dive right in and get you ready for living in Fireze like a true Florentine.

1. Pay special attention to the coffee etiquette in Italy

Ah, Italian coffee. The Coffee culture in Italy is almost like a religion. Italians are very particular about what type of coffee they'll have and how they'll order i and something you've to get right to fit in with the locals. Here's how to order coffee in Italy:

  • In the mornings, Florentines usually order an espresso and have it directly at the counter while standing. You can also sit down, but it’ll likely cost you extra.
  • If you’re not used to having strong coffee, you can always order something sweet on the side.
  • Having coffee with milk is usually a no go, especially in the afternoon! So if you want a cafe latte (don’t call it just a latte) or a cappuccino, make sure to get it in the morning.

At the end of the day, it’s time to move on to aperetivo! Aperitivo refers to the light meal and drinks before dinner that works up your appetite. You can expect to receive one light dish for every drink you order. Dishes range from cheeses, cured meats, fried snacks, small pizzas, vegetables, etc.

Taking part in the aperetivo tradition is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the Florentine culture. Not only does this provide an occasion to wind down after a long day but also to socialise with your new (local) friends.

2. Be picky about your gelato

While there’s no clear answer to where gelato was invented, you can thank Florence for making gelatos tasty and famous.

If you take a 15-minute walk through the city, you’ll come across more than 20 gelato stands selling the picture-perfect gelato. Sadly, many of these gelato options are inauthentic as artificial colouring successfully draws your attention but unfortunately doesn’t add much taste.

When you’re on the search for traditional or artisanal gelato that the locals indulge in, look for the small ice cream shops that use the freshest ingredients. The gelato may come in smaller bowls, but this is definitely a situation of quality over quantity.

3. Avoid eating near the Dome

It’s impossible to not indulge yourself in Florence’s food and drink culture; you’ll find restaurants, bars, cafes, and gelaterias at almost every corner. But the worst thing would be to pay for a meal and then find out that you could’ve had the authentic version for half the price a few blocks down the street. So stay away from any of the areas between the Dome and the Central Station. Not only will you find the prices higher but you may also be waiting a while for a table.

If you do find yourself in the city centre and need a quick bite, you’re not completely out of luck. The Mercato Centrale is a large building frequented by locals that is packed full of local restaurants and food artisans. You can expect meals, a variety of meats, fresh fish, cheese, chocolate, wine, ice cream, lampredotto and more.

4. Don’t pick a touristy neighbourhood to live in

When you’re trying to decide where to live as a new expat in Florence, you may be tempted to stay where all of the action is. However, if you’re thinking about finding an apartment or sharing a room anywhere near the tourist attractions, be prepared to pay a premium and battle with traffic and crowds.

If that’s not your scene, try to focus your search on one of the residential neighbourhoods when exploring homes for rent in Florence. You’ll not only find that the prices are much more affordable, but you’ll be able to shop where the locals find good deals and eat the best authentic foods in the city. Plus, if you love the idea of making some Italian friends in Florence, hanging out at the local bars on the weekends is a great way to really immerse yourself in the culture of the people.

5. Hang out at the ‘other side of the Arno river’

Every city has touristy spots. To live like a real local, head over to the other side of Arno to the Oltrarno quarter. Referred to as the less-touristy side, the Oltrarno quarter has a lot to offer; you can meander through the cosy neighbourhoods of San Ferdiano or San Niccolò, enjoy picnics at the large gardens, shop at artisanal and antique shops, taste local food at lower costs, and enjoy the panoramic views from the hill.

And just because it’s the less-touristy side, doesn’t mean you can’t explore marvellous wonders. The Piazzale Michelangelo and Forte Belvedere offer panoramic terrace views, the Boboli Gardens let you marvel at the outdoor sculptures and grotto, and The Palazzo Pitti takes you back in time through the many renaissance art pieces.

So the next time you want to live life like a local, head over to the other side of the Arno river!

6. Shop where the locals shop

What better way to understand the local cuisine than to shop at the local markets? Depending on where you live, head over to the weekly market such as Mercado di Sant’ Ambrogio or Mercao di San Lorenzo. Such markets not only offer fresh and seasonal local products but also are often cheaper than the grocery stores. You can also visit Mercato Centrale, which is an indoor market that not only sells products but also meals.

For local, traditional or artisanal products, visit the neighbourhoods in the Oltrarno quarter. These neighbourhoods are studded with small boutiques, antique stores, and artisanal shops. So whether you want to buy locally handcrafted goods or watch the artisans pour their heart out into their craft, you’ll be able to do it all.

7. Buy your museum tickets in advance

Florence is such a popular tourist city that there isn’t really a “tourist season”. It would be a real shame to miss some of the museums that people travel thousands of miles for. To ensure that you can skip queues, potentially save costs by booking online, and visit the museums on your day of choice, it’s important to buy your museum tickets in advance. Don’t be a tourist who plans everything last minute.

8. Don’t use a car to travel within Florence

Many people make the mistake of thinking that Florence is a huge city, but it’s actually quite compact. And although there are several modes of transportation in Florence, they’re often impractical and costly. Let’s take a car, for example. Parking is expensive and often difficult to find. Plus, you’ll have to battle the traffic in certain areas of town, even if you’re just trying to get to the supermarket.

So depending on where you live, you’ll likely be able to get just about everywhere on foot. You can also opt to rent a bike or scooter to make your way across traffic quickly or use Florence’s excellent bus system which allows you to hop on and off for rates as low as €1.20 for 90 minutes.

Now that you know a few ways to act like a true Florentine, it won’t be long before you’re hanging out with the locals and giving tourists directions to the art museums. In fact, you might begin to love living like a Florentine and decide to make this city your permanent home. Just don’t forget to brush up on your Italian!

Still need to find homes for rent in Florence, Italy? Don't forget to start early!

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