words by Gabi Logan
Despite the fact that it's muggy, searingly hot, and more crowded than a sports bar during the Euro Cup finals, summer is the most popular time of year to visit Florence.
If you want to really enjoy the city in the high season, however, you should do as the locals do. Stay inside during the hottest hours of the day, take advantage of the breezy hills that surround the city, and spend your evenings outside. Dining al fresco—already a popular proposition in most seasons in Florence—has become institutionalised this year with the installation of permanent "terraces" outside restaurants and cafes around the city.
Your Outdoor Living Room
Once the direct sunlight disappears from the city's streets and squares, Florentines take to the streets, squares and parks. Just north of the centre lies the Giardino dei Semplici, a lovely, free, open-late alternative to the popular Boboli Gardens that originally served as a medicinal garden for Cosimo I de’ Medici before becoming the city's de facto botanical garden.
Around sunset, head to Piazza Santa Croce, the central gathering point for Florentines heading out for the evening. Children finish up their soccer games in the centre of the piazza as the benches lining the square, the café and restaurant terraces, and the steps of the basilica fill up with Florentines and visitors enjoying the square’s vibrant energy.
Piazza Santa Croce - Firenze
In the historic city centre, Via dei Calzaiuoli, which runs from Piazza della Signoria past Orsanmichele and Piazza della Repubblica to the Piazza del Duomo, is the preferred spot for the evening passeggiata. After dinnertime—usually between 10 and 11 pm—the street fills with Florentines getting air, exercise and gelato.
Aperitivo with a View
Skip—or supplement—dinner with a stop of at one of Florence’s open-air aperitivo spots. In the hills between Fiesole and Settignano, Fattoria di Maiano hosts aperitivi highlighting local and tradition cuisine as well as special culinary events like the “God Save the Wine” festival on Friday’s throughout the summer.
Though it’s not strictly in the hills, the roof gardens at Sesto in the Westin Excelsior and Hotel La Scaletta feel like they are. With pleasant breezes and some of the most stunning spots to grab a drink and pre-dinner bite, you feel as if you are on the same level as the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio on the flower-filled rooftops.
To be steeped in the energy of the city, head to Negroni on the Oltrarno side near Ponte alla Grazia for the city’s most generous aperitivo spread and a view of the Arno lit by the twinkling lights of the Ponte Vecchio.
Nightlife Al Fresco
Night time is when Florence's summer joie de vivre comes to a head, as dance clubs, bars and terraces that do not seem to exist any other time of the year pop up in some of the city's most scenic locales. Off Bar, one of the city's newer outdoor establishments, is the most laid-back of the bunch, where you needn't worry about bouncers judging your shoes and outfit to decide whether or not to let you in. Along one side of the pond in the park around the Fortezza del Basso, a DJ spins dance and trance music until the wee hours, while Florentines lounge in outdoor seating or pick up drinks from the bar and find a seat on the grass by the pond.
Il Rifrullo is a Florentine institution, with the coloured neon lights outlining its terracing level on the hills of the Oltrarno visible at night from nearly anywhere in the city. In the Parco delle Cascine, a popular club district year-round, the Central Park club expands its dance space outside with an additional three dance floors, allowing the club to feature a different type of music in each space.
If you are fortunate enough to be in town for a Notte Bianca, plan to stay out all night as concerts spring up in all the city's major and minor squares and prowling drum groups bring music everywhere else. Cafes, gelaterias and restaurants all stay open late to keep you fed and caffeinated enough to take advantage of the festivities, and shops donate a portion of their proceeds to charity, particularly during Via Gioberti's Notte Bianca the first Friday in June.
Florence's Many "Summers"
From the more widely focused Estate Fiorentina and Estate Fiesolana to the geographically-narrowed Estate Bargello and Estate Strozzina to the cultural Maggio Musicale and Tuscan Sun Festival, Florence has more official summer-long festivals than anyone can keep track of.
For a complete schedule of concerts, plays, operas, movies, lectures, pick up the local monthly publication Firenze Spettacolo, which includes a day-by-day calendar with every local activity each month in both Italian and English, at any newsstand or tobacconist or check their website http://www.firenzespettacolo.it/.
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