an italian birthday celebration: 48 hours in florence

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For a full list of what to eat, where to stay, and things to do in Florence based on our experience, scroll to the bottom of this post.

As you may have already gathered if you follow me on Instagram, we spent my 30th birthday celebrating in Italy! My mom flew into Germany on the Wednesday before I said goodbye to my 20s, and we flew to Florence on Thursday. I have to admit I've been terrible at taking photos on our most recent trips - I've been carrying Miles in the Ergo, and he's usually trying to rip the camera from my hands or screaming about it blocking his view.

Since I took Josh to drive a Ferrari for his 30th birthday a few years ago and we're living in Europe for mine, he knew we had to do something extraordinary. I let it be known basically as soon as we moved here that I wanted to celebrate in Italy, but I pretty much left the choice of city up to him. Having been to Rome, Venice, and Florence back in college, the latter was the one that stood out most in his memory, so that's where we went! And I must admit, a great choice it was... Florence is right up there with Amsterdam as my favorite city in Europe.

The shopping! The history! The food! AMAZING.

By the time our flight landed on Thursday and we got settled into our airbnb, it was getting pretty late. We decided to head over to the upstairs of Mercato Centrale to get a quick dinner. Despite warnings that it was a more "touristy" spot, the food was incredible. I had a truffle pasta dish (which Miles, shockingly, LOVED - a refined palate!), my mom had pasta with fig and sausage, and Josh had a sausage and collard green pizza. And because when in Rome... errr, Florence... we capped it all off with cannoli.

The next day, we hit the ground running. We wandered around town to see some of the sights, stopped for gelato (duh!), picked up sandwiches for lunch at I Due Fratellini (on the recommendation of multiple friends), perused some art at the Uffizi Gallery (where Miles proceeded to have an EPIC meltdown to trump all meltdowns), bought a new leather jacket at Sabani, and finished the evening with a lovely dinner at Trattoria da Giorgio per the recommendation of our airbnb host.

All those things were awesome, but by far the highlight of the trip for me was the goings-on we had planned for Saturday. We booked this incredibly well-reviewed cooking class on Viator, left Miles with his Grandma for the day, and set off on a Tuscan adventure. 

It started with a little tour of the city with our excellent guide, Gloria, from Walkabout Florence, and our fellow students from Australia, Indonesia, and a fellow American family stationed in Italy. We stopped at produce stands, bakeries, and the huge market to pick up essentials for the feast we would be creating later that day...

Once we had everything we needed, everyone loaded into a couple of cabs to escape this city to the cutest little farmhouse where we met our instructors for the day. Chef Isaac is a Seattle-native who's been living and cooking in Italy for many years, and Carmella is the cutest Italian grandmotherly character. She barely speaks a word of English but had no reservations about singing, clapping, and chattering in Italian even though none of the students understood her.

The menu included bruschetta on fresh Tuscan bread, homemade pasta with ragu, pork loin with roasted potatoes, pizza from scratch and cooked in the outdoor brick oven (see me tossing the dough below... I look terrified!), gelato with aged balsamic, and tiramisu.

We concluded the afternoon of cooking with eating our finished products alongside free-flowing Chianti and this view...

Josh and I left with our hearts and bellies full, feeling refreshed and grateful for the experience. And we were super happy to meet back up with my mom and Miles who'd had a day of adventures themselves! We did some more shopping in the outdoor market for scarves (so many scarves and so cheap!), made one last stop for some more leather, and headed back to our apartment for some shuteye before flying out early Sunday morning.

I can truly say it was everything I hoped for and more, and I can't think of a better way to kick off my 30s! I absolutely fell in love with Florence, from the incredible food to the the beautiful city rich in history to the excellent wine and the Florentine people, who were so very friendly and just seem to love life.

If you'd like to check out some of the places we enjoyed in Florence, here's a complete list with a few additional details included:

where to stay in florence

airbnb is our favorite way to travel as a family, especially in Europe where hotel rooms tend to be tiny and often don't even have a mini fridge. You get to experience the city as a local, and it's usually cheaper than hotels, too! The great thing about Florence is that virtually anywhere you stay within the city is walking distance to everything you'd wanna do.

what to do in florence

A Tuscan cooking class: I can't recommend this one highly enough! On top of the actual class, we got a great little tour of the city, plus a full day's worth of meals. And let's not forget the stunning views from the farmhouse outside of the city. We had a great experience with Walkabout Florence (request Gloria as your guide!), which we booked through Viator

Shop for scarves and leather: Our favorite shop for leather items was Sabani. For scarves, we just bought at the outdoor market outside Mercato Centrale. Beware that you should go in ready to negotiate. We found that you could haggle on price at most places, especially if you're buying in bulk.

Escape indoors to the Uffizi Gallery: The building is gorgeous, and though we didn't enjoy it because of a certain toddler, they have a nice little cafe with a lovely view. Be sure to check out the works of daVinci and Michelangelo on display.

where to eat in florence

Mercato Centrale: Above the markets in the center of town is an epicurian dream - they've got everything from pizza and pasta to burgers and steaks to fish and charcuterie. And don't forget about the gelato and cannoli. We were warned that this place is a bit on the touristy side, and though that may be true, the food was still incredible. I'd recommend just one thing, except that everything we at was absolutely delicious. Bonus points that it's super kid-friendly, too, from the many options to the abundance of high chairs.

I Due Fratellini: This little, literal hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop was recommended to us by not one, but two friends who've each spent more than their fair share of time in Italy. Get a simple but tasty sandwich and a glass of wine for next to nothing, and enjoy it on the sidewalk. I thought Josh's was best, so I say order the panini with prosciutto crudo, caprino, and rucola - if you forget, it's the first one on their menu.

Trattoria da GiorgioThis one was recommended to us by our airbnb host, as it was less than two minutes up the street from our apartment. Away from the city center, you can guarantee it's not a tourist trap. The crowd seemed to be a mix of locals and visitors who had likely received a recommendation just like us. Not only was it family friendly, but the prices can't be beat - at dinner, its only 15€ for two courses, a side dish, bread, wine, and water. They have quite an extensive menu, as well.