Feels Like Home: Quiet spots for Florence students

By Delia Binetti

Studying abroad means you might be a long way from home, but finding those comforts in your new environment will make your experience more enjoyable. Three students studying abroad this spring shared their favorite spots to unwind and why it means so much to them as they adjust to living in Florence.

Odeon Cinema

In Florence, it is easy to find ourselves overwhelmed by the non-stop hustling of the city tourists as well as the working locals. Carly Gesell, currently a junior from the University of Michigan, was able to find her hidden gem around the corner of a school building where she attends her classes. The Odeon Cinema, a multipurpose library and movie theater, is located in the center of the city, surrounded by stores, restaurants, and apartments. Odeon was recently renovated and has become one of the main attractions for students coming from abroad but also from within the schools of Florence. Whether you're interested in watching a late night movie or needing a cozy study spot, this cinema has it all. 

“I was looking around the city for bookstores, and I stopped in and discovered this beautiful place where you can watch movies or pick up a coffee and study all in one place,” Gesell said. “I usually go there by myself because I like to go in between classes or in the middle of the day when not everyone else is around. I’ve told so many of my friends about it and said that we should go together since I think it's a fun place to bring new people that haven’t seen it before.”

Coming to Florence from Ann Arbor, it is more difficult to find the places that feel like “home.” But for Gesell, it was possible to locate a spot that resembles the comfort and tranquility she finds when studying or relaxing at school in Michigan. Gesell said one of her favorite things about the cinema is its versatility and its selection of seating options.

“There are tables and desks of all different sizes and big theater chairs, which makes it comfortable,” Gesell said.  “If you can't find a table, it's really nice to be able to still sit in one of them and read or do work. I usually study at the libraries at home, but they are nowhere near as nice. I usually try to spend a couple hours at Odeon when I want a nice little break from walking around Florence.”


Piazza Santo Spirito

“Oltrarno,” which translates to the “other side” of the Arno, is famous for its local restaurants, shops, and hidden piazzas. For Butler University junior Katherine Keller, the neighborhood of Santo Spirito quickly became one of her favorite places that she first discovered when arriving in Florence. Besides the general attractions, the market that occurs every Sunday in the piazza of the neighborhood is one of the most popular events for tourists and locals to attend. Around the borders of the tents, tables of coffee shops and restaurants are filled with pedestrians who stop by to soak in the sun after walking through the stands of local shop owners who come to sell their produce and other products. 

“I was wandering around and I was told by Milva to get lost," Keller said. "I stumbled upon it, and it wasn't until later that I discovered it was Santo Spirito.” 

Usually, most students are placed in apartments that they share with others, so it can be hard to find  time to be alone. Finding those opportunities can mean pushing yourself to explore and get out of your comfort zone. For Keller, Santo Spirito offers her support in different ways that most people might not find until they travel to the other side of the Arno. Keller said she enjoys exploring the neighborhood by herself or with her friends and tries to find the time to relax outside of her apartment, even if it involves just sitting in the square. 

“During the quieter hours of the day, it’s super peaceful. It’s a completely new situation from what I’m surrounded with back at home,” Keller said. “It depends on what kind of day I go, but sometimes I even go there on my runs or just to buy some fresh produce. Sometimes I will go for hours on end just sitting there in the square.”

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

Classes offered at the Lorenzo de Medici Institution provide a vast variety of opportunities for students to be able to explore the city with the help of their professors and the assignments that they are given. For Savannah Downing, a junior at Iowa University, her hidden gem was discovered while participating in her photography class. She stumbled upon Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, which is located close to the outskirts of the city near the train station. During the day, most tourists come and go, either to arrive in the city and explore or say their goodbyes. Downing said Santa Maria Novella was busy yet quiet at the same time, which created a good opportunity to take photos and people-watch during her first week of classes in Florence. 

“I usually go alone since it’s a nice peaceful place to be by yourself,” Downing said. “There’s a hidden bench where I usually go and study, but a lot of the time I find myself watching people go about their days.”

Being a music therapy major, Downing also found herself fitting right in when she heard a violinist and an opera singer performing in the middle of the square. 

“Back at home, I spend a lot of time in the music building. There’s always music playing,” Downing said. “I’m naturally drawn to it and it reminds me of what I'm comfortable with. Santa Maria Novella makes me feel a similar feeling when I am there.”


Student Food Guide: 13 best places to eat in Florence

By Annabelle Marenghi

Being a student in the city of Florence is incredible for countless reasons. However, one of my favorite things is the abundance of excellent food. Throughout the city, you’ll find wonderful places to sip on great coffee, try traditional Tuscan cuisine, and socialize with friends and locals alike. However, Florence attracts large crowds of tourists, and sometimes it can be difficult to find authentic places off the beaten path. I’ve been spending my six months living here searching for the most hidden spots for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Here are just a few of my favorite places to eat in Florence.

Coffee & Breakfast

La Cité

This spot is tucked away on L’altro Arno, or the “other side of the river.” The decor is eclectic and cozy, and the menu extends beyond just coffees to lunch, dinner, and drinks in the evening. I particularly love this spot for their cappuccinos and Italian-style empanadas. La Cité is the ideal place for a study session, a coffee date, or to just curl up in one of the big chairs with a great book and an espresso.

Todo Modo
Todo Modo

This cafe is another one of my personal favorites. This is not only a hidden gem, but actually hidden! Enter the bookstore, turn a corner, and find a wonderful cafe tucked in the back. The interior is warm and cozy, their coffees are delicious, and this is the best place to sit with a friend and talk for hours. And to top it all off, in the evening, Todo Modo turns into a wine bar.

Melaleuca Cafe

This place might just be my favorite cafe in Florence, and that’s a high bar. With a beautiful location on the river, my friends and I frequent Melaleuca on sunny mornings or for study sessions. Melaleuca Cafe is sunlit and filled with a wonderful ambiance. I love their coffees, breakfast and brunch offerings, and ever-changing pastry selection. Note: the cinnamon rolls are to die for.



Florence is famous for its panini, and Ino’s is one of the best spots to grab one. This classic Italian panini shop is known for its delicious sandwiches and quirky, artistic interior. Ino’s prides themselves on using fresh, high-quality, and locally sourced ingredients to create a variety of flavorful paninis. Located right near the Arno River, you can either enjoy your paninis sitting inside, or take them to go (“portare via”) and sit alongside the river to eat.

Le Vespe Cafe

A slight deviation from Italian food, but Le Vespe is the best American-style breakfast for when you may be missing home. The menu includes breakfast burritos, Eggs Benedict, iced coffees, and everything I’ve tried so far has been delicious. Insider tip: Skip the Sunday brunch and go to Le Vespe on a weekday. The menu is different, and there’s always less of a crowd.

Il Fratellini

You may find too large of a crowd at Il Fratellini for this to truly be labeled this a hidden gem, but this renowned panini shop in the heart of Florence is a must-try. It’s located near Piazza della Signoria and is known for its small but flavorful and amazingly inexpensive paninis. The shop's traditional approach to sandwich-making and its standing-room-only counter make for a very authentic Italian experience.

Ristorante Del Fagioli


Ristorante del Fagioli

Ristorante del Fagioli is one of the best places I can recommend for a delicious, authentically Tuscan dinner. Ristorante del Fagioli’s menu is home to every traditional Florentine dish and truly showcases the essence of traditional Tuscan cooking. Every time I’ve dined at Ristorante del Fagioli, I find myself to be the only American customer in the establishment – the true sign of a hidden gem in Florence. And as Florence is known for “bistecca alla fiorentina,” or Florentine-style steak, this is certainly the place to try it.

Trattoria 4 Leoni

Trattoria 4 Leoni is a charming restaurant located on the other side of the river. This restaurant is my favorite spot for authentic Tuscan cuisine, hosting a warm and welcoming atmosphere with its rustic décor and intimate setting. I highly recommend trying their signature dishes, such as the iconic pear and pecorino ravioli and Tuscan pecorino plate, showcasing the finest local ingredients. You can dine in the indoor part of the restaurant or enjoy al fresco dining in the beautiful courtyard.


Sbrino Gelatificio Contadino

I like to think of myself as a gelato connoisseur after six months in Florence, and I can wholeheartedly say that Sbrino is the best gelato in the city. Sbrino has several locations throughout the city, although my particular favorite is on Via De’Serragli, as it’s right next to one of the charming vintage photo booths that are signature to Florence. SBrino constantly rotates through seasonal flavors, and every one I’ve tried is of such high quality and rich with flavor. It’s also delicious to get your gelato “con panna” – whipped cream on top!

S. Forno Bakery

This bakery is host to deliciously authentic pastries, freshly baked Italian bread, and a constantly changing curated collection of jams, cheeses, and other Italian delicacies. I adore this bakery for its warm and comforting environment, as well as their unbelievably fluffy, airy croissants.


This may be less hidden, but Vivoli is worth all of the hype. It’s located near the beautiful Piazza Santa Croce and offers both coffee drinks and gelato. The affogato is a must-have – it’s a cup of creamy vanilla gelato with an espresso shot poured in the middle, and the result is incredible.

Aperitivo & Drinks

Art Bar

Art Bar is tucked off of a side street and is somewhat difficult to find the first several times! The interior is covered with eclectic picture frames, colorful modern art and knick-knacks on shelves. The owner is known for making the most incredible, artistic drinks with fresh fruit piled up on top of each cocktail. This is the kind of place to bring a deck of cards and a few friends and spend a long evening talking.

Bulli e Balene

Located across the river, Bulli e Balene is one of my absolute favorite spots for aperitivo, or a light appetizer before dinner. Aperitivo is a common social tradition in Italian culture, similar to an American happy hour, that includes light appetizers and drinks before dinner. Grab a delicious spritz and a selection of 1.50 euro crostini in all different rotating seasonal flavors! This feels like a “locals only” place. On a warm day, take your drinks and crostini out to the square and relax on one of the benches.