Off the Beaten Path

One could go so far as to say that nothing in Florence is “undiscovered.” A generally small city visited by millions of tourists per year (pre-covid numbers were showing over 11 million overnight stays a year). I am sure every restaurant, bar, and café has been seen, enjoyed, and written about. And yet, living in Florence, it is impossible to ignore the disparity in food establishments that crowd the city streets. Surrounding the notoriously touristy spots such as the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio, restaurants tend to cater more towards the American palate. Walking by menu boards advertising Pumpkin spiced lattes, “American breakfast”, burgers, and pizza topped with hot dogs (real menu item at Mister Pizza), it breaks the heart of any foodie to see crowds of visitors filling these tables while hidden gems remain untouched.

In one of the best food cities in the world, I want to highlight the establishments that only the lucky (or determined!) tourists come across. I hope to give attention to the places owned and frequented by locals, that bring character to the food and drink scene in the city! To start, we will explore two great cafés within the city center.


With a simple and bold sign above the door reading PANEFICIO (meaning bakery), S.forno has mastered the art of drawing in a hungry passerby.

Even from outside the café, one is bound to be lured in by the smells and sounds that waft out the open doors. S.forno sits quietly across the river from the Duomo on a quaint side street, near Piazza Santo Spirito. It has been managed for seven years by the owners of Santo Bevitore (a popular restaurant and wine bar down the street) but the space has been an operating bakery for around 150 years. Serving up a combination of classic Italian and French style pastries and breakfast dishes, all with a twist of modern flare, S.forno truly has something to offer every customer.

And if cakes, pastries, and fresh bread aren’t tempting enough, they also offer a range of gourmet sauces, jarred delicacies, spices, chocolate, and other unique ingredients which cannot be found at a traditional grocers.

My first trip into S.forno was unintentional. Taking a walk through my neighborhood, the soft jazz, the smell of fresh bread, and the romantic atmosphere drew me in like a bee to a flower. Once inside, I was amazed by the delicacies that lay before me, both in the pastry case and on the shelves. In my visits since, I have enjoyed both sweet and savory pastries, coffee, and fresh juice.  

One note about S.forno that may come as a shock to many visitors is the drink selection. They do not have an espresso machine and therefore cannot offer the Italian espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, and other traditional favorites. Instead, they have hot tea and pot coffee at a self-service free-refill bar. Additionally, they have a small selection of specialty drinks (lattes, hot chocolate, fresh juice, etc.) As an expresso lover, this was a huge turn off initially! But as I have gone back, I have grown to appreciate the simplicity of the drink choices. Likewise, the option for free refills makes S.forno a great place to linger for hours, always topping up your drink when it gets low.

I can say in confidence that a trip to S.forno will not be a choice you regret! You will leave with a full stomach, delighted taste buds, and an experience worth sharing!

La Cité

Also located near the Piazza Santo Spirito, La Cité is a library café and bar, self-described as,

“a cultural island, the city within the city, a small but multipurpose space that would respond to our eclectic needs and to interact with the world near and far.”

Although selling food and drink, I would have to admit that the highlight of La Cité is the atmosphere. While achieving a cozy and warm environment, La Cité is also a uniquely eclectic and versatile space. If out for a night with friends, it is a great place to stop for a quick drink and play a round of chess at their upstairs game tables. To get your creative juices flowing, grab a book and a coffee and work at a desk. Or if you want the chance to catch up with an old friend, grab a seat on a couch and chat with live jazz in the background.

Whoever you are and whatever mood you are in, La Cité is a space to go and lose track of time. With great music, kind staff, and a perfect location, this café is another staple in the Santo Spirito area and will truly get you off the beaten path.


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